Since 2000, there has been nearly a 20 percent decrease in libraries across the nation, according to the School Library Journal. Libraries are dying. On the other hand, student population has risen by almost 10 percent—while the minority student population has risen as much as 50 percent since 2000.
The United States can’t afford to fund libraries, but when they do, they are severely depleted. Though they’ve gone downhill since 1999, the most striking losses were during the years 2009-2010 and 2013-2014. The first drop can be attributed to the recession of 2008, but the second dip is more pressing, which was caused by a cut in funding, according to a report by Kathy D Tuck and Dwight R. Holmes.
It’s not that schools don’t want to employ librarians, there just simply isn’t money to spend on their salaries. After the financial crisis of 2008, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed and increased funding was provided to programs nationwide, including schools and libraries. In 2011, however, funding was cut and school libraries were forced into even further decline.
In Chicago, for instance, public schools have gone from more than 450 librarians to fewer than 150 librarians in more than 600 schools, all within a four-year period. In Los Angeles Unified, which is made up of more than 1,000 schools, almost half of their librarians have been lost in the past decade, according to Education Week.
In Florida, the number of librarians employed has dropped 27 percent since 2005, according to an article from 2017 by the Herald Tribune. In New York City, the number of school libraries had dropped more than 50 percent by 2014. A 1974 state law requires middle and high schools in New York to hire librarians in direct proportion to the size of their schools. If complied with, this would force the district to double the number of librarians, which could cost up to $30 million.
One could argue that the funds do exist—they’re merely disappearing to other positions. Nationwide, schools have seen an 11 percent increase in counselors, a 19 percent increase in instructional aides and a whopping 28 percent increase in school administrators. These increases could be coming at the expense of libraries and librarians. The idea presented, that librarians aren’t worth keeping around, is dangerous.
Something that educators and creators of modern education have invested countless amounts of time and money into is standardized testing. According to numerous studies, there’s a direct correlation between librarians existing and students scoring higher on reading and writing tests.
According to a Colorado study, schools that maintained or gained a librarian between 2005 and 2011 had fewer students scoring ‘unsatisfactory’ in reading tests in 2011. Schools with at least one full-time equivalent librarian averaged significantly higher advanced CSAP reading scores than schools with less than one FTE endorsed librarian.
Perhaps the most unnerving part of all of this is the sharp difference in the number of librarians working in high majority ethnic schools. In all elementary districts, regardless of the poverty level, the ones with the highest ethnic minority status have fewer librarians per student than low ethnic minority status districts.
To put that in perspective, among districts that have kept all their librarians since 2005, 75 percent are white, according to Education Week. They go on to say that the 20 districts that have lost the most librarians had, on average, 78 percent minority student populations. Those numbers are staggering and are clear warning signs. This is an issue that’s hitting minority schools harder.
It’s proven that libraries help test scores, yet funding is disappearing or being allocated for other resources. All of this only feeds into the cycle which keeps high poverty schools and high ethnic minority schools below wealthier and whiter schools. Libraries are dying, and it’s becoming increasingly alarming.
Maria Pawlak is an English and political science major junior who is still reeling from Ad Adstra.