Library assistants may be gone, but Durham Elementary School students are making it work.
HELPER – Durham Elementary fifth-grader Tristan Kelleher places a book back on the shelf at the school's library on Tuesday. Kelleher volunteers as an assistant librarian after the Tigard-Tualatin School District let go of its library assistants this year.
It’s not every day you hear about a fifth-grade elementary school student giving up her recess.
But for students at Durham Elementary School, it’s no big deal.
“We like it” said Sydney Ningenfelter, 11.
Since the beginning of the year, fourth- and fifth-graders have been working in the school’s library, volunteering their time in a position that used to be filled by a paid library assistant.
When the Tigard-Tualatin School District laid off the district’s library assistants in June, due to budget cuts, the district’s 15 schools were forced to either find new ways of filling the positions or go without them.
“Your services are absolutely needed; we just can’t afford them anymore,” said an emotional Jill Zurschmeide, chairwoman of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board, when the assistants were let go. “And that’s a horrible situation to be in.”
The layoffs saved the district about $420,000.
Now, school librarians work full-time both in the library and teaching classes.
Library assistants performed a plethora of duties across the school, including technical support for teachers and the day-to-day functions of running a library — checking books in and out, processing new books and repairing damaged books.
Many of the schools have found ways around the problem, either through student assistants or parent volunteers.
At Durham, students come in before school and during lunch or recess to help school Librarian Treena Rodriguez.
“My day is on Tuesdays,” said Tristin Kelleher, 10. “But there’s somebody here every day.”
The students check in and shelve books and help in the computer lab.
“I like being the teacher in the computer lab when the teacher is busy,” Kelleher said.
There are about 30 students at Durham who work as library assistants in half-hour increments during the week — some come before school, some on their lunch or recess.
“We’re all just making it work,” said Principal Joyce Woods. “That’s the way we are around here.”
At Metzger Elementary School, the librarian relies on parent and high school volunteers to help out.
“My daughter loves to read, and if she can spend a few extra minutes with the librarian finding a book that really keeps her interest, I’d rather have that than the librarian say, ‘Oh, sorry, I’m checking out these 15 kids.’” said Katje Johnson-Jacobs, who volunteers in Metzger’s school library in the afternoons. “It gives the librarian the opportunity to help the kids more. Every day we’re in there that’s what we see.”
Some schools, however, haven’t been able to work out a solution to losing their library assistants so easily.
Some of the schools have been forced to reduce library hours because there’s no one to oversee the checkout desk while librarians teach classes. Even with library volunteers, students at Metzger can only check out books on special “library days” a few days a week.
Other schools such as Byrom, Charles F. Tigard and Templeton elementary schools have also had to cut library hours.
Back at Durham, 11-year-old Ningenfelter types a few keystrokes into a library computer.
“It’s fun,” she said, pulling up a student’s account.
“You have a missing book called ‘How to be a Pirate,’” she said.
“Oh, can I renew it?” the student asks.
“No.”“Oh,” he said. “I’ll turn that in, I guess.”
By Geoff Pursinger