State council: School libraries outdated and understaffed

 

DOVER –– After decades of Delaware’s libraries failing to adequately serve the residents and students of the state the Delaware School Libraries Council released a new master plan to address the long-held concerns.

“We embarked on the master plan process because public libraries, using their master plan, have seen significant improvements over the past 10 years, while school libraries’ condition became even more dire,” said state librarian Annie Norman. “We hope the master plan approach will help school libraries like it did public libraries.”

Annie Norman

Annie Norman

The master plan, “Quality School Libraries = Higher Student Achievement” was an 18-month-long endeavor that includes studies that demonstrate current problems school libraries face and recommendations to correct those problems and develop quality state-of-the-art school libraries.

“Even though this is an era of data driven decision-making, there was no data collected on school libraries,” Dr. Norman said.

Dr. Norman saw the dire state of public school libraries firsthand more than 20 years ago when her children were in grade school.

On one occasion, her oldest son while a student at South Dover Elementary in 1992 brought home books about outer space. After flipping through a few pages, it was obvious that the books were written before the moon landing, providing not only her son, but all students at the school terribly outdated information.

Despite the Department of Education’s recent push to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning in recent years, it’s estimated that about 90 percent of STEM materials in Delaware’s school libraries are out of date –– although the most out of date materials have been either removed or replaced.

A study conducted for the plan says that outdated materials persist in school libraries because materials are expensive and schools may go years at a time without having the funds to replace or add materials to the collection.

As a way to ensure that materials in school libraries are improved in a cost-effective manner, the master plan suggests including school libraries in the Delaware Library Catalog –– a network of 60 Delaware libraries containing a combined 2.6 million print and electronic items.

“In a small state with limited resources, pooling our collections through a single statewide catalog helps librarians ensure that the collection is broad and deep enough to support Delawareans’ “brainpower,” for education, careers, and throughout life,” Dr. Norman said.

Currently, a pilot program is underway to integrate three public school libraries into the Delaware Library Catalog to see if the concept is viable to implement statewide.

But the problems with Delaware’s school libraries don’t only concern the materials available to students, it also concerns the library staff.

The plan reported that library staff were not employed equally among socioeconomic groups –– in schools with more than 40 percent low-income students, there was a decrease in librarians while in schools with less than 40 percent low-income students, there was an increase of librarians.

Dr. Norman called librarians “an endangered species in Delaware.” Not a good sign as recent studies on “book deserts” prove that children in poverty have less access to books, leading to poor reading test scores –– a problem that will only be perpetuated unless the inequality of library staff and accessibility is addressed.

“The importance of having a high-quality school library staffed by a certified librarian in every school cannot be overstated. Adequate staffing, sufficient quality resources, and a supportive administrative culture are all critical components that allow school libraries to serve as a catalyst for improving learning outcomes for all students regardless of socioeconomic status,” the Plan states.

The main barrier to employing librarians is money –– something most districts, especially low-income districts, don’t have much of.

The master plan suggests legislation to fund library staffing. It’s estimated that the state would need to cover 70 percent of librarians’ salary with the other 30 percent coming from the district.

The plan states: “This legislation would be similar to House Bill 152, which was introduced in the 148th General Assembly, but would “scale” the requirement for certified library media staff and would add support staff based on an individual school’s enrollment level. The legislation would designate school librarians, and appropriate library support staff, as a distinct category within the State’s unit count appropriation model to ensure that each school will receive sufficient State funding to hire the number of school librarians and support staff recommended in the School Library Quality Index.”

Aside from just hiring librarians, they would need to be integrated into the school and district –– for all intents and purposes, most school librarians work in a vacuum without opportunities to work with teachers or innovate and collaborate.

Dr. Norman said that administrators don’t know what to expect from school librarians and don’t know how to evaluate them, so new opportunities for professional development need to be created for librarians to be most effective and kept up to date.

The Plan suggests that the Department of Education and the Division of Libraries work together to coordinate and oversee the librarians while hiring and management remain under the auspices of the individual schools and districts.

The master plan can be viewed online at www.ipa.udel.edu/publications/delaware-school-libraries-master-plan2016.pdf.

If you would like a presentation on the recommendations at your school or in your area, requests can be made by emailing Dr. Norman at annie.norman@state.de.us.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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