June 2, 2021

Nancy Bailey: The Racism Behind Firing Librarians and Closing School Libraries

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The shutdown of school libraries is becoming a common technique for cutting costs. Nancy Bailey explains just how dangerous a trend that is. Reposted with permission.

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.

~Frederick Douglass

If a school has no school library or a flimsy excuse for a library, students are denied access to books and reading material. They miss opportunities to learn information and become proud of who they are. Look for racism behind the decision.

When school districts diminish school libraries and those who run them, they fail to address the critical issues involving history, civics, and race relations. With all the talk of schools and equity, it’s unconscionable that closing school libraries and firing school librarians are accepted practices.

In May 2020, the Washington D.C. school district passed a $70 million budget increase. In January 2021, the American Rescue Plan infused over $368 million of COVID relief and new aid to DC Schools. Today, school librarians there are begging to keep their jobs. Here’s the petition!

The dismal account of dwindling libraries and librarians is happening across the nation, especially in poor schools and schools with children of color. If your child’s school fires the librarian, the school library may close. The public school is also likely on borrowed time.

Librarians and Social Change  

In a January 2021 interview with the American Association of School ­Librarians president Kathy Carroll Librarians Uniquely Equipped To Address the Tenor of the Times, Carroll states:

We as professionals have to be brave in our convictions. We are the curators of accurate unbiased information. Don’t be afraid to have hard conversations or to stand behind truth and facts. Our students are counting on us! #TruthWins #FactsMatter

Book Banning

Social justice book banning is serious in America’s schools, so if school libraries are eliminated, and librarians are given no voice by being fired, this issue is swept away.

According to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), which monitors challenges to books, more than 273 books were challenged or banned in 2020, although the majority of attempts to remove books go unreported.

Test Scores and Libraries

For years, students of color and students from low-income families have scored lower in reading proficiency than their peers.

We learn from Phi Delta Kappan: Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs.

But if students don’t have easy access to books and reading material, how will America close the gap (Condron, D.J., 2009)?

Eliminating Library Racism 

In A History of Racism in American Public Libraries, Anna Gooding-Call writes about weeding out racism in public libraries.

School libraries might also need to reassess how they respond to current events. Students and parents should be involved in this process.

But this cannot take place if there are no school libraries and librarians.

The Hub of a School

Some school districts deem the school library dated and replace it with another function, like STEM or maker spaces.

In Toledo, Ohio, Washington Local Schools plans to convert school libraries into STEM rooms relying on teachers to set up classroom libraries.

But the school library is the hub of the school!

Phonics Focus

A recent Mindshift report about the need for phonics in California’s struggling schools ignores the lack of school libraries and school librarians in that state.

Sixteen percent of California schools don’t have a library, and only 9 percent of California schools have a credentialed librarian (Ahlfeld, 2019).

Students will only thrive with phonics if they connect phonics to reading books and material that reflects their interests, culture, and backgrounds!

Rich Schools Have Libraries

Private schools like Sidwell Friends have libraries and librarians.

Lakeside’s website notes that students still love to curl up and read with a book. The library has a screen-free couch for reading, and librarians have monthly themed book displays that introduce students to new authors, genres, and books in the collection.

As reported in Politico, in New Jersey, Camden has no public school librarians, and Cherry Hill has one for every public school.

Demand School Libraries and Librarians

Every student deserves a great school library, stacked with various books and material, including books that address our most current issues to help them seek answers. They need qualified librarians to help guide them.

When school buildings are reopened ask, who is the school librarian, and what are their qualifications. What kind of library exists in the school? No matter whether the school is charter, traditional public, private, parochial, or virtual; a school library and an authentic school librarian matter greatly.


Condron, D.J. (2009). Social Class, and School and Non-School Environments, and Black/White Inequalities in Children’s Learning. American Sociological Review. 74: 683-708.

Ahlfeld, K. (2019). They Paved Paradise: School Librarians and School Libraries Are Disappearing, and We Won’t Know What We’ve Lost Until It’s Gone. Journal of Library Administration. 59: 927–938.

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