Students and Parents Are Fighting to Save NYC’s Imperiled School Libraries

On January 12, a bunch of 60 kindergarten and first grade college students and their chaperones assembled on the steps of New York Metropolis’s Division of Training (DOE) to demand a college librarian for his or her constructing, P.S. 261. They have been led by guardian and youngsters’s guide creator Jenny Fox, dressed as fictional villain Carmen Sandiego with an indication asking “The place In New York Are All of the Faculty Librarians?”

The scholar protesters additionally known as for college librarians to be employed at each faculty within the metropolis that presently lacks one. Regardless of a Chancellor’s regulation requiring a staffed library in each faculty in New York Metropolis, greater than 60 % of the town’s colleges presently lack an authorized faculty librarian, and 40 % haven’t any library in any respect.

The rally was the newest motion in a marketing campaign that Fox and others have been waging for greater than a yr. The marketing campaign began after the librarian whom the college employed with PTA funds — a workaround that doesn’t meet the requirements of the DOE — resigned for an additional place, and P.S.261 was once more left with no faculty librarian, and consequently with no functioning faculty library.

Fox began drawing consideration to the scenario with a postcard marketing campaign. College students crammed out the colourful playing cards itemizing their favourite books and why they love studying, and despatched them to Metropolis Council members Shahana Hanif and Lincoln Restler, Comptroller Brad Lander and Chancellor David Banks. The college collected 400 postcards in a “Magic Mailbox,” and oldsters donated stamps. In response to the motion, council members penned a letter to the DOE asking for knowledge on house and staffing.

Recognizing {that a} letter will do little by itself, Fox and her workforce adopted up with a petition drive that gathered signatures from greater than 1,000 youngsters from throughout the town. The petition demanded funding for licensed faculty librarians in each public faculty in New York Metropolis.

They delivered these signatures on the January 12 rally, adopted by a gathering with Rita Joseph, chair of the Training Committee, and Lincoln Restler. Melissa Jacobs, director of New York Metropolis’s Faculty Library System, and Carolyne Quintana, deputy chancellor of Instructing and Studying, joined the dialog. Everybody agreed that faculty libraries staffed by licensed faculty librarians are essential to literacy and to scholar success. The query now could be tips on how to make good on state commitments to offering a college librarian for each learner in each zip code.

Photograph by Jeff Samaniego

What makes this motion all of the extra pressing is the issue of lowering literacy charges and rising racial disparities within the metropolis. Recent reading test scores point out COVID-era declines in literacy amongst youthful college students and widening racial and ethnic disparities: 67 % of white college students handed standardized studying exams in comparison with 35.8 % of Black college students. Whereas check scores don’t inform the entire story, they level to the necessity for elevated investments in studying instruction, significantly for college kids of shade.

Although the town has responded with guarantees to reevaluate the studying curriculum to give attention to phonics quite than whole-language instruction, faculty libraries have to be part of any renewed dedication to rising literacy within the metropolis.

Research by the American Association of School Librarians convincingly demonstrates that scholar success will increase when youngsters have entry to a faculty library and an authorized faculty librarian. Faculty librarians facilitate interdisciplinary training; develop collaborations between lecturers, librarians and oldsters; help scholar inquiry; and provide an area and place for college kids to learn independently. And for coverage makers thinking about quantifiable adjustments, reading scores increase when college students have entry to high-quality faculty libraries.

The New York Metropolis faculty library disaster isn’t new. The variety of faculty librarians has been dropping since Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. Bloomberg’s “small colleges” motion broke massive colleges into a number of smaller entities, each public and constitution, that have been then co-located on the identical campus. Pitched as a option to develop various instructional alternatives and provide smaller class sizes, Bloomberg’s plan emerged from the college alternative motion and its embrace of constitution colleges. Granted mayoral management of the town faculty system, Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein vastly elevated the variety of metropolis constitution colleges — which don’t pay lease at the same time as they encroach on public house within the metropolis — from a handful to greater than 175 colleges serving greater than 70,000 college students. On the identical time, many buildings now housed a number of public colleges in the identical house, drastically rising the executive employees within the metropolis’s public training sector. Every of those entities requires its personal layer of workplace employees, from principals to guardian coordinators, and every has its personal priorities for shared areas. Together with gymnasiums, auditoriums and cafeterias, libraries are topic to turf wars and are sometimes designated because the house colleges can do with out. As one faculty librarian informed me, “It takes 20 years to construct a library and two days to destroy it.”

Photograph by Jeff Samaniego

The significance of faculty libraries is gaining legislative traction across the nation. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy just lately signed legislation requiring information literacy instruction in Okay-12 colleges, squarely the area of faculty libraries. In Washington State, SB 5102, presently in committee, would establish statewide standards for college libraries. And final yr Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) launched the Right to Read Act, federal laws that may develop entry to highschool libraries for kids throughout the nation. In a political context rife with pushes to ban books and set up parental management over library collections, affirmative laws is all of the extra essential.

For Fox, whose issues started along with her personal youngsters and their studying wants after which expanded to incorporate a rising motion for college libraries in New York Metropolis, “Faculty libraries — staffed by licensed librarians — are crucial to the psychological and academic well-being of all of our kids.” She continued, “They’re an important counterpoint to classroom literacy — uniquely profound areas fostering freedom, self-direction, exploration, and illustration.” A college library is a primary want, like artwork and music and dance, essential to the lifetime of the town and its individuals, and worthy of our combat.