In his remarks to about 75 leading members of the American Association of School Librarians on Monday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan identified libraries as often being “at the heart” of school success stories.
“Libraries are integral to helping kids figure out what that big world looks like. You (librarians) help people find their passions,” Arne said, jokingly bringing up the seemingly endless supply of books about snakes that his son brings home from school, much to his wife’s chagrin.
The Secretary pointed to the Obama administration’s support for libraries and librarians through a proposed $450 million fund for literacy under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. States and school districts could apply that money toward library services and other uses that improve student literacy. This larger, broader fund would replace an existing $19 million fund expressly for school libraries.
The proposed literacy fund, along with the Department’s Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3) programs, intentionally allow for greater spending flexibility at the state and local level, but AASL’s incoming president expressed concern that school libraries were not explicitly named components of these grant programs.
“If we’re not on the roster, we can’t get into the game,” Nancy Everhart said, employing a sports metaphor with the basketball-playing secretary.
With the Department’s shift toward more flexible, and less narrowly defined, funding, Duncan encouraged librarians to advocate for a seat at the table when states and school districts apportion their budgets, including the money they receive from the federal government.
“We want our money to follow your successes,” Duncan said, assuring the crowd that, “we don’t want to fund things that might just feel nice or look good.” He acknowledged the role that school libraries can have in transforming “pockets of excellence” into “systems of excellence.”
Responding to a question about the best way to identify and convey exemplary library programs to the public, Duncan encouraged the school librarians to keep lines of communication open with both the Department and their association’s parent organization, the American Library Association (ALA), which convened about 20,000 librarians in Washington, D.C., this week. Confident that the best ideas in education will come from the local level, Arne assured the audience that the Department will continue to take its cues from successful schools, and will work with librarians to shine a spotlight on what works.
In addition to Arne’s appearance, members of the Department’s outreach staff and librarians from the National Library of Education were on hand in the ALA conference’s exhibit hall to answer questions about the federal education agenda and distribute Department publications.
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