Grassroots Group Grows School Library Support in Washington State

February 11, 2008

More than 100 people gathered in the rain at the state capitol steps in Olympia, Washington, February 1 to rally for school libraries (above), despite cold winds and a storm in the eastern half of the state that prevented many from attending, and which later caused Governor Christine Gregoire to declare a state of emergency for 15 counties. The rally and an all-day summit were the culmination of the work of a group of concerned Spokane mothers.

The effort began last spring when Lisa Layera Brunkan, Denette Hill, and Susan McBurney, troubled at the cuts to school library media programs in Washington and determined to strengthen them statewide, began a grassroots movement to combat the Spokane school board’s decision to close part of a $10.8-million deficit by halving the hours of the 10 full-time, K-8 teacher librarians still employed by Washington’s second-largest district. Naming themselves the Washington Coalition for School Libraries and Information Technology, the moms partnered with the Washington Library Media Association, Washington Library Association, and other key groups, and established—a website that has attracted the attention of school library boosters in several other states.

The inclement weather at the rally may have ultimately resulted in the “perfect storm” of events, forcing the cancellation of many committee meetings and enabling state house representatives to call to the floor a bill that would give school districts extra discretionary funds that they could spend on hiring more teacher-librarians and counselors. Introduced January 17 by state Rep. Don Barlow (D-Spokane), HB 2773 was sent to the Appropriations Committee February 5.

The all-day summit comprised approximately 60 members of the Washington school library media community, and featured speakers such as educator Jamie McKenzie; researcher Gary Hartzell; Michael Eisenberg, founding dean of the University of Washington School of Information; Washington State Librarian Jan Walsh; American Library Association President Loriene Roy; and Sara Kelly Johns, president of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians.