PFT prez calls for a library in every public school

Tomorrow, teacher's union president Jerry Jordan will call upon the School District of Philadelphia to reverse a 20-year trend of cutting back on libraries and librarians. In a school district with roughly 160,000 students enrolled in 258 schools, only half of the high schools have libraries staffed by certified librarians or trained library assistants, Jordan said in a statement today. If that's not disturbing enough, 31 percent of schools report they do not have a library (120 schools in district schools do). Jordan will aim to tackle this issue during a 4p.m. press conference inside the library at University City High School.

"The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers believes that every school should have a fully-stocked, technology-rich library staffed by a certified school librarian," he said. But that isn't the case. Since 1991, the number of school librarians has been cut by two-thirds, or 64 percent, he said.

To make matters worse, Mayor Nutter's controversial decision to cut public library hours has diminished opportunities for students to use resources provided in libraries.

Studies have shown that students with access to libraries typically show significant improvement in reading, spelling, math and problem solving. Jordan noted that PSSA scores in reading are 10 to 15 points higher in schools with libraries staffed by certified school librarians. About half of the city's 60 high schools have certified librarians, only six of 25 middle schools and only 25 of 170 elementary schools have certified librarians, reported my colleauge Valerie Russ last month. (Read her story here).

For years, advocates have bemoaned the lack of libraries in district schools.

In the late 1990s, a time of huge budget deficits, the school district began eliminating librarian positions and failed to replace those who retired or found other jobs, Russ reported. The libraries without certified librarians are staffed either by teachers or by aides or assistants not required to have college degrees, prompting the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association to describe the district as having the worst record in the state in terms of certified school librarians to students.