Friday, September 21, 2007

Funding School Libraries

eSchoolNews reports on a new first-of-its-kind survey conducted by the American Association of School Librarians. Sara Kelly Johns, AASL president and library media specialist for New York's Lake Placid Middle/Senior High School is quoted as saying, "There is a growing body of research that documents the effect of a strong school library program on student achievement, and we need the data on staffing, size and age of collections, and budgets spent on resources to get a picture of a strong program that makes a difference for students."

It's amazing to me that anyone would be startled by this news. The more access kids have to quality reading materials and good information sources, the better they learn. No duh! as my kids would say. It is not just an issue of quality and quantity, it is about attitude - are children in school to learn a finite number of facts to graduate or are they in school to learn how to become lifelong learners?

Okay, you have to start somewhere and it turns out that there has been no entity operating as a storehouse of information about school libraries across the country so AASL is shouldering this responsibility and the survey is just the first of many. Hats off to AASL. Perhaps sharing some of these results will help people understand the value of school libraries.

It's interesting to hear stories from across the country about which positions are considered "optional" in a school when they have to cut budgets. Many times the school librarian or media specialist is the first head on the chopping block. Some forward thinking states such as my own state of NC mandate a media specialist in every public school so it's not considered optional in any way.

The survey finds that most school libraries are wired up with sufficient numbers of computers. Where things get interesting is the chasm of library staffing and expenditures per student between well-funded libraries and not so well funded.

During the critical learning-to-read years in elementary schools, it seems that the average elementary school library is open five fewer hours per week than a comparable middle- or high-school library. High school librarians spent twice as much time collaborating with teachers than do elementary librarians. Although there is not enough data to declare it conclusively, it seems that reading scores tend to be higher in schools with full time librarians who work collaboratively with teachers and students.

"The average school library spends about $11 per student, per year. But there is a wide gap between the average per-pupil expenditure of school libraries serving fewer than 300 students ($15) and those serving 2,000 students or more (less than $8). " eSchoolNews

And the school libraries in the top 25%? You know the ones...well staffed, well equipped, lots of new books, always crowded, happy faces? They're spending $30-$50 per student. If we are truly serious about increasing literacy in this country, we need to take our money out of our wallets and out of the federal and state coffers and invest in our country's future through support of our public and school libraries.


Carolyn Foote said...


You make some excellent points.

Are you familiar with the studies done in libraries across the country by Keith Lance, et. al.
They are reported here:

The studies have looked at different aspects of school libraries that contribute to achievement and student success.

And they again reiterate what you point out, that well staffed and well funded school libraries have a direct correlation with student success.

I agree that it is a no-brainer, but on the other hand, libraries are often the first place that schools look when reducing staff.
And having these statistics to back up a qualitative description of what a library does is very helpful!

Annie said...

Thanks, Carolyn. No, I wasn't aware of those stats, but I'll take a look at them. I agree with you that it will be helpful to have those.

As you can see from a more recent posting, Congress is dealing with this need currently.

The more people understand the issue the better. Thanks for chiming in.