February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Cost of Cuts: When we lose librarians, it’s the kids who suffer most | Editorial

Glass half-full

Photo credit: iStockphoto

I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of person, but sometimes you can’t help reflecting on the emptiness—on what’s missing. When our schools cut librarians to save dollars, a critical contributor to student learning exits the building. And kids lose out.

This is the undeniable impact illustrated by a Pennsylvania study presented in our feature story, “Librarian Required,” by Debra E. Kachel and Keith Curry Lance (p. 28). The study joins a growing body of research that proves the efficacy of librarians in our schools. But this one goes further, showing how some 200,000 students are being denied in a state with deep cuts to school libraries. All this in light of the Common Core State Standards and the call for 21st-century skills. Given the responsibility for student achievement, anyone with control of the purse strings should seriously consider the lessons of the Pennsylvania study.

“Consistently, reading and writing scores are better for students who have a full-time, certified librarian than those who don’t,” note Kachel and Lance. On the flip side, “Below Basic” scores on reading and writing are higher in schools that do not have librarians. The inclusion of writing is an important element of this kind of research, which has often focused on reading scores
(see “Something to Shout About,” SLJ, September 2011, pp. 28–33).

This writing aspect is especially vital given the Common Core and its emphasis on students’ ability to produce meaningful materials in the learning process. “Advanced” writing scores are three times as likely in schools with a full-time librarian. And, it gets better with better budgets. “Students with access to well-resourced libraries are two to five times more likely to score ‘Advanced’ in writing than students without such libraries,” write Kachel and Lance. From the glass-half-full perspective, that’s inspiring. But then I think of the kids in schools without librarians.

The findings of this study alone should take the decision to cut a librarian off the table. Pennsylvania should serve as an example for all.

Of course, principals and superintendents make hard decisions based on much more than research—the decision to trim a library position is no doubt a complex one. This is why, inside the profession, we have to be ever more creative in surfacing this kind of data as we illustrate librarians’ value in terms of student achievement to principals, superintendents, and parents.

We have the research, now we have to get it into the right hands. Kachel and Lance call for each of us to take these findings to key stakeholders. As part of the profession, I’m committed to sharing the message in our publication and in my discussions with educators and partners. As a parent, I’m going to take these findings to the principal of my son’s school, which currently has no librarian despite strong library leadership in the district.

What will you do?

Too often, advocacy can take a defensive position. I’m not talking about defending what has been, but showing what librarians bring toward a successful future. The survey makes clear: one key staffer can make a huge difference in the overall learning in our schools. And that staffer is a librarian.

Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.



  1. Well said, Rebecca! May I submit this article to our local newspaper as a letter to the editor?

  2. Linda–absolutely feel free to quote it in your local advocacy efforts. A letter from you placing my argument in the context of your local situation is probably the strongest way to go. Feel free to reach out to me on email to brainstorm other ideas.

  3. Absolutely right about libraries and librarians, of course. I wish the SLJ and the field would take a harder look at the common core, however, accurately described by Susan Ohanian as “a radical untried curriculum overhaul and … nonstop national testing.” There is no evidence supporting the common core, no evidence that it is necessary, and it bleeds funding from many worthy causes, including, of course, school libraries and librarians.
    Start here: susanohanian.org.

  4. As a former school librarian now in higher ed, I am glad to see this kind of research-based argument for more reading and fewer cuts to library services. Apparently, though, SLJ did not get the memo about the Rotted Common Core, which is designed to function as the testing delivery system for the education deformers who are addicted to the multi-billion dollar business of standardized testing. As long a high-stakes testing continues, so will the slashing of educational services by the modern day efficiency zealots in charge at ED. Librarians need to climb aboard the anti-testing train, for until high stakes testing ends, no book is safe. In solidarity, Jim Horn

  5. Lindsay O'Donnell says:

    Thank you for writing this editorial. I am an educator in Baltimore County Public Schools, where our library media specialist positions are at risk. Recently, our school board proposed changes to a policy to eliminate language that requires certified library media specialists in our school libraries. The Library Office was also reorganized from being a part of the Curriculum and Instruction Department to Research, Accountability, and Testing. These moves undercut library media specialists’ value as teachers and send the message that their presence in schools is not essential to student success. Thank you for pointing me towards Katchel and Lance’s study. I will be using their data in future advocacy efforts.

  6. Very well said and GREAT research! Thanks for sharing this. It’s sad to see so many schools without librarians now, or even one librarian being shared by multiple schools. The value they bring is very deep and rich.