Los Angeles K–12 schools, already operating with a paucity of teacher librarians, also have a shortage of library aides. While parent-teacher organizations are stepping to raise funds to hire library staff in a few cases, other school libraries are being run by volunteers—violating Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) own rules, and resulting in the loss of potentially millions of dollars of materials.
“We have proof that volunteers are doing that,” says Franny Parrish, about volunteers running school libraries. “They’re even giving volunteers access codes to check books in and out.”
Parrish, a library aide at Dixie Canyon Community Charter School school for the past year, works 15 hours a week to service 700 kindergarten through fifth graders. The school lacks a teacher librarian on staff. Parrish has seen schools stripped of useful library time for their students—and stripped as well of important learning materials, including books, she says.
At Dixie Canyon, Parrish inventoried the book collection when she started in September 2012, and found $12,000 worth of books missing. The school library had been open to teachers who could check out books for student, but without any library staff to help, materials were often not returned.
“For a teacher to track down books and run a class, that’s not possible,” says Parrish, who is also a member of The California School Employees Union and has filed a grievance against LAUSD. “We believe millions of dollars of books across the district are missing.”
But LAUSD schools don’t have the funds, it appears, to hire staff to run every school libraries. Just 349 library aide positions were purchased for the 2013–2014 school year—and only 40 of them paid for by the district—to support 18 primary centers, 469 elementary schools, 85 middle schools, 85 high schools, and 28 span schools where various grades are at one site, according to data from LAUSD.
Many of these staffers are not in full-time positions and like Parrish, and work just a few hours a day.
“Not all are the usual six-hour position,” says Monica Carazo, a public information officer with LAUSD. “Some schools currently purchase library aides on a two- or three- hour basis instead due to the budget situation.”
High schools are the only centers where LAUSD is paying for teacher librarian positions, with some of these assignments stretched over two locations, according to Carazo. Many elementary schools have neither teacher librarians nor aides. At some schools, like Wonderland Avenue Elementary in Canyon Hills, PTAs have reportedly stepped in to help fund some help. But for eager parents who may not have the ability to buy a position yet have the time to volunteer? LAUSD says to stay home.
A policy bulletin published in April strictly outlines the way volunteers can—and cannot—work in school libraries. If a library aide is not on staff in an elementary school or a teacher librarian is not on staff in a middle or high school, volunteers cannot help with basic tasks like checking in and out books.
But that policy seems to counter LAUSD’s own directive for schools to find avenues for its students to use school libraries. “School principals have the responsibility to ensure that students have access to the school library, that school library materials are appropriately monitored and maintained, and that school libraries are appropriately staffed and managed,” reads the Library Staffing—Student Access Clarifications bulletin of April 16, 2013.
That’s precisely why Parrish got involved to file a grievance against LAUSD, to protest the district’s saying school libraries should be open, but allowing non-aides or teacher librarians to run them. She says she will keep filing new grievances until proper funding is restored for “appropriate staffing,” she says, to all the libraries in the district.
“The students deserve nothing less,” she tells School Library Journal. “How can you say you promote literacy without libraries?”