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Chicago public school libraries, librarians and the hypocrisy of “Rahm’s Readers”

by ctu communications  |  06/13/2014

CHICAGO—Access to school libraries and contributions from librarians are among the resources that all of Chicago’s students deserve, but many Chicago Public Schools (CPS) librarian positions have been cut in this past year due to student-based budgeting, and more than 200 schools are either without a library, or with a library staffed by a clerk or volunteer and not a certified teacher librarian.

So it is hypocritical that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Rahm Readers” program has challenged Chicago public school students to read more than 2.4 million books this summer, despite schools being stripped of the librarian assistance that students need by the mayor and his handpicked Chicago Board of Education. When addressing the lack of resources and justifying continued CPS budget cuts, Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett often fail to mention librarians at all. A library without a trained, certified librarian, however, is like a hospital or health clinic without a doctor or nurse—useless.

“He’s challenging students to read millions of books after slashing school budgets and forcing principals to fire the very people who help students become better readers,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.”

Last summer, the Board of Education announced massive budget cuts to schools while simultaneously launching its student-based budget formula. Libraries and librarian positions were hit particularly hard by the cuts and new budget process. Julian High School laid off its full-time librarian and added a part-time retiree. Kelvyn Park High School eliminated its teacher librarian position and added a librarian assistant position, forcing the teacher librarian to apply for the assistant position (for which they were hot hired).

ILLUSTRATION: CTU book drop at Whittier ElementaryLibraries play a vital role in promoting literacy and students reading not just for academics, but for enjoyment. Unfortunately, the librarian profession is endangered locally and nationwide. While the mayor and his school district are steadily raising reading expectations for Chicago’s children, yet robbing them of trusted and trained librarians to help reach their goals, Chi School Librarians, an advocacy group dedicated to the enrichment of CPS students and teacher-librarians, has found through its research that:

• 87 percent of CPS students are from low-income families. For many students, the school library is the first place for safe and regular access to books. Having no school librarian usually means that no books are circulating in the homes of students.

• Nearly 50 percent of CPS schools do not have a certified librarian. This is a sharp decline in professionally staffed libraries since last year, yet the Board of Education promised that school closings would result in better resources for students.

• 100 percent of Chicago’s elite private schools have professionally staffed libraries. A school library program is integral to every child’s education and shouldn’t be available only to students in wealthy schools.

• More than 20 research studies show a direct link between professionally staffed school libraries and increased student performance.

• 100 percent of CPS schools are required to include literacy in their improvement plans. Strong school libraries are the foundation of strong literacy programs; school librarians support information needs and integrate literacy development across the curriculum and across grade levels.

• School librarians are teachers, research specialists, reading advocates, technology integrators, professional development partners and curriculum innovators

Chicago Teachers Union