94% decline in librarians for Philadelphia's public schools

Since 1991, the number of full-time librarians working in Philadelphia's cash-strapped, budget-slashed public schools has declined by 94% -- only eight remain, while the state continues to trail the nation in literacy scores.

It's not just librarians: Philly's public schools were also remarkably short on nurses and guidance counselors until recently.

Judd reported that Hispanic students in particular are more likely to feel the positive impact of access to librarians; a 2007 joint study by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association and the Education Law Center shows they are three times as likely to earn “Advanced” scores on writing tests when schools are staffed with a full-time librarian than their peers without access to one.

Time will tell whether likely incoming secretary of education Betsy DeVos — who would be the first in her position to not have attended or sent her children to public school — will make enriching public education resources a priority. If she does, data indicates a potential payoff in standardized test scores: Judd reported that, on average, a librarian with a support staff “was responsible for a 9 percent increase in students who score ‘Advanced’ in reading.” For a city that has seen slow progress in bolstering reading and math scores, results like that would be a boon.

The Number of Librarians in Philly Continues to Dwindle [Morgan Baskin/Pacific Standard]

(Image: BVIS Ho Chi Minh Library, Sauronjim, CC-BY-SA)

Notable Replies

  1. “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”
    ― Walter Cronkite

  2. It's worth noting, just in case anyone isn't familar with them as an institution, that school librarians(particularly below the high school level); are not 'just the public library; but smaller and closer'. At least the the school environments I've worked in, the librarians did have the associated library science qualifications and did handle collection acquisition and maintenance; but the arguably more central aspect was keeping their finger on the pulse of what kids were reading/would be interested to read if they knew about it(which raised book consumption among all the students who weren't already 100% covered on that at home or 100% checked out pretty substantially); and teaching(both informally in the 'ask the reference librarian' context; and in some scheduled classes that the students had regularly) what was effectively "How to not be stupid in the presence of an overwhelming wealth of knowledge 101".

    Even if your public library system is pretty good and accessible(ours was, some, not so much) and the internet has rather chipped away at the need to keep Ye Olde Worlde Booke Encyclopedia 1978 hanging around; having someone who knew and cared about kid's reading interests made a huge difference in terms of how much general reading they did; and having someone who knew and cared that 'research' is a nontrivial skill; and one that has not been replaced by search engines, made a major difference in the utility of giving students access to information.

    Had they just devoted themselves to running a small, narrow, in-house collection that was basically an inferior duplicate of the public library, the school librarians would have been a pretty hard sell vs. just putting up an interlibrary loan request terminal and calling it a day; but they knew that, and that wasn't at all what they did.

  3. My kids didn't grow up in Philly, but I can tell you that at their grade school there were weekly class trips to the school's library, where the librarians told stories (from memory, like in olden days) which ignited an interest in reading for the younger kids and was beloved by the older ones too, taught them how to find what they were looking for (using online tools, yes, but also reference works and learning how to walk up to the person in charge and ask questions), staged yearly student-led contests to determine which new children's books were "the best" in their opinion (and how to articulate why they felt that way), and provided a wide range of books including on controversial topics and in controversial formats (you'd be surprised how many parents think graphic novels aren't real books, for example).

    That's what school librarians do, when they're allowed to do their jobs.

  4. "Time will tell whether likely incoming secretary of education Betsy DeVos — who would be the first in her position to not have attended or sent her children to public school — will make enriching public education resources a priority."

  5. My son went to a public school in Philly for first grade, five years ago. They used the abandoned school library for storage and random overflow events, and let the kids do anything they wanted with the books, which had been randomly stacked, re- and de-shelved. The books were amazing, too--a very well-chosen and vetted collection. It broke my heart...

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