Many schools across the country won’t have librarians next school year. Facing drastic cuts from state and local funding many schools are choosing to make cuts in school libraries and lay off school librarians. This crisis comes at a critical time for school libraries and education as a whole. Currently, the United States is ranked 16th out of 23 countries in literacy proficiency, 21st in numeracy proficiency, and 14th in problem solving in technology-rich environments, according to an OECD survey. Each of these problems is one that can be solved with a strong school library program.
The Documented Necessity of School Libraries
The link between strong school library programs and student achievement is well documented. Over the past 20 years, numerous studies have shown that elementary schools with at least one full-time certified teacher-librarian performed better on state tests. In a 2010 study conducted in Colorado, more children scored “proficient” or “advanced” in reading in schools with a full-time, credentialed librarian than those without. In an article published in 2015, the authors reviewed a multitude of studies that consistently show that students who have a full-time librarian in their schools perform better on their reading and writing scores than those who don’t have one. One study, “Pennsylvania School Libraries Pay Off: Investments in Student Achievement and Academic Standards”, revealed that students with full-time librarians in their schools are almost three times as likely to have “advanced” writing scores, compared to those students without full-time librarians.
Without a strong foundation of literacy and access to books as children, these students will grow up contributing to higher rates of illiteracy among adults to the country. Adult illiteracy rates are estimated to cost US tax payers hundreds of billions of dollars each year and illiteracy in adults can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States
More than 65 percent of all state and federal corrections inmates can be classified as low literate.
Low health literacy costs between $106 billion and $236 billion each year in the U.S.
Seventy-seven million Americans have only a 2-in-3 chance of correctly reading an over-the-counter drug label or understanding their child’s vaccination chart.
Low literacy’s effects cost the U.S. $225 billion or more each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.
Thankfully, school library programs and school librarian positions are now part of federal education policy and law. The new ‘authorizing language’ in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) restores these programs and positions in several Titles after being absent from No Child Left Behind for more than a decade. While there are budgetary priorities that need to be advocated for in Washington DC, there are many states that lack complementary definitions in state statute about school libraries and librarians, as well as many states and Local Education Agencies (LEA) that have not been in the habit of funding programs or positions because there was no compelling reason in the law to do so. We, the community of library supporters, now have a new chance to enact real reforms to state budgets and to the policies of LEAs to include funding for collections that support the curriculum and positions that are qualified to be partners in student achievement.
Our next step as a library community is to start working to get these appropriations to flow to school libraries again through lobbying Local Education Agencies.
** Go to EveryLibrary at www.saveschoollibrarians.org