The condition of Utah's public school libraries has gone beyond critical - and is approaching catastrophic, a state school official said Friday.
Only 9 percent of the state's elementary school libraries would meet established accreditation standards if they were required to do so, said Bruce G. Griffin. Of the state's 644 schools, only 57 have the collections and personnel to meet the standards set by the Northwest Accreditation Association, the agency that accredits most Utah schools.The great majority of Utah's elementary schools employ aides, rather than more expensive library media specialists, to handle their libraries, said Bonnie Morgan, state school curriculum specialist. The media specialists tend to be located in secondary schools, which are obligated to meet accreditation requirements.
A total of 700 media specialists would be required to meet the accreditation standards. Only 284 are employed.
This winter, Utah's system of higher education reported that its nine institutions of higher education needed $165 million to bring their libraries up to par. An outside consultant is working with state offices to determine the extent of the problem in higher education and recommend how to deal with the needs.
During a Thursday meeting of the Legislature's Education Interim Committee with both higher and public education leaders, the consultant said that by consolidating the concerns, working on cooperative programs and otherwise streamlining the library requests, the job may be accomplished for less than the requested $165 million.
Griffin's pessimistic observations during a meeting of the State Board of Education Friday broadened the concern for Utah's libraries in general.
"Things are not well. We are shortchanging students in a dramatic way," he said. "The standards are realistic if we want our children to function effectively in an information age."
Friday's report did not even delve into the matter of library collections, which also were said to be "substandard."
The decline in libraries indicates the subtle negative effects of budget constraints in recent years, Griffin said.
Several people demonstrated the value of libraries to schools, including Marianne Karpisek of the Salt Lake School District. That district has maintained media specialists because of additional funding raised through a voted leeway. She said libraries extend the effectiveness of teachers far beyond the classroom by providing not only books and media materials on site, but connecting a school with broader computer programs.
Steve Zseray of Cache District also demonstrated new technologies that are making instant information available to youngsters in well-equipped, well-manned libraries. "We are not moving into the future. It is here and now, and we need to do something about it," he said.
Sharyl Smith of Granite District said national studies tie student performance to the availability of good media center resources.
A graphic demonstration of the proliferation of information in modern times was conducted by Carolyn Derricott of Jordan District. Her district displaced a significant number of its media specialists when $4.1 million had to be cut from district budgets this year.
Using a tape, Derricott showed a long period of time from the year 1 A.D. to the year 1750, when the amount of information was judged to have doubled. From 1750 to 1900, another doubling occurred; in 1970, it doubled again and in 1980 again. Now, information is believed to double every five years, she said, with 5,000 to 7,000 scientific and other articles published daily.
The public schools cannot turn to public libraries to fill their void, said Amy Owen, director of Utah's statewide library system. The public libraries are not geared to meet the needs of Utah's curriculum, are not available to children during hours when they need them most and are not accessible to many children. They haven't sufficient staff to spend necessary time with children aside from normal library usage.
The state system is concerned and supportive of school needs, Owen said, but are not a viable substitute for good school library facilities.
State staff was directed to report back to the board in a month or so with more details and possible recommendations for dealing with the problem.
State Superintendent James R. Moss advised that planners should keep in mind that "libraries as we know them are becoming obsolete." Solutions to the current crisis should be forward-looking and incorporate technology that will bring Utah into that modern arena, he said.