According to a new analysis of federal data, The United States can’t afford librarians. Between 1999-2000 and 2015-16, U.S. public schools lost 19% of full-time equivalent school librarians, according to a School Library Journal article by researcher Keith Curry Lance that examined National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data.
The shortage in public school librarian employment has not recovered since 2008. Districts serving minorities have been hit the hardest. Among all the districts that have retained all their librarians since 2005, 75% are white, Education Week reports. On the other end of the scale, student populations in the 20 districts that lost the most librarians in the same time comprised 78% students of color.
In essence, while U.S. employment rates are back up in the wake of the Great Recession, the public school librarian sector has not rebounded, and the nation’s collective failure to rebuild its public information infrastructure and minorities have been hit the hardest.
Some states suffered a more dramatic loss than the average. The number of librarians employed across Florida’s 67 school districts has dropped by 27% since just 2005, according to a 2017 Herald Tribune article, leaving several districts without any librarians at all. In replacement, the Herald Tribune argues, paraprofessionals run libraries as media aides — a position that requires just a high school diploma and a certification, and which starts at $14.60 an hour. Librarians with masters’ degrees, however, are often the first to go when budgets need to be cut.
Education Week’s articles also argues that librarian’s roles are being replaced by other, less qualified job titles: As public school librarians dwindled by 20%, schools saw an 11% rise in counselors, 19% boost in instructional aides, and a full 28% more school administrators.
Several recent studies have indicated that students suffer academically as a result: One nationwide study published in 2011 found signs that states’ 4th grade reading scores dropped in correlation with their loss of librarians. A 2012 Colorado-specific study from the same researchers then followed up, finding a similar correlation in the opposite direction: “Schools that either maintained or gained an endorsed librarian between 2005 and 2011 tended to have more students scoring advanced in reading in 2011 and to have increased their performance more than schools that either lost their librarians or never had one,” that study holds.