As society works to curb the spread of misinformation, we need to be clear that this is an information literacy crisis. While holding social media companies accountable for disseminating misinformation is valid and important, it’s equally critical to examine why Californians have divested from school library programs, the key resource for literacy instruction for young people.

In 2010 the California Department of Education deemed navigating the rapidly changing world of information so important they adopted the Model School Library Standards. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing recognizes teacher librarians, who are required to hold a library and media services credential in addition to a prerequisite teaching credential, as the experts trained to teach these standards.

The Model School Library Standards include skills such as distinguishing source types, identifying bias, tracing claims to original sources, and using critical thinking to determine if and how a source should be used to meet an information need. Unless explicitly taught, students do not naturally know the difference between types of sources or how to discern bias.

This is further complicated when everything is accessed through a browser. Gone are the physical clues — the glossy and affordable price of a magazine versus the austerely formatted and pricey academic journal versus the smudgy ink of a daily newspaper — that cue us on what kind of source we are reading and how we should adjust our reading strategies to fit what we know about that source.

Teacher librarians empower students with tools to be discerning users and creators of information. Teacher librarians provide access to diverse and relevant collections (print and digital) and support self-selected reading, an essential element in increasing literacy. Students with access to library instruction understand that facts (which are constant) may be used to support opposing agendas depending on the bias of the author or publication, learn to investigate claims and biases to verify claims, and use a variety of sources to draw their own conclusions. In short, teacher librarians reduce people’s vulnerability to misinformation.

Despite evidence linking the presence of a teacher librarian to student success, during the rise of social media as an information source, funding and staffing for school libraries in California declined. In 2009 the move from block grants to a categorical funding model eliminated designated funds for school libraries. In California, the number of full-time teacher librarians consistently fell between 2010 and 2019.

As accessibility of information online grew, the idea that libraries were no longer relevant spread like misinformation. The myth that students would no longer want to read print books went hand in hand with the myth that digital natives did not need digital or information literacy instruction.

Read the full article about funding school libraries by Lisa Cheby at EdSource.