The Indispensability of School Libraries (and School Librarians)

By Gorman, Michael | American Libraries, October 2005 | Go to article overview

The Indispensability of School Libraries (and School Librarians)


Gorman, Michael, American Libraries


The American Library Association has formed--and not a moment too soon--a Task Force on School Libraries that will assess the state of school libraries, identify the most important trends, and propose actions to improve the lot of school libraries nationwide.

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We have all read well-merited publicity about threatened closures affecting a few public library systems, such as in Salinas, California, and Bedford, Texas, as well as threats to deprofessionalize public library branches by firing or redeploying librarians--Philadelphia being a particularly egregious example of the latter. I am glad to say that ALA has been active in lending whatever help it can in these situations.

Libraries of all kinds have to live with the reality of budget cuts and with threats and rumors of threats to their survival. The sad story of what has happened to school libraries in many parts of the country has not yet received wide attention. If you are not a school librarian and have suffered budget cuts, thank your lucky stars as you compare your plight to that of school libraries in California, where school library spending per student has declined from a high of $28 to less than $1, with the inevitable consequence that California's school libraries have gone from first in the country to worst in the country. All of this is occurring at a time when it has been demonstrated beyond a peradventure by a raft of studies that a good school library media program staffed by credentialed librarians/media specialists is among the top, if not the top, determinants of improved student achievement.

Leaving children behind

One of the many shortcomings of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act is that it largely ignores the role of school libraries and credentialed school librarians in improving student achievement, increasing literacy, and equipping students for further study and an empowered life. The act does include a grant aimed at improving literacy through school libraries--a program that has demonstrated successful outcomes. Alas, that program has been chronically underfunded and its proven return on investment has been rewarded by neglect. …

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