School District of Philadelphia Board of Education Action Meeting
October 20, 2022
by Deborah Grill
Reading the Inquirer’s recent story on the reopening of the library at Jenks Elementary School in Chestnut Hill and the work by the Jenks community to restore the library and recruit volunteers to staff it for four hours a day was heartwarming. At the same time, it was disappointing to realize that the library would not be open all day every day nor would it be staffed by a certified school librarian. Philadelphia public school students should not have to depend on charity to acquire the tools and staff that they need to succeed academically—tools that students in surrounding districts receive every day.
The district’s spokesperson’s response revealed ignorance about the academic role of a Certified Teacher Librarian (CTL). “Classroom libraries” do not provide the breadth or depth of reading materials to meet every child’s needs. School libraries staffed by a CTL do. Chromebooks can be used as tools to teach media and informational literacy, and digital citizenship, but not without the direct instruction of an expert in those areas–the Certified Teacher Librarian.
Using public libraries as a short-term substitute is not a real or sustainable option. The city’s libraries are underfunded and understaffed, and have had to cut hours and days open. The District actually tried this avenue in 2014. The program was limited to K to third grade students in 10 schools, one day a week. If those schools had had a school librarian familiar with curriculum and the needs of teachers and students, the library would have benefited all students on a daily basis.
Finally, school libraries staffed by certified school librarians are not a luxury. Study after study in state after state has shown a positive correlation between the existence of a high-quality library program staffed by a certified school librarian and students’ improved academic achievement, especially that of minority students, economically disadvantaged students and disabled students. You need to restore school libraries staffed by certified school librarians. Your students deserve it.