A bad year on the budget front, with no end in sight
Library at Northwest High School, Cedar Hill, Missouri. Photo by Linda Dougherty.
Belt-tightening at all levels of government presented school librarians with a series of challenges in 2011and 2012.
The budget-cutting began at the federal level in May 2011, when the Department of Education eliminated fiscal 2011 funding for the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, the only federal program solely for school libraries in the United States. This program supports local education agencies in improving reading achievement by providing students with increased access to up-to-date school library materials; well-equipped, technologically advanced school libraries; and professionally certified school librarians. Senator Reed (D-R.I.) was able to get $28.6 million back into the Fund for Improvement of Education (FIE) and half of that was earmarked for libraries.
Federal cuts quickly affected state school and school-library budgets and from there trickled down to school districts nationwide. The situation may have most severe in California, where the number of certified teacher-librarians dropped to 895 this school year. Los Angeles Unified School District laid off dozens of library staff, interviewing them for a chance to be reassigned to a classroom.
Headlines from the rest of the nation were not lacking. A sampling:
- “Budget cuts affect school library services”—Kalispell (Mont.) Public Schools.
- “Fifth-graders step in to help fill school’s library budget cut gap” —Evergreen, Colorado.
- “School budget cuts: Librarians are far more important than the latest gadget”—Manlius, New York.
- “Cutbacks shut elementary’s library, threaten middle school’s”—Columbus, Ohio.
- “Preliminary 2011–2012 school budget cuts equivalent of 10 staff”—Pelham, New York.
Tracey Weiss Suits, a 25-year teacher who worked for the last six years as a media specialist in a Land O’Lakes, Florida, school, summed it up succinctly: “Anything that is not a classroom where you have 30 kids in front of you for six, seven hours a day is probably a soft target in today’s economic times,” she said in a Huffington Post interview. Suits was laid off in 2011.
AASL president sounds an alarm
Nancy Everhart, 2010–2011 president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), sounded an alarm in response to the elimination of school librarian positions in schools facing budget shortfalls.
AASL President Nancy Everhart
“Faced with the pandemic loss of school librarian positions due to drastic and alarming cuts in educational spending, AASL continues to advocate for the school librarian as an indispensable member of the educational team,” Everhart said. “Not only do strong school library programs create an environment where independent reading is valued, promoted, and encouraged, but studies have repeatedly demonstrated that students in schools with strong school library programs learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized tests.
“By eliminating school librarians, schools are losing a vital collaborator whose educational specialty is teaching lifelong, independent learning skills. Without these crucial skills, how will today’s students succeed in tomorrow’s global economy?”
Everhart issued her statement in connection with a visit to Luther Elementary School in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, one of a number of states that faced impending budget cuts and the elimination of more school librarian positions. The visit was part of her “Vision Tour” of school library programs across the country.
More school librarians means higher ACT test scores
Students in programs with more school librarians and extended library hours scored 8.4% to 21.8% higher on ACT English tests and 11.7% to 16.7% higher on ACT Reading tests compared to students in schools where libraries had fewer resources, according to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Ninety percent of students recognize that their school library helps boost their confidence in sorting and analyzing information they gather from books and other materials, while nearly 92% of the students appreciate the school library’s help in sorting and analyzing information and attaining media literacy.
Public libraries also offer important educational resources: 79.6% of public libraries offer online homework resources and 89.6% offer access to online databases, with content in virtually every school subject. Three-quarters of Americans believe it is a high priority for public libraries to offer places where teenagers can study and congregate.
Meanwhile, YALSA has updated its National Research Agenda, which was developed by members of YALSA’s 2010 and 2011 research committees. These groups of library science educators, working in graduate schools nationwide, surveyed the field to identify gaps in research and determine the questions that needed to be answered in order to fill those gaps.
More than 25,000 back petition to the White House
A petition in support of school library programs created by Carl A. Harvey II, 2011–2012 AASL president, took school librarians’ case directly to the White House . . . electronically.
By using the “We the People” petition website provided at whitehouse.gov, Harvey called on the administration to ensure that every child in America has access to an effective school library program by using the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to provide dedicated funding to help support those programs. Posted on Jan. 5, 2012, the petition had one month to garner the 25,000 signatures needed to require a response from the White House. Through grassroots communication efforts, the threshold was crossed Jan. 31 — with four days to spare.
“The petition was a way to build awareness of the importance of including school libraries in the reauthorization of ESEA,” said Harvey, school librarian at North Elementary School, Noblesville, Indiana. “By raising the required signatures, not only did we put the petition in the hands of the White House administration, but it gave school librarians an opportunity to reach out past their normal networks and garner support for their programs in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
But the budgetary bad news continues
The petition notwithstanding, dedicated federal funding for school libraries seemed in danger of disappearing altogether in fiscal 2013. President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2013, released less than two weeks after the petition was filed, eliminates $28.6 million that was earmarked for literacy programs under the Fund for Improvement of Education (FIE) in fiscal 2012 and put into the budget by Congress at the end of 2011.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) spearheaded the push to bring funds to school libraries, with half going to library facilities and the rest to national nonprofit literacy organizations such as Reading Is Fundamental.
“Reducing support for literacy under the Fund for Improvement of Education (FIE) takes books, valuable technological services, and critical learning programs away from at-risk children nationwide,” ALA President Molly Raphael said. “We are disappointed the President has chosen to cut programs for this already struggling population. We hope Congress will restore support to help provide at-risk children with a 21st-century education, preparing them for college and career.”
Congress had added the $28.6 million after funding for the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program had been zeroed out for both fiscal 2011 and 2012; it was meant to cover the same areas that the Improving Literacy program had addressed, according to Jeff Kratz, assistant director of the ALA’s Office of Government Relations. But the president did not request that the literacy funding under FIE continue in his current proposal. In addition, he consolidated the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program with five other literacy programs, giving them $187 million collectively — but not allocating dedicated funding to any one of them. That decision leaves school libraries without any funds specifically earmarked for them, Kratz said.
Technology installations level off, but remote access increases
Technology acquisitions in school libraries across the nation appear to be leveling, according to trend data collected by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association.
However, remote access to school library databases is rapidly increasing. Sixty-five percent of the respondents taking part in the AASL’s inaugural School Libraries Count! (PDF) survey in 2007 indicated that their students had access to their school library’s licensed databases remotely (i.e., from any computer with access to the Internet). A steady increase in remote access was noted each subsequent year, and in 2011, 82% of the 4,887 participating libraries made databases available to students outside of the school confines.
Summary of changes in technology installation
|changes in technology installation||2007||2008||2009||2010||2011||2011 increase|
|Average number of computers in school libraries||22.7||23.9||25.6||27.4||27.9||+0.5 (1.8%)|
|Average number of school computers outside library, with network access to library services||136.8||168.3||178.4||194.0||193.4||-0.6 (0%)|
|Total of school library and library-networked computers||159.2||190.6||203.6||220.4||221.1||+0.7 (0%)|
Source: American Association of School Librarians, School Libraries Count! National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Programs, 2011.
The availability of remote database access rises with school level. In 2011, participants reported 78% of elementary schools, 85% of middle schools, 90% of high schools, and 72% of combined schools offered offsite access to licensed databases. The largest expansion in access since the launch of the School Libraries Count! survey was seen in elementary school libraries, with a 21% increase in availability between 2007 and 2011. Other notable increases were seen in middle schools (15%) and combined schools (14%).
There were, however, regional differences. While still significantly higher than reported in 2007, remote access in schools in the Western United States decreased by 6% from 2010 to 2011. In 2007, 6 in 10 respondents in the Western states reported that their students had access to licensed databases outside of the school building. This percentage steadily grew through 2010 when 81% of schools offered access. While access dropped to 75% of respondents in the Western region in 2011, other regions of the United States remained constant (Midwest) or increased (Northeast and South).
|Question: Who teaches digital citizenship in your school or district?||percentage affirmative|
|Collaborative effort between classroom teacher and school librarian||36%|
|Collaborative effort between classroom teacher, technology instructor, and
|Collaborative effort between technology instructor and school librarian||19%|
|Collaborative effort between classroom teacher and technology instructor||13%|
A very 2012 concern: Digital citizenship
The 2011 School Libraries Count! survey showed that 71% of school librarians surveyed are including digital citizenship — appropriate and responsible technology use — as part of their school or district curriculum, and 52% of respondents indicated they were the primary teacher of digital citizenship in their school or district.
Collaborative efforts between school librarians and other educators within the school were also reported, including those between school librarians and classroom teachers (36%) and school librarians, classroom teachers, and technology instructors (33%). Eighty percent of respondents preferred this collaborative approach to teaching digital citizenship; however, 42% of respondents indicated a lack of a collaborative curriculum as the biggest barrier to instruction.
When asked what areas of digital citizenship are incorporated into curriculum, the more traditional citizenship content — plagiarism, copyright, and creative commons — received the highest response, with 95% of respondents. The more common school library program material of evaluating electronic content received 88% of responses. Cheating and dishonesty were the top two behaviors addressed (82% and 79% respectively) in digital citizenship curriculum.
In regards to online safety, frequently taught curriculum areas included electronic responsibility for actions and deeds (79%); cyberbullying, harassment, and stalking (70%); electronic precautions to guarantee safety including personal information sharing (68%); and appropriate postings on social networking sites (47%). While bullying is often included in digital citizen instruction (72%), other malevolent behaviors such as slander (32%) and hacking (24%) are included less often.
|Question: Which areas of digital citizenship are incorporated into your curriculum? (Check all that apply)||Percentage affirmative|
|Plagiarism, copyright, and creative rights||95%|
|Evaluating electronic information to determine validity of material (websites)||88%|
|Responsibility (electronic responsibility for actions and deeds)||79%|
|Cyberbullying, harassment, and stalking||70%|
|Security: Self-protection (electronic precautions to guarantee safety including
personal information sharing)
|Etiquette of use (texting in class, IMing, cellphones in schools, disruptive
behavior, and appropriate settings)
|Access and rights (freedom of information and intellectual freedom)||56%|
|Students seek divergent perspectives during information gathering
|Security: Hardware/data protection (including viruses, hoaxes, power surges,
and data back-up)
|Social networking (appropriate postings/pages)||47%|
|Safety (physical well-being/ergonomics)||40%|
|Commerce (electronic buying and selling of goods)||14%|