Federal Way’s ‘librateria’ is shortsighted

“Librateria” may be a brand-new word to describe what design plans show for the Lakota Middle School of the future.

Not so easy to spot, nor anywhere close to “brand-new,” is what is inside Federal Way public school libraries and what is not. With information literacy the new staple of the century, what we’re feeding our children’s minds has never been more critical to their future.

The average age of Federal Way’s district-wide collection dates back to 1988.

A child reading these books will find that gasoline is 91 cents a gallon, East and West Germany haven’t reunified, the adoption of the Euro is 10 years out, the World Wide Web doesn’t exist, Operation Desert Shield hasn’t happened, our current president’s father hasn’t been sworn in yet, the first World Trade Center bomb hasn’t exploded, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are both 33, and it’ll be 13 more years until the first iPod hits the market.

The Federal Way dad who noticed the absence of a library in the Lakota remodel plans recently noticed something else while helping a group of boys in the library — a book with Pete Rose in a Phillies uniform.

This may cause a snicker or two if you follow baseball, but imagine a fourth-grader trying to complete the state-mandated social studies mini-WASL that requires students to conduct research.

It’s not hard to see that there’s something egregiously wrong with this picture.

Dozens of studies (more than 60) show that a well-stocked, professionally staffed library raises test scores.

Recent research also informs us that literacy is the strongest predictor of health status. Put another way, low literacy equals an “early death sentence.”

But what of “modern literacy” sometimes dubbed “21st century skills?” Even if you’re skeptical about the future of books, it is dangerously shortsighted not to prepare all children to be information literate in this age.

This is perhaps the most important civil rights issue of our time, with some children beginning the century information-rich while others are forced to be information-poor.

Many people in Federal Way will remember that in 2006, teacher-librarians were cut way back (the elementary schools to part time, all 11 middle and senior high schools to one day a week) — a cost-saving measure employed by many districts around the state.

In Washington, a small minority of school districts forge ahead employing what one superintendent calls “information architects” in every single school, teaching even the youngest children about copyright laws and podcasting, and ensuring that their media center is a hub of literacy and technology for students, teachers and administrators.

How has this tale of two educations emerged? The State of Washington does not fund school libraries or teacher-librarians — they aren’t recognized as a part of basic education and don’t have a line-item to ensure their funding.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction hasn’t issued standards for information literacy — a step that would ensure every child has an equal chance to be competitive in this knowledge economy.

Federal Way’s Sen. Tracey Eide and Rep. Skip Priest have been champions for this issue. The next governor and Legislature can ensure that all Washington kids have the same access to literacy and 21st century skills by upgrading the state’s educational goals to include information literacy.

Our major competitors in the U.S. and abroad took this step years ago.

State leadership should heed the request of 11,000 Washingtonians who have called for school library programs to be funded and information literacy to be made a new “basic.”

When our country’s rural economy transitioned to a modern mechanized agricultural economy, our farmers were given tractors, not horse-drawn plows. It’s crucial that our kids be given the right tools for today’s job. This need couldn’t be more pressing; currently Federal Way High School’s students are being graduated after using library materials whose copyright average is 1979. Our children’s future, as well as that of our local and state economies, depends upon on our leaders taking immediate action to ensure that neither our students nor our workforce are left behind in the national and global skills race.

Lisa Layera Brunkan is a parent of two Washington students and co-founder of fundourfuturewashington.org, a statewide grass-roots movement to fund school libraries and information technology. E-mail lisa@fundourfuturewashington.org to learn more.

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