Lawmakers seek more teacher librarians in Utah schools

This is an archived article that was published on in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 8:37 PM- Students know how to use MySpace, Google, Facebook and e-mail, but they don't always know how to use their computer savvy to do something more old fashioned: research.

That's where teacher librarians such as Theresa Mbaku at Salt Lake City's West High School come in. She spent a recent day teaching a class of students how to find accurate information about Fiji on computers in the school library.

"They need to be able to get to information quickly and efficiently and be able to decipher what's good and bad information," Mbaku said. "Knowing these resources is so important because whatever they do after high school, they will have to work with technology."

Teacher librarians such as Mbaku don't just smile and check out books. They're licensed educators with endorsements in library media who teach students how to understand, research and organize information - and some state leaders would like to see more of them in Utah schools. Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, is asking for $1.7 million a year for the next three years to help hire 50 more teacher librarians for Utah schools. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has asked for $1.5 million for more teacher librarians.

Now, only six of Utah's 40 school districts have licensed and endorsed teacher librarians in all their schools, and only 14 percent of Utah's nearly 500 elementary schools have teacher librarians.

"When I say 'librarian,' someone might picture someone telling you to hush or checking out books, but there's so much more we've lost out on," Cosgrove said.

Specifically, students in schools without teacher librarians are missing out on a K-12 state curriculum designed to teach library media skills, said Sharyl Smith, former Utah State Office of Education Specialist for library media.

Teacher librarians are supposed to teach kindergartners, for example, the difference between an author and illustrator. They're supposed to teach sixth-graders how to recognize that advertisements and other media messages are edited to achieve a certain message. They teach students how to cite sources and attribute information.

"Unless you've got a media teacher teaching in the library, kids get virtually none of this," said Dennis Morgan, retired Murray School District director of library media services.

Supporters say in this era of Internet research, students stand to benefit from teacher librarians more than ever.

On Thursday, Mbaku helped a class find information on Fiji by showing them how to get to the Merriam-Webster, CIA World Factbook and CultureGrams Web sites. These are better ways to find accurate information than by typing 'Fiji' into Google which could produce hundreds of Web sites, she said. She also squeezed in a quick lesson about attributing information from the Internet.

"Now when you're working on this, will you just cut and paste this?" Mbaku asked the class. "No, because that's cheating. That's plagiarism."

Teacher librarian Sarah Herron, who simultaneously helped a class of students learning English prepare for the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT) in another corner of the West library, said such research skills are essential.

"Without having that instruction, they get to college, and don't know how to do research," Herron said.

Cosgrove, Smith and Morgan, who are working together to push for more teacher librarians, point to research that shows correlations between teacher librarians and student achievement.

On Thursday, lawmakers on the Public Education Appropriations Committee preliminarily ranked the request for teacher librarians relatively high on their list of priorities for education funding this session. But the request still faces some stiff competition for state money this year.

At least 10 other bills seeking money to ease the state's teacher shortage have already started to progress through the legislature.

And those bills address other areas of critical shortages such as math, science, special education and other teachers.

Still, Cosgrove and many others believes his request for more teacher librarians is one legislators should heed.

Cosgrove said schools have to prepare students to function in a world with an endless, immediately accessible supply of unfiltered information.

West High sophomore Akesa Kioa said Mbaku's lesson Thursday helped her learn how to sort through some of that mess.

"This way it's much easier to get a lot of good, reliable information," Kioa said.