School Library Budgets Decline, Study Shows

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School librarians are pushing for a bigger role in improving student achievement at the same time that schools are spending less on books and other materials critical to helping meet that goal, a new survey shows.

The report, however, also indicates that school libraries are getting more money to buy some types of technology.

Despite rising costs and the increasing need for information resources, school library budgets for all materials have shrunk by an average of $600, to $11,144, in the two years since the last such survey. The findings appear in "Small Change: Expenditures for Resources in School Library Media Centers, 1995-96," published in the October issue of School Library Journal.

Book Budgets Stagnate

School budgets for library books have stayed the same, averaging about $4,000 per school annually, while the funding of periodicals, audiovisual materials, and CD-ROMs has dropped.

"This is not very promising," said Barbara K. Stripling, the immediate past president of the American Association of School Librarians, an affiliate of the Chicago-based American Library Association. "Any library collection that does not grow dies," Ms. Stripling said. "You can't have a stagnant collection. It gets out of date and misaligned with what the kids are studying."

Yet, the median expenditure for computer software rose nearly $200, to $700 per school since the 1993-94 survey. That means half the schools surveyed spent more than $700, and half spent less.

For More Information

Reprints of "Small Change: Expenditures for Resources in School Library Media Centers, 1995-96,'' from the October issue of the School Library Journal, are available for $2.50 from Cahners Reprint Services, 1350 E. Touhy Ave., Des Plaines, IL 60018; (800) 523-9654.

Julie Walker, the executive director of the AASL, says the increase in spending on software is encouraging. "The survey shows very strong leadership at the building level for electronic resources and the use of technology," Ms. Walker said. "The statistics represent the changing role of librarians and the changing nature of the library collections."

The survey was sent to a random sample of 1,440 school library media centers that subscribe to the journal. More than 650, or some 46 percent, responded. The survey group is considered nationally representative of school libraries.

Library collections have not grown appropriately for years, said Marilyn L. Miller, an author of the study that the School Library Journal has conducted biennially since 1983.

The study shows that many schools are choosing technology over books, she said. But while the task of managing technology often falls onto school media specialists, most schools are staffed with just one full-time librarian to carry out the work.

Dwindling Staples

In the latest study, 34 percent of the libraries responding had received extra money to gain access to the Internet, as opposed to slightly more than 21 percent two years ago. And the percentage of respondents having local-area networks--which connect computers within a school--jumped, with 66 percent of libraries reporting they have such networks, compared with 38.8 percent in 1993-94.

In the meantime, book collections--the staple of libraries--have suffered.

"These collections are badly out of date. Over the years, we've seen a small number of books that have been added to these collections," Ms. Miller, a professor emeritus of library and information studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said in an interview last week.

The survey results are especially troubling in light of efforts by librarians to get more involved in collaborative projects with teachers, Ms. Stripling said. As parents and policymakers press for improvements in student achievement and demand that schools prepare children for life in the information age, school libraries are becoming media centers for assisting in student learning. ("Libraries Seeking Updated Role As Learning Center," April 23, 1997.)

Ignoring Standards?

More librarians are also reporting less collaboration with teachers, primarily because of a lack of planning time. Teachers and librarians in high schools tend to spend an hour more each week, for a total of nearly four hours, on collaborative planning than those in elementary and middle schools. Most of the planning, however, is done informally.

The scant attention paid to school library media centers, Ms. Stripling said, contradicts the objectives outlined in national and state academic standards.

"Holding the line on library materials seems to fly in the face of standards," Ms. Stripling said. "Standards mandate that students will be actively involved in their learning, will learn more in depth, will take more responsibility for their own learning ... . They can't do any of those things unless they have access to the information."

Officials of the American Association of School Librarians hope that their own standards on information literacy and guidelines for library media centers, both expected to be out within the year, will make more districts aware of libraries' importance and prompt officials to provide more money.

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