House Panel Mulls Stronger School Library Policy

Not all school libraries are created equal.  A State Board of Education study highlights the point.  While almost all schools have libraries and 95% have librarians, only 44% of those librarians are full-time.  “Many of the librarians are serving multiple schools within their districts,” says the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Mary Biagini, the study’s lead author.  “So students do not have access to a librarian, and sometimes not to the library, throughout their school days.”

The study, mandated by state lawmakers, also found dated and scarce collections at school libraries.  Dr. Biagini says state guidelines recommend $40 – $50-dollars being spent per student on library services, but almost 40% of school districts allocate just $1 – $10-dollars per student.  “The research shows that the higher the funding, the better those students do in reading and writing.”

The House Education Committee formally accepted the school library study at an informational hearing on Wednesday.  It also heard from advocates, who are promoting equal access to adequate school libraries.

While the State Board of Education study provides a snapshot of the 2010-2011 school year, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association says more recent budget cuts have only made the situation worse.  “We found that an additional 198 schools eliminated or reduced their services from the previous year,” PSLA president Eileen Kern told the committee.

Despite 75-pages of guidelines, state law does not currently mandate dedicated funding, trained staff or even school libraries themselves.  Citing those facts, leaders of the Pennsylvania PTA also called for reforms that set standards for Pennsylvania public school library programs.

Before he adjourned the hearing, Education Chair Paul Clymer (R-Bucks) told the audience that his committee will be making strong school library recommendations when the new state budget is discussed.