Philly School Libraries in PA Capital Star

Universities, nonprofits step up to aid depleted Philadelphia public school libraries

BY:  - JULY 26, 2023 4:30 PM

Across Philadelphia’s 217 public schools, there are just four certified librarians, making the ratio four to 113,000 students, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan told the Capital-Star. (Ella Lathan/for Capital-Star)

This article was updated at 4:54 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 to correct a statement about the reopening of school libraries.

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia is known for its prominent universities like the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Temple, St. Joseph’s, and others.

Their presence boasts a rich educational and medical landscape. While the abundance of such institutions suggests an ample availability of libraries, this is seldom the case for Philadelphia public school students. 

And according to one union leader, the numbers are stark.

Across Philadelphia’s 217 public schools, there are just four certified librarians, making the ratio four to 113,000 students, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan told the Capital-Star. 

Without staffing – and resources – many of the city’s public school libraries are unable to run at full capacity. While teachers and volunteers are trying to make sure students have access, a number of groups around Philadelphia are also working to make a difference.

Libraries are important for the holistic growth of children and teens in literacy, social skills, collaboration, cooperation, creativity, and more,” said Christine Caputo, chief of Youth Services and Programs at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

“Library programs are some of the first places that young children can make their own decisions,” Caputo said. “Their families bring them for storytimes and then they can choose what books they want to borrow to read at home. This is a very powerful experience for the growth of children.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2019, that reading at grade level by the fourth grade sets up many students for success and encourages healthy behaviors. A student’s reading comprehension skills impact overall academic success, and ultimately the ability to go on to college.  

Read By 4th is an early literacy movement that is supported citywide by more than 150 partner organizations, parents, volunteers, and community members. It provides resources not only to students but parents. 

“Read By 4th is [one of] the many organizations in Philly doing awesome literacy work,”

Gina Pambianchi, who leads the Penn Libraries’ work with public school libraries, told the Capital-Star. 

“During the pandemic, a lot of the focus was kind of switched around, from like classroom collections [to] building students’ home collections,” Pambianchi said.

Universities have been stepping up in the last 15 years as funding across Pennsylvania for public school libraries declined. According to the School Library Journal Pennsylvania ranks sixth among states that have lost the most librarians since 2010. 


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