HARLEM — Almost 80 percent of middle and high schools in the neighborhood are violating state regulations by not having a certified librarian on staff, a local group charges.
The Harlem Council of Elders, a local nonprofit that promotes educational initiatives in the neighborhood, used publicly available information to find out that 27 out of 35 schools between 110th and 155th streets don’t employ certified librarians.
“We were shocked and realized that it was imperative for us to respond to motivate the state and city government to take action to correct this,” said Galen Kirkland, president of the Harlem Council of Elders.
Many of the 27 schools seem to be violating state regulations requiring secondary schools with a certain number of students to employ a certified librarian, he added.
In 2013 hearing, the city’s DOE said that about 50 percent of schools don’t have a certified librarian. They credited the low number to a combination of lack of funding and low applicant pool to fill librarian positions at public schools.
Last year, the city's DOE began actively recruiting certified librarians with information sessions and collaborating with colleges to recruit graduates. Almost 100 teachers have attended the sessions so far, according to the DOE.
The Council of Elders believe this gap — 50 percent citywide versus 77 percent in Harlem — “highlights a systematic failure to monitor and address racial and socioeconomic disparities in access to basic education opportunities.”
“We knew that as soon as the larger community and those responsible for providing educational services realized the magnitude of this injustice they would immediately be able to focus on it and remedy it,” Kirkland said.
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, the group posted a petition online asking city and state officials to have required levels of certified librarians in all Harlem schools by the 2016-2017 school year.
The petition has 59 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
Their report focused specifically on whether schools had a certified librarian on staff, not if they had a physical library space. They did come across one school that had converted their library to a dance room, and plan to look into the issue in the future, the Kirkland added.
The Council of Elders has not heard a response from state or city officials regarding their online petition.
A certified librarian was recently hired at one of the 27 schools — Hamilton Grange Middle School — and co-located schools who may not have their own librarian have access of another school's librarian, according to the city's DOE.
"We have worked to increase student literacy from pre-k to 12th grade, including through doubling middle-school after-school programs and our new NYC Reads 365 initiative, and we will continue to work with schools, families, and community stakeholders to strengthen our students’ reading skills,” said spokesman Will Mantell.
Even if co-located schools have access to another school’s librarian, it does not change the fact that there are schools without certified librarians, Kirkland said.