This is part one of a two-part series.
|Madison High School Librarian Nancy Sullivan|
You might not know it, but the libraries inside schools have a lot to do with how well our students learn in the classroom.
But at Portland Public Schools, two-thirds of libraries don't even have a certified librarian running them. In a district of 85 libraries, only 28 are staffed with librarians.
About 50 percent of school libraries are only staffed half-time. Over at Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women, for example, the library is only staffed Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday.
And many don't even have any money for new books.
So why are school libraries in Portland Public Schools in such a crunch for support?
Susan Stone, a "Teacher on Special Assignment" (or TOSA) for libraries, says it has everything to do with the district's lack of money.
"Sometimes it's easy to think a library can slide for a while," said Stone, one of only a skeleton crew at the district level that assists school libraries. "But the problem with that is that they usually don't come back."
The district's director of curriculum, Marcia Arganbright, didn't return calls by press time.
Even when accounting for differences such as poverty, the experience of classroom teachers and demographics, the library's health will likely tell you how well students are scoring on reading, according to research.
"When these other conditions are taken into account, LM (library media) program development alone accounts for three to five percent of variation in Oregon reading scores," according to a 2002 report by the Library Research Service. "Generally its importance falls between that of community differences, which consistently demonstrated stronger effects, and school differences, which usually demonstrated weaker effects."
That report, "Oregon School Librarians Collaborate to Improve Academic Achievement," says that a school with an adequately staffed and stocked library that coordinates with teachers' lesson plans -- and that also embraces networked information technology -- attains higher levels of achievement.
Over at Madison High School, Nancy Sullivan, a certified teacher and librarian, has to put in a lot of her own time to keep the library running at full pace. State guidelines say libraries should be putting $27 per student for new books and materials.
"We don't have money for tape," she says.
Madison High School Book Sale:
Sept. 25 and 26
Sullivan is one of the industrious ones – she sells buttons, applies for grants, holds casino night fund-raisers and on Sept. 25 and 26, Sullivan is organizing a large music and book sale at the school to help raise funds for new books.
For her efforts, she stocks the shelves with new fiction, has created a graphic novel and zine section and regularly brings in authors to speak to the students. Portland author Heidi Durrow – "The Girl Who Fell From the Sky" -- is on the list, but she has to raise money for books to ensure students get a chance to read the novel before the visit.
Even Sullivan's assistant isn't paid for by the district. She raised enough money last year to pay a part-time salary.
At Roosevelt High, library assistant Daniel Menche said that he's nearly doubled the circulation rate in the three years he's been there with very little money. Unlike Sullivan, Menche has found little monetary support from the school's community, where about 75 percent are on food stamps.
Menche, like Madison and others, started displaying more books by their cover, instead of their spine. He also makes it a point to engage students who come into the library and make sure they find the book they were looking for. If someone is struggling to read he encourages them and makes the library the most welcoming place in the school. The Roosevelt library is also open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. – the longest in the district.
As Roosevelt's circulation rose, Menche began sending out emails to all the staff about the number of books that were being checked out.
"I started treating it like a sports score," he says. "Then I started comparing the numbers of other high schools."
Low and behold, Roosevelt's students are reading about the same rate as at other high schools, despite the school's less prestigious reputation. And a $7.7 million grant to the school has also allowed the hiring of a licensed media specialist and possibly some money for new books.
Without much money, Menche says it's more important than ever to make the library a place students want to come. During meetings, he says he hears from many "old-school" librarians who say the reason they became librarians was because they love books.
"Great. Barnes and Noble is full of people who love books," he said. "But do you love readers? Do you love young readers and readers who are having trouble reading?"