The purpose of any school library is to promote reading and improve reading and research skills. Educators have long agreed that good libraries are essential to academic success, since students must be able to read by third grade in order to learn other subjects, such as history and science.
A study by Donna Baumbach, professor and director of the Instructional Technology Resource Center at the University of Central Florida, has found there is a direct link between professionally-staffed libraries and the number of Florida schools students reading at grade level or above.
The year long study analyzed more than 1,700 schools in Florida libraries and found that well-stocked libraries had a direct correlation to better students FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) scores. The elementary schools had increased FCAT reading scores of nine percent. The middle schools improved by three percent, and the high schools by 22 percent. The study also showed that FCAT scores were even higher at Florida schools with certified media specialists running the libraries.
The study found two aspects to a good library — (1) A well-stocked library with current selections, and (2) a certified media specialist in charge.
Need for Newer Books
A few years ago, the Orlando Sentinel did a story on the shape of Florida schools libraries. Their findings were gloomy at best. They found that most Florida schools libraries were full of antiquated collections of books and run by untrained clerks. The publicity gave the libraries a tremendous boost in unexpected funding. Generally, half of a school library’s annual budget comes from book fairs, parent organizations, candy sales and profits from school supply sales.
Though state funding of Florida schools libraries remained at its previous $15 million, the Sentinel story encouraged Florida community groups, businesses, charities and churches to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars for library improvement across the state.
Yet, the schools libraries still have fewer books per student than the national average. The state buys more books than the national average, but the Florida schools are not keeping up with the influx of new students each year.
The counties of Orange, Lake, Volusia and Polk have one out-of-five books published before 1980. Osceola County had the best book collection with 11 percent published since the year 2000.
Baumbach’s study indicates a desperate need for fresh library resources for the Florida schools.
Need for More Certified Media Specialists
The second half of the equation is the need for more certified media specialists. The study showed that Florida schools libraries with these professionals had more books per student and more subscriptions to newspapers and periodicals. They had more students using the libraries, a greater circulation of books, and more computers per student.
Certified media specialists bring to their positions knowledge and experience that Florida schools libraries with part-time help, teachers and clerks cannot provide. These specialists can actually supplement library funding by applying for grants. They take the books to the students by rotating books among classrooms, rather then leaving them sit on the shelves. They create reading incentive programs and provide multimedia instruction. They can even work with teachers to assess student test scores and determine areas of reading where some students may need further assistance.
The counties of Seminole and Volusia, however, have decreased these professionals over the past few years. The counties of Osceola, Polk, Brevard, Lake and Orange have shown an increase.
Florida schools are making improvements to their libraries, but not all schools are equal. If you are determining which school is right for your child, be sure to take a look at the school library before making your final decision.