March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

PA State Legislators Hold Hearing on Status of School Libraries

Although 94 percent of Pennsylvania’s 3,303 K-12 schools have libraries, the bulk of schools without

Mary Kay Biagini, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, presents her study to PA State Legislators.

media centers are in Philadelphia, says a new study that was presented to state legislators on August 22.

Only 128 schools are without school libraries—and 103 of them are in Philadelphia, says Mary Kay Biagini, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who presented her study to the State House of Representative’s Education Committee on School Libraries. The hearing was a result of an almost two-year process that began with the passage of House Resolution 987 in 2010, which called for a study of Pennsylvania’s school libraries.

The report also found that in schools with librarians, only 44 percent of them were employed full time. Biagini said 75 percent of elementary school librarians had fixed schedules and lacked the time to collaborate with classroom teachers.

In her testimony, Eileen Kern, president of the Pennsylvania School Librarian Association, spoke about the October release of researcher Keith Curry Lance’s Pennsylvania School Library Impact Study, which examines the gap between existing school library programs in Pennsylvania and what’s needed to help students develop 21st century skills.

Meanwhile, Sandra Zelno of the Education Law Center shared school library initiatives from other states and pointed out that while Pennsylvania doesn’t require librarians for public schools, it mandates them for private schools and prisons.

Matthew Hutcheson, superintendent of the Jeannette City School District, spoke about his anguish over budget cuts, which have make it difficult to provide leisure reading materials for students.

“When you remove a qualified librarian from the library, I believe that the library begins to cease to exist,” said Graig Henshaw, a librarian from the York City School District. He and Allison Burrell of the Southern Columbia School District testified that they’re now forced to work at multiple schools. Burrell said she was the “solo librarian” for the district and pointed out that there are at least 25 other school librarians in the state in a similar situation. She called for more assistance for those like herself who struggle to meet the needs of students spread across multiple schools. Henshaw stressed the difficulty school librarians face covering numerous subject areas with so many students.

Former students also had a chance to voice their opinions about the importance of library instruction and the impact teacher layoffs have had on them. Kristy Oren said her high school librarian introduced her to databases and helped her prepare for university-level research at Hamilton College, where she now attends. During Sean Gregory’s four years at Danville High School, he “noticed a subtle but steady decrease in that trademark ease of access” that he came to take for granted in the library when its staff was reduced and eliminated.

Legislators welcomed the various testimonies, with Representative Paul Clymer, who chairs the Education Committee, saying, “I was concerned to learn through the study that, on average, staffing, funding, access, and resources are inadequate for achieving optimal benefit from these specialized educators.”

“This study clearly illustrates that we need to look more closely at this issue and make sure that our school libraries are being used in a way that most benefits the students,” he added.

The study outlined six recommendations, which included restoring the state-level Division of School Library Media Services in the Commonwealth Libraries and appointing a director; creating an information literacy curriculum; having an annual assessment of school library programs; making the state Guidelines for Pennsylvania School Library Programs available to administrators; and providing guidance in the selection of adaptive technologies for the visual disabled and materials in languages other than English.

Representative Mark Longietti, who sponsored the resolution authorizing the study, said he and his colleagues would examine the recommendations to see what could be implemented.

Clymer added, “With the information contained in this study, we can now present a strong case when discussions begin for the 2013-14 state budget for the necessity of providing additional funding for this important educational component.”

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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