Union objects to cutting librarians

Officials with the Wichita teachers union say a plan to replace high school librarians with unlicensed clerks will shortchange students.

"This particular cut affects all high school students — all of them, not just some," said Larry Smith, a history teacher at East High School and a member of the United Teachers of Wichita representative assembly.

The assembly met this week and voted unanimously to issue a statement objecting to the district proposal.

Superintendent John Allison's plan calls for replacing 10 high school librarians with eight library clerks. The move would save about $410,000, Allison said.

Librarians have master's degrees in addition to teaching certificates. They work with classroom teachers to develop research assignments, teach research skills, teach students how to use the Internet safely and effectively, manage archives and more.

"Contrary to what some people believe, librarians do not just check out books and collect overdue fines," union officials said in a statement released Thursday.

The library jobs are among 278 positions being eliminated as the Wichita district grapples with a $30 million budget shortfall. Allison said he consulted with building principals and others to determine cuts that would have the least impact on classrooms.

Wendy Fjorden, librarian at East High, said 150 to 200 students visit the school's library during a typical lunch period. Most work independently on projects, but when a computer crashes and someone loses a document, she helps recover it. If students have questions about research citations or how to format their papers, she helps with that.

Fjorden, who has a master's degree in educational technology, also teaches a freshman course on Internet safety and helps teachers learn about Web applications and new technology.

"It's not just my job. This is something I have a passion for," she said.

"I am worried about the future of libraries, but I'm hopeful that people will see the value in them.... Access to knowledge is important."

District officials say the proposed cuts are unfortunate but necessary. Many of the librarians are certified to teach and likely will be placed in classroom positions.

"None of the cuts . . . are a reflection of the individual in the position or the value of the work they do," district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said in a written statement Thursday. "It is just the financial reality that we face.

"The reality is, if we decide not to make cuts in one area, we will have to make additional cuts in another."