ARIEL: For years, schools in New York state have failed to offer students adequate library resources. In 2003, a court of appeals ruled that the state must meet certain requirements to ensure all children have the opportunity for a “sound, basic education.”
CHARLOTTE: That means students must have access to up-to-date school libraries, certified librarians, and media specialists. As Theresa Avila reports, New York City is still struggling to comply, but some progress is underway.
At a middle school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, neatly-organized bookshelves line the walls of the school library. It’s a Thursday afternoon and Jennifer Abounader, the school librarian, is showing me around the brightly lit room. It’s lunch break but about a dozen or so students fill the room.
Ambi: bring up murmur of conversation.
It’s not long before one asks Abounader about a book. She doesn’t know the title, but she remembers the cover.
Child: Do you have the book, um, the lady in a circle thingy, and a cover screen?
ABOUNADER: Lady in a circle? …
Child: Yea, you know, like a crystal.
ABOUNADER: In a crystal. Um… Matched?
Child: Yep. (fade out)
Abounader recognizes the bestselling children’s book.
ABOUNADER: Do you remember who the author is? Because I don’t remember who the author is.
Child: It’s a girl.
ABOUNADER: It’s a girl. Yea I know it’s a girl.
After thinking for a moment, she realizes the book might have recently been checked out.
ABOUNADER: I’m sorry. I do not have the first one. If I find it …
Child: But I need it this week.
ABOUNADER: I know, I know.
Abounader says she’s constantly connecting children with books. That’s the role of a librarian.
ABOUNADER: You think library, you think, old woman, old card catalog. Quiet, someone shushing you. Which I do a fair amount of.
She’s been a librarian at M.S. 88 for four years but she says her role is changing. For example, these days she’s helping children navigate good information from bad information on the web.
ABOUNADER: Rather than hand them a piece of paper with all the information that they need on it, it’s my goal to teach kids how to go out and find the information that they need to solve a problem by themselves.
Librarians like Abounader are harder and harder to come across in New York City schools. Currently, sixty percent of schools in the city have no library staff at all.
Some schools don’t have libraries at all or when they do, the facilities are sometimes ill-equipped. That’s a state violation says Joe Rogers, a senior researcher at Teachers College.
ROGERS: Well, the major problem here is that children’s rights are being violated each and every day in New York City.
Rogers says that’s because of low budgets and lax enforcement of existing regulations. For example, some schools might opt to cut their librarian’s salaries or pass on the librarian’s duties to other teachers.
That puts those kids in those schools at a disadvantage.
ROGERS: Librarians are able to help children develop and young people develop critical thinking skills through assessing information. These aren’t skills that you’re born with.
DICKINSON: And that’s an equity issue.
That’s Gail Dickinson, former president of the American Association of School Librarians.
DICKINSON: Those schools that eagerly seek school librarians, provide them for their students, are placing those children at a distinct advantage for college and career readiness than those schools that have that gaping hole.
Recently, the city has taken steps to find more librarians for its schools. To do that, the city’s Department of Education recently partnered with the Palmer School of Library and Information Science. Current teachers will have the chance to earn the master’s in library science along with their school certification.
The first cohort of 10 candidates begin classes this fall.
Theresa Avila, Columbia Radio News.