By Laura Abruscato
Paul Revere Charter Middle School’s annual book fair was held in the school’s library last week. For some of the middle school’s 2,100 students, this may be the first time in a while that they have visited the campus library.
The last full-time librarian at the school, Christina Berke, was hired in November 2014 by a school search committee. She produced a library newsletter and oversaw an active library, teaching online research techniques and elective lessons on primary sources, while also sponsoring reading contests. She left in June 2015 to attend an MFA program for creative writing in New York.
The position was not restaffed, due to budget constraints, according to Principal Tom Iannucci, who says funds are being used to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes, which are priorities of the school’s administration.
Staffing the librarian position, who would also be a credentialed teacher, comes down to how much money is allotted to non-classroom positions, says Iannucci. “We are funding a lot of extra teaching positions to lower class sizes.”
Currently, eighth grade history teacher Faiza Makhani works at the library after school, sixth grade English teacher Jon Bachman is there during lunch and retired
English teacher and substitute teacher Charles Ryan volunteers frequently during nutrition. This enables students to use the facility during those times, as school rules require a credentialed teacher to be there.
This is not an unusual situation in the L.A. school district. According to an LAUSD spokeswoman, only 36 out of 81 middle schools have a teacher-librarian— a credentialed teacher who also has a master’s in library science.
“It would be great if every school had a designated librarian,” says Makhani, who is the only teacher authorized to check out books. “We do our best to make sure the kids feel they have a library to come to.” Between classes, students come to do homework, play board games and checkout mostly fiction titles.
“I’ve been a teacher for almost 13 years, and the other schools I worked at didn’t have a functioning library,” says Makhani, who is in her fifth year teaching at Revere. “This one is used.”
Parent library liaison Liz Camfiord, whose daughter is an eighth grader, and also held the position from 2010-13 when her son attended Revere, at which time Sandy Mills was the full-time librarian.
“It’s a beautiful space,” says Camfiord,who works as a library marketing manager for Penguin Random House. “We were so lucky to have a full-time librarian.”
She adds, “A trained librarian can really nurture reading for pleasure. When I talk to authors, they tell me, ‘Librarians helped me get through troubled times.’ There’s a relationship between a librarian and a kid.”
Camfiord used $1,500 raised through the parent organization PRIDE last year to order new fiction books and says the library now needs non-fiction books, such as biographies, history and geography titles, as the current collection is outdated. Parents can purchase titles on the library’s wish list during the book fair this week and donate them to the collection.
However, according to Camfiord, without a librarian, books have to be processed by the district to enter circulation, which can take as long as three months.
Camfiord is grateful for the teachers who help in the library and the core group of parent volunteers who assist with signage, displays, organizing, keeping the library in order and cleaning to supplement the work of the maintenance staff. Nearby Diesel Books has also assisted with book donations.
However, with students spending their free time on phones and other electronic devices, “we need to combat that with someone who can nurture them as readers,” says Camfiord. “Now more than ever we need librarians.”