By Kari Hatch
In November, a Community Study Group was organized in Oakland to examine the role of the school library in today’s technological world. The culminating event of this effort was the January “Imagining A New Future for School Libraries Tour.” On the tour they visited three Oakland Unified School District libraries: One with a strong, professionally staffed, fully-integrated library program (PTA funded), one with a minimal K-5 library in a K-8 school, and one newly renovated with great potential but closed, waiting for staffing.
These three libraries highlight the vast inequity of library services across OUSD schools. According to OUSD data, over 10,000 K-12 students in OUSD have no school library. Another third of the libraries are severely understaffed. At the same time, according to the 2013 STAR, only 38 percent of OUSD 3rd graders are reading at or above grade level.
Substantial research has demonstrated that schools with a strong library program improve academic achievement. In the Research Brief, “Libraries and Student Achievement: The Importance of School Libraries for Improving Student Test Scores,” Keith C. Lance, Ph.D, consultant at RSL Research and former Director of the Library Research Service states, “Schools with higher rated school libraries have 10 to 18 percent better test scores than schools with lower rated libraries. Even when key school and community socio-economic differences are controlled, school libraries account for up to 8 percent of test scores variation.”
A school library is more than a collection of books, it is a hub for literacy development. “A library is not just a tool for learning; the successful use of the library is the end goal of education, creating lifelong learners. To be able to successfully navigate a library and its associated technology is to be a fully functional citizen in our democracy,” Christine Schooley, a teacher and concerned parent, said.
To be fully effective, the library must include a professional Teacher Librarian with dual credentials in Education and Library and Information Science who works with teachers and students to provide access to all available print and tech resources.
Now more than ever, a Teacher Librarian can support required instructional shifts as OUSD implements the new Common Core State Standards that raise the bar on building knowledge and literacy skills by using increasingly complex literary and informational texts. The new core curriculum requires that every school be adequately provisioned, that every student have access to high quality teachers in a rich educational environment, and that every teacher have ready access to literature, information, online resources, technology support and knowledgeable colleagues who can collaborate on curriculum development.
As the District searches for impactful ways to increase academic achievement it would be remiss to discount the potential academic impact of a professionally staffed quality school library. Dr. Susie Goodin and David Pearson (from UC Graduate School of Education) made this clear in their November presentation: “There is a moral imperative to establish equity of access to school library resources because of the reliable difference it makes in student achievement from pre-K through 12th grade and beyond.”
The Community Study Group requests that the District seriously examine the basic academic infrastructure of a highly effective educational system under the new guidelines of the Local Control Accountability Plan and provide every OUSD student equitable access to a professionally-staffed, high-quality school library.
Links to research on school libraries and student achievement, can be accessed on the Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries website, www.fopsl.org.
Kari Hatch is Executive Director of Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries.
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