Utah’s school libraries are one step closer to getting a $500,000 infusion for new books, materials and electronic resources for the 2014-2015 school year. Even so, advocates aren’t letting up anytime soon—and continue to push for funds along with increased awareness of school libraries.
“We are still not anywhere close to being finished,” says Rosette Acord, a member of the Parents Advocating Libraries in Schools (PALS) steering committee, based out of the Wasatch Font area of Utah. “But we did make the first hurdle.”
Both Accord and Sharyl Smith, a former-school district administrator in Utah, are familiar lobbyists in Salt Lake City, eager to speak to politicians about the need for school libraries—and the need to fund them. For the past few months, the two have pushed for a new line item on Utah’s state budget, requesting an additional $500,000 in annual funds for library materials and electronic resources, according to PALS. The current funding is $550,000 a year, says Smith, down from a one-time high of $2 million.
Sixty budget requests made their way to a Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on Feb. 13 in the state capital, Salt Lake City—the first step toward getting the funding inked into the final budget expected to be completed in March. Acord and Smith attended the February meeting, which ended with their funding item moved up to item number 22 on the priorities list.
“At first we were on the backside of the paper,” says Smith. “Then, the committee voted to move us to the priority list.”
Acord and Smith not only express the need to press for school library funds, but also to remind lawmakers how crucial the centers are to student learning. The two know that librarians are often not as vocal as they could be about libraries’ educational role, and they, too, feel some responsibility in being cheerleaders in their respective positions.
“I think sometimes that libraries are not the squeaky wheel,” says Acord when it comes to lobbying. “So, the first thing we are always doing is an awareness program.”
Barbara Hopkins, the executive director of the Utah Library Association and a district library media specialist for the past three years for the Canyons School District in Utah, says she feels the budget pinch in terms of staffing the 43 school libraries. Certified librarians run the eight middle school and five high school libraries, and paraprofessionals run the 29 elementary school ones. Hopkins says she struggles to keep every member of her staff.
“I have seen a lot of cuts in the past three to four years,” she says. “Staffing is an issue, and we’re fighting every year to keep the staffing we have.”
While the funds Acord and Smith are currently requesting wouldn’t apply to the staffing side, the two eventually intend to fight for more after they see the results of the current push. The two say they will tie their request with Utah’s curriculum overhaul, which involves aligning new lessons with the Common Core State Standards and other standards, says Smith. When that happens, they hope to raise the flag for additional library staffing, as well.
“We need to increase funding, or it will be the same as a non-math person teaching calculus,” says Acord. “But, that is down the road. Right now, we’re still working on getting school libraries mentioned.”