Empty Library Bookcases

Check It Out: Library Blog – Who Needs School Libraries?

by Oletta Branstiter

Libraries & Books

One of the saddest things you’ll ever imagine is a Library that might have been.

To this day, historians lament the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, believed to have been destroyed by fire around 2,000 years ago.

It is believed that around 295 BCE, the scholar and orator Demetrius of Phalerum, an exiled governor of Athens, convinced Ptolemy I Soter to establish the Library. Demetrius envisioned a library that would house a copy of every book in the world, an institution to rival those of Athens itself. Subsequently, under the patronage of Ptolemy I, Demetrius organised the construction of the ‘Temple of the Muses’ or ‘the Musaeum’, from where our word ‘museum’ is derived. This structure was a shrine complex modeled on the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens, a centre for intellectual and philosophical lectures and discussion. From Ancient History Encyclopedia


Books need Libraries like artifacts need museums. Should the Muses be banished from schools?


Many school districts across the country are replacing certified Librarians with “Library Specialists” – paraprofessionals who will step into the position for a third or less of the pay. School board members and administrative personnel who never set foot in a campus Library erroneously believe that the only thing a Librarian does is to check out, check in, and shelve books.

Cutting library resources and media specialist positions will have long-term negative effects on student learning… Locating, evaluating, and synthesizing information from a variety of print and online sources is particularly important to today’s students who will soon be competing in a global job market. From NEA.org.

Certified Librarians who attained Master’s degrees in rigorous Library Science studies used to not only curate and monitor a school library circulation for the most beneficial use of students and teachers but they also taught the children how to effectively use the resources of any Library they would happen to visit.

Students, attending the school Library on a regular basis, would learn how to use a catalog system, how to find nonfiction materials using the Dewey Decimal method, how to literally “judge a book by its cover” by reading the inside flap of a novel to determine interest, how to organize and format a topic paper, save it to a portable drive and print it to the nearest network printer, how to locate and properly cite bibliography information for that report, and how to engage in a whispered conversation about the wonderful world of books, among other things.

“Library Specialists”

While many school district representatives and campus administrators expect much less from their “Library Specialists”, and pull them from the Library to fulfill a myriad of other duties, from cafeteria duty to office help to emergency substituting in the classrooms, the majority of Library Specialists I know go way above and beyond expectations.

We don’t do it for the money because the wages are abysmal. We do it because we want to inspire the next generation to appreciate the joy of reading. When our campus administrators give us the opportunity to create a full-service Library/Learning Center like mine does, everyone benefits.

In fact, one of the two high school campuses in my district hasn’t had a functioning Library in several years. The district decided to remove bookcases to install a retail coffee bar and lounge in the high school libraries a few years ago, hoping to raise funds for other projects. This plan soon faltered, but one high school Library never recovered and no “Library Specialist” position is necessary.


Sadly, teachers who have worked for decades in schools where the Library has been more of a storage/meeting room than a functional and vibrant Library are slow to rely on the services of a full-time Library Specialist who is eager to supplement learning materials for classroom topics.


Fourth grade students who read for fun every day score the highest on reading assessment tests. The three-quarters of students who reported reading for fun on their own time once a week or more performed at the high end of the Basic level (scores from 208-237 on the NAEP reading assessment test), while the 14% of students who never or hardly ever read for fun performed below the Basic level (scores below 208 on the test). Students who talked about their reading with family and friends on a weekly basis had a higher average score than students who talked about their books once a month or less. American Library Association 

Students, who may have spent their elementary years in a school with a part-time or non-existent Library program arrive at Intermediate School with little to none of the skills necessary to utilize a Library properly or even the capability to whisper.

School campuses without functioning Libraries are missing out on the one place that everyone can rediscover a little Zen. I lament the trend of Libraries becoming as raucous and noisy as a classroom, cafeteria or gym. Students and staff alike need to know there’s a place they can go to find some peace and quiet.


Many children do not have books at home. One student, graduating from 6th grade, confessed to me that she would have no reading material over the summer because she had no books at home and her parents would not take her to the public library.

I chose half a dozen books from the bin that I keep for students to read if they have forgotten their overdue books, placed them in a shopping bag and told her, “These are for you to ‘pay it forward’, okay? Read them over the summer, then pass them along to someone else who needs them.” She gave me a hug, with tears in her eyes, and proudly carried the bag out the door.

Besides providing Library services to children during the school day, schools can provide opportunities for families to gather for reading. After school or evening clubs can foster a new habit or renewed joy of learning from books.

The World

School Libraries must be preserved and encouraged if we hope to raise the next generation of readers and creative thinkers.

Yes, E-Readers are awesome. You can download a book to any electronic device now. But, just like computers will never replace pencil and paper, no e-book can replace the sensuous experience of holding a bound volume.

The heft of the book, the excitement of opening the cover for the first time (a doorway to an alternate universe), the scent of the paper and ink, the texture of the cover and pages, the location of your favorite passage, the regret of placing the bookmark (until next time!), the satisfaction, mixed with sadness when you close the book for the last time…these are the reasons we fall in love with reading.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love of books.          

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