The protesting students won. They have their beloved librarian back.
A Chicago school librarian who had been told her job was ending because of budget troubles will now be staying through the end of the academic year with funds from an anonymous donor who came forward after students organized and staged a “read in” protest at school. After the student action, parents complained and alumni weighed in on the importance of the library and the woman who runs it, Sara Sayigh.
Sayigh said she overwhelmed by the response from students, who protested last week after Sayigh learned she would be out of a job at the end of December and that the fate of the library itself — which is housed at the multi-school DuSable campus on Chicago’s South Side and serves Daniel Hale Williams Prep and the Bronzeville Scholastic Institute — was questionable. Students said that the library and Sayigh were important to their academic work as well as to extra-curricular activities, and they demanded in a petition that she be reinstated and the library remain open.
A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said in an e-mail:
Thanks to a generous anonymous gift, the librarian’s job can be restored at the DuSable campus. While we are glad that this will restore a valued position that supports students across these schools, we remain concerned that the current financial realities will continue to put our schools in a challenging position as they try to prevent classroom cuts. This is why we will continue to work with our state leaders to fix an unfair funding system that gives Chicago only 15 percent of state funding despite having 20 percent of the enrollment–a disparity that forces schools to make tough choices.”
Sayigh said that the students get the credit for saving her job and their library. She said in an interview:
“I am very impressed. I have always been somebody who likes teenagers and working with teenagers but to see them in action in that way was extremely moving to me because they were doing this for their education. They weren’t doing it for something frivolous. There are all these adults who claim you don’t have to have a library or librarian and they say, ‘Isn’t everything on Google,’ and they repeat insulting things about how kids don’t read. But the kids knew that was all not true and they were able to educate the adults. I love the fact that the kids were aware.”
Students were told that the library might stay open and staffed with volunteers, but such arrangements at other Chicago high schools that lost their librarians were not especially successful. Sayigh noted that many other Chicago public schools don’t have librarians, and students who have been to school without one don’t understand their importance. Her students, she said, “knew better.”
Chicago, according to the teachers union, says the city has 46 high schools with a majority African American student population and only three have a full-time librarian. (It would have been two if Sayigh had been forced to leave.) The union also says that all high schools across the school district have been losing librarians; in 2012, 67 out of 97 high schools had one but by this year, the proportion reversed, and now only a third of all high schools do.
“I am very grateful,” Sayigh said. “I am very happy. But I also want other librarians to get their positions back. I feel sad for my friends who lost positions and their students who just have a room that was once a library.”