Grassroots Group Grows School Library Support in Washington State

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Republished with permission from American Libraries, February 4, 2008

More than 100 people gathered in the rain at the state capitol steps in Olympia, Washington, February 1 to rally for school libraries (above), despite cold winds and a storm in the eastern half of the state that prevented many from attending, and which later caused Governor Christine Gregoire to declare a state of emergency for 15 counties. The rally and an all-day summit were the culmination of the work of a group of concerned Spokane mothers.

The effort began last spring when Lisa Layera Brunkan, Denette Hill, and Susan McBurney, enraged at the cuts to school library media programs in Washington and determined to strengthen them statewide, began a grassroots movement to combat their school board’s decision to close part of a $10.8-million deficit by halving the hours of the 10 full-time, K-8 teacher librarians still employed by Washington’s second-largest district.

Naming themselves the Washington Coalition for School Libraries and Information Technology, the moms partnered with the Washington Library Media Association, Washington Library Association, and other key groups. Their first victory came with the introduction of Senate Bill 6380 on January 22 by State Sen. Tracey J. Eide (D-Federal Way); the bill codifies through a per-pupil formula how many credentialed school library media specialists should be employed by each district and offers some $55 million to fund the initiative. Its aim of guaranteeing the presence in school libraries of certificated staff echoes the language of the federal SKILLs (Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) Act, introduced in June 2007 as an unfunded amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act and scheduled for Senate committee review in February.

The inclement weather at the rally may have ultimately resulted in the “Perfect Storm” of events, forcing the cancellation of many committee meetings. SB 6380 then took a backseat as House Bill 2773 was called to the floor. A companion bill to SB 6380, HB 2773 was introduced by state Rep. Don Barlow (D-6th Dist.), seconded by Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-35th Dist.), and sent to the Appropriations Committee February 5. It would give districts extra funds that can be spent on hiring more school library media specialists.

An all-day summit comprised approximately 60 members of the Washington school library media community, and featured speakers such as educator Jamie McKenzie; researcher Gary Hartzell; Michael Eisenberg, founding dean of the University of Washington School of Information; Washington State Librarian Jan Walsh; American Library Association President Loriene Roy; and Sara Kelly Johns, president of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians.

For more information, visit the Washington Coalition for School Libraries and Information Technology

Check out the media buzz on the Spokane grassroots effort

American Libraries 'Grassroots Group Rally For Skills Act'
Spokesman Review 'Plea for school librarians' (pdf file)
The Olympian 'Bill may protect school libraries'
The Seattle Times 'The category of fun slowly being pulled from library shelves'
School Library Journal 'Washington Moms Fight for School Libraries'
The LA Times 'In parents' book, librarian cuts go too far' (pdf file)
The New York Times 'Why We Read' (pdf file)
Seattle P-I 'Small school libraries aim to make reading fun and easy' (pdf file)
The Seattle Times on our online petition drive.
The Spokesman Review on the launch of our petition (pdf file)
The Spokesman Review 'Moms Can Write Own Next Chapter' (pdf file)
The Seattle Times 'Key to literacy, librarians now highly endangered'
Spokesman Review 'Librarians critical resource' (pdf file)
School Library Journal 'Washington State Prepares for School Library Summit'
The Boston Globe - a reader responds to Stuart Glascock's LAT article: 'Librarians essential to good schools'
Spokesman Review 'Verner backs school libraries' (pdf file)
The Seattle Times 'The readers' due'
The Seattle Times 'Minneapolis ousts Seattle as most literate city'
Spokesman Review 'Only You Can Prevent School Library Losses' (pdf file) Outrage of the Day
Spokesman Review: Letter to the editor (pdf file)
School Library Journal 'Spokane's Elementary Schools Face New Wave of Librarian Cutbacks' (pdf file)