NEWS

Documentary makes case for ‘Overdue’ recognition of school librarians’ value

By ARDEN BASTIA
Posted 9/1/21

By ARDEN BASTIA Using a new documentary, "Overdue: The Value of School Librarians," librarians throughout the state are trying to dispel the myth of misconceptions of a school librarian. Produced by the School Librarians of Rhode Island and in

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NEWS

Documentary makes case for ‘Overdue’ recognition of school librarians’ value

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Using a new documentary, “Overdue: The Value of School Librarians,” librarians throughout the state are trying to dispel the myth of misconceptions of a school librarian.

Produced by the School Librarians of Rhode Island and in collaboration with the University of Rhode Island, the short documentary-style film shows the impact of school librarians.

“Overdue” follows school librarians from around the state, some of who were in attendance at a recent screening. They include Kristen Almeida from Westerly Middle School, Esther Wolk from Tiogue and Hopkins Hill elementary schools in Coventry, Heidi Blais from Cranston High School East, and Tasha White, currently the librarian at Alfred Lima Elementary School in Providence.

“Overdue” was shown at the Warwick Public Library as part of a series of screenings at public libraries around the state. The film sets out to answer the question: When you think of a school librarian, what comes to mind – shushing, or a compassionate educator?

The goal of “Overdue” is to change the way school librarians are perceived, especially through the lens of TV and media, where librarians are often shown as tight, quiet, stoic and rigid. These librarians want to show that libraries can be safe places for student empowerment, transform libraries into learning communities, and prove that reading is fun.

Librarians in the film share their experiences and the impact of their schedules, multiple school assignments, and the barriers they overcome to do their best work for the benefit of students, other educators, administrators and families.

“The stereotype of a school librarian is the glasses, which I have, but also the stereotype that librarians want quiet and there’s a lot of ‘Shhhh,’” Blais said on-screen in the film.

According to “Overdue,” 99 percent of students surveyed said school libraries helped them become better learners. However, between 1999 and 2016, more than 10,000 full-time school librarian positions were eliminated nationwide.

Students at schools with certified library media specialists and full-time librarians scored higher on achievement tests than students at schools without, according to the documentary.

“The stereotype is very 19th and 20th century,” White said on-screen. “And it worked for the 20th century, but why not make library as cool as gym class or recess? We have a rare and beautiful opportunity to empower students.”

Blais, who has been a school librarian for the past 25 years, said she has seen firsthand how technology has not only changed the way she’s taught, but how students access information.

“When I first started, libraries weren’t computerized; you still had to write your name on a card,” she shared during the Q&A portion of the screening. “Just on a basic level, technology has helped make the library collections much more accessible to students.”

Blais pointed out that students have access to an inter-library loan system with over one million books at their fingertips. “The access and availability of having technology available to all students regardless of income level, race, anything at all, has really helped even the playing field between students of all economic classes and diversity.”

But with the accessibility and expansion of technology also comes an enormous amount of information. Librarians like Blais have found themselves shifting curriculum to help students gain valuable critical thinking skills.

“There’s so much information out there, but it’s made our jobs very difficult because there’s so much information out there,” she said. “The quality of information is very varied, so students really need to develop critical thinking skills and they need instruction on where to find good information and how that information can help them grow and live, not just in their classes, but in life as well.”

At the screening, Almeida pointed out a “noted lapse in research skills by the time kids get to high school,” emphasizing that a key part of the library curriculum is developing research skills and determining what is or isn’t “fake news.”

“We’re the only people, sometimes the only people in the whole school, who are actually trained to talk about, for lack of a better term, fake news,” said Almeida, who added that she believes “we’re the only profession outside of higher ed that talk about and share strategies” for dealing with the spread of misinformation. “I think that’s going to be critical, going into the future, especially for students.”

As an elementary school librarian, White points out that developing good research and critical thinking skills starts in the early grades.

“Really being able to look at information and know if it’s valid or trusted, who’s the author, what’s the purpose, that’s all important.”

For more information about “Overdue,” or to view the short film, visit www.rilibraries.org/overdue.

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