ALA: Spend stimulus funds on school libraries

As school leaders prepare to spend billions of dollars in federal stimulus money, the American Library Association (ALA) is lobbying to have some of those dollars used to keep school libraries up to date during hard economic times.

Funding from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Title I Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Educational Technology State Grant can be used to prevent cutbacks, prevent layoffs, and modernize school libraries, ALA says.

“This is an opportunity for school libraries to utilize these funds to make sure that students have access” to top-notch school library resources, said Melanie Anderson, associate director of the ALA’s Office of Government Relations. “It’s important for everyone to understand that when we talk about education, it’s not exclusive to the classroom.”

Anderson added that when schools have to stretch resources and cut funding, school libraries often are left wanting.

“Removing a school library media specialist, who is an expert [at helping students acquire 21st-century information skills], from a library becomes a disadvantage for the students in that school,” she said.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains funding for educators to implement innovative strategies in Title I schools that improve education for at-risk students and close the achievement gap. The funding is flexible and, for the most part, the control rests in the hands of local and state superintendents–and spending some of it on school libraries would be a wise investment, ALA asserts.

Additionally, ALA states that school libraries can use the $650 million set aside for the Enhancing Education Through Technology program to improve student achievement through the use of technology in elementary and secondary schools. The program’s goals include helping all students become technologically literate by the end of the eighth grade.

Ann Martin, president of the ALA’s American Association of School Librarians (AASL), argued that any federal dollars set aside for technology can go to libraries.

“Saving funds by eliminating certified school library media specialists or closing school libraries denies equal access for all students to the shared resources and information skills instruction [that is] crucial for students to learn and thrive in the 21st century,” she said. “Across the United States, research has shown that students in schools with good libraries learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized test scores than their peers in schools without [well-supported] libraries. The correlation between school librarians and student achievement is tied to a robust collection, a licensed school library media specialist, and a strong program.”