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Are School Libraries Expendable?

Annie Condron

 

Are School Libraries Expendable?

"Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are.”  ~James W. Frick


Frick would tell California, and their out-of-control budget, that school  libraries are NOT on their list of priorities.


When budgets are hurting, arts are always the first to go. No Child Left Behind made social studies the low subject on the totem pole. Now, it seems, libraries are on the chopping block.

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In Los Angeles Unified School district, more than half of all library aids got the ax due to budget contraints, 227 of the 430 elementary school jobs. Most of the remaining aides saw their hours slashes or had to change schools, according to an LA Times Education article


Steve Lopez, author of the LA Times article, raised common concerns about what effect this will have on students who already face deficiencies in reading and literacy. He writes,

  • "You had to wonder how district officials can prattle on about the goal of improving literacy while cutting off the primary access thousands of students have to books.
  • 'There's a certain hope, and magic, too, in returning to school,' said former school board member David Tokofsky. 'Books and libraries are part of that, and if you lose the magic pieces, you're building an institution that has no pulse, blood flow and heart.'"

The question is: does LAUSD have their priorities in the right place?


As a library/book store lover, it goes against my most trusted instincts to not fight for school libraries, but it's only fair to consider both sides before casting blame on overwrought administrators.


The reality is that budgets are getting slashed and anything that gets cut will be a blow to schools and students. With childhood obesity reaching epidemic proportions, physical education and athletics (which raise money as well as spend it) are not easily discarded. Right now, easy budget decisions simply don't exist. 


In this online era, Google trumps the card catalog. Searching the stacks and learning the Dewey decimal system don't hold the same importance than they once did. Libraries, in the traditional sense, can easily become outdated without the funds and the staff to keep it relevant.


That being said, is it possible that losing libraries is the least of all evils?

 

Whether it's wrong or... less wrong, we may see this unfortunate reality spreading as funding problems further plague school districts around the country. It will likely fall on the already-overburdened shoulders of teachers to make the most of existing libraries. 


It's a sad thing for the librarians losing their jobs, the teachers picking up the slack and especially the students missing out on a valuable resource that has always been a staple in schools. Author Philip Pullman captures the sentiment best when he writes: 

  • “This simply cannot be in the best interests of your students,” Pullman wrote in response to a school library closing in England. “A library, with a dedicated and professional staff, should be at the very heart of any institution devoted to learning. Nothing can replace a proper library, with its resources centrally available, and with the expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students in the best and most productive ways of research.”

Are school libraries expendable? Share your thoughts in the comments section!