Many Pennsylvanians have been disappointed to discover that our new Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, hasn’t turned out to be any better supporter of libraries than his much-despised predecessor, Republican Tom Corbett. Libraries aren’t even on Wolf’s radar and continue to be the loser when it comes to where PA tax dollars are spent.
I know that funding libraries is a problem across the country. But I think it’s particularly shameful in Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin founded the first public library in America in Philadelphia – a city where, currently, school budget cuts have reduced the number of certified librarian positions from 176 to 11 … for 218 schools.
Worse, some of the tax payers think this is just fine …
“Librarians are a relic of yesterday’s education models.” That was a comment on an article about the library crisis in Philadelphia schools. “Any student can access virtually all necessary information from their phone or computer. The only purpose of a librarian was to help you FIND information among the books. That’s no longer necessary.” Another commenter said that Philly schools needed to focus on teaching reading and math, not the Dewey Decimal System. These people seem to think that all librarians do is help kids “look stuff up” and find books on the shelves. They also see no connection between a working, thriving library and kids learning to read.
They have no idea what a community of readers looks like, nor do they understand that libraries — and librarians — are the foundation for creating one.
In my former school, the librarian (with the help of the PTA) budgets money for “Student Choice Books” every spring and invites students in grades 3-6 to recommend books to be added to the library collection. Not content with having students slap together a list of their favorites, this librarian supplies a set of criteria for choosing worthy books, requiring students to research new titles before submitting their proposed lists. Likewise, in Troy, Michigan, librarians at their four middle schools organize a massive reading program to award a Troybery – a mock Newbery – each year. (The Eighth Day was first runner up this past year.)
Many states take the Reader’s Choice Awards to the next level, with public libraries and school libraries collaborating to create a yearly list, make the selected titles available across the state, and promote the program with activities, author visits, and rewards for participation. The Caged Graves has been on such lists in Utah, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, and Alaska. The Eighth Day is currently on Florida’s Sunshine State Young Readers Award list.
Many libraries across the nation make use of the Collaborative Summer Library Program to entice kids to spend their summer reading. The 2015 theme: Every Hero Has a Story. I was invited to participate in several programs with tweens and teens this summer under that program. Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Henrietta Hankin Library in Chester County, PA, every teen who participated in their Summer Book Club received a copy of The Caged Graves to keep and was invited to attend a book club meeting led by the author. Likewise, the youth services librarian at the Dover Area Library in York County, PA wrangled a deal with Scholastic to get 100 copies of The Eighth Day into the hands of local middle school readers – and he shared a few with the neighboring Kreutz Creek Library for their Under the Floor Book Club.
The little town of Brookville, PA also has a thriving library with an active community of readers and benefactors. This year was the fifth summer they brought in a YA author for an afternoon teen program and an evening adult program, generously putting up the author in a local B&B and providing dinner at a local restaurant between events. My dinner was attended not only by the librarians, but also by teen volunteer workers and members of the local writing group. Because of the subject matter of The Caged Graves and We Hear the Dead, my evening talk also drew in members of the local historical society.
So, for politicians and anonymous internet commenters who believe that librarians are dinosaurs of the past who can no longer compete with Google and smart phones and iPads … I ask you: When’s the last time you met one?