Lost Books–Certified Teacher Librarians, School Libraries

School District of Philadelphia Board of Education Action Meeting Testimony, May 26, 2022

by Barbara Dowdall, member of APPS and POWER Interfaith Education Justice Team

The literal “lost books” are those I entrusted to school administration on July 26, 2013 for safekeeping** as we lived in hope — with the arrival of a new superintendent — for restoration of our Certified Teacher Librarian and fully-resourced library* at A. Philip Randolph Career Tech High School.* * Perhaps Dr. Hite might give one more lookaround before farewell festivities and board members could check shelves in their offices. The greater loss of books, of course, were the thousands tossed to the winds with the shuttering of 213 SDP libraries and scattering of Certified Teacher  Librarians (CTL’s).


Today, of course, there is cause for celebration at my Southwest Germantown elementary school, Edwin H. Fitler (b. 1898), with the installation of two basketball nets and a soft-surface play area in the concrete school yard. (64 years too late for me). As we anticipate the arrival of Dr. Watlington, the 13th century proverb, “For want of a nail…a kingdom was lost,” might serve as a lens to view our school system at this juncture:

For want of small classes, some learning was lost,

For want of art and music, joy and talent were lost,

For want of after school programs, students were lost,

For want of our librarians and libraries, quiet refuge, reading progress, research and critical thinking skills were lost,

For want of asbestos, mold and leaded water abatement, staff and student health were lost,

For want of Facility Conditions Indicators (FCI) way higher than 13%, maintenance opportunities were lost,

For want of the 5 positions that CASA, OCOS, CREATE, and others have identified and advocated for as essential — hope for reliably safe buildings and continuing academic  progress will be lost,

For want of these essentials, neighborhood schools were lost,

For want of neighborhood schools, communities are lost.

Any and every school that has not been provided with what every school should have (including the library “thing”)for at least the last five years, needs to be kept open and be provided these resources for at least the next five years before there is any talk of closure. And let us look at restoring those unjustly closed in the Doomsday Era. Let our district live in hope and thrive in reality with proper resources.

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**Remarks to the School Reform Commission and Dr. William Hite, Superintendent   July 26, 2013

Good morning. My name is Barbara McDowell Dowdall. I am three years retired as English and Academic Department Head at A. Philip Randolph Technical High School and I am a member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.      I can say without hesitation that one of the greatest sorrows of my time at Randolph was the slow starvation and final demise of our library and resulting disappearance of our certified librarian. This loss was especially poignant and devastating for a school devoted to technical education — a field whose texts are written at a higher level than any other materials in secondary schools. No one left to collaborate with academic and career tech teachers for strengthening and enhancing student literacy. No magazines to stimulate student interest in a vast array of fields. No quiet corners to leaf through novels or poetry or humorous tomes. No librarian to identify a student’s blossoming interest in a hitherto unfamiliar subject or author. No guiding hand to see that students travel the byways of authentic web-based research with competence and maturing judgment. 

With the hope that you will move forward with renewed, coherent, informed and equitable dedication to our children, I place in your hands three volumes*, with dedications, as building blocks for the restored library at A. Philip Randolph Technical High – a school named for the great labor and civil rights leader, Shakespearean actor and organizing inspiration for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Dr. King would recognize and agonize at the injustice of the check for Philadelphia schools being marked “insufficient funds.”  

Black Scholar: Horace Mann Bond, 1904-1972  by Wayne J. Urban (with inscription by son Julian Bond on occasion of his last visit to Germantown on April 26, 2012)

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis, 1991 Girls’ High alumna  

Envisioning Emancipation:  Black Americans and the End of Slavery                                  Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer, editors