Librarian position eliminated

Next year’s budget eliminates a full-time librarian position from the Wilson staff, but the change is receiving pushback.

Pamela Gardner has been Wilson’s librarian for 15 years. Aside from her responsibilities in the library, she is also a Wilson alumna and leads multiple clubs.  

 Gardner said she was shocked when she discovered that her position was in jeopardy. “The fact that the school system changed librarians from a required position to a not required position . . . totally baffled [me]” she said. 

Principal Kimberly Martin acknowledged the impact of losing Gardner..“It’s harmful [and] hurtful to the community to lose all of the experience and gifts and qualities that Ms. Gardner brings to the position,” Martin said.

Student enrollment has dropped across the city, causing only a small increase in Wilson’s budget. “I have to try to make the best of any situation, and I am looking for ways to make this not as harmful,” Martin said.

This small increase is not enough to keep up with rising costs in other areas including special education and security. “If your budget doesn’t grow but you add positions, [money] has to come from somewhere else,” Martin said.

The need for new positions at Wilson comes in tandem with a recent DCPS decision that reclassifies certain positions, like the librarian, from “necessary” to “flexible with a petition.” The latter is no longer required full-time, and principals can petition for reallocation of funds by downgrading them to part-time. 

Martin created a petition to replace the librarian position with a library aide and an IT coordinator. She emphasized that she wanted to maintain the library as a service to students. “We can still keep the library open but not have it be so expensive,” Martin said. 

Annually, the library costs the school $52,931 and a full-time librarian costs $112,569. The price of both the IT coordinator and library aide will be less. Martin was forced to be creative with the budget rather than cut an instructional position.

The potential loss of Gardner, who many know affectionately as “Momma G,” has stirred some students to action. Junior Reagan Allvin started a campaign to maintain the librarian position. She created an Instagram post encouraging peers and community members to contact DCPS Chancellor and Ward 3 council members.  

“Ms. Gardner was the one who introduced me to the Ethics Bowl as a club, where I was introduced to many great people and opportunities,” Allvin said.  

Class of 2020 and Labels Off! alumni Alejandro and Alexander Diaz-Lopez designed an email template to send to two DC council members, the Mayor’s Office, Principal Martin, and Chancellor Lewis Ferebee. 

“As I look back at my time at Wilson, I just can’t see my high school experience without Momma G. The relationship was very strong. I could always count on her for anything,” said Alejandro Diaz-Lopez.

Despite not being an instructional teacher, Gardner’s tenure at Wilson has seen many accolades. In 2016, she won the Rubenstein Award for highly effective school staff and in 2018 she was the recipient of the Vincent E. Reed Award for Excellence in Teaching, an award honoring outstanding Wilson teachers.

Gardner graduated from Wilson in 1973 and is an important part of the history of the community. She keeps the school’s archive of records including past yearbooks, pictures, and copies of The Beacon.  

 After realizing there was no recording of the desegregation of Wilson in the 1960s, Gardner organized a panel of alumni to discuss it. “Librarians have long been school historians. I’ve been working to find ways to connect our school’s history to DC history,” she said. 

Gardner is also a second-generation DCPS school librarian. “It is my only aspiration and dream right now that I foresee working at the Wilson library,” Gardner said.

The prospective change raises questions about the function of a school library in 2021.  

According to Gardner, 5,023 books, both physical and electronic, were checked out from the Wilson library over the past three years. Wilson has around 1,800 students; on average, each student checked out less than one book per year.

Senior Mathilda Nilsson said, “I’ve used the library in class, but only occasionally outside of school [hours].” 

Junior Njeri Booker uses the library to do work at lunch or print papers. “I’ve been there a couple of times, but I usually go to the DC Public Library,” she said.

Ultimately, Martin does not think students will lose services with the reduction of a full-time librarian. She and Assistant Principal Gregory Bargeman are re-imagining the use of the space, though plans are not yet finalized.

“I think that we have a real opportunity to expand and redefine what we have been able to offer in the past,” Martin said.