Earlier this year, the passage of emergency legislation provided every District public school with a full-time librarian just in time for the mass return to in-person learning. That temporary, last-minute save followed D.C. Council hearings and months of organizing by librarians.
As the D.C. Council prepares to deliberate on a more permanent solution to the librarian funding issue, old and newly-installed public school librarians across the city continue to relish in their face-to-face interactions with students, all while maintaining hope that council members approve the Students Right to Read Amendment Act of 2021.
“My prayer is that it goes through [and] if it does, that D.C. Public Schools [DCPS] would be compliant and adhere to the policies and regulations for a full-time and certified librarian in every school,” said K.C. Boyd, a public school librarian who’s based in Ward 6.
For two years, Boyd and other librarians advocated for the financial support of their position during campaigns supported by the Washington Teachers’ Union [WTU] and political action committee EveryLibrary.
During the budget season, Boyd and more than a dozen librarians hosted meetings that connected District council members with parents and teachers who recounted how the lack of librarians hindered students’ academic progress.
Those meetings, in part, compelled the infusion of $3.25 million that filled full-time librarian positions at nearly 40 schools. At the time the D.C. Council approved the emergency legislation introduced by Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), 40 percent of District public schools, many of which are based east of the Anacostia River, lacked a full-time librarian.
Since then, librarians throughout the public school system have assisted their teacher colleagues in the transition to back-to-school learning, even serving as substitutes in some cases.
“We have good platforms,” Boyd said. “Students are reading voraciously. If given the opportunity to work, librarians can do a lot of good in every school they’re assigned to and make that indelible difference.”
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) introduced the “Students Right to Read Amendment Act of 2021” earlier this month. If passed, the legislation would amend the “District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995,” mandating the permanent funding of full-time public school librarians starting next fiscal year.
School librarians have been credited with encouraging collaboration between teachers of various disciplines and sharpening students’ research skills. Librarians have also been considered a tool in increasing student literacy. Advocates have brought up this particular point during council hearings in the months leading up to, and during the pandemic, when public school principals facing enrollment-based budget shortfalls cut librarians positions.
Earlier this year, Allen, a father of two DCPS students, expressed his frustration with the ongoing discussions and what he described as the lingering threat of extinction facing public school librarians. He said his introduction of the Students Right to Read Amendment Act 2021 fulfills a promise he made to constituents and DCPS leadership.
“The chancellor tells us how librarians are important, but they’re not funded the way they’re supposed to be,” Allen said.
“Council member Lewis George and others did a great job on this one-year fix but we need to make it permanent or we’ll have the same fight in the spring.”
In regard to the Students Right to Read Amendment Act of 2021, DCPS librarian Christopher Stewart expressed confidence in the D.C. Council’s ability to understand the crucial role he and his colleagues play in boosting literacy and shaping school culture. Since the school year started, Stewart has not only constructed a webpage chock full of resources for students, teachers and parents but also turned John Hayden Johnson Middle School’s library into a space for watching international news and conducting socratic seminars.
This method, Stewart said, encourages students to think freely. It also paves the way for him to engage reluctant readers and help them explore their interests through the written word.
In speaking about his role, Stewart said that he’s helping teachers and parents feed the thirst for knowledge he saw in young people as they entered the halls earlier this year.
“Other cities, states and municipalities are looking at this legislation [and] I am anticipating charter and private schools investing in school librarians,” Stewart said. “What you’re doing when you’re investing in a school librarian, you’re investing in students and telling them that you appreciate them and see that they’re leaders. This is equity work.”