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Group pushes for change after finding out 95 HISD schools don't have fully functioning libraries

The group, HISD Kids Need Libraries, claims 30% of the district's campuses don't have fully functioning libraries.

HOUSTON — North Forest High School has a shiny new campus, but supposedly, it doesn't have a fully functioning library.

“Ninety-five schools have no libraries,” HISD Kids Need Libraries co-founder Anne Furse said.

A coalition of educators and parents started the group after last year’s winter storm as volunteers brought supplies to various Houston ISD campuses.

"And we noticed that the libraries were gone in a lot of these schools," Furse said. "The shelves were bare.”

A map on the group's website shows the location of HISD schools without fully functioning libraries. Most of them are in what are considered to be underserved areas.

While some libraries may have books, the group doesn’t consider them fully adequate due to a lack of trained personnel or other services which may be the result of campus-level budget decisions.

"And so it just seemed like a situation that didn’t make sense to us,” Furse said. "So we started working on trying to publicize this issue and trying to talk with HISD about how to change this."

A video about school libraries produced by HISD talks about the importance of digital engagement in addition to traditional books.

HISD Kids Need Libraries doesn't consider laptops or tablets a replacement for libraries.

"A lot of these kids don’t have devices or don’t have devices at home," Furse said. "They don’t have WiFi at home. Not everything is online and libraries are for more than just these kinds of resources.”

Here's how HISD responded to questions about libraries:

Question: Does the district have a comment or statement regarding the claim of 30% of campuses currently without fully functioning libraries?

Answer: 62 of 256 HISD school libraries are considered non-functioning per TSLAC standards which include collection age, collection size, and staffing. While there are books available to all HISD students, the planned investment of ESSER funds in our library services will allow the district to not only meet the need but go a step further and provide literacy kits for Pre-K students, and expand our volunteer literacy programs such as Read Houston Read that support reading at the elementary level. Superintendent House aims to make this a key component of HISD’s strategic plan to lift all students toward academic success.

Question: Have libraries been replaced by media centers? Does HISD have a need for librarians and related resources?

Answer: The decentralized nature of HISD allows principals to make tough decisions based on financial allocations they receive, which are based upon campus enrollment. These decisions to prioritize various academic needs include library personnel and resources. Every decision made at the campus level is made with the academic success of students in mind and based on the individual campus needs. HISD’s planned investment of ESSER funds in our libraries across the district which will begin to address the literacy needs of our students.

Our goal is to support all of our students and their academic and social-emotional needs through the use of school libraries. Current board policy, EFB (Local) Instructional Resources, Library Media Programs, states that, “The Superintendent or designee shall develop rules, regulations, and procedures to ensure the systematic maintenance of libraries as current resources for teachers and students. Principals shall ensure the effective use of the libraries within schools and shall establish library hours, staffing, and procedures that best serve the needs of the students. Library media centers for each school shall be equipped with resources for reading, viewing, and listening to enhance the regular instructional program and shall be staffed with certified learning resources specialists in accordance with approved staffing guidelines. Adequate funding for library media programs shall be made through the annual budget. Funds for the purchase of library materials shall be allocated on an equitable basis to the various schools.

To ensure our students have access to relevant, interesting, and useful information, the district has applied for and received ESSER funding to bring every school library collection up to TSLAC (Texas State Library and Archives Commission) “Proficient” state standards within the next 2 years. This will allow all of our students to have access to a robust library collection.

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