CHICAGO — Leaders of a national organization of librarians are bemoaning cuts in Chicago schools that they say "makes it impossible for CPS to achieve its mission of preparing all students for success."
There are 218 librarians in 178 CPS schools, meaning 36 percent of schools have dedicated librarians, according to Emily Bittner, CPS spokeswoman. The Chicago Teachers Union has put the number closer to 160 librarians in 661 schools, or about 24 percent of schools having librarians.
The number was closer to 450 librarians in 2012, according to reports.
To the library groups and educators, the current figure is way too low. The groups penned a letter to the editor of the Tribune criticizing the cuts of library staff in Chicago's public schools.
Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, said the lack of librarians in schools means students are not learning key lessons involving critical thinking and digital skills, which are vital in today's world.
"The long-term costs of these cuts —both to students and to Chicago — are higher than any possible savings," Todaro and Audrey Church, president of the American Association of School Librarians, wrote.
Studies show, they say, that students without regular access to school libraries staffed with certified school librarians will lack in academic achievement, workforce readiness and adequate college preparation," they wrote.
"Librarians have critical responsibilities," Todaro said. "It's particularly upsetting to see the fourth largest school district move away from that critical partnership [between librarians and schools]."
School librarians, like many other CPS personnel, have been casualties of CPS's massive budget cuts in the last two years. WBEZ reported CPS had 454 librarians in 2012, 313 in 2013 and 252 in 2014. Principals, who make decision of which school personnel is cut, laid off 11 librarians since last school year, Bittner said.
"Like teachers, librarians do important work and many principals decide that they fill vital roles in their schools," Bittner said in a statement. "CPS budget is more stable than it has been in years, but the reality is the district doesn't have additional funding to increase hiring."
Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the teacher's union, said the union is highlighting the loss of librarians in its ongoing negotiations with the city as a way to point out the impact budget cuts have to kids.
"We're looking for the contract to address the institution of public education in this city," Sharkey said in an interview. "It's not just cuts to pay, it's cuts to pay and cuts to staffing, cuts to special education, cuts to elementary school sports. It just seems that everything is being cut."
To accommodate tighter budgets, Todaro said schools have either cut librarians or transitioned them into more traditional classroom roles.
That means lessons learned from librarians are either being dropped completely or re-tooled, and not for the benefit of students, Todaro said.
School librarians prepare students for the "digital world," she said. That includes teaching researching skills, digital literacy, the ethical use of information, the ills of cyber bullying as well as critical reading and thinking skills.
Todaro said school district nationwide have felt the crunch of budget constraints, and some have shed librarians. But she said that the other districts don't compare to Chicago in terms of librarians lost.
Losing access to a library and librarian is especially worrisome for CPS students, as about 86 percent of the district's students are "economically disadvantaged," Todaro said. Outside the classroom, many of those students don't have access to resources like computers, the Internet and books.
The group is calling on the Chicago Board of Education to find funding for school libraries and librarians. Todaro acknowledged it won't be easy but said the benefit of librarians in schools makes the fight worth it.
"We absolutely understand that districts have issues," she said. "They have very hard tasks ahead of them."
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