November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Laura Bush: $13 Million in School Library Grants and Counting

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Librarians stick together, even after they leave the stacks and move on to higher-profile posts. How high? Laura Bush is a prime example. In the years before she became first lady and moved to the White House, she taught public school and worked as a librarian. Her love of books and her deep respect for librarians has endured to this day.

As first lady, she visited schools all over the country and noticed that many of their libraries had empty shelves and that the available books were woefully out-of-date. She decided to dedicate herself to supporting programs that encouraged reading and promoted America’s school libraries.

Mrs. Bush visits Wilkinson Middle School in Mesquite ,TX for Middle School Matters with the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Photo by Grant Miller

Former First Lady Laura Bush visits Wilkinson Middle School in Mesquite, TX. Photo by Grant Miller

Today, the non-profit Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries is a testament to the great work school libraries do for young people and their communities every day. Since its start in 2002, the foundation has channeled more than $13 million to 2,500 needy schools nationwide, supplying them with nearly a quarter of a million pieces of material. The money comes from an endowment established with donations from corporations and individuals.

The organization’s reach is wide, working with all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and military bases. This year’s grants totaled $831,000 and were awarded to 130 libraries in 30 states. Grants, which are typically about $7,000 each, are provided to the nation’s neediest schools so they can update and broaden book and print collections with the goal of turning kids into lifelong readers.

Eligible schools (those with 85 percent or more free or reduced lunch) apply for the foundation’s grants, including public, public charter, private, parochial, city, state, county, and reservation schools, as well as social services schools and juvenile detention centers that serve any children in pre-K–12.

A library advisory committee made up of librarians and experts in the fields of children’s literature and education volunteer their time to help formulate policies, determine funding guidelines, and oversee the grant distribution process. Librarians must use grant funds specifically to expand their collections by buying books (hardcover, paperback, or e-books) and magazines. Purchasing shelving or furniture, equipment (computers, electronic readers, Kindles), software, or videos isn’t allowed under the guidelines.

Mrs. Bush with students from the Dallas Environmental Science Academy, as well as librarian, Tabatha  Sustaita-Robb and principal Diana Nunez, during the “Our Great Big Backyard” book event at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.  Photo by Grant Miller

(From left) Diana Nunez, principal of Dallas Environmental Science Academy, eighth grader Joseph Wiley, former First Lady Laura Bush, seventh grader Jazmyne Vargas, sixth grader Gianna Reynoso, and librarian Tabatha Sustaita-Robb at the “Our Great Big Backyard” book event at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.  Photo by Grant Miller

 

The impact of this money can’t be overstated, particularly as it relates to those schools hit hard by devastating storms in the Gulf region. The foundation’s Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative was created to raise money to rebuild school library collections in response to damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Between 2006 and 2015, approximately $6.5 million in grants was given to 124 schools in the area.

This foundation’s funds have also significantly improved the reference collection for Navajo students in New Mexico. Marilyn Stucky, librarian at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington, NM, reports that the new materials lowered the age of both the general reference collections by one to two years. “This may not seem like a lot, but the collection had been stagnant for three years prior due to limited funds, and the reference collection is pivotal for student learning,” she says.

Patty Berry, librarian at Hebard Elementary, a Title I school with one of the highest poverty rates in the Laramie County (WY) School District, knows that a literate life impacts a student’s academic career. “The funds from the Laura Bush Foundation helped to create a completely new library with books that’ll not only change students’ lives but reach their homes, siblings, and parents by making literacy a connecting point,” she explains.

The excitement is palpable in many of these school libraries, with new books flying off the shelves as soon as they arrive. “Of the first 88 books that came in our initial grant order, all were checked out within the first two days,” states Suzanne Grover, librarian at Robert E. Lee Middle School in San Angelo, TX. During the last two months of school, 29 of the top 50 circulating books were grant books, she adds.

The Laura Bush Foundation stays on message as summer approaches. Tracy Young, the foundation’s senior advisor, says the former first lady always encourages students to have a summer filled with reading. “Research shows that children can experience summer slide unless they continue to read and build on their knowledge when they’re off from school,” says Young. It’s vital to support children’s literacy and summer reading to continue the work kids have done during the school year. “Summer reading helps students stay prepared and hit the ground running when school starts in the fall,” notes Young.

The grant application is typically posted on laurabushfoundation.org in the fall, with the due date for submission occurring in December of each year.

 

Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a Manhattan-based reporter and the former research editor of Parenting.

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Comments

  1. Amy Woodsmall says:

    This grant was a life saver to my library. My budget had been frozen for two years and the students were dying for new books. The application was painless and the I was accepted quickly. My students are still enjoying the books and magazines from this grant two years after getting the grant. Thank you Barbara Bush!