By Soleil Madonia
As the heart functions as a central organ of the body, the library functions as a central part of a student’s academic career. The heart pumps blood to every part of the body, supplying oxygen and nutrients while removing the waste necessary to keep the body alive. The library provides a space to receive peer help, a sanctuary from the chaotic outside world, and access to information and inspiration through books and the internet to every part of the school. The library connects the students, staff, and administration while pumping resources to all. But our heart doesn’t just keep us alive, it has connotations of passion and love fueling our body and soul. The library functions the same way; it provides the necessary resources and acts as a source of imagination and passion.
Our library at Patrick Henry High School has been cursed by district policies and budget cuts to become a source of drama for years. In an interview with Patrick Henry High School principal, Mrs. Listy Gillingham, she explained that the school has been constantly working around district restrictions and ever-rearranging funds.
It was 2014 when we had our last full-time librarian, Laura Leisse, and even then she wasn’t paid through a district-allotted salary. Instead, the salary funds were presented in two lump sums: one for core teachers and the other for College Career Technical Education (CCTE) teachers. Because we had more money than what was needed to pay for the CCTE teachers’ salaries, the librarian was paid in part through the excess. Later on, the budget was changed to one lump sum leaving no extra money for a full-time librarian. Mrs. Leisse was then dismissed, and our library was run by a librarian technician.
Expecting a tech to run the library just as well as a librarian is equivalent to expecting a secretary to run a school just as well as a principal. They have completely different qualifications. With the library under little supervision and the funds for a library tech slowly trickling into oblivion, our tech was also let go as of summer 2018.
The administration has chosen Henry’s computer lab for funding instead of the library, but it is ridiculous that our school has to choose to keep one or the other open. The concept that technology and literature can coexist in one place may sound utopian, but at Valhalla High School (Grossmont Union High School District), every student is issued a Chromebook. Still, over 1,700 independent reading books have been checked out from the library from August to December. They aren’t just checking out books, they are finding inspiration, passions, and answers. While Valhalla’s number of life-changing checkouts are in the thousands, here at Patrick Henry the number hovers around zero!
At Valhalla, students explore the information provided by literature and the internet with librarian Stephanie Macceca as their fearless guide. Mrs. Macceca doesn’t just supervise students using the computers and browsing the shelves, but she also provides information-literacy and basic digital learning instruction to teachers and students as well. Mrs. Macceca makes displays for newly purchased books, helps students with school assignments, and runs Advance Placement testing. Mrs. Macceca is the lifeblood of the school.
Often, students are expected to be able to buy a class book or have access to the internet. Just as often the students need help finding that book and navigating the web. Lack of a library can leave students without access to resources at a disadvantage. The library can be referred to as “the great equalizer” as it not only provides access to books and the internet but also materials and professional help. If students had access to a library and a credentialed librarian, no students would be left without the necessary resources to succeed.
Many students at Patrick Henry take advantage of the sports and extracurricular activities offered (paid for in part by the school’s alumni association) and therefore spend hours on campus after school for practice and meetings. For the majority, there is a period of time between when school ends and activities start; there’s not enough time to make it worth going home and back, but enough to make a student feel uncomfortable and displaced while waiting on campus.
Without a library, students such as Tess Whitsett feel like they don’t have a place to go. Libraries are not just about resources, they are about access. They provide a safe place for students like Tess to stay after school and work on homework or hang out with friends before practice. This not only gives students peace of mind but parents as well.
During our interview, Mrs. Gillingham assured me she did not plan on letting the library space rot. Her long-term plan is to convert the space into an “innovation center” with computers lining the walls. In the meantime, the library is used for after-school math tutoring a few days a week. However, neither of these solutions are an adequate substitution for the resources a loving librarian could offer Patrick Henry students. Computers could never come close to the personal investment of a librarian helping a student find the information and resources they need.
Our generation has been constantly ridiculed for being “tech-obsessed,” declared “too dumb for complex texts” by author Mark Bauerlein. In reality, it is not the students but the district that has declared books antiquated by not providing funding for a full-time credentialed librarian. In order to restore and improve our library, the district needs to take the initiative as the Grossmont Union High School District did and make students’ access to resources a priority.
— Soleil Madonia is a junior at Patrick Henry High School.