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School-Library Study Shows Stability in 70's,

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Nationally, the proportion of public schools with libraries held steady throughout the mid-1970's, and the schools' library collections and budgets--not taking inflation into account--increased, according to a new government report.

But at the same time that the report, "Statistics of Public School Libraries/Media Centers, 1978, Fall," revealed no dramatic changes in school-library operations between 1974 and 1978, leaders of the school-library profession last week were preparing to educate their colleagues for an uncertain future.

At a meeting in Denver this week, officials of the American Association of School Librarians (aasl) plan to discuss strategies to help school libraries compete for a share of the money that will be allocated to school districts by the states through block grants.

The federal block-grants legislation repealed, among other federal education programs, Title IV-B of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which channeled money for school library books and instructional materials through state education departments. The final 1981 appropriation for the program was $161 million.

Although, in general, public-school libraries depend most heavily on local-district funding (followed by state support) and least on federal money, this pattern varies from district to district, and some--especially districts with a large number of minority or disadvantaged students--have received a high proportion of their library funds from federal sources, according to Alice E. Fite, executive director of the librarians' association.

There are thousands of school librarians, said Ms. Fite, who may not realize that there are no funds specifically earmarked for library books and audio-visual materials for the next academic year. "There is no guarantee of anything--it's purely discretionary. The guidelines [for disbursing the block-grant money] are extremely limited."

In addition to disseminating this information, the aasl is urging school librarians to prepare "budget implementation and implication statements" to show how their library programs would be affected by funding cuts, said Ms. Fite.

Coalitions of Support

At this week's meeting, held in conjunction with the annual business meeting of the American Library Association, of which the aasl is a division, the aasl's board of directors and committee heads will discuss forming coalitions of support at the state level.

As well as the direct effects of the block grants on school libraries, said Ms. Fite, there could also be a "ripple effect." If less money is provided to state education departments, those state departments that have in turn provided allotments for school libraries in the past may have to reduce their support. And there is no assurance that federal support for education will not be further reduced, she added.

Librarians "will have to be assertive in developing programs that seem important to administrators or have sold their library-media program as essential," said Ms. Fite.

"No one will be insulated from cutbacks," she said. But she also maintained that because library programs have developed over the last 20 years to become an integral part of schools' curricula, that "what we've done will bring us through." The association takes the position, she said, that school librarians are teachers "with a specialization in information management" and that "library-media programs are a vital part of the curriculum ... not an appendage or support mechanism."

To date, Ms. Fite believes that school libraries have been less vulnerable to budget cuts than have special programs such as art and music. But there is a "dearth of reliable data," she said. The report for 1978 from the National Center for Education Statistics (nces) provides the most recent nationwide figures.

Since 1978, inflation has continued to diminish libraries' buying power, she said, "and we can assume from what we're hearing that there has been an erosion in staff positions."

Although information is largely anecdotal, two regions that appear to be affected, she said, are California and Massachusetts--the two states with state tax-limitation propositions in effect. She also believes that in states requiring "library specialists" in the schools, professional librarians are less likely to be replaced by paraprofessionals.

According to the nces report, there were 17,000 fewer full-time-equivalent staff members in 1978 than in 1974, and the aasl is concerned about reported staff cuts among paraprofessionals, which "mean librarians have to take on their responsibilities," reducing their time for work with students and instruction, said Ms. Fite.

The report estimates that 85 percent of 83,044 public schools had a library or "media center" in 1978, the same percentage as in 1974, and although library expenditures in "current dollars" rose 17.3 percent, an adjustment for inflation revealed a decrease of 12.7 percent. (See Databank, page 17.)

Nonetheless, collections grew--the number of books per school increased by more than 10 percent in the four-year period, a rate Ms. Fite regards as normal for the 1970's, when there was "stabilization after the tremendous growth in the 60's."

The biggest leap occurred in periodicals; the number of subscriptions per school grew by 46.2 percent in the four years. This trend reflects the greater need to stay current with information on a "month-to-month basis," said Ms. Fite.

Limited copies of the report, which was released this month, may be obtained from the Statistical Information Office, National Center for Education Statistics, Presidential Building (1001), U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W. Washington, D.C. 20202.

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