A strong school library program is the cornerstone of a healthy school, unfortunately schools do not have the money to support strong school libraries and students are suffering from it, according to California School Library Association.
State budget cuts have forced schools to cut library hours and librarians who used to work full time in a single school are now forced to provide the services at multiple schools in half the time, said Jackie Siminitus, vice president of communications for the CSLA, an organization of library media teachers, classroom teachers and paraprofessionals committed to enriching student learning.
The consequence, Siminitus said, is students are making it to college underprepared to do critical research needed to succeed in class.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced last week the draft Model School Library Standards for public schools is now available for review and public comment.
The State Board of Education authorized O’Connell in March to develop the standards, based on California Education Code Section 18101 that required the board to adopt standards, rules and regulations for school library services. More than 60 research studies throughout the nation have shown that students attending schools with good libraries learn more, get better grades and score higher on standardized tests than their peers in schools without libraries, according to the state Department of Education.
The School Library Standards are expected to go to the state Board of Education for approval at its meeting on March 10, 2010.
The standards, however, will not compel a school district to fund full-time librarians or to keep libraries open throughout the day.
It is an issue that should be addressed at the state level, said Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.
"Libraries need to be a recognized priority in Sacramento,” Hill said. "We should find and carve out funding for libraries just as we do for other services.”
Siminitus’ work is done at a statewide level but she has started a grassroots effort to look more locally to find solutions to the problem by reaching out to Hill, for instance, and the College of San Mateo.
A strong school library, according to the CSLA, is one that has a full-time, certified school teacher librarian and a full-time paraprofessional working as a team; lots of carefully selected books, databases and other learning resources; a program which provides instruction activities for students to use the research process in finding the information they need; technology; and has its doors open before, during and after school hours, with liberal circulation policies.
If a school library does not have all these things, then a student attending that school will be at a distinct disadvantage to students who do have access to a strong school library, Siminitus said.
"Studies show students who have access to active full-time libraries do better. Our county and local economy depends on a well-educated, well-rounded research-oriented workforce,” Hill said.
For Siminitus, the issue is about equity.
"Strong school libraries help give our students the best chance to succeed regardless of the education of the parents, poverty levels, language or ethnicity,” she said.
To learn more about the California School Library Association go to: http://www.csla.net/.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.