When schools don’t have librarians, it’s cause for alarm

Not having a librarian doesn’t just mean children may not ever learn how to find books or periodicals of their liking. They may also never pick up computer skills or news literacy.

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School librarians are close to being extinct, a scary reality at a time where misinformation is rampant online and many CPS students continue to struggle to read at grade level.

School librarians are close to being extinct, a scary reality at a time where misinformation is rampant online and many CPS students continue to struggle to read at grade level.

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Librarians used to be standard staff professionals in most elementary and high schools, helping students find a fun read or research material for a homework assignment.

Sadly, these educators, who have long sparked knowledge, curiosity and creativity in young minds, have been shown the door in most Chicago Public Schools. Librarians and school libraries have been targets at CPS for years, victims of tough budget decisions. In 2012, the nation’s third-largest public school system budgeted for 454 staff librarians; by 2014, there were only 254, according to research by The Chicago Reporter.

“Professionally staffed libraries, a key contributor to student literacy, are disappearing from the CPS landscape,” a CPS mom and librarian Megan Cusick told the board eight years ago.

Editorial

Editorial

Those were the good ole’ days.

Now, in 2022, school librarians are close to being extinct, a scary reality at a time where misinformation is rampant online and many CPS students continue to struggle to read at grade level.

Out of the district’s 513 non-charter schools, there are only around 90 schools with full-time librarians, as the Sun-Times’ Nader Issa reported this week.

Black kids are affected the most by the librarian shortage, which is sadly no surprise in our segregated city where too many schools struggle to provide even the basics for a good education.

Only 10% of CPS schools in which Black students are the largest share of the student body have librarians, compared with 25% of schools where white children are in the majority and 21% where Hispanic students are, Issa reported.

Under student-based budgeting — funding is based on student enrollment — principals have the tough, no-win job of deciding who to cut and who to hire. And because most CPS librarians have master’s degrees and thus earn more, they often end up on the chopping block.

Not having a librarian just doesn’t mean children may not ever learn how to find books or periodicals of their liking. They may also never pick up computer skills or news literacy.

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Mary Beck, who heads the CPS’ teaching and learning office, said the district is not “ignoring” that librarians are disappearing.

We hope not.

Some classroom teachers have obtained librarian certificates and many from that batch will be placed at schools with a library that has been closed for at least five years.

That is a start, but that’s all. Schools need — and students deserve — full-time, highly trained librarians.

CPS is not alone, but that doesn’t make the problem any easier to swallow.

Across the country there has been a 20% decline in school librarian positions over the past 10 years, researchers have found.

If society truly values a good education for every student, those statistics have to be reversed.

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