More San Diego students may see the inside of their school libraries again, if a proposal being pushed by Superintendent Cindy Marten goes through for the 2014-2015 school year.
More than 20 percent, or about 40 of the 180 schools, in the San Diego Unified School District have been without regular access to their school libraries since budget cuts in 2008 forced the district to reduce staff. This left media centers without qualified people to keep the library doors open and run them, says Barbara Baron, the district’s program manager of instructional resources and materials.
The closings followed the remodeling and construction of many new school libraries throughout the district. Bur now, “[These] libraries are basically closed,” Baron says. “In some cases, human resources has identified a person at the school who can do some circulating of materials. But they cannot run a library.”
Margie Strike, labor relations representative for the California School Employees Association (CSEA), which includes library “media techs” (their official title) in its union, says that books have been stolen from the libraries shelves in some of these unused facilities.
San Diego’s community has been vocal about restoring access to school libraries. During a January board meeting this year, Marten gave her recommendation for the 2014-2015 budget—including her suggestion of opening each school’s library one day a week, says Baron.
Some San Diego schools, such as Curie Elementary, have been able to keep libraries open at least part-time through fundraising efforts. Curie Elementary’s principal, Chris Juarez, decided to run a marathon in the spring of 2008, and used the event as a fundraiser that yielded $26,000 to cover a library paraprofessional for the following school year, he says. She is still working in the K-5 library for three hours a day.
Curie Elementary students rotate through the library for an average of 30 minutes a week, checking out books and having storytime on the rug, he says. A certified school librarian is not in the cards for his school, says Juarez.
“A school like ours could never afford a certified librarian,” he says. “We don’t receive Title 1 funds. But one way or another, our community is committed to keeping the library open no matter what.”
That passion doesn’t always translate into action in some communities, says CSEA’s Strike. “Where [school libraries] are open is in wealthier communities, poorer communities have no librarians at all,” she says. “Students have not had access.”
Library access for teachers is also a concern, according to Baron. She says that with school libraries closed, educators do not have the print or digital resources they need to meet the Common Core State Standards, nor the staff who can communicate how to use these resources that support student learning. “Your library is one of the best sources you have to authentic rigorous texts,” she says. “When they’re closed, you have limited access.”
But, Baron is beginning to work with the district’s resource librarian on ideas that would prepare Marten’s proposal to go through. While Baron’s five-year plan is to eventually have teacher librarians in every school, she’s initially focused on opening the doors.
“We don’t know the amount of funding we will have, but we’re putting preliminary plans in place,” she says. “The first step is having our libraries open next year. I am encouraged.”