Los Angeles Unified School District closes school libraries

Elementary schools are the basic gardens for growing minds, and, inevitably, they’re where most people learn to take their first steps into the world of books and reading. Unfortunately for many students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest district in the nation, libraries have been closing recently. Worse yet, there is no date set for the re-opening of many of these facilities. It’s hard to imagine a school without a library, but the reality is that the district simply doesn’t have sufficient funds to hire librarians and library aides for its facilities.

Of the 600 elementary and middle schools within the LAUSD, only about 300 actually have libraries. The other half have closed their doors, and students can’t access the thousands of books locked away on the other side – an estimated $100 million in materials. To complicate matters, new state learning standards require students within the district to use more research within their assignments, a task which Principal Cristina Serrano says is made difficult for the students unfortunate enough to have their school libraries closed off to them.

The district, in an alleged bid to save money, has laid off professional and qualified library workers since 2011, and filled their spots with parents and other volunteers from the community; apparently this is an illegal practice and the union has moved to file charges against the district already on the matter. For legal hiring, a district that used to have libraries completely funded (up until 2008) has now given each school a limited discretionary fund which they have to split between things like nurses, counselors, and librarians; library staff often get the short end of the stick here and may be seen as less essential.

Complicating matters, the library closure rate varies drastically in various parts of the district, sparking concerns over uneven treated and some children getting a better primary education than others as a result. Many of the schools receiving district funding specifically for libraries are those with higher African American student populations, the result of a 2011 civil rights suit. Even so, the number of schools receiving this district money is tiny – just 80, to be exact.

Some schools have taken action, even securing federal funding for their individual charges after appeals. In others, parents have rallied together to protest, send letters, and lobby local officials until something was done. Of course, not every school has a parent network of the size, or with the time, to be able to accomplish such a feat, which leaves the large discrepancy between access to reading materials at various schools intact.

In many districts, fluency in English is also an issue. In working toward achieving fluency for these students, it’s counter-intuitive to be shuttering libraries where these students can be exposed to new words and stories on a daily basis. These problems, among others, are not lost on the district, but without more funding at the state and, by extension, the federal level, no one has a quick fix for getting the district’s libraries back working at full steam again just yet.