Saturday, January 12, 2013

Initiative Seeks to Aid School Libraries

Library Building
Library Building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Daniel Duerden

As school budgets around the country (the USA) tighten, one area that seems to end up at the top of many budget cut lists is the school library.

Too often schools eliminate the school librarian, leading the library itself to suffer.

However, one such case in a Pittsburgh school has led to a viral effort to save their school's library and brought greater national attention to organizations trying to remedy the issue.

Sheila May-Stein, a librarian hired to rotate among the different schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district, was shocked to find that the library at Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8 had mostly barren shelves with only 40 books in its fiction section.

She was so shocked that she took the issue to her blog, posting photos of the empty shelves to her Facebook wall and the Facebook wall of University of Pittsburgh professor Jessie Ramey, who blogs about education issues.

"I took a picture because I was so upset, I just couldn't believe it," May-Stein said to KDKA News in Pittsburgh. "I came home and I put it on Facebook and said, 'This is what happens when people don't make education a priority.'"

The photo gained the attention of thousands of people around the world and book donations flooded the school. People donated by purchasing over 850 brand new books for the library from an Amazon wish list.

"Several hundred books have already come in through a wish list on Amazon, and thousands more are coming in boxes," Ramey, who is also an education activist and helped to propel the grassroots movement to donate and buy hardcover books for the school, said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
For many schools, situations like Manchester's are all too common.

"We needed the classroom teachers," Theresa Cherry, the Manchester principal said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Unfortunately, the librarian becomes a numbers game at that point. I wish it weren't, but it is."

Unfortunately, not every school gets the same help it needs in order to maintain its library. Schools, particularly schools in urban and rural areas are often forced into a situation where they must decide whether to let teachers go or let the library go, potentially placing the school in a no win scenario.

By letting the librarian and library fall into disrepair, it can have a potentially devastating effect on student achievement as they are discouraged from reading. This in turn potentially keeps the school from gaining much needed federal and state aid.

However, in spite of these issues, Manchester's situation has inspired a group of writers to spearhead an initiative, called Fill The Shelves, in order to help schools with dwindling library selections get the books they need.

"Fill The Shelves is the brainchild of a small group of writers - but we were all readers first," the initiative's website's frequently asked questions section states. "Kids who tucked into corners and forts and crannies at our school libraries, harassed the librarians for something new to read, fed our imaginations with the worlds we found in the pages."

The Fill The Shelves initiative allows school librarians to create an Amazon wish list, much like they did at Manchester, and have people easily donate books to these struggling school libraries.

Through this method, the initiative has already in two weeks time helped three struggling schools from around the country-Jorge Mas Canosa School in Miami-Dade County, Florida; Southside Elementary School in Jonesboro, Louisiana; and Downsville Charter School in Downsville, Louisiana-and has wish lists created for three more.

People looking to donate merely have to go to the website and click on the wishlist and purchase the book directly from Amazon. Librarians seeking help can also contact the organization from the website and get a wish list created.

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