School libraries are critical to maintaining great democratic public schools. The loss of school libraries threatens their existence and a student’s right to receive information. See the American Library Association and The Universal Right to Free Expression: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.
Many public schools no longer have functioning school libraries or qualified librarians, especially true for students from disadvantaged households.
There can be no discussion of controversial books, including age-appropriateness, with librarians if there are no school libraries or librarians for America’s next generation. How will students grow if left in schools without access to the information necessary to become educated citizens?
We’ve known for years that students who attend schools with great school libraries do better on standardized tests.
If this nation cares for its students, and if they’re worried about learning gaps between the rich and poor, and equity, where’s the concerted effort to save school libraries?
The Loss of School Libraries and Librarians for the Disadvantaged
To understand how severe the loss of school libraries has become, Boston, home of great universities, recently claimed that its public schools lack fully functioning school libraries!
From The Boston Globe:
Among 125 campuses, 58 percent lack their own full-time libraries with staff. Only 52 schools have one.
. . . after years of shifting priorities, a school library with regular hours, expert staff, and an up-to-date collection has become a bonus amenity, found at exam schools and some other campuses with robust parent fund-raising efforts — and infrequently elsewhere.
District leaders say libraries are among the core resources that must be guaranteed at every school to ensure equity and promote literacy.
Boston isn’t alone. Across the country, school libraries in poor schools have closed, and school district administrators have fired qualified school librarians.
The Progressive reported that in Philadelphia, only 16 percent of their 326 public schools have a professional librarian. This affects 73 percent of students who are Black or Latinx; almost half living in disadvantaged households.
With talk about failing schools, and concerns about freedom and democracy, why have school libraries been allowed to disappear? Why is this gap ignored?
Colleges are losing their libraries as well. Here’s a 2019 report from the Atlantic: College Students Just Want Normal Libraries by Alia Wong.
Transforming Public Schools to Privatization and Online Instruction
Why haven’t the State Departments of Education or the U.S. Department of Education put more focus on school libraries?
The loss of librarians and school libraries isn’t new. It’s no secret.
However, instead of public funding to support school libraries, there’s a switch to handing school libraries over to nonprofits and charitable organizations, described as Future Ready (FR).
Like everything involving school privatization and converting schooling to online instruction, closing the digital divide, groups are changing the nature of school libraries.
Here is how this appears to be done.
EdSurge, described as online news meant to show how education is shifting to technology, describes SLIDE, a $348,905 study funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services by education professors at Antioch University (Seattle). SLIDE is also mentioned in The Boston Globe report.
SLIDE references the RSL Research Group, which further explains how school libraries are in trouble. But they promote what they call groundbreaking Limitless Libraries, a partnership between Nashville Public Library and Metropolitan Nashville School District.
With Limitless Libraries, students must go to local public libraries for information when they don’t have school libraries.
In the Boston report, a parent is happy her second-grader has access to a local branch library, but what about the children that don’t have access?
RSL highlights All4Ed or Future Ready Schools, once called the Alliance for Excellent Education, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
All4Ed promises to cultivate strong partnerships with a diverse group of national nonprofit organizations; local and regional experts; state leaders; members of the media; foundations; and corporations that, in collaboration, support our work from the classroom to Congress.
They don’t promise to support public schools or great public school libraries.
Superintendents Take the Future Ready Pledge stressing transformation, rethinking the use of space and time, helping families transition to anytime, anywhere learning, and implementing thoughtful data and privacy policies and protocols. Also, instruction and assessment are tightly aligned with and designed to engage students in personalized, technology-empowered, deeper learning experiences that build life-long learning skills.
Who funds All4Ed? The same companies hoping to privatize schools and convert them into online instruction!
The list is long. Here are a few well-known groups connected to All4Ed:
- Christensen Institute
- Data Quality Campaign
- Teach for America
Here are others who might surprise you:
- National Education Association
- National Association of Secondary School Principals
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
Here’s what they say:
Future Ready Schools® (FRS) cultivates strong partnerships with a diverse group of national nonprofit organizations; local and regional experts; state leaders; members of the media; foundations; and corporations that, in collaboration, support our work from the classroom to Congress.
This broad-based approach results in authentic programs and free offerings that help thousands of school and district leaders set, reach, and expand their goals for technology-enabled student-centered learning. Our partners work hand-in-hand with us to ensure that our equity-focused vision for a robust and high-quality learning experience becomes a reality for all students across our nation.
Equity described here, does not seem to be about functioning school libraries open to all children, but instead online instruction using computers of which companies can make a profit.
Here’s a list of superintendents, principals, technology leaders, instructional coaches, school boards, and librarians all in for All4Ed.
It would be interesting to see how their school libraries fare, how well their schools are funded, and how many qualified librarians they hire.
Meanwhile, school libraries in poor public schools continue to close, public schools become less public, and Americans are sold a false narrative about equity and schooling.
Russell, J. (2022, February 12) Most of Boston’s schools lack fully functioning libraries. The superintendent vowed to change that — but will her successor? The Boston Globe, Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/02/12/metro/most-bostons-schools-lack-fully-functioning-libraries-superintendent-vowed-change-that-will-her-successor/
Other Blog Posts About Libraries
Poverty & Reading: The Sad and Troubling Loss of School Libraries and Real Librarians
The Racism Behind Firing Librarians and Closing School Libraries
How Students Are Hurt By Replacing School Librarians and Libraries with Computers
There’s No “Science of Reading” Without School Libraries and Librarians, A Predictor of Student Success
How is School Choice “Freedom” When Students Lose School Libraries and Librarians?
Public Schools and School Libraries: The “Hub” of Democracy During a Crisis, Is Facing Its Own Crisis
Maker Movements Should NOT Endanger School Libraries, Librarians, and Reading
James Allen says
Do you feel like the Future Ready framework for libraries doesn’t hint that schools should have strong library programs? https://futureready.org/thenetwork/strands/future-ready-librarians/
Nancy Bailey says
Great question! Thanks, James, and for the link. My take is that they want librarians to reaccess their roles and become digital-savvy which is necessary. We’ve seen this for years, with the title change of librarian to a media specialist.
I’ll pt. to this comment in your link. “If properly prepared and supported, school librarians are well-positioned to be at the leading edge of the digital transformation of learning.”
The media specialists at the high school where I worked taught me about the Internet in the 90s, for which I’m still grateful!
But many schools are losing libraries and qualified librarians altogether, and children and high school students still need books and libraries that provide a variety of materials and professionals at the helm.
I find all of this about digital transformation.
The school library anchors the school, and if it is reduced to maker spaces and online instruction only, it is a threat to public education.
This abrupt conversion to nothing but digital is the concern, and it isn’t just libraries, as you likely know.
Sara Sayigh says
Thank you for focussing on this Nancy Bailey. Sadly school libraries need to be curated and supported over years and we cannot snap our fingers and will them back into being.
When I started at Chicago Public Schools in 2003, it was considered an outrage that 160 schools were without librarians in a system of approx 650 schools. Little did I know that 2003 was the heyday of school librarianship in Chicago.
Now there are fewer than 140 in the same system. https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/2012/2/27/18533411/board-of-education-oks-shake-ups-for-17-schools
We librarians worked hard with little support to provide what our students deserved but in spite of our efforts and advocacy, librarians have been systematically dropped from CPS school, especially on the south and west sides. Getting us back in the schools is going to be very hard because students and teachers have become accustomed to functioning without librarians and our carefully tended libraries have been ransacked and left in disarray – even outright dumped into dumpsters.
The library in a south side HS where I worked has been locked since my position was eliminated in 2017 despite the efforts of my school community. This is not unusual in CPS.
Thank you for spotlighting this urgent issue.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing, Sara, and your advocacy work to save school libraries. I’ve seen some pictures of books thrown on the floor after school closures and also in dumpsters. How sad that public schools have been reduced to this. I’m sorry your position was eliminated and appreciate your voice.