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Many Washington County school libraries not making the grade

April 14, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

April is School Library Media Month in conjunction with, and sharing the same theme as, National Library Week, which begins today. This year's theme is "Join the circle of knowledge @ your library," according to the American Association of School Librarians (www.ala.org/ala/aasl/).

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Clay Matthews uses his school library maybe 30 days out of the school year, he said.

The Washington County Technical High School junior said he is able to find everything he needs there despite the fact that his school is one of 34 of the county's public schools with a library media collection that does not meet state standards.

There are only six county schools that met or exceeded those standards during the 2006-07 school year. Officials said the size of the library collections could have increased, but data from the most recent school year was not available.

Arnold Hammann, director of information systems and instructional technology, said schools with smaller collections make up the difference through electronic databases and an online interlibrary loan system.

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"It extends a library's collection size," said Jona French, supervisor of library media and instructional technology. "It creates equitable access."

State standards

The Maryland State Department of Education recommends that elementary schools have a library collection of 12,000 items. That includes books, magazines and other items. Each electronic database or resource also counts as one item in the collection, French said.

"A database could have 1,000 volumes in it, but it only counts as one item," she said.

A middle school collection is expected to have 15,000 items and a high school library collection should have 18,000, according to state standards.

Only one of the six Washington County schools that met or exceeded those standards in the 2006-07 school year is a high school: North Hagerstown High School. Boonsboro Elementary and Middle schools both exceed the state's recommendation, as do Paramount, Eastern and Smithsburg elementary schools.

Nine of the county's schools have less than 50 percent of what the state recommends.

Funkstown School for Early Childhood Education had the greatest shortage, with only 18 percent of what the state suggests. The school had 2,101 items in its collection during the 2006-07 school year, but the state standard is 12,000.

At 119 percent of its recommended collection size, North Hagerstown High School has the largest media collection of any public school in Washington County. There are 19,718 items in its library -- more than the state recommendation of 18,000.

Hammann said many of the county schools are not meeting the state standard because of the physical size of the libraries. He said the libraries would not be able to contain all the books and other items needed to meet that standard.

French said some of the available library space has been used for classes or office space, further limiting the room for books.

"They've been chopped up pretty bad over the years," Hammann said.

Money

Another reason Hammann gave for the shortfalls was available money. Budgeted money for library and media materials has increased each year, but officials said the cost of books also has increased.

"We have to manage in a set budget and supply the best resources that we can," Hammann said.

In the proposed fiscal year 2009 general fund budget, $30,000 has been requested for an annual subscription for the online library catalog and library automation system.

In that same budget, a total of $68,242 has been requested for library media and instructional technology services.

In Washington County, $10 is spent on each elementary school student for library and media services at the start of the current fiscal year, French said. That number rises to $12 for each middle school student and to $14.50 for each high school student in the county.

Electronic resources

Hammann said that despite the majority of the county's schools failing to meet the state standard for their library collections, all students are served equally.

A student at Hancock Middle-Senior High School with a library collection of about 9,300 during the 2006-07 school year has access to the collection at North Hagerstown High and every other public school in the county through an online library catalog and interlibrary loan system.

Beginning last November, students were able to access an online library catalog. The catalog shows books available at every school in Washington County, officials said. If a student wants to check out a book from a library not available at his school, the book will be delivered to that student's school.

Cathy Davidson, a library media specialist at Clear Spring High School, said last week that she helped a student find a book at South Hagerstown High. She said there had been about 22 books checked out last week through the interlibrary loan program.

The student was doing a report on English as the official language of the United States.

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