A public school is the hub of the American community, and school libraries provide students the knowledge to better understand their world. But public schools and school libraries face a crisis at this time in history, and it’s important to question what has happened with CARES Act funding.
Americans in crisis recognize that public schools are the center of the community. Librarians have worked tirelessly alongside teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic to help students get books, and to help teachers with technology, but they haven’t had the best support.
Here are some of the crises where communities have relied on public schools for support.
- Many towns in California and Oregon were devastated by recent and past fires. Public schools served as a hub for their communities for those traumatized by the fires.
- During the Covid-19 pandemic, school officials, educators, librarians, and staff have worked to hold classes in-person or reach students remotely.
- During this time of unrest, where Americans struggle to accept each other and become better enlightened, public schools still hold the greatest promise to bring this country together. Librarians are at the forefront of introducing students to new literature more inclusive of diversity to bring students together.
Especially poor public schools have school libraries that have closed and librarians who have lost their jobs. The hub of democracy is in danger.
Before Covid-19, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other large cities faced budget cuts to school libraries, and Washington D.C. teachers were on alert that their jobs were in jeopardy. Now the fear is that Covid-19 might end school libraries, and school librarians will become casualties of the pandemic.
Education Week reported that the $500 billion in CARES Act funding, included $13.5 billion for K-12 schools. But that money was not likely to go towards school library needs. Instead, $45 million was steered to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. School librarians according to Education Week were told they had to prove they were valuable.
There’s been a concern for years that if brick-and-mortar schools close, and students transition to anytime anyplace learning with technology, described here by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and embraced by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, parents will be forced to rely on community libraries and museums to help with digital and hands-on instruction.
Another $30 million was allocated to state library agencies to determine who gets the money. School librarians were to fight for the remaining $15 million.
In the midst of grief and suffering, communities turn to their public schools. Teachers, counselors, librarians, and staff surround children, families, and citizens with support. Public schools are the places where we come together as a nation to learn, to cry, to laugh, to grow, and to argue. School libraries bind us together and help students to see our world clearly.
Community libraries and museums can be wonderful places and they might partner well with public schools, but they can never replace public schools as the hub of the community. Teachers, librarians, counselors, and staff make a public school. And while it might have its uses, a computer will never replace those in a public school who bring comfort to people during and after a crisis.
Here’s a report, cloaked in partnership speak, that suggests that museums will become community hubs “Building the Future of Education MUSEUMS AND THE LEARNING ECOSYSTEM.”
They say: Museums can be community hubs that help expand Internet access and digital literacy.
Paul "Pat" Eck says
In Oregon, there has been a sever drop in certified teaching school librarians. In the mid-1980’s there were over 800. Today, there are about 150. Also, Portland State University closed its school library training program last year. The crisis was huge before the pandemic.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing Oregon’s problems, Paul. Sadly, this is happening around the country, especially in urban settings.
Christine Langhoff says
Interesting that Jeri Robinson, Vice President at the Boston Childrens Museum, is a contributor to this report. She is also a member of the mayoral-appointed Boston School Committee, where she hasn’t been exactly an outspoken supporter of funding libraries or librarians in our public schools. Many, if not most, of our school building lack both.
Nancy Bailey says
It looks like there’s a new plan underway. I wonder how the coronavirus will affect that plan. Thank you for sharing, Christine.
As hard as our public library tries, there is no way that they can have the same connection with children and their teachers as the school librarians do. The school librarians are part of the teaching staff and regularly work with the classroom teachers to provide support for the classroom curriculum. They get to know the children and their interests in a way that public librarians can’t. I have no doubt that the schools and public libraries could do a better job of coordinating efforts. A frequent lament of the public children’s librarians was report time when a teacher would not reserve resources ahead of time to prevent one or two children from decimating the collection. My community is lucky to have the resources to support quality school libraries and a quality public system. I volunteered for a few years in a Chicago school reading program. They had a large library that stayed closed and unused for lack of funds for a librarian. We brought in our own resources.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks. They can and should work together. Thank you for sharing. I’m glad to hear it’s working out there.