Conference seeks more money for school libraries

September 28, 1990|By Rafael Alvarez

A three-day conference set up to direct the future of Maryland's libraries ended in Towson this week with a loud call to finance elementary and high school libraries at basic levels already defined by state law.

In all, five resolutions were passed Tuesday by 202 delegates to rTC the Maryland Governor's Conference on Libraries.

Among the resolutions, to be presented to Gov. William Donald Schaefer by Nov. 1, were ones asking the governor to budget money to either create or improve libraries for the thousands of people who live in state institutions; to appoint a task force to establish a statewide plan to preserve decaying library collections; to find money to better market library services; and to find a more equitable way to distribute state aid to public libraries.

But of the five resolutions, the conference decided by an overwhelming majority that aid to public school libraries should be Maryland's top priority among library issues over the next several years.

"It's obviously much needed, but legislators are going to have to sit down and think about a way to [finance] these things . . . most beneficial to the entire state," said Offie E. Clark, chairman of the governor's advisory board on libraries, who chaired the conference. "They cannot be reckless and just throw money at it."

A public school library should not only tailor information to what a student is learning in the classroom, Mr. Clark said, but should be the place where a youngster first learns to use a library.

The State Board of Education passed a bylaw in 1987 identifying basic standards for school libraries, including having state-certificated librarians on staff and "appropriate materials to support instructional programs of the local school systems."

What the state hasn't done is budget money for local school systems to meet those standards.

In materials alone, according to statistics distributed at the conference, Maryland's school libraries are about one-third below state guidelines. The school libraries resolution calls for those guidelines to be met by 1995.

Baltimore and the state's 23 counties wind up funding school libraries from their education budgets. The wealthier the jurisdiction, the better off its school libraries are.

Baltimore, for example, spent $1.75 per pupil each year on school libraries last year. That figure was $10.45 per pupil in Anne Arundel County; in Montgomery County it was $32.69.

The average cost of a hardcover book for grade school is $11.59. In high school, it is $35.35.

"Maryland has passed school library laws that have been copied in other states, but we want the state to specifically fund school library programs, not just say it would be nice to have them. If you don't have the financial backing, the laws aren't any good," said Paula K. Montgomery, a delegate to the conference who lives in Federal Hill in Baltimore and who pushed strongly for the school libraries resolution.

"You can't buy a book for $2 per student," she said. "And if you don't get kids to read in grade school, it gets harder and harder, and then you have adults who can't read."

Where Baltimore school libraries need the extra money for books, libraries in Carroll County schools need qualified staff, said Donnadine Spilman, who also worked for passage of the resolution.

"We're a growth county," said Ms. Spilman. "Our elementary schools are increasing by leaps and bounds, but our support staff isn't."

Mr. Clark said that one of the challenges in persuading legislators to fund school libraries equitably across the state will be ridding them of the notion that a community's public library is all a student needs.

"The library down the street provides material to a person who is already information-literate," he said. "But the student who learns to use a library well within the school is going to be a very good public library user."

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