Our Library Ecosystem Is Under Threat

The sounds of libraries today reveal the impact of libraries throughout our lives -- from the excited giggles of toddlers in storytimes to the "aha's!" of young people engaged in inquiry to the quiet conversations of senior citizens discovering new authors and using computers to research. All types of libraries -- school, public, and academic -- form a library ecosystem that provides and supports lifelong learning.

For example school librarians teach children the 21st-century skills they need to build knowledge, create and share their own ideas, successfully complete their high school education, and prepare themselves for college and career. Academic librarians enable students to complete their college degrees, building on the skills taught by school librarians, and support academic research and scholarship. Public librarians extend the work of school and academic librarians by providing homework help, literacy resources, and after-school and summer programming. Public librarians take up the mantle of support for lifelong learning by providing resources, services, and programs tailored to meet the needs, interests and aspirations of all of their community members.

Under this view of a library ecosystem, all types of libraries work together to deliver learning opportunities for people of all ages. However, a threat to one part of the system stresses the entire system.

At this moment we are facing a serious threat to school libraries, and thus to the entire library ecosystem.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show that there is a positive correlation between cuts to school library staff and lower reading scores, whereas states that gained school librarians saw an increase in reading scores.

In today's 21st century learning environment, information literacy is critically important. School librarians are key cogs in the instructional process, not only supporting curriculum, but also acting as partners in the teaching process by teaching information literacy skills and integrating the use of technology and high-quality resources.

Inadequate funding for school libraries can result in K-12 students who do not develop the essential skills to pursue their own investigations, critically evaluate digital and print information sources, or gather evidence and develop their own understandings. As a result, they are unprepared to handle the academic challenges of higher education after they graduate from high school.

The stress placed on school libraries is passed on to academic libraries. The demise of K-12 libraries due to inadequate funding means that most first-year college students are entirely new to library research and have a limited understanding of what the research process entails and how librarians can help them. Academic librarians and teaching faculty must devote extra time to teaching students the cognitive skills needed for scholarly inquiry.

The failure to nurture school libraries has negative consequences to other parts of the library ecosystem. The closing of a school library results in pressure on the public library to absorb the traffic. While public libraries already offer many children and teen programs, there's no doubt that an uptick in demand will have a strong negative impact on youth in our communities who are better served by the complementary resources and staff of both public and school libraries.

All too often these days, we read about the threats to our library ecosystem.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, children who want to check out books are unable to do so, because the libraries themselves have checked out. Budget cuts have left about half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries without librarians or aides.

This disturbing trend of eliminating school library resources also is taking place in School Districts in New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and several other states across our nation.

In order to have a healthy, functioning society, the library ecosystem must be sustained with the level of financial investment necessary to support the learning needs of everyone in the community.

As the nation celebrates National Library Week, April 13 - 19, and School Library Month this April, we cannot forget the valuable role all of our nation's libraries play in transforming lives through education and lifelong learning. The American Library Association (ALA) asks that you show your support and stand up for our nation's libraries by signing the ALA's Declaration for the Right to Libraries.

We all deserve the right to libraries and must understand that, when one part of the ecosystem is under threat, we all pay the price.