The loss of libraries and qualified librarians in the poorest schools has reached a critical mass. Yet those who promote a Science of Reading (SoR), often supporting online reading programs, never mention the loss of school libraries or qualified librarians.
Ignoring the importance of school libraries and certified librarians delegitimizes any SoR. Children need books, reading material, and real librarians in public schools. If reading instruction doesn’t lead to reading and learning from books, what’s the point? Why should children care about decoding words if there’s no school library where they can browse and choose reading material that matters?
How do school districts prioritize reading when they shutter the only access some students have to books? Who will assist students when qualified school librarians are dismissed?
Across the country, as noted below, public school districts have chaotically closed school libraries and fired librarians. They have done this despite the fact that school libraries and qualified librarians are proven positive factors in raising reading scores in children.
When recent NAEP scores appeared low, no one questioned how the loss of school libraries and librarians in America’s poorest schools could have accounted for lower scores. Instead, they obsessed over rising scores in Mississippi, likely due to holding third graders back.
The SoR fans criticize teachers, university education schools, and reading programs. Most are not classroom teachers and they appear to be taking children down a path towards all-tech reading programs.
Unlike the abundance of research showing the benefit of libraries and librarians, there’s no proven research that online reading programs will help children read better, especially if they have a reading disability.
We’ve known for years, that schools with quality school libraries and school librarians have students who obtain better test scores. Numerous research studies support the importance of libraries and librarians. You can find some of that research in the following links.
- Antioch University Seattle School Library Certification Program: School Library Research
- Library Research Service
A 2019 American Library Association found school libraries:
- can provide safe and nurturing environments when they’re open before, during, and after school.
- foster critical thinking, providing students with the skills they need to analyze, form, and communicate ideas in compelling ways.
- are learning hubs and homework help centers.
- students can use technology there to find the best information resources.
- school library programs instill confidence in reading, which is fundamental to learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.
- provide support for all subjects and grade levels.
- assist and partner with teachers, leading them to print and digital materials.
- help students with print and digital materials.
Elementary school librarians introduce young children to imaginative stories, fiction and nonfiction geared to a student’s interests, giving children a reason to enjoy reading.
What’s Happening to Save School Libraries and Librarians, Or Not?
Many states have transformed school libraries into computer labs or makerspaces. Librarians must take additional classes to keep their positions. These are no longer libraries.
Some school districts have reduced or eliminated school libraries in favor of partnering with city libraries and museums. They do this in the name of community schooling, or partnerships, claiming to save money and close gaps. See “Public Partners for Early Literacy: Library-School Partnerships Closing Opportunity Gaps” through The Urban Libraries Council, The Council of the Great City Schools, The Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. This could lead to school privatization.
“Finding Money for Your School Library When Times are Tough” provides suggestions how to keep a school library open, like collecting General Mills Box Tops for Education and slurping Campbell’s soup to get Campbells Labels for Education. Beg the Lions Club, Rotary, Kiwanis and other civic groups, with a convincing speech about the importance of books for students…really?
While nonprofits like EveryLibrary help raise money for school libraries, a noble endeavor, this country is wealthy enough to fund good libraries with qualified librarians for elementary, middle, and high school.
The heart of a public school is the school library run by qualified school librarians. Public schools shouldn’t have to rely on partners, public donors, or community fundraisers to get school libraries and certified librarians.
A Few of the Many Places that Have Lost School Libraries and Librarians:
New York City: A 2015 Education Week report, “Number of Libraries Dwindles in N.Y.C. Schools” notes that the number of N.Y.C. school libraries plummeted from nearly 1,500 in 2005 to fewer than 700 in 2014. The biggest drops happened in the three years before this time. Michael Bloomberg was mayor. Libraries were severely understaffed.
Philadelphia: This city has seen a drastic reduction of school libraries. The situation is dire. The Philadelphia Enquirer 2020 report, “You Should Be Outraged by the State of Philly Public School Libraries,” shows that, like other school districts, Philadelphia has had to resort to raising funds through donations to save its school libraries. Many schools have no library.
Michigan: Michigan has a known literacy crisis, but policymakers don’t put two-and-two together. Between 2000 and 2016, Michigan saw a 73% decline in school librarians. In 2019, they began retaining third graders with reading difficulties threatening children to “learn or else,” a reform with research stacked against it. Schools turned libraries into media centers and makerspaces. None of this is working out well.
California: California is one of the worst states for a lack of school libraries and qualified librarians. (Ahlfeld). In 2013-14, 4,273 California schools completed a survey representing 43 percent of schools. Of those responding to the survey, 84 percent have a place designated as the library, although staffing, collections, and programs range from exemplary to substandard. Sixteen percent of the schools didn’t have a library. Librarians were mostly found in high schools. Few schools in California have a certified school librarian. Some schools only open the library one day a week. Many elementary schools don’t have library services.
Oakland: In Oakland they’ve lost libraries, or they exist but they have old, outdated books. Signs on the wall tell students they are not allowed to check out books, and 30% of the original 80 school libraries have closed. Fourteen of the 18 high school libraries are gone. Sometimes the PTA provides volunteers for students to check out books.
Virginia: Some states permit schools to staff school libraries with volunteers, a common way to replace certified librarians. Teachers might help students check out books, or they have books for students to check out in their classrooms. Virginia avoided school library chaos in 2018 when the Virginia Association of School Librarians and the Virginia Library Association lobbied the state senate’s education committee helping to narrowly defeat a bill that would have removed regulations for qualified librarians at the middle and high school level. The Virginia House Education Committee defeated Senate Bill 261 in a 12-10 vote.
Chicago: In 2013, then Mayor Rahm Emanuel had the press take a picture of him in a school library discussing a funding increase to the school. The librarian had just lost their job! At that time it was reported that Chicago had 200 schools without a library, or the libraries were staffed by volunteers. The situation is still dire The recent teachers strike brought necessary change, but librarians worry they weren’t on the receiving end. About 80% of the 514 district-run schools are still without a librarian. There are only 108 full-time working librarians in the district, down from 454 librarians in the 2012–2013 school year, the year of the last Chicago teachers strike. But the recent strike did bring needed recognition to loss of school librarians and school libraries.
Arizona: Like so many places, Arizona has children who face poverty and don’t have access to reading material and literacy opportunities. But with only 140 certified school librarians, 57 book titles available for 100 students, and an average library budget of $960, Arizona school libraries are treading water.
New Jersey: In 2012, officials in New Jersey pondered whether librarians were necessary to help students when all students had to do was look up information online. But librarians are still critical to student success in elementary, middle, and high schools. In 2016, they reported a 20% drop in the number of school library media specialists or teacher-librarians in the state since 2007-2008. The New Jersey Library Association began a campaign Unlock Student Potential to address this serious problem. If you are concerned about the state of school libraries and librarians, this provides reports about the problems facing New Jersey.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: In 2015, The Charlotte Observer published “Are School Librarians Going Way of the Milkman?” by Ann Doss Helms over concern about the loss of librarians and media specialists. School administrators used the excuse that teachers could offer books in their classrooms and get students library cards to the public library. This weakens the school structure, and paves the way to school privatization.
Denver: As more students entered the Denver school system, in 2019, they saw a 60% drop in their school librarians despite a previous 2012 study showing that Schools that either maintained or gained an endorsed librarian between 2005 and 2011 tended to have more students scoring advanced in reading in 2011 and to have increased their performance more than schools that either lost their librarians or never had one. How could they ignore what worked?
Florida: In 2015, The Florida Times-Union reported “Media specialists (librarians) almost endangered species in Duval schools.”Librarians are called media specialists there, but 110 media specialists had dropped to 70, leaving only 68 librarians in elementary schools, one at a high school, and one left at a middle school. In 2018, the number of librarians lost included 73 in Duval County, 206 in Dade County, 78 positions in Pasco County, and 47 librarians lost in Polk County (Sparks & Harwin).
Houston: The loss of school librarians began around 2008-2009 school year and got so bad many put bumper stickers that said “Houston We Have a Librarian Problem.” Houston started with 168 librarians. By 2013, it had dropped to 97 serving 282 K-12 schools. In 2019, the Houston Chronicle told about children coming home without books to read in their backpacks. Their 320 student school didn’t have a well-stocked library or full-time librarian.
Ohio: In 2015, it was reported that Ohio had lost more than 700 librarian positions over a decade. In that same year, the School Library Journal posted this report, “OH Department of Education Will Vote to Purge School Librarian Requirement.”
It appears that an emphasis on decoding, without addressing the loss of school libraries and qualified librarians, is intentionally incomplete for a reason. We know the importance of a school library and qualified librarians to a well-functioning school. Blaming teachers and their education schools for poor student reading scores, while ignoring this loss, indicates that forces are at work to end public education and replace teachers with screens. The SoR focus looks to be about this, and should be seen for it’s real agenda.
Please feel free to share how libraries and librarians are doing in your school district.
Kelly Ahlfeld, “They Paved Paradise: School Librarians and School Libraries are disappearing and We Won’t Know What We’ve Lost Until It’s Gone.” Journal of Library Administration.” 59(8), 2019.
Keith Curry Lance and Debra E. Kachel, “Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us,” Phi Delta Kappan. March 26, 2018.
Sarah D. Sparks and Alex Harwin, “Schools See Steep Drop in Librarians, New Analysis Finds,” Education Week, 37 (33), May 16, 2018.
Other Blog Posts About School Libraries and Librarians
How is School Choice “Freedom” When Students Lose School Libraries and Librarians? April 27, 2019
Maker Movements Should NOT Endanger School Libraries, Librarians, and Reading October 9, 2018
Poverty & Reading: The Sad and Troubling Loss of School Libraries and Real Librarians April 21, 2018
How Students Are Hurt By Replacing School Librarians and Libraries with Computers April 8, 2017
Sheila Resseger says
“Ignoring the importance of school libraries and certified librarians delegitimizes any SoR [Science of Reading]. Children need books, reading material, and real librarians in public schools. If reading instruction doesn’t lead to reading and learning from books, what’s the point? Why should children care about decoding words if there’s no school library where they can browse and choose reading material that matters [to them]? …
“How could they ignore what worked?” How, indeed
This entire scam of digital bells and whistles, enormous sums of money wasted on computer hardware and software, high-stakes standardized testing resulting in shaming of children, teachers, and schools–all to benefit hedge funders and edtechpreneurs–is scandalous, criminal, and endlessly hurtful to real people and to our civil society. If only the schools had just said NO, and done what does work–small class sizes, knowledgeable and compassionate support staff like librarians, social workers, nurses, paraprofessionals, and counselors, and experienced teachers professionally trained to work with children with disabilities and English Language Learners. But none of this is profit-making. Shame on all adults who have been taken in by this travesty.
Nancy Bailey says
I have nothing to add to this, Sheila. Very well-put. Thank you!
Sheila, I couldn’t agree more that big companies and publishers should stay out of education. I also agree that teachers are the solution to most problems in education and that their edprep should include efforts that make them strong consumers of the evidence base for reading.
I am interested in learning more about the edtech that is replacing teachers so we can avoid this from happening in my state.
Where have you seen this to be true? How is the community addressing it? What are the programs that are replacing teachers and libraries?
My son used to love library at school; now he hates it. All they do is learn typing and coding. The old librarian used to read to them and encouraged them to find books they would love, now they have a former teacher who emphasizes tech. Yet they constantly pay lip service to “teaching a love of literacy ????”
Even my fifth grader sees the hypocrisy.
Nancy Bailey says
How sad and concerning. Children need reading skills to move into middle and high school and eventual careers. Without access to libraries and the assistance of a qualified librarian I worry what the future will look like. Thanks for sharing, Amy.
Suzanne Crockett says
I had to skim thru your article because it is so heartbreaking. And I’m part of the closure of school libraries. I am a certified school librarian, with an MLS from an ALA certified program. In November of 2018, after pressure and harassment from the beginning of school by a new principal, I was forced to retire, age 64, from my position of ten years at my 95% FRL school library. My heart is still broken.
Nancy Bailey says
I am sorry, Suzanne. That’s wrong for you and for the students. I appreciate your sharing and hope you can find a way to use your skills someplace else.
Dorothy Martin says
Me too, at 64. ? Coincidence? I think not!
I truly hope that as you close the door on this cruel experience, another, better one will open.
Hi Nancy, I’m one of the founders and leaders of Decoding Dyslexia Iowa. Could you provide more information about your statement that “Decoding Dyslexia groups can be found lauding unproven online programs like Waterford UpStart and Amplify”? I have never heard of those programs. DDIA is not promoting them, and I am not aware of other DD groups who are, However, there are over 60 chapters of Decoding Dyslexia in the U.S. and abroad. If you are aware of specific groups who are making these programs a central part of their mission, I would encourage you to be specific, rather than grouping all of us into a broad generalization.
As a resident of a rural state, I can tell you that when their children are struggling with reading, parents have few options to find help for them. My inbox is filled every week with parents whose children are years behind in reading, even after supplemental reading instruction through Title I or special education. These parents are looking for outside help because their kids are not making progress at school. There is rarely a trained teacher and/or tutor who is able to work with their child within a 1-2 hour drive. And the cost and the drive isn’t feasible for most parents in rural areas, where poverty has greatly increased in the last 10-20 years. These parents are the most likely to look for and ask about computer supplements, not because they think it is better, but because they simply have no other options.
Interestingly, a few years ago the Iowa Reading Research Center conducted a study comparing the effectiveness of 3 summer reading program conditions for 3rd graders. Condition 1 was a “business as usual” group in which the school district did the type of instruction during the summer they usually did. Most of these involved exposure to books and the library, allowing children to select books that interested them, and free reading. Condition 2 received a structured teacher-led intervention, Reading Mastery. Condition 3 received a structured computer delivered intervention, Lexia. The study found that all 3 conditions were equally effective at preventing summer learning loss. None lead to significant reading gains. The study report is on the IRRC’s web site if anyone is interested in that.
Regarding libraries and librarians, I share your concerns about the loss of these resources. I worked in my local public library growing up, and I have volunteered for the past several years in my school library to help with a fundraiser to provide more books for our district. As much as I love and value libraries, I view access to quality reading instruction as more important than access to the library. Keep in mind that my dyslexic child had regular library visits growing up. I still had to quit my job, get training, and teach him to read myself because there wasn’t anyone at school who could. And the librarians (school and public) in my area are gems! They are a wealth of information, and I truly value them. But they do not have training on how to help struggling readers. In fact, they refer families (and teachers) to me for information on that.
Nancy Bailey says
Hi Katie, I have seen it promoted by parents in decoding dyslexia groups and by parents in conversations. Perhaps because of this. https://www.waterford.org/education/dyslexia-in-schools/
Here are many of the proponents of SoR. Scroll down. https://amplify.com/science-of-reading-the-podcast/ Also, you might want to read the recent post by Betty Casey on my blog about Amplify.
“Years behind in reading” comments like that are difficult to analyze, but many teachers worry that children are forced to read too soon due to many of the school reforms pushed on schools. And everyone has a reading program they swear by. I taught students with reading disabilities for years. Some programs worked with some students, others didn’t.
What most of us are concerned about are the accusations of public schools and teachers for reading difficulties in children. It is difficult without knowing the children, what reading difficulties they have, what programs the teacher was using, the teacher’s background, where they attended college, etc.
Do you have the link to the study you are referring to?
Saying teachers don’t have the training to teach reading is troubling, because resource classes have been removed from many public schools. Students with dyslexia or any reading disability need a class where they get the help they need. A general ed. teacher with a class size of 30> will have a difficult time providing individualized assistance.
I’m glad your child has good libraries and teachers, and I hope he continues to get the help he needs.
I was a high school English teacher. I have a fighter with dyslexia. Teacher prep programs do t teach SoR. 3 States and 4 schools (military) and she couldn’t read entering 4th grade. Libraries and classroom teachers are not the answer for dyslexia. I had to quit working and get my literacy specialist masters. All I do is teach kids with dyslexia. NARO scores have been dismal across the board and declining since the 80’s. I agree kids need books, but putting it on SoR is misguided.
*daughter with dyslexia.
Nancy Bailey says
What do you mean by teacher prep programs? I learned about phonics in the 70s and I taught it for years in a resource class for students with reading disabilities. Testing is controversial. There are many variables that could explain why test scores are low and children who do not have access to books is a serious omission. Research has shown that schools with good school libraries have students who get better test results. SoR is being used to sell programs. I’m curious where you obtained your literacy specialist masters. Thanks for commenting.
Luqman Michel says
I have given up writing to universities and research centres until recently I wrote to Iowa Research Center and was disappointed with their response.
You may read my article on my discussion with them at https://www.dyslexiafriend.com/2020/02/discourse-with-iowa-reading-research.html
I am in total agreement with you, Nancy. What a truly dyslexic child needs and what one who struggles may need may be two very different approaches. Dyslexic students are more likely to need an intensive, long term phonetic base to any reading program. That is far from true of all struggling readers. There is no doubt, however, that access to a well resourced library and a certified librarian can be a help to any reader, skilled or not as well as an invaluable resource for the classroom teacher.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks. Definitely. I realize she described a structured summer program for third graders and I don’t think they have dyslexia. Too bad they can’t simply read good books over the summer!
Susie Highley says
Here is a link to the recent School Library Census in Indiana. Approximately 75% of elementary students and 50% of students overall in our state lack access to a certified librarian. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.ilfonline.org/resource/resmgr/school_library_census/ilf-schoollibraryreport_only.pdf
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Susie! I will read this and add Indiana to the list.
Rosemary Pearce says
Over a decade ago, our district had an evil admin who eliminated a library position to promote literacy – ie coaches, boxed and subpar classroom libraries, and Teachers College training. This admin ignored the fact that school librarians were already supporting literacy in every way. Eventually the admin moved on and became someone else’s problem.
I immediately began lobbying to replace the lost position when new admin took over. This year we got the position back. Good news however, for over a decade the elementary program was disrupted and lost funding.
Nancy Bailey says
Good for you, Rosemary! But how sad for those children who lost out. I don’t understand how anyone can not see the value of school libraries and school librarians.
“I don’t think they have dyslexia they just need a library” is a dangerous statement. Hopefully if parents were concerned they started their child find request for evaluations. Language based learning disorders are apparent often before school starts. And many kids are in ECI.
“Currently, dyslexia is diagnosed after reading failure is substantial and chronic, usually in the second grade or later. This waiting-for-failure approach is problematic.
First, years of failure to read can lead to reduced self-esteem, depression, and other unfortunate outcomes (Riddick, 2009).
Second, targeted interventions are most effective when administered early—in kindergarten and first grade (Torgesen, 2000). Early identification of high risk for reading difficulty, coupled with effective intervention, could improve reading and other outcomes for many children.”
PERSPECTIVES on Language and Literacy, p. 15
A Quarterly Publication of the International Dyslexia Association Volume 44, No. 3
Nancy Bailey says
No one said children with dyslexia just need a library. That’s ridiculous. This post addresses the loss of libraries and qualified librarians, devastating for all students, especially the poor who have no other access to books and reading material!
Dyslexia certainly needs targeted interventions. But a school without a library and librarian will not be helpful to any child that has reading difficulties, or who is learning to read. The SoR controversy goes beyond dyslexia.
The research is clear that libraries help children learn to read. So why don’t the SoR advocates ever mention this variable?
What’s dangerous is denying children books and reading material. Children with reading disabilities of any kind need libraries and qualified librarians as well.
We still have a library and librarians. My kids bring home library books all of the time. 3 a week. We also visit the local
Library next door to the school and the kids took a field trip there in first grade to all obtain their first library card.
There was also a recent article on libraries being one of the most visited public places.
Nancy Bailey says
I am happy that your children have access to a school library and librarians, but if you read this post, the links, and many other reports you will learn that is becoming a rare thing for many public schools across the country.
It is a critical situation, especially for children who are poor and do not have access to books.
I am also writing about school libraries not public libraries, which is the article you are referring to about visits.
Pam Picray says
Thank you for this important and well written article. I am one of the Duval County Florida librarians who fought against the layoffs of certificated qualified librarians. What the Times Union article didn’t point out is that the 2 librarians in the high school and middle school positions are actually serving as testing coordinators, not as librarians. Also, many of the remaining 60ish elementary positions are now staffed by classroom teachers or parent volunteers. In addition, most of us are split between two schools, with no assistance at either school. Many of our experienced librarians have left for other counties, or for positions at private schools. Others have taken early retirement options. And of course, there is no assigned budget to support the little bit of what’s left. The district also removed the library administrator and replaced the position with a clerk from the testing department who had no experience working with libraries, thus leaving us with no one to advocate for school libraries. It’s truly a shame!
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Pam. I’m sorry to hear this, but not surprised. Testing has such a negative impact on schools all around, and librarians running from school-to-school creates a sketchy program. Duval County is definitely not prioritizing its library program and as a result is depriving its children from what they need to be good readers. I can only hope the situation improves. I appreciate your comment. I’m sure librarians in other districts will identify with you. .
Rosa Diaz says
Thank you for your article Nancy. It is heartbreaking to read. Here in Rochester New York, we have had a loss of 14 full-time positions in school librarians. Most of us are working .5 hours in two schools in order to be full-time. In my case, I manage two different libraries each day. My mornings are spent at a school that has open library and the afternoons are at a school with library classes. There is so much emphasis on exams but libraries are not supported as the foundations of literacy for our children.
Nancy Bailey says
I am sorry. I know that’s tough on you, and it certainly can’t be good for children. I have heard from other librarians who are concerned about being made to be more responsible for testing, stealing them from their expertise. They’ve done this with counselors too. I don’t know what it’s going to take to turn it around, but I am collecting all the points made by librarians. The research is clear that libraries and librarians are critical to reading instruction. Thank you for sharing, Rosa.
Mary Beth says
I don’t think it was you intention but the title of your blog post is about the “science of reading”. Speaks of it negatively and then you go on to list all of the libraries being closed. I don’t understand why the two have to be competing issues. Of course we need libraries! But if you have undiagnosed dyslexia and can’t read- you’re not going to spend much time in the library!
Kids with dyslexia in Arkansas are flocking to new school based on the Science of Reading in Little Rock. Why would parents be pushing a program if it didn’t work?
The schools are failing to notice these children.
I hate that libraries are being cut from schools. I hate it.
But at the same time, millions of children graduate high school illiterate. I am dead serious. I witnessed it 20 years ago at my high school.
I’ll get off the soap box but I just ask that you do more research on the growing problem of dyslexia and realize that not all people concerned about it ar touting digital aids for it. They don’t create media centers for it.
Nancy Bailey says
I taught students with reading disabilities for years. My M.Ed focused on learning disabilities, especially reading difficulties.
The title connection was intentional. The Science of Reading is controversial often based on the flawed National Reading Panel report which had 0 early elementary teachers participate. I believe it will lead to online reading instruction.
My point is that those who argue there is a Science of Reading never mention the terrible loss of libraries and librarians across the country. The research shows that libraries are critical to learning to read.
I believe there’s a connection to the loss of libraries and librarians and children not learning to read well. Children with reading disabilities like dyslexia certainly need special instruction, but Science of Reading is being promoted as a way to teach everyone. I think it will ultimately lead to tech.
I appreciate your concern for children.
Nancy Bailey says
My thanks to Diane Ravitch.
Carol W. Heinsdorf, M.S.L.S., N.B.C.T. says
Public librarians are not trained in school library leadership and public libraries are most often inaccessible to public school students. For the 2020-2021 school year, the School District of Philadelphia has 4 Certified School Librarians.
Nancy Bailey says
Absolutely correct. The Philadelphia situation is unconscionable! Thanks, Carol.
Nancy Bailey says
For Cynthia Lane below:
Oh, how wonderful! Cynthia, you made my day! I wish you the best and know you will love it! And keep blogging about your experiences!