Parents, librarians mobilize to save school library media programs

Marci Merola

Interim Director

Office for Library Advocacy

For Immediate Release

January 7, 2008

Parents, librarians mobilize to save school library media programs

CHICAGO - Parents and librarians in the state of Washington are mobilizing to ensure that children learn how to find the information they need in an age of rapidly changing media - and how to use it in productive ways to prepare for the future.

"These parents realize that school library programs are a key element in the education of all 21st Century students, starting in pre-school," said Sara Kelly Johns, president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). "And they know that the expertise of library media specialists is a vital asset at a time when the global workforce requires workers who know how to find, analyze and use information."

In the Spokane (Wash.) School District, where budget cuts reduced 10 school library media specialist positions to part time, supporters of school library programs are fighting to save their school libraries, and having library services included in the state's definition of a basic education. Elsewhere in the state, the Federal Way School District slashed 20 library positions in 2006 in response to a $4 million budget deficit.

"We're really, really scared libraries will fall through the cracks," said Susan McBurney and Lisa Layera Brunkan, of the Washington Coalition for School Libraries and Information Technology (WCSLit).

Parents and library leaders nationwide are disturbed by a trend that is beginning to take its toll on the education of the nation's children. Even as reading scores among teens drop and other key scores remain flat, they say, more and more school library programs are in danger of being eliminated as a result of budget cuts and staff reductions.

In California, spending on school libraries has plummeted from $29.16 per student to 41 cents since the 1999-2000 school year. In Massachusetts, the town of Concord - home of Thoreau, Alcott and Emerson - struggled this year against budget cuts in the school library program; and in Norton, libraries at four out of five public schools were closed in 2006, and three library assistant positions were eliminated. Said resident Cynthia Slattery: "How can we properly educate children without access to all that a library has to offer?"

AASL President Johns said that finding information today is "a whole different ballgame - one that requires knowing how to use both print and online resources. School library media specialists provide a bridge linking classroom instruction and its after-school reinforcement. They help students learn how to gather information and develop essential skills that help them prepare for survival in the global economy.

"Expertly selected resources - from exciting, inspiring new stories to online databases - are essential to today's school libraries," Johns said. "Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth and enjoyment, and the encouragement of reading is even more crucial because studies document the need for students to have exemplary reading and writing fluency."

Americans spend nine times as much money on home video games ($7.3 billion) as they do on school library materials for their children ($771.2 million), according to the ALA.

"Leaders in the library community and citizens find these developments very troubling," said ALA President Loriene Roy. "Good school libraries are essential to a good education. Since 1965, more than 60 education and library studies have produced clear evidence that school library media programs staffed by qualified library media specialists have a positive impact on student academic achievement."

The ALA recommends that:

  • All students have the access to certified school library media specialists.

  • All school libraries be adequately funded to ensure that they include up-to-date collections in both print and electronic formats.

  • The school library media program be integrated into classroom curriculum.

The ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 65,000 members; its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. The ALA devotes a section of its Web site to school library funding. The AASL promotes the improvement and extension of K-12 library media services as a means of strengthening the total education program. Its mission is to advocate excellence, facilitate change and develop leaders in the school library media field.