A group of Eden Prairie library workers and parents is frustrated that the Eden Prairie school district no longer has licensed media specialists staffing its school libraries and wants to make sure parents know about the change.

The group, called Supporting Strong Libraries, is spreading the message that licensed media specialists are essential at a time when students need more help wading through websites, synthesizing information and using technology for research than ever before.

“At this point, there is no teacher in the library,” said Nell McQueen, a former media clerk and library volunteer in the Eden Prairie district. “The media clerks are expected to show the students how to use the library.”

District officials said lessons about digital literacy — how to use computers and the Internet effectively — are now taught in classrooms by students’ regular teachers, meaning media specialists aren’t needed.

“We truly believe that it is embedded throughout our system and not just in a single isolated place,” said Randi Anderson, the district’s personalized learning director.

Media clerks aren’t left alone to teach classes, Anderson said. When there is direct instruction in the media center, classroom teachers present those lessons, sometimes collaborating with media clerks, also known as paraprofessionals.

But as a library volunteer, McQueen said she has seen clerks take on tasks media specialists used to perform. And they do it for less pay, she said.

Teaching those extra lessons can be “quite a burden” for teachers, who are already stressed, said Beth Goodrich, a group member and county library employee.

Over the past year, McQueen and the other four group members have made a Facebook page, spoken at school board meetings, talked to each school’s principal, written letters to the local paper and gone door-to-door for the cause. “There are a lot of people who agree with us,” she said.

A national trend

Eden Prairie had media specialists in each school until about 2010, McQueen said. Then, as they retired, the district stopped replacing them.

Anderson isn’t sure when the change was made; she said she’s been with the district for only two years. She’s not certain why they went away.

Eden Prairie has a districtwide media specialist who oversees all of the libraries. She’s still in graduate school and not licensed in that role yet, Anderson said.

Three years ago, the district gave every student a device like an iPad or MacBook Air, she said.

The district has six other staff members, called iLearn specialists, to help teachers implement technology lessons, Anderson said. And there are between 45 and 60 instructional coaches in district schools, there to train and assist teachers.

The philosophy Eden Prairie is using — embedding technology and media lessons throughout the curriculum instead of in the media center — is part of a national trend, Anderson added.

Licensed librarians fill an important and unique role in schools, said Leslie Preddy, president of the American Association of School Librarians. “Saying a clerk can do everything that a … librarian can do would be like saying an aide can run a classroom instead of a classroom teacher,” she said.

An informal survey of eight metro-area districts showed most — including Hopkins, Farmington, Eastern Carver County, Lakeville, Wayzata and Minnetonka — employ about one media specialist per school. Stillwater has five for 10 elementary schools and none at the secondary level, while Richfield recently hired two new specialists, bringing its total to five for six schools.

Goodrich would like to see media specialists rehired in Eden Prairie, but that’s not on the table, according to officials, she said.

The district should have communicated better about the lack of media specialists on staff and needs to establish a vision for media centers in the future, said McQueen.

“This is an important policy change … and they’ve really swept it under the rug,” she said.