By Carol Heinsdorf
and Debra Kachel
In 1991, there were 176 certified librarians in Philadelphia public schools. This year there are 11 and only five are known to be actually doing what they were trained to do. Five librarians for the nation's eighth-largest school district.
Leaving Philadelphia's public school libraries without professional staffing is a grave mistake. It will have consequences for the students for the rest of their lives. Study after study shows a clear link between school libraries staffed by certified librarians and student achievement.
In 2012, research showed that students who had school library programs and certified librarians were more likely to have advanced reading and writing scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests. And they were less likely to have "below basic" scores.
The same study found that school library programs have their greatest impact on students who are economically disadvantaged, black, Hispanic, or have disabilities. African American students in schools with certified librarians are twice as likely to earn advanced writing scores as those in schools without librarians.
A Mansfield University paper that looked at studies done in 23 states verified that schools with a trained librarian - someone who teaches students and works with teachers to develop information and research skills - have a consistent positive effect on student achievement regardless of demographic and economic differences among students.
Here's a quiz. Which of the following are required by Pennsylvania to have libraries and certified librarians:
(a) barber and cosmetology schools,
(b) nursing programs,
(c) adult prisons,
(d) juvenile detention facilities,
(e) public schools?
The answer is all of them, except for public schools.
Many people apparently believe that libraries are an educational frill. This puts libraries in the crosshairs of budget cutters. But those who think that the Internet replaces a library must think it is OK to use WebMD instead of going to a doctor. Librarians teach information literacy - how to separate the useful from the less useful and how to navigate the Internet safely.
Despite public perception, not all students have smart phones, up-to-date computers, or access to the Internet. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 46 percent of households with incomes under $25,000 cannot afford home Internet service. Fifty-three percent of urban households in that same income group do not own a computer.
School libraries provide these 21st-century necessities with a supportive guide in the person of a certified librarian to teach and assist students. Without a librarian to manage things, Pennsylvania's POWER Library databases and e-books, to which every school has access via licenses to digital resources provided by the commonwealth, go unused. Without a librarian to keep the technology and collection up to date, books start disappearing. Classroom teachers stop using the library. After a while, as has happened in so many Philadelphia schools, the library becomes just another classroom.
Parents don't want this. Eighty-one percent of parents say libraries are important for their children because they offer resources and access to information that they can't get at home, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.
The bottom line is that school library programs and certified librarians positively impact student achievement. And their absence results in poorer readers and writers. The research is clear and compelling. Pennsylvania should require all public schools to have libraries and certified school librarians as essential components for learning.
To deny our students access to this is to place upon young people a hardship and disadvantage that will position them behind millions of their peers, not just here, but globally.