Friday, March 5, 2010

Why Closing School Libraries is a Really Bad Idea




I found out yesterday that our school district had voted to lay off all library personnel, effectively closing all elementary school libraries indefinitely. As a parent of school-aged children living in California in 2010, I had thought this was impossible. Yes, money is tight and something had to go. I suppose I'd rather see the libraries shut than having the wonderful music program canceled. But the reverberations are going to be massive.

My kids will be fine. Because of what I do, I buy a ridiculous amount of books and we go to our fairly new, very well stocked local library often. My kids had books as toys before they discovered XBox or skateboards and both of them are wonderful readers. It is the other kids that are going to suffer, and if they suffer we all suffer.

We live in an incredibly socially and economically diverse area. Kids whose parents drop them off in a Jag sit next to kids who come to school for their only nutritional meal of the day. It is the kids whose parents didn't grow up surrounded by books, who don't have internet access in their house, whose family doesn't own a car and doesn't feel comfortable going to the town library who are going to lose their access to good books. These are the kids for whom that hour spent at the school library every week gives them an opportunity to choose any book they want from the hundreds of tempting titles that line the walls. Who may discover a person or a place that opens up a whole new world for them. Who may discover a love of reading that will take them to new heights as teens and adults. And now the doors will be locked, the books will go dusty and new titles won't be added.

Okay, that's a little dramatic. Truth be told, my elementary school is lucky to have a really active PTA and I'm hoping they will step up to fill the gap. I've already signed up to volunteer as many hours as I can spare helping in the library. We'll come up with fundraisers to pay the librarian's salary, at least for the next year. But we are the lucky ones. This won't happen in the other seven elementary schools in the district, who don't have the luxury of so much parent participation.

The irony wasn't lost on me as I read a great article about the Botswana Book Project last night.
A woman named Pam Shelton visited Botswana on vacation and realizing that the kids had no access to books, started a decades-long project to bring books to the kids of that country. One passage from the article really struck me:

Shelton offered to volunteer as a primary school librarian, but she discovered there were no primary school libraries. "I was startled. Then I remembered that when Botswana got its independence from Britain 43 years ago, they started from scratch," Shelton says. Mma Seretse had been praying that the country's primary schools would get libraries. The two women vowed to make it happen. "God made us meet, and we jumped with the same zeal!" Mma Seretse says. "For how can children grow up to be informed citizens if they have no libraries and no books?"

How indeed.

On this date: In 1963, the Hula Hoop was patented.

14 comments:

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

that's awful - just awful to close libraries. *sigh*

Gregory K. said...

I'm on year five now of being a volunteer elementary school librarian (with the added kicker that we have had to build our collection with no budget!). What I've learned is how important it is to have truly trained librarians! Our library's a big success due to a lot of hard working parents beyond just me, and it's clear to see how important having a library is. But we underutilize it because we aren't trained, we aren't librarians.

You don't know what you've got til it's gone!

So keep fighting.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

This is absolutely heartbreaking.

cynjay said...

Thanks guys, I agree. Greg - I remember you saying that you volunteered at the library. That's one reason I jumped up and offered as much time as they needed.

Natalie said...

This saddens me. The librarian in the school where I teach is fabulous. She doesn't just help kids check out books, she teaches, as well. With 70% of our school's kids on free or reduced lunch, they'd be lost without the library. Kudos to you and other parents for volunteering to keep the library going. Cyn, can the other 7 schools look into having business partners? We have one and they totally renovated our library last year.

Kristi Faith said...

Oh that's awful! It's sad all the things that our gov't is cutting from children because of their own faults in spending. :(

Beverley BevenFlorez said...

Just this evening at dinner, there were two teachers and both have been told they won't have a job next year. At some point, we have to find the money to support our schools. What could possibly be more important?

Julie_c said...

Yikes - that certainly is bad news. I can't imagine closing down a school library. Our school is talking about dropping Spanish. It's sad to see anything go.

On another note - I was sneaky. I pulled DLS from it's place on the shelf and moved it over to the "new books" sections - where it should have been in the first place - and gave it a lovely, face-out, eye-level place. :)

cynjay said...

It is amazing to me that we can't find the money for something so important. At least they've left our fabulous music program alone for now.

Julie - I love sneaky!!!!!

Candace said...

That is AWFUL. Is there a news article somewhere that you could point me to?

cynjay said...

Not at the moment Candace, but I'll keep you posted. They just announced it last week.

Anonymous said...

Bill wrote: The closing of school libraries? I guess I missed that news. It's awful. In fact it worries me. In addition to writing, I teach college English here in St. Louis and and I can tell you that the socio-economics that you describe can be found here as well. One day I was taking my son to the high school and watched a young girl pull into the lot with a Mercedes 500. I said to my son, "Mom and Dad's car." He said, "No. That's hers." I see this more and more across the country. It's especially hard for me as I teach at a campus west of here in a well-to-do community. There seems little incentive for the students to get a college education. They have everything already, yet some can barely read or write. One bragged to me that he went all the way through high school without reading an entire book. What are we to do?

cynjay said...

What I really want is to give all kids the opportunity to read great books and the elementary school library is perfect for that. If some kids choose to throw that opportunity away, that's their choice. It's the kids who would treasure it, but now won't have it that breaks my heart.

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