Though all of Oakland’s public schools get an equal amount of state and federal funding, some can rely on parents and community dollars to bridge the gap. Chabot Elementary, for example, provides its students with extended care hours, homework programs, a vegetable garden, enrichment classes and a fully staffed, fully stocked and fully lap-topped Library Lab, all funded by the Parent Teacher Association.

The nonprofit Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries, or FOPSL, works to fill the funding void for in-school libraries that often is supplemented in more affluent neighborhoods by the PTA. On November 18th, FOPSL hosted a community dialogue to strategize the implementation of their mission to endow all Oakland Public Schools with multi-media libraries. “It’s very hard to misspend money that you invest in school libraries. On that, the data are clear,” said panelist David Pearson, Ph.D., of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

David Pearson

According to Ann Gallagher, head of OUSD’s District Library Services, only nine out of the city’s seventy-five schools meet or even approach the state standards for in-school libraries; only one of those nine are in the flatlands. Only nineteen OUSD libraries are staffed by a professional librarian or teacher; the remainder are overseen by volunteers or classified clerks. It is possible for a student to attend an OUSD elementary, middle and high school without ever accessing a school library.

“School principals simply don’t know why we have to prioritize libraries; they must be told,” said Jenny Ettinger, Library Media teacher at Chabot Elementary. “They don’t know the effect [high-quality libraries] have on overall test scores and multi-media literacy and the entire culture of the school.”

In their co-presentation, Pearson and Susie Goodin, Ph.D. emphasized the role libraries must play in addressing Oakland’s crisis in literacy. They cited data illustrating the relationship between household income and literacy level. Specifically, “the average child on welfare was hearing or reading half as many words per hour as the average working-class child, and less than one-third that of the average child in a professional family.”

In Pearson’s and Goodin’s view, libraries could be a compensating space for developing students’ verbal abilities and appetites for reading. Particularly necessary is the access to Internet, given that seventy percent of households in East Oakland do not have it, according to Bruce Buckelew of Oakland Technology Exchange. “We need libraries to be a third space where in-school curricular needs and out-of-school interests intersect,” said Pearson.

“When we talk about libraries we’re not just talking about an inert warehouse of books,” Pearson added, “We’re talking about the context in which those resources are brought to life.” Therein lies the importance of qualified librarians.

“The role of the teacher-librarian is to actively attract students inside… to find the right resource for the right student at the right time,” said Barbara Jeffus, a School Library Consultant for the California Department of Education.

A good library, like the one at Chabot Elementary, is integrated into every single class; the functions of research and resource support are adapted to every lesson. In addition to unscheduled before- and after-school visits, Chabot’s teacher-librarian, Ettinger, hosts each class once a week. “I’m the only person on campus that knows exactly what’s going on in each classroom, how things can be better coordinated and what resources are missing,” said Ettinger. The point was stressed that libraries cannot act for themselves; they depend on teacher-librarians to activate the relationship between the students and the space.

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Because IT competency is increasingly necessary for academic and professional success, Oakland schools cannot produce competitive students without quality tech services, argued Greg Klein, Director of Blended Learning at Rogers Family Foundation. He calls the essential mix of traditional classroom pedagogy and computer media work, “blended learning.” According to Klein, “We need libraries for teaching skills of self-direction and executive function,” and for fostering in kids a direct sense of access to the information and literature out there, independent of teachers and the classroom.

Earlier this year, controversy over New York City’s public school funding received some media attention when some activists pushed to restructure the PTA system. Some argued that inequities could be ameliorated if all PTA donations were consolidated into a collective fund rather than directed to the donator’s school of choosing. This idea was not addressed at the FOPSL dialogue, but it was lamented that private fundraising has the unintended consequence of alleviating some of the pressure to structurally reform public funding for education.


FOPSL has created, restored or updated twenty OUSD libraries. Their vision is to make Chabot Elementary’s library standard across all of OUSD.

Monday’s community dialogue was the commencement of a short-term study group, which will work to devise creative ways of funding more, well-staffed libraries.

Take Action:

The first of the next two meetings will be Monday, December 16, 2013 from 9:30-11:30 a.m., location TBA.


Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries
5945 Johnston Drive
Oakland, California 94611

Kari Hatch, M.Ed., Executive Director

Chip Rath, FOPSL Chairperson

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