When Laura Bush became America’s first lady in 2001, her contribution to the White House focused heavily on education.
President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to address school libraries at the federal level. In his War on Poverty campaign, he implemented the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Unfortunately, many school districts used those funds for classroom books and materials instead of their school library.
Bush helped her husband, President George W. Bush, to recognize the importance of progressive school libraries in the Information Age in his No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. This law reformed the 1965 legislation in an effort to close the achievement gap.
No Child Left Behind recognized school libraries as an integral element of student success in the Information Age, and earmarked federal funds specifically for school libraries.
Both the Buffalo and Rochester school districts were awarded the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries grant three times: in 2005, 2006 and 2007. For each of those years, a number of schools were selected to receive funding. In Buffalo, 20 schools received more than $950,000 over the course of the three years.
If it weren’t for Bush’s own experiences in city schools and libraries, many of our students would not have received these newly improved libraries with highly trained librarians engaging at high levels of collaboration with classroom teachers.
Although some have asserted that school libraries are no longer needed because of search engines like Google and websites like Wikipedia, school librarians have a different point of view.
Issues of credibility and safety have arisen with Internet use. When conducting research, students must be taught how to identify the source and purpose of a website. School librarians teach students how to identify domain extensions of websites in order to learn the author’s intention.
Students are also taught how to use information and technological tools in a responsible manner. When students use technology the wrong way, serious consequences could abound. Cyberbullying and intellectual freedom are taught to children in school libraries.
Like Bush and me, many others have pursued a master of library science degree. Library science began at the University at Buffalo in 1919. To date, more than 3,000 librarians have been produced and moved on to work throughout the country. Some have received awards and accolades for their work. Others have traveled abroad and are working in Mozambique and other parts of the world.
Even in today’s age of fast-paced information access, information overload and instantaneous retrieval through hand-held, mobile devices, librarians are still relevant.
Bush’s impact has been epic in the education world. Bringing literacy and school libraries to the front stage in education has changed policy and practice. By bringing libraries to the forefront, a new generation has decided to go into the field of library services.
I am proud to share this profession with Bush. As the former supervisor of libraries for the Buffalo Public Schools, I believe that she has contributed to my life and to the life of the children of Buffalo.
Silvia Lloyd is a UB clinical assistant professor in the Library and Information Services Department.