School Libraries Hurting For Funds

Aug 23, 2012

 A study of the status of Pennsylvania’s public school libraries shows a well-established system of librarians who may be spread too thin.  About 73 percent of the commonwealth’s public schools have taken part in a study that reveals school libraries are hurting for funding and resources.  

School librarians do more than shush students, says University of Pittsburgh professor Mary K. Biagini.
They help teachers with reading curricula, encourage kids to read outside of school, and they’re proven to be linked to high student achievement. But that’s only if they have the time. 

In her analysis of a State Board of Education survey of Pennsylvania’s public school libraries, Biagini says 95 percent of responding schools have a library, but only 44 percent of their librarians are full time.

"Many of the librarians are serving multiple schools within their district, so students do not have access to the librarian, and sometimes the library throughout their school days," said Biagini.

She said such limitations will be borne out with lower student achievement. 

"We find that schools that have school libraries that are adequately staffed, funded, have higher academic success than those who do not.  So this is really the key consideration."

Education advocates say the most recent snapshot of school libraries is even more disappointing. They say the survey done in 2011 doesn’t reflect the most recent cuts to library programming. 

Eileen Kern, president of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, said her group did its own follow-up study during the 2011-2012 school year, the year following the state’s 2010-2011 survey.

"And we found that an additional 198 schools eliminated or reduced their services from the previous year.  This amounts to about 100 thousand students with limited access to their library programs over the previous year," Kern said. 

The Education Law Center of Philadelphia and others say school libraries are more vulnerable to cuts because they don’t receive dedicated state funding and are not bound by statewide standards.  They’re calling on the commonwealth to require regular monitoring of school library programming and establish binding standards for school libraries.