My last post listed reasons why many children don’t learn to read. Poverty was behind many of the items.
Poor students attend poor schools where they miss out on the arts, a whole curriculum, even qualified, well prepared teachers. Students might end up in “no excuses” charter schools with only digital learning.
But, next to hunger and healthcare, one of the worst losses for children in poor schools is the loss of a school library with a real librarian.
Stephen Krashen, a well-known reading researcher and advocate for children, provided a study he and his co-authors did as proof why school libraries help children be better readers. He is adamant that children need access to books, and he believes good school libraries are “the cure.” We often hear that getting books into the hands of very young children is important. It’s also critical to ensure that children who are in fourth grade and beyond have access to books!
Many poor schools have closed their school libraries, citing a lack of funding. Oakland, California lost thirty percent of their school libraries. Cities from Los Angeles to New York report library closures.
Chicago has lost school libraries. Some there blame the teachers union who pushed not to replace the librarian at one elementary school with volunteers. But good school libraries require good librarians.
School districts in many places keep school libraries open, but they let go of their certified librarians. This is a loss for children.
In 2013, when I started this blog and website, I listed under “Reading” a link showing a map of all the schools in the country that no longer have certified school librarians. That link began in 2010, and sadly the list has grown!
The School Library Journal with the help of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) breaks it down.
Between the 1999–2000 and 2015–16 school years, the NCES reports that the profession lost the equivalent of more than 10,000 full-time school librarian positions nationwide. That translates to a 19 percent drop in the workforce, from 53,659 to 43,367. The most rapid declines happened from 2009–10 to 2013–14. The decline slowed from then to 2014–15; but resumed larger losses in 2015–16, the latest data available.
Someone asked me what librarians do. Librarians help children and teachers find information. Librarians choose good books that they think children will enjoy. They do a wealth of other things. Here’s a great article for more on what librarians do.
They also claim that in some places, librarians are changing into digital learning specialists, digital media content specialists, technology integrators, and information literacy teachers. Many schools have removed books from the shelves, and they have installed technology. But schools should have both, and it is troubling, even draconian, for such drastic changes to take place.
This transformation of school libraries to all-tech is taking place without any thought as to the long-term repercussions. I’ve written about this unwarranted conversion before in How Students Are Hurt By Replacing School Librarians and Libraries with Computers.
Jim Neal the university librarian emeritus at Columbia University says we must “Fight for School Libraries.” He includes technology in that fight, and he is correct. Most likely he is speaking also of university libraries. Tech is a part of libraries, but it should not be the only part.
This problem is not unique to America. A 2016 report in The Guardian indicates it’s quite serious in the U.K. They say:
Libraries should be a right in schools. We must give pupils the opportunity to go to a quiet place to do extra study or to choose a book to read. It is particularly important to children from deprived areas. Opening a library door helps children open their mind. For many, books are too expensive and a library allows students to borrow them.
So for those who are concerned about the NAEP scores and want to raise them, if they want children to learn how to read and comprehend text, they must ensure that children are healthy, well-fed, safe, and have access to good schools. And in those good schools should be beautiful, well-maintained school libraries with certified librarians.