A lot has changed in the 18 years since Sue Reinaman first took over the reigns of the Northern High School library. Back then, the venerable card catalog was the still the main tool for looking up a subject, with several CD-ROMs serving as an insufficient backup. Today, students who are researching a topic make use of one of seven online databases — and more and more of the library's budget is going towards digital tools including e-books. But what hasn't changed in the nearly two decades is the library's main function: to serve as a repository of information that students are then taught how to use "efficiently and ethically."
Northern is lucky. The district has defied the trend set by others in the area of saving money by cutting library resource budgets and staff. No Northern librarian lost their job this year, unlike in the nearby Shore School District, where half of its 12 library staff positions were eliminated due to budget cuts.
Ryan Argot, the district spokesman, said that a large chunk of the library budget is now going towards digital resources. The procurement staff is also looking into any tools that would allow each librarian to fill the needs of a larger number of individual students. Libraries on the elementary and secondary school level each have a staff of three librarians.
"Especially at the elementary level, libraries are an important component of what schools do to ensure students read proficiently," Argot said, adding that school library programs help students find research materials and teach Internet safety, in conjunction with regular classroom teachers.
Northern wasn't the only Pennsylania district to prioritize libraries in its budget. East Pennsboro Area School District wasn't able to preserve all its library staff positions, but it managed to preserve most of them, with only one librarian spot eliminated as a result of budget cuts. Also, as a concession to fiscal reality, the elementary school librarians cover two schools each, traveling between campuses during the week while middle school and high school have their own staff.
In the past, the librarian was more of a selector, protector and preserver of materials, Katie Siwert, one of the elementary school librarians, said, sharing books and fostering a love of reading.
"Today, a school library-media specialist is more of a discerning cultivator matching their patrons with the print and digital resources to meet their information needs," she said.
Computer labs are connected to the libraries in both elementary schools, Siwert said, so students can immediately apply the skills she teaches them.
The fact is that even when they first begin to do research for school, many kids already have a rudimentary working knowledge in the use of the popular internet search engines like Google — and that is both a good and a bad thing, according to Siwert. She said she finds it necessary to remind students not to always be so trusting of the search results, especially when searching for factual information. Knowing how to locate and consult reliable sources remains a key skill that libraries need to impart to their charges.