Hundreds of K-8 students in Baltimore, MD, will return this fall to 12 new school libraries equipped with Nooks, computers, and even a reading spot for mom and dad, thanks to a $5 million, four-year grant from the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation.
“This is very meaningful work,” says Rachel Garbow Monroe, president of the Weinberg Foundation. “It’s going to be extraordinary.”
Three school libraries—Thomson Johnson Elementary/Middle School, Moravia Park Elementary, and Southwest Baltimore Charter—are set to open their doors September 12, with nine others scheduled to roll out over the next few years. The Weinberg Foundation has plans to announce the second round of school libraries planned to open in 2013.
With school libraries across the nation suffering deep budget cuts, foundations, and even private businesses are coming to their rescue. Retailer Target and grants from the Laura Bush Foundation have been helping schools restock book collections and even supply new computers.
Weinberg had originally promised $1 million in December 2011, but that grew to $5 million this month after the foundation’s trustees decided to increase their support of the Baltimore Library Project. Each library will cost approximately $3 million to build, says Monroe. Additional funds and in-kind promises also will come from outside partners, including the Baltimore Sun, which will donate free newspapers to the school libraries indefinitely, and the Maryland Food Bank, which will build a food bank at each school site.
Each new school library will receive thousands of new books, 100 pre-loaded Nooks and technology that could include laptops to Macs, depending on what the schools determine will best benefit their students. Schools will also receive a matching $100,000 grant over four years and hire a part-time paraprofessional to free up more time for librarians to work with students.
Monroe says the requirements for winning a new library or library upgrade included having a full-time librarian on staff, as well as a principal and librarian excited and willing to participate. All applicants also had to receive federal Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, which are non-interest-bearing bonds given to school districts. Those schools with existing libraries will be renovated, while those without any formal space will have one built.
The Weinberg Foundation targets high schools, particularly those in the K-8 grades, to ensure they provide kids with physical books to increase their literacy skills as they mature as students.
“There’s a feeling that high school libraries will become over time like college libraries, more Internet focused and online,” says Monroe, who says the foundation sought advice from local experts. “The anecdotal feedback was that elementary schools are going to continue to have books for children to touch, and practice reading, which is so important for them in order to have strong reading skills. And we thought we could have a stronger impact on the lives of elementary and middle school children.”
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