School District of Philadelphia Must Recognize that School Librarians are Essential to Student Learning

PSLA Responds to School Board Comments saying “any staff member” can teach literacy. Calls for Equitable Funding of School Library Programs and hiring of State-Certified School Librarians to Address Educational Shortfalls.

The Pennsylvania School Librarians Association was saddened to hear the response from the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) regarding the “Rally to Restore Philadelphia School Librarians” held on January 24, in front of the SDP Administration Building, as reported by KYW News Radio and in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

NB: This post mirrors the original post from PSLA at ___. EveryLibrary stands with PSLA and is a proud national partner of the "Rally to Restore School Librarians to Philadelphia Schools" on January 24, 2020.  


These responses indicate that District leaders believe that the inadequate and under-resourced library services that city students currently have is good enough. We disagree that having only 6 school librarians, as recently cited by SDP Human Resources Department, and a long-term lack of investment in school library programs is the right decision for our Philadelphia’s students. PSLA advocates on behalf of all K-12 students to have equitable and quality school library resources and state-certified school librarians who teach essential skills in finding, evaluating, and using information, whether in books or online, in a safe and responsible way to make good school, career, and life choices. Every student, regardless of where they live, deserves no less.

In a statement reported by KYW Radio, the School District says it provides "independent and instructional books, media and technology throughout classrooms and school buildings to engage students throughout their daily learning experiences. In addition, all kindergarten through third grade classrooms have classroom libraries with age-appropriate reading materials, with all fourth and fifth grade classrooms gaining libraries by the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Approximately 50 schools have libraries with catalog systems, and all schools have a subscription to PA Power Library, which makes libraries virtually accessible to all schools."

Providing a limited number of books in a classroom library is not a substitute for a school library. Students, particularly those from homes where books are not readily available, need access to books in every room of the school. Classroom libraries provide books selected to meet reading levels, student interests, and topics studied at a specific grade level. School libraries provide a broader range of reading levels, fiction and nonfiction for both recreational and informational purposes, and a much larger collection from which students can choose, especially when they might quickly read through what is available in a classroom library. School libraries are a cost effective solution since books are shared among all grade levels and can reduce the purchasing of multiple copies of the same title.

Send an email to the Philadelphia School Board asking them to
dedicate funding for certified school librarians and school library program budgets now.

Having access to the PA POWER Library, a collection of digital resources provided by the state to all libraries, also cannot replace a school library and a state-certified school librarian. POWER Library is a collection of over 30 databases, plus ACCESS PA, a state-wide electronic catalog of library resources. Effective use of these e-resources requires time to learn how to navigate and search each one. Certified school librarians are trained in selecting the best databases considering subjects studied, as well as age and reading-level appropriateness. In addition, school librarians teach students and faculty alike how to integrate these digital resources into their teaching and learning. Students need to be taught specific evaluation skills to determine relevance, authority, and accuracy for what they find in the databases and on the Internet. School librarians are invaluable partners to teachers. Without trained, certified school librarians, very few schools and students learn about or use POWER Library resources effectively and cannot borrow books from other public and school libraries through ACCESS PA.

As reported by Kristen Graham in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Megan Lello, a district spokesperson, said Friday that the district provides classroom libraries and other media and technology to support the literacy aim that has been a hallmark of Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.'s administration: making sure all children read on grade level by age 8. The school district values the expertise of any staff member working to enhance the literacy skills of our students,” Lello said in a statement. “The collective work to help students read on or above grade level is important to ensure the next generation of this city’s leaders are thoughtful and competent citizens.”

State-certified school librarians are trained in children’s and young adult literature and are tasked with developing a diverse selection of titles, interests, reading levels, and languages, inspiring all students to develop a habit of reading to learn and grow. The expertise of school librarians lies in knowing the available resources and developing the depth and breadth of a school library collection that mirrors the diversity of their community and provides students the freedom to explore beyond their much smaller classroom library. In addition, there is research that documents that in states that lost school librarians, fourth grade reading test scores actually dropped. Right now, if the school board heard this call and doubled the number of school librarians serving Philadelphia students there would still be fewer than 20 school librarians at work across the district.

As we heard from Kayla Johnson, the Masterman HS student who spoke at the Rally, a school library is a sanctuary for many students. Kayla spoke of her “privilege” in being fortunate enough to have had school librarians throughout her K-12 experience. Not only did librarians inspire her to become a voracious reader, the library became a “community space” for creative and social productivity, working, creating, and sharing with her peers. Kayla stated that the library skills she learned throughout her time at SDP have thoroughly prepared her for college and beyond. Kayla’s powerful testimony should be a wake-up call for SDP administration, school board, and City Council. Why should only a few SDP students have the privilege to attend the few schools with school librarians and libraries?

PSLA stands united with other organizations, including the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS), the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the Pennsylvania PTA, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) School Librarians Network, EveryLibrary, and over 75 state legislators who have co-signed bipartisan legislation (either HB 1355 or SB 752) that would ensure certified school librarians in every public school in Pennsylvania. The lack of equitable school library programs and state-certified school librarians for SDP students is a social injustice that has been perpetuated over decades. This system of institutionalized inequity and discrimination must cease.


Cathi Fuhrman, Ed.D., PSLA President      

Deb Kachel, Co-Chair, PSLA Advocacy Committee  

Robin Burns, PSLA President-Elect


Send an email to the Philadelphia School Board asking them to
dedicate funding for certified school librarians and school library program budgets now.