News stories

DOE neglecting its libraries

Unopened books. Empty tables. The Lane library lies fallow. Bruce Cotler

Unopened books. Empty tables. The Lane library lies fallow.

A lonely librarian, David Aronovitch, presides over one of the nation’s largest Bruce Cotler

A lonely librarian, David Aronovitch, presides over one of the nation’s largest school libraries, but one that few students at Brooklyn’s four-school Franklin K. Lane HS campus are allowed to use.

Some librarians are being misused

Even as large high schools flounder with no library, an estimated 21 high school librarians are in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool.

“They may be doing coverages, lunch duty and/or other assignments that are not library-related,” said UFT Library Media Committee Chair Christine Hatami.

Stories of misused personnel resources abound.

Sharon Kennedy, a librarian at PS/IS 325 in East New York, was excessed last year and is now teaching 6th grade as an ATR in Brooklyn while a teacher runs the school’s library.

Nineteen-year veteran Nancy Caminiti was excessed from Maxwell HS — a high school that the DOE backed off from closing as student test scores improved — where she worked as the school’s only librarian and is now assigned to Transit Tech, which already had a librarian.

While the scramble to raise test scores, graduation rates and literacy continues, school libraries — the bulwark for achieving those goals — are fast becoming an endangered species.

At PS 132 in Manhattan, the library has been closed to its 812 students for two years despite more than $200,000 in renovation grants. The reason: the budget.

Just days after a celebratory opening last November, the renovated PS 9/MS 571 library in Brooklyn was forced to close “until money is found for a librarian.”

At the Bronx’s John F. Kennedy HS where six schools and 4,387 students share a campus, the library closed after the sole librarian was excessed last June.

The six-school, 2,152-student Evander Childs HS campus library in the Bronx has been “closed for construction” for five years with no signs of construction underway.

At the Morris campus in the Bronx, the library that should be serving 1,844 students at its five schools is only used for meetings.

“The Department of Education continues to ignore the direct impact that fully functioning school libraries can have on student achievement by failing to make them a priority and failing to properly fund and staff them,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Libraries have also fallen victim to the turf wars raging at many multi-campus high schools.

David Aronovitch has been the full-time librarian for 18 years at Brooklyn’s Franklin K. Lane HS. The library, which is bigger than the reading room at the New York Public Library, is one of the the biggest school libraries in the country. It should be serving all the students at the four-school campus but is only open to those enrolled at Lane, which is phasing out.

“We have a beautiful library here that goes unused,” said Elaine Cohen, chapter leader at Cypress Hills Prep, one of the four schools on the Lane campus. The first year, she said, her school was “allowed to use it” but had scheduling difficulties because of different bell schedules. The second year, she said, her school was not allowed to use the library at all with different reasons given and this year “we still can’t use the library and who knows why.”

Dwayne Wellington, the chapter leader at the Brooklyn Lab School, a school on the Lane campus that is also closing, linked poor student performance on standardized tests to the limited opportunities for students to access books and the students’ limited vocabularies as a result. “Our most senior class has read a total of five books in the past three years,” he said.

At the three-school Pace campus — where the library is closed because there is no librarian — sharing space has been a problem. Chapter Leader Alex Driver of Pace put the blame squarely on DOE policies that put three schools in the building without considering the extraordinary difficulty of planning usage of shared space. As a result, Chapter Leader Linda Tom of MS 131, one of the schools on the Pace campus, noted, the former librarian was “overwhelmed.”

UFT Library Media Committee Chair Christine Hatami blames the problems at multi-school campuses on “too many roosters in one building who don’t want to share.”

The DOE loves data and there’s plenty to substantiate the positive relationship between libraries and student achievement. The National Commission on Libraries and Information Science found a clear tie between libraries and student achievement. “When library media specialists work with teachers to support learning opportunities with books, computer resources and more, students learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized tests than their peers in schools without school libraries,” the commission said in a recent report.

State Education Department regulations governing libraries are clear. While there are no provisions for elementary schools, secondary schools are required to have a certified library media specialist for schools with 700 to 1,000 students, with an additional certified assistant specialist for each additional 1,000 students.

But on the Lehman HS campus in the Bronx, for example, one librarian serves 4,658 students and at Truman in the Bronx there’s one librarian for 3,400 students.

In Queens, there is no librarian for the 1,080 students at MS 202 in Ozone Park, and only one librarian for 2,200 students at MS 210 and for 2,000 students at MS 137, both also in Ozone Park, and one librarian for 2,280 students at IS 61 in Corona.

These are just samplings of what is going on across the city.

Even the more than 50 architecturally inspiring and standard-setting elementary school libraries built by the Robin Hood Foundation are in danger. Anne Howard, chapter leader at PS 64 in the Bronx, complained that since the veteran librarian was excessed last year the Robin Hood library at her school is being “underused and misused and the children are suffering.”

At the PS/MS 42 Robin Hood library in Averne, Queens, Chapter Leader Taneeka Jones explained that the library is not in full operation because the librarian is serving double duty as a cluster teacher.

The UFT has twice demanded that the DOE “either staff their schools appropriately or obtain the Commissioner’s approval for an alternate arrangement.” In January, UFT delegates passed a resolution calling for the DOE to provide the number of librarians mandated by the state and for campus libraries to be shared by all schools on the campus.

UFT Assistant Secretary Robert Astrowsky reports that the DOE continues not to meet its obligations in these regards.

“It’s outrageous that students and teachers are losing access to school libraries when the DOE is emphasizing improving reading scores and literacy,” Astrowsky said.

After only two years, the striking new library at PS 216 in Brooklyn is open onlBruce CotlerAfter only two years, the striking new library at PS 216 in Brooklyn is open only two days a week — a far cry from the high standards set by the Robin Hood Foundation that created the new space.

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