School libraries vital to reading achievement

by Amanda Cleary, Indiana State Reading Association President

Originally posted April 29, 2012 on Jounral Gazette

If the situation were not so serious, it would be laughable.

How can we improve reading achievement if we make it more difficult to put books in the hands of our children?

Our schools work diligently to teach reading skills, but we actually undermine teachers’ efforts and students’ progress by drastically cutting the purchase of new school library books and by eliminating many school librarians. It stands to reason that once you learn a skill, you must practice to master it. If we insist that we must exert effort to ensure reading achievement, it does not make good sense to reduce the number of books and librarians in our schools.

We must also provide access to e-books in our libraries and ensure that we have librarians on staff to help students become familiar with the technology that is already a part of our world.

Data gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) from the 50 states and the District of Columbia reveal that, as time passes, Indiana sinks lower in state rankings when it comes to financing and stocking its K-12 school libraries.

The Young Hoosier Book Award program is the main statewide program that emphasizes reading new books. Each year, 20 books are selected at the primary, intermediate and middle-grades levels. Children are required to read at least five of those books and vote for their favorite.

Participation has declined because schools are not purchasing the needed books. If the books are not available, then how can students read them?

Renewing school library book collections is not as glamorous as providing new electronic devices, but our achievement scores will go up if the state makes the commitment to ensure that our children are not only taught reading skills but also have libraries with all the useful and attractive books needed for reading practice.

When it comes down to it, we can’t expect higher reading achievement without providing the books for reading practice, can we?