School libraries in dire straits
School libraries tell their story
This letter was delivered to the Sonoma Valley Board of Education last Tuesday and was read at their meeting on Jan. 15.
As a collection of concerned parents from Parent Teacher Organizations across the Valley, we have been working for the past two months organizing an event to promote awareness of the dire situation in our elementary school libraries. This modest event is planned for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, in the amphitheater of the Sonoma Plaza. The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation has partnered with us and will handle any fundraising that is accomplished through this awareness campaign.
Now, it has come to our attention that redevelopment funds have been released to the district by the state. We know that many interest groups within the district may be vying for a piece of those funds and we are throwing our cause into the scramble. We are writing to strongly urge that a small portion of these funds be used to buy-back the lost hours to our elementary school libraries for this year and beyond. Our elementary school libraries have faced a series of cuts, this year’s budget being only the most recent, and it was nearly the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We are at bare-bones for our libraries.
One of the stated main goals for SVUSD is that every child should be reading at grade level by third grade. How can you hope to meet this goal, or even give lip-service to an attempt toward meeting this goal, while slashing those very libraries that service kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade students?
It is proven that access to books and promotion of reading is one of the greatest measures of future success for students. Our district’s students (and especially our large number of English-language learners and low-socio economic students) must be served in this capacity by well-organized, promoted, supported and open school libraries.
In general, the 25 percent cut to elementary libraries this year has resulted in fewer hours of library time for each kindergarten-to-fifth-grade student in the district, and resulted in overworked library staff who are “running to stand still” just to keep their library space functional. What follows are testimonials from several schools to give you tangible details regarding the impact of this year’s cuts.
Prestwood: Prior to the cuts, our library was open approximately
7-1/2-hours a day. This kept the library open until 4 p.m. each afternoon, allowing for quieter after-school hours in which logging and restocking could take place. After the cuts, the library personnel’s hours were reduced to six hours per day, reducing after-school hours to one hour a week. Each class is scheduled for one 30-minute library visit a week. The visits are scheduled back to back, leaving little time for restocking. The single hour a week (Wednesday, 1 to 2 p.m.) when the library is open after school, is a very busy time in the library. The library is crowded with parents and children. It’s like Black Friday, which shows you the desire and the lack of accommodation. The Prestwood library serves approximately 460 students.
Dunbar: Prior to this last round of cuts, our library was open 16 hours a week. It is now open 12 hours a week. On those two days, classes come into the library, one after the other. Each student on campus has 30 minutes of library time a week. Our library is not open after school or during lunch. Our librarian scrambles to maintain organization and order in her library space and often works unpaid hours just to keep up. The majority of our students are ESL and/or low-socio-economic status, and are likely to not have easy access to books purchased for the home, or even to books at the county library. As such, the link to the school library is critical. Many of our avid readers finish books within days, but then have to wait a week until their library time comes around again. We would like to see the library open at least a few more hours so that our librarian could have paid time in which to organize, and our avid readers could swap books in and out. The Dunbar library serves approximately 250 students.
Sassarini: When our librarian was originally hired, our library was open 6.7 hours a day (33.5 hours a week). Four years ago, she was cut to 5.6 hours a day (28 hours per week) and now she is down to 4.2 hours a day (21 hours a week). This allows for each classroom to visit once a week, with classes generally coming in back-to-back. During the classroom visits, the librarian is spending most of her time checking out books, particularly with the larger class sizes in second- to fifth-grade. All additional time (of which there is little) is spent re-shelving books and cataloging new books to be put out for students. We do not have before- or after-school library hours, and the library is also closed during lunch and recess time. The Sassarini library serves approximately 410 students.
Woodland Star: At Woodland Star Charter School, we don’t have a central library, but rather individual class libraries in each room. The recent decreases in education funding have hampered our ability to replenish our libraries and purchase new books.
El Verano: In 2007, the librarian was hired to work 32 hours a week. This meant the library was open before and after school every day, and each class came once a week. There was still “class size reduction” in all but fourth- and fifth-grades, so most classes had about 20 students. This meant the librarian had time to read students a story, or give a library skills lesson to the older kids, help them find books, and still have enough time to check out their books to them. In 2009, the hours were reduced to 28 hours a week. The library was then only open four days a week. Third-grade class size reduction was removed, so now there were three grades (third, fourth and fifth) whose classes were so large, it took the whole half hour visit for students to check their books in and out.
Sometimes the librarian has a little time to read to students, but sadly doesn’t have enough time during their visit to teach them any library skills or help them find books.
Last year the hours were reduced, again, to 20 hours a week. The library is open four days a week – but never before school, and only three days a week after school. The library is closed during most recesses and lunch times. Class size reduction was removed from second grade, so now second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes are usually made up of 30 or more kids. The librarian has time for a quick story, and the rest of their visit is checking out books. She is struggling with completing her basic tasks for lack of time. She says, “I am not the librarian I want to be, because time doesn’t allow.” Any time there aren’t classes visiting the library (which is barely ever), the librarian re-shelves books and cleans up the library. She has one great volunteer, who comes in to help an hour a week.
Thank you for your time and consideration. We are hoping that bringing the elementary library funding back to last year’s levels through the rest of this year, will at least be considered as a good use of a very small portion of the redevelopment funds.
Sherl Baldwin, Sassarini Elementary School
Woodland Star Charter
Sassarini Middle School
Kathy Ervin, Prestwood Elementary School
Shannon Lee, Dunbar Elementary School
Alissa Pearce, Dunbar Elementary School