School Librarians: Fighting for Literacy
By Cleo Lampos
School librarians are the main line of defense in the battle for literacy in this country. They are the ones who find the books that will peak the interest of even the most reluctant reader. They are the ones who stock the shelves with all of the wonders that kids want to explore: the stars, how to build a kayak, cooking, rocks, and so much more for the inquisitive minds. If given the chance, the school librarian will read books to any age group with the drama needed to pull the audience into the text. The job of opening children’s minds to worlds unknown can be the most challenging and fulfilling work that a librarian enjoys.
Alas, the days of school libraries are measured short in the very communities where parents scramble to put food on the table and keep a roof over everyone’s heads. Books are a luxury that they cannot afford, so the children in those families do not dream the dreams of the bookworm. They deal only in the cold realities around them.
Several school districts in Los Angeles’ lower income areas have shut down their school libraries because of staffing reductions. In Philadelphia’s 214 public schools, only 16 employ certified school librarians. New York City schools suffer the same fate. City by city, the foundation to learning, which is reading comprehension, is being snuffed out . The statistics that link poverty and crime to low literacy rates abound. Libraries suffer the same fate as the arts and music.
I graduated college with a minor in library science. When I was teaching for 26 years, my classrooms were stocked with the best literature that I could buy from Scholastic, garage sales, thrift shops and bookstores. I read to my classes on a daily basis, and allowed them to borrow my books. The school libraries where I taught tried to keep the shelves stocked with current favorites and other reference materials. We were blessed because the school was described as “an urban school in a suburban setting.” Most of “our kids” came from homes where there were no newspapers, magazines or books. Our students reaped the rewards of teachers who loved literature and a librarian devoted to literacy.
When will our society realize that money spent on librarians and books is a better investment than another row of razor wire around the state prison? The battlefield for a child’s mind is fought between the pages of books. We need our libraries.
Cleo Lampos is an avid reader as well as the author of five books available on amazon.com