Cheered on by librarians and library advocates, teacher’s union president Jerry Jordan Tuesday called on parents, public officials, education advocates and especially the School District of Philadelphia to step in and reverse the 20-year decline of school libraries.
His request was clear: make funding for libraries and certified librarians in every school a mandated part of school budgets, he said.
“There are many ways to spend limited education dollars, but a library is one of the best investments,” he said inside the upgraded library of University City High, a newly-transformed “Promise Academy.”
Libraries in the city have been in a deplorable state for years, Jordan said.
Beginning in the late 1990s, at a time of huge budget deficits, the school district began eliminating librarian positions and failed to replace those who retired or found other jobs, district officials said. In 1987, every school had a library staffed with a certified librarian and trained library assistant, Jordan said. Four years later, only 176 certified librarians and 114 assistants were employed by the district. Today, just 72 librarians and 26 assistants remain, he said.
“If staffing cuts continue at the current rate, in five years, Philadelphia will not have a single school library staffed by a certified librarian,” he said.
On the other hand, he added, each of the 26 state correctional institutions in Pennsylvania is required to have a fully-stocked library staffed with a librarian with a Master’s degree.
“If we mandated that every school provided children with fully-stocked, technology-rich libraries, there wouldn’t be as many inmates in need of prison libraries,” he said.
In fact, 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.
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