California School District Closes All K – 5 Libraries

June 2, 2010

All eight elementary-school libraries in the Natomas Unified School District closed indefinitely as of May 26 to plug $1.6 million of the district’s $17.3-million budget gap by the end of FY2012–13. “These cuts are a last resort,” district spokesperson Heidi Van Zant told American Libraries. “We have deep, deep, deep regret about this action, which speaks nothing to the value we place on libraries.”

Although Van Zant emphasized that the libraries would be reopened once the budget crisis ends, K–5 students will find their school library collections inaccessible behind locked doors for the 2010–11 academic year. “We used to have dance and art,” Bannon Creek Elementary School 4th-grader Ramneek Kaur said in the Bee. “Now, no books. All that is left is PE.” “They should have found a way to keep the libraries open,” asserted Bannon library aide Clara Allen, whose last day on the job was documented by the May 28 Sacramento Bee in a slideshow. “To me, it’s very important to have a book in the kids’ hands.”

Tears were also being shed at the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, where shuttered school libraries were reopened last fall after the teachers union gave contract concessions at the eleventh hour; nonetheless, seven of the district’s 11 full-time library workers have been dismissed as of the end of the school year. At the Elk Grove Unified School District, where 57 elementary school library technicians were laid off in May, two months after Superintendent Steven M. Ladd laid the blame for gutting libraries, as well as counselors, administrators, and others, squarely at the feet of state lawmakers. The decision about who will manage each Elk Grove library is being left to the officials of each respective school.

At least one school library program in the Sacramento area was faring better. “I’m proud of our superintendent and his vision,” said Martha Rowland, district coordinator of library services for the Sacramento City Unified Schools, of the increase in funding for middle-school libraries next year. Still, elementary-school libraries there are staffed only half the week.

Finding the good news

The plight of school library programs in districts serving the state capital area reflects the realities elsewhere in the Golden State. In April, teacher-librarian Jessica Gillis of the Palo Alto Unified School District created a Google document to share her “completely non-scientific survey” of what California’s school librarians were reporting to her. Of the 35 districts that responded (a small sampling of California’s 330 unified school districts), Gillis tallied nine whose funding would remain stable, including Los Angeles Unified School District, which averted massive layoffs through union concessions. All the others anticipated losing credentialed librarians or library aides, or both. Acknowledging that the number of respondents is a small sampling of California’s 330 unified school districts, Gillis told AL, “So many districts don’t even have librarians. They aren’t even in the data-collection loop.”

Determined to document programs that remain healthy, Carolyn Foote, librarian at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, and Beth Friese of the University of Georgia in Atlanta launched the Google map “Stand Up for School Librarians” May 31 “to showcase places where libraries have been defended and expanded,” as Friese explained on her blog. “We may not get as many pins as quickly [as “A Nation without School Libraries”], but over time I hope this map can inspire school librarians as the tide turns back toward access to librarians and libraries for all.”

"It's amazing what a little funding can do," agreed Barbara Jeffus, who retired in mid-May as school library consultant for the California Department of Education. Recalling the state's "four good years, 1998–2001," she told AL, "We saw collections and staffing patterns improve" during that time. "If we could just get some mandates into the statutes" Jeffus said of draft school-library standards that advocates are pressing to get on the agenda of the state board of education.