February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Harlem Advocacy Group Demands School Librarians

HarlemElders_petitionThe Harlem Council of Elders, a volunteer organization founded by senior citizens with roots in the community, has launched a petition demanding that thousands of middle- and high-school students have certified school librarians assigned to their schools by the time school starts in the fall.

In 2015, the group used publicly available information to find out that 27 out of the 35 schools between 110th and 155th Street in Manhattan don’t employ certified librarians. The Council says the Department of Education has verified their finding.

Many of the 27 schools seem to be violating state regulations requiring secondary schools to employ a certified librarian, either full or part-time, depending on the number of students. Some of the schools in question have library rooms, though without certified librarians staffing them.

Harlem schools enroll among the city’s highest percentages of Black and Latino students and students living in poverty. New York City Department of Education officials cited at a New York City Council hearing a city-wide average of 50 percent of schools without a certified librarian, as opposed to the 77 percent Harlem figure.

“When we attend community events and explain that thousands of Harlem’s secondary-school students are today, in 2016, being deprived of such a basic educational resource, people are absolutely shocked,” said Galen Kirkland, president of the Harlem Council of Elders, to SLJ. “We are now building a coalition of mostly Harlem-based organizations to help collect signatures and continue raising awareness about this issue, including among the affected students and their families, until city and state officials have no choice but to remedy this shameful state of affairs.”

The petition notes the documented low average literacy and college-readiness rates among students in Harlem, and partially attributes those figures to the lack of professional school librarians, who possess, according to the petition, “the awesome power…..to instill in young people a love of reading, as well as the research and information-literacy skills that students need in order to succeed in college, the work force, and other post-secondary endeavors.”

The petition also calls upon the community to hold officials—among them, Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña—accountable for getting all Harlem secondary-school students access to certified school librarians at the legally required levels by the 2016-2017 school year.

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Christina Vercelletto About Christina Vercelletto

Christina Vercelletto is School Library Journal’s former news editor. An award-winning writer and editor, Vercelletto has held staff positions at Babytalk, Parenting, Scholastic Parent & Child, and NYMetroParents.com.

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