Funding for nation's school libraries declines as their value increases

Contact: Macey Morales

ALA Media Relations

(708) 769-0789

(312) 280-4393

For Immediate Release,

February 1, 2008

Funding for nation's school libraries declines as their value increases

Grassroots rally calls for equitable funding

CHICAGO - Leaders of a grassroots campaign to secure legislation that would provide equitable funding for school libraries will hold a summit conference and rally Friday, Feb. 1, in Olympia, Wash., their case bolstered by a report recently released by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The AASL data is supported by a recent comparative analysis of federal data showing funding for school libraries -- and the media specialists who staff them -- is declining as their value is more fully documented.

The 2007 AASL survey of more than 4,000 schools revealed that significant teaching takes place in school library media centers. In the same survey, half of the responding schools reported spending around $7,000 a year, or $10.76 per pupil, for information resources. Fifty percent of schools surveyed reported an average copyright date of 1994 for the health and medical titles in their collections.

Studies in 19 states provide abundant evidence that students tend to perform better on state achievement tests at schools with certified school library media specialists actively engaged in the teaching role. For example, one study conducted in North Carolina in 2002-2003 found that K-12 school library programs have a significant impact on student achievement as measured by scores on standardized reading and English tests. These findings are consistent with those of earlier studies in Alaska, Massachusetts, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Texas, Iowa and California and are echoed by subsequent studies in Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.

In the federal study, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U. S. Department of Education, library expenditures per pupil are shown to have fallen to $13.67 in 2003-2004 from $19.14 in 1999-2000, a drop of almost 30 percent. The percentage of public schools with school library media centers has risen slightly in the past four years, but the vast majority of states decreased their spending on books and other materials, according to the AASL, which observed the trend in data it collected in 2007. If the national trend continues, says Keith Curry Lance, a leading researcher, the national per-pupil expenditure this school year will be down to $9.76 - a drop of more than 50 percent from 1999-2000. Lance, a consultant specializing in research, is the former director of the Library Research Service at Colorado State Library.

In Washington state, spending on school library media centers declined by almost a third from 1999-2000 to 2003-2004. Even in 2003, only 57 percent of Washington school library media centers had a full-time paid teacher librarian, according to the NCES, and in the past five years further cuts have affected school libraries statewide.

The Washington campaign is the creation of three determined Spokane mothers who have worked for almost a year to make school libraries a state funding priority. Their efforts have led to the introduction of state Senate Bill 6380, which would provide all school districts with funding for a certain number of certified-teacher librarians, based on the size of the district, and allocate $12 per child for acquisition of materials. School libraries currently are funded locally.

The women behind the Washington Coalition for School Libraries and Information Technology (WSLit) - Susan McBurney, Lisa Layera Brunkan and Denette Hill - began their drive last year after unsuccessfully lobbying Spokane's school board to maintain full-time media specialists at 10 elementary schools. The positions had been cut because of a budget shortfall.

Since then, WSLit has established a Web site (, distributed fliers in bookstores and libraries, collected more than 4,400 signatures on a
petition to state legislators and mobilized concerned citizens in at least 15 other Washington communities. The WSLit goal is to obtain 6,380 signatures by Friday in support of SB 6380.

Parents, educators, child advocates and elected officials nationwide consider the Washington bill a model for education reform elsewhere.

"Washington state can be among the leaders in providing high-quality, professionally staffed school library programs for all its students," said ALA President Loriene Roy. "Our hopes are that parents across the country will take Washington state's lead and invest in their children's education by supporting their school libraries."

Sara Kelly Johns, AASL president, added: "School library media specialists are trained to collaborate with other teachers to teach 21st-Century and technology skills that prepare students to learn, work and live in our increasingly information-based society. It is critical that we make these learning opportunities available to all students."

The situation in Washington is not unique. School library budgets that are not protected on the state level are being cut increasingly to meet local budget constraints. Only about 60 percent of the school libraries in the United States have a full-time, state-certified school library media specialist on staff, according to the NCES data.

For additional information on AASL and NCES statistics, or to schedule interviews with ALA , AASL or NCES spokespeople, please contact Macey Morales, manager, ALA Media Relations, at (708) 769-0789 or (312) 280-4393.