libraries boost readers
October 113, 2003
By Mary Shanklin | Sentinel Staff
In between helping other students to
their first classes at Orlando's Richmond Heights Elementary, fourth-grader
Adrian Wilson tries to read a few pages of a library book about the Titanic.
"I like to read in the morning, at lunch, even when I'm on the safety patrol,"
said Adrian, who had the highest FCAT reading scores in his class last year
This is the same child who barely made it through second grade and was
retained in the third grade because of his poor reading and math skills.Apply for grants and use the proceeds to purchase more books. Rather
than left sitting in the stacks, the books are rotated among classrooms.
"I didn't read much in the first grade. Books were harder then," he said.
"Teachers told me reading can take me to a lot of places, and so I started
New research to be presented to Florida educators later this month shows
part of the reason Adrian and other students are reading better: the
Donna Baumbach, a professor at the University of Central Florida, analyzed
more than 1,700 media centers at Florida schools. She found that
well-staffed, well-stocked libraries drive up elementary reading scores by
9 percent, middle-school scores by 3 percent and high-school scores by 22
Her yearlong study reflects the findings of similar research in six other
For Adrian and other elementary students, strong school libraries can be
critical to academic success because educators agree it is important that
children learn to read by age 9 -- the third grade -- so they can begin to
read to learn subjects such as math, history and science.
Baumbach found a direct tie between the amount of time a library was
professionally staffed and the number of students at a school who can read
at grade level. She also found that reading scores on the Florida
Comprehensive Assessment Test were higher at elementary schools where
certified media specialists run the library, rather than teachers or
Media programs 'critical'
"I hope this will reinforce the idea that media programs are critical
to academic achievement and that a certified media specialist is
important," said Baumbach, director of UCF's Instructional Technology
Last November the Orlando Sentinel reported that many Florida school media
centers were full of antiquated books and run by untrained clerks. A year
later, Orange County schools have more certified media specialists, along
with donations of more than $800,000 to update collections at various
Statewide, however, Florida's library funding has held flat at $15 million
for three years. And even though fast-growing Florida buys more books for
media centers than the national average, schools have so many students
that there are fewer books per pupil, Baumbach's research shows.
In order for Florida to invigorate its school libraries, the latest
research suggests that the local school districts must have fresh library
resources and media center professionals who know how to use them.
As Adrian sails through Harry Potter, Black Stallion and Goosebumps books,
no one can say how much Richmond Heights' media center prompted the
10-year-old's newfound love of reading. School tutors helped him. His
mother said she first noticed the difference when school was out for the
"I really noticed the change when he started picking up and taking books
with him instead of the GameBoy," Carole Wilson said.
Richmond Heights Principal June Jones said she has seen students' interest
in reading ignite since media specialist Andrea Haynes became involved
with the library, first as a volunteer coordinating a 24-hour read-a-thon
last spring and now as the certified head librarian.
"It's the central location in our school," Jones said. "Our children love
going there and getting extended learning time with someone outside of the
Orange County adds specialists
About a month after the Sentinel's report on school libraries, Orange
County Superintendent Ron Blocker instructed principals to put certified
teachers and media specialists over libraries that had been headed by
clerks. Since then, four media specialists were added to 134 elementary
and middle schools, bringing the total to 76. Fourteen were add at 14 high
schools, for a total of 31.
Elsewhere in Central Florida, the number of professional media specialists
declined in Seminole and Volusia counties and increased in Osceola, Polk,
Brevard and Lake counties from 1997 to 2002, according to the state
Department of Education. The state has no numbers for the current year.
The critical role media specialists play in pushing strong reading
programs was reinforced in the new research. Libraries with certified
media specialists had: more books per student, more subscriptions to
newspapers and periodicals, more computers per student, more student
visitation and greater circulation.
Improved reading was the payoff for having media specialists, the study
shows. Test scores are more than 20 percent higher in schools with a
full-time professional librarian and assistant than in schools with
part-time media-center help.
In her report, Baumbach did not specify which districts had the best-run
libraries. But she outlined some of the things certified media specialists
do to help boost reading and test scores:
Provide reading-incentive programs, writing assignments and multimedia
Work with teachers to assess their students' test scores and determine
areas in which they need help.
When children pick up a school library book in Orange County or anywhere
else in Florida, the volume still may be as old as some parents.
Throughout the state, school-library books still are an average of two
decades old. One of every five media-center resources was published before
1980, according to the SUNLINK automated book catalog operated by
Baumbach's library-services center.
In Central Florida, Osceola's book collection was in the best shape, with
11 percent of its books published since 2000. Orange, Lake, Volusia and
Polk counties all have more old books than the average Florida school
district. Orange and Duval were the only urban districts that had more
pre-1980 books than the state average. About one in every four or five
library resources predated 1980 in those counties.
Libraries feel budget constraints
Money for new books is sporadic at best. Librarians report that about
half of their budgets come not from the state but from book fairs, parent
organizations, candy sales and profits from school supplies, according to
the latest research.
Library advocates say they were lucky to get even $15 million from the
Legislature this year with the state facing a funding crisis over a
voter-led mandate to reduce public-school class sizes.
But with strained budgets, libraries have become more like conservatories
for old books than research centers with current resources.
Last year, the Sentinel found many old books on library shelves, including
such titles as The Negro in America and Junior: A Colored Boy in
Charleston. Other volumes prepared young women for jobs as flight
attendants, rather than pilots, and predicted that people would someday
land on the moon.
Community groups responded by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to
school libraries. This month, Central Florida Educators Federal Credit
Union will donate $500,000 to school media centers, with $10,000 going to
10 low-performing schools for each of the next five years.
Joseph A. Melbourne Jr., president of Central Florida Educator's Federal
Credit Union, said the Sentinel stories spurred the donation by shedding
light on a great need at local schools.
"Schools need books," Melbourne said. "If kids can't take them home, it
really hinders their learning."
Donations help schools get books
Additionally, home builders and Harcourt Trade Publishers have worked
with the Orange County Public School Foundation to get $300,000 worth of
books into elementary schools. Media centers at the district's 108 primary
schools received 115 books as a result of that donation a few weeks ago.
At Richmond Heights, Adrian has benefited, too. Charities, churches and
the school district have put more than $25,000 into the media center that
the young reading enthusiast patronizes. Most of it went to new books.
Donations may have helped, but they have not transformed book stacks.
Shelves at Orlando's Rock Lake Elementary, for instance, remain spare. A
new library chief weeded out hundreds of antiquated volumes after some of
the books were held up as examples of outdated materials by the Sentinel.
"No, we did not have the money to replace them. I think we need more books
for the children. I need a little bit of everything," Rock Lake librarian
Lydia Richard said.
"Our whole emphasis is getting kids to be better readers. That's our goal,
to get them to read on grade level and that we keep reading till we're
there. And that's what the library is here for."
Mary Shanklin can be reached at 407-420-5538 or firstname.lastname@example.org.