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State says county's school libraries are substandard

September 18, 2000

State says county's school libraries are substandard



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


None of the 40 public schools with libraries in Washington County meet state standards for the minimum number of books and other informational items.

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They also fall short of the state's guidelines by employing no clerical and technical library support staff, according to Roseann Fisher, the Board of Education's supervisor of library media services.

The county, however, fared better in the number of library media specialists, with all 40 schools having at least one, she said.

Library media specialists are certified library teachers who also serve as program administrators and technology coordinators for their schools.

The number of recommended clerical and technical library employees, who assist the library media specialists, is based on school size.

State guidelines also call for 12,000 items, including books, CD-ROMs, and audio and visual tapes, in elementary school libraries; 15,000 in middle schools and 18,000 in high schools. Fisher said all of the schools fall well below the state standards for collection size.

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School library woes are not just a local problem. Just 17 percent of the state's 1,300 schools meet the guidelines, which were adopted in February by the Maryland Board of Education.

"There's some work to be done," said Ron Peiffer, assistant state superintendent of the School and Community Outreach Office.

The guidelines were put together by a committee with members from school systems throughout the state.

"They agreed that this is what libraries ought to look like, and this is what they need to be working toward," Peiffer said.

Fisher said the No. 1 reason for the shortcomings is lack of money.

While grant money is available for elementary schools to improve their libraries, none is available for middle and high schools, Fisher said.

Funding, therefore, is through the local school boards.

In each of the 1998-99 and 1999-00 school years, the School Board has contributed $72,645 to elementary school libraries and received matching grants from the state for both years, said Gail Bailey, the branch chief for school library media services for the Maryland Department of Education. The Board is reapplying for the same grant for this year and next.

Each year the school systems receives the grant, it uses the money to upgrade libraries one section at a time. This year it plans to target its fiction, literary, drama, poetry, reference and Character Counts collection, Fisher said.

"In elementary schools, with this grant we are making great strides to meeting the recommended standards," Fisher said. "We are hoping that the state will see the need for this type of program for middle and high schools."

She said it's important for school library collections to be expanded and kept up-to-date.

"It's been proven by recent studies that good school libraries help promote student achievement," Fisher said. "It's important."

She's also confident the county's libraries will continue to improve. The libraries are connected to the Internet and students and staff members can access library documents from home and other remote computers.

"We are lower than the recommended standards, but we are improving," Fisher said.

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