WASHINGTON – In the rush to ensure that all Maryland schools have the latest computer technology, an older educational technology has been left behind — books.
School libraries around the state have books that talk about the possibility that man may someday walk on the moon, or career options for women that highlight homemaking, teaching or nursing. Some books date as far back as 1930, according to research last year by a professor at Western Maryland College.
Mona Kerby, coordinator of the college’s school library media program, studied one elementary in 18 state school districts and found that the average copyright in their libraries was 1980 and that 71 percent of the books were at least 10 years old.
“The vast majority of collections broke my heart. They gave me the shivers,” Kerby said. “One building had rejects of another library. You could tell some were bought at a garage sale.
“Kids just don’t want to check out old books. A 10-year-old book to a 10- year-old child is a really old book,” she said.
Librarians and school administrators blame the problem on a lack of funding, compounded by the fact that libraries now compete with other school needs – specifically, computers – for instructional materials funds.
“The last major infusion of money to support school library collections was in the late ’60s, early ’70s, and that’s where a lot of collections sit,” said M. Ellen Jay, former president of the American Association of School Librarians.
She said problems began in the 1970s, when the federal government decided to give block grants for instructional materials, leaving it to local officials to decide where to spend the money. When put against other school needs, Jay said, libraries are often neglected.
Della Curtis, the coordinator of Baltimore County’s Office of Library Information Services, surveyed her county’s libraries and found that only 12.4 percent of high school library books were from the past 10 years. Books from the last decade made up 22.3 percent of middle school libraries and 35 percent of elementary school shelves.
Curtis’ findings spurred her county to cough up $10.5 million over three years, solely for new books. Other school systems have not been so lucky.
Amy Young-Buckler, a library media specialist in Prince George’s County’s Andrew Jackson Middle School, found out last month that her $9,000 book budget will be cut to $5,100. In the past two years, most of her money went to computers, fixing the nine computers she had and purchasing 23 more.
“Everyone is so focused on technology that they ignore the fact that students still need print resources. Until they can use those well, they will have a hard time using sources via the Internet,” Young-Buckler said.
Jay, a media specialist at Montgomery County’s Damascus Elementary School, said she gets about $3,000 a year for books that typically cost $20 to $24. “Take 3,000 and divide it by 25. At this rate, we don’t move ahead very fast,” Jay said.
She argued that administrators are too concerned with buying computer materials and are paying little attention to the number of outdated books.
“In the last 10 years, where has the focus been? The whole feeling is that all you need is the Internet,” Jay said.
Not all librarians have to fight against computers for funding. Susan Robinson, media specialist at Vienna Elementary School, said Dorchester County schools allocate money for new books – and only books — each year.
“We’ve never cut book allocation. In my school it’s never transferred to anything else,” said Robinson, while adding the library could always use more.
The state does provide $3 million in grants for elementary libraries each year to school systems that put up matching money. State officials targeted elementary schools because they felt the money would do the most good there.
“Instead of spreading it out, there is a better impact in elementary schools, where students build basic skills such as reading,” said Gail Bailey, branch chief of school library media services for the state Department of Education.
But local school systems still must come up with the majority of library funding.
Most systems give schools a lump sum for instructional materials, which principals and department chairs divide according to need.
That’s how it works in Prince George’s County, said Joyce Henderson, supervisor of library media services and classroom instructional materials. But she said that “has created some inequity in schools because they do some strange things with the money.”
“They all want media centers. They tell me it’s the hub of the school, but they don’t fund it,” Henderson said. “They think as long as the books are on the shelves” everything is fine.
But at the county’s Beacon Heights Elementary School, the principal said she makes sure school library books are not being neglected, taking money out of her state funds, including a poverty grant, to do so.
“It’s always good to have a child pick up a book. I never want a computer to replace a book in their hands,” said Principal Mary L. Walker.
But Kerby said the number of outdated books is still a huge problem overall with long-term impact.
“A poor school library deprives a child of independent reading and thinking. And, they can’t regurgitate correct science answers back on a state test if books in the library are talking about one day going to the moon,” Kerby said.
Worse, she said, is that it sends students mixed messages about reading.
“Schools have mottoes on the walls that say, `Reading and learning is important.’ But then students walk into libraries and see old books that are tattered and have old information,” Kerby said.
“What child will remember the statement on the wall when they see what’s in the library?” she asked. “If you’re going to tell children reading is important, then put your money behind your statement.”