This is the second part of a two-part series.
Despite evidence that says a well-funded and well-stocked school library is a key component of academic success, many of Portland's schools lack the funds to keep their libraries open five days a week. Others don't have money for new books.
While funding continues to be a major problem, there is a network of support available from the legislature and the Multnomah County Library – although not nearly enough to keep many school libraries open five days a week.
Without a Plan
Susan Stone, Portland Public Schools' Teacher on Special Assignment for libraries, says the big problem for libraries is a lack of a district-wide plan. Up until last year, a five-year plan attempted to create a framework for the future of libraries. That plan has since been shelved.
Currently, each principal controls how libraries are staffed; the central district office has no say in whether a school chooses to spend more money on a licensed librarian or save a bit by hiring an assistant to run the library.
Stone says there are a good number of quality assistants who serve their students well, but she likens it to a dental hygienist and a dentist. They both serve important roles, she says, but only a dentist can decide when a root canal is needed.
This year, libraries across the state were given a show of support – albeit token – from the state legislature. House Bill 2586 authorized the Oregon Department of Education to award grants to school library programs and requires schools to have a goal of implementing a strong school libraries program. But if that wording sounds lukewarm, you're probably right. That bill includes no requirements and no money. Coincidently, the number of grants issued this school year was zero.
"The school improvement fund wasn't funded this biennium," said Suzanne Smith of the Oregon Department of Education.
The Heels of a Giant
Like many librarians and assistants in the district, Madison's Nancy Sullivan regularly collaborates with teachers to arrange collections around what's being taught in the classroom. Much of the zine collection is provided by the students themselves and the poetry slam each April draws bigger and bigger audiences every year.
"Kids prepare for that," she said.
Over at Rosa Parks Elementary, Paula Izuagie is the only person on the school's staff to work with classes as they visit the library, check out books, re-shelve books and put on the annual Scholastic Book Fair. She says it's a two-person job and is lucky to get volunteer help. She is the acting librarian – yet she's called an "assistant."
"The kids love coming to the library and they love new books," she said, but the only new book money she gets is from the book fair and donations.
So it's ironic that Portland Public sits in a city that is home to Multnomah County Library, one of the best library systems in the country. But Stone and others say it could be a reason that the school library is seen as an expendable part of the school budget. With such a great public library system, why would each school need one?
Jackie Partch, who has worked with the county's School Corps program for the last 13 years, says she hasn't heard anyone outright say that, but it's been on her mind for years.
"What we do is something different," she says.
As a School Corps member, she travels regularly to different schools and teaches students how to navigate the county's systems and access online databases that most school libraries cannot afford.
But she says the Multnomah County Library is no substitute for a well-funded and well-staffed school library. Much like law and medical libraries cater to their students, a public library won't carry the specialized reading material that individual schools require, says Stone.
That said, Multnomah County does supplant some of the services lacking from individual schools. Teachers are given special checkout cards and are able to borrow more books for longer periods of time.
Daniel Menche, an assistant who until this year served as Roosevelt High School's head librarian, created a partnership with the St. John's Library to reduce or cancel fines for students who came to him for help.
Partch also regularly puts together special book collections for teachers trying to find more detailed information about subjects not offered at their school. She says it's a win-win for everyone.
"It gets our books in use," she said, and it ensures that at least some teachers and students are not doing without.