Public and school libraries have been a distinguishing part of the national fabric since the founding. Widespread literacy and easy access to information are part of what separated America from its European forebears, converting uninformed subjects of monarchy into active citizens of a representative republic.

Now, school libraries are under assault as school boards eliminate them to save money, under the false premise that libraries have been rendered obsolete in the digital age. In the financially distressed Scranton School District, for example, the board has eliminated librarian positions, and clerks now check out materials.

Today, the Philadelphia School District, with 220 schools and 134,000 students, has just 10 staffed school libraries. Among 499 other school districts statewide, 131 have a librarian in every school but 115 have only one librarian for the district, and 22 have no librarians.

Older people often marvel at young people’s computer proficiency. But that is not the same thing as learning, which remains rooted in literacy, the ability to read and understand. In the digital age, harnessing technology to the underlying goals of literacy and learning is crucial to education, and it’s a task in which modern librarians play a major role.

Two state representatives, Republican Thomas Murt of Montgomery County and Democrat Mark Longietti of Mercer County, have proposed a bill to require a librarian in every public school. State Sen. John Blake, a Lackawanna County Democrat, has made the same proposal in the Senate.

The bills should pass, but not just as mandates to local districts. Legislators also should approve funding to help those local districts ensure that students have the age-old benefits, fine-tuned to the digital age, that only libraries can provide.

— Scranton Times-Tribune

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