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School Librarian Population Declines by 20% In Last Decade

Tika Viteri

Staff Writer

Tika writes from her home office in Pittsburgh, PA, accompanied by 3 grey cats and many, many plants. When not plonking away on a keyboard, she can be found painting, knitting, gardening, and casting the occasional spell or two -- all usually accompanied by a glass of wine.

In the last ten years, the population of school librarians has declined by roughly 20%, according to the findings of the School Librarian Investigation: Decline or Evolution? research project conducted by Antioch University Seattle.

With the integration of the internet into every aspect of our lives, many libraries have shifted to include more community spaces than ever before. Alongside the traditional shelves of physical books, one can usually find computer terminals to borrow ebooks or do research, as well as clusters of community members with a librarian or volunteer in the center, teaching people about an aspect of literature or life. For many Americans, this starts at the school library.

However, as of the 2018–2019 school year, only seven in ten school districts studied had a dedicated school librarian. School administrators and instructional coordinators have increased, while the number of teachers has decreased slightly, and school librarians have seen a consistent downward trend.

School districts that have higher levels of students who are experiencing poverty are more likely to have no librarian. “Majority Hispanic districts were more than twice as likely to have no librarians. Majority non-white districts generally were also less likely to employ a librarian.” Those with a higher proportion of English-language learners also lacked school librarians. The explanation for cutting librarian staff is largely budget, but according to the results of the study linked above, that doesn’t actually tie out to per-pupil spending data.

The answer lies more in district spending mandates, as well as legislation that requires a librarian in a school. In places where such legislation is in place, schools are far more likely to have a librarian than to flout the law.

Another answer is that universities are producing fewer librarians, resulting in a “chicken-or-the-egg” situation. If there are not enough librarians to go around, how can there be one for each school?

Additionally, as Book Riot readers are probably well aware, the concept of a “librarian” is also shifting, along with the traditional definition of “library.” Because the 2019–2020 school year was not part of the original data set, the affect of COVID-19 on school librarians has also not been determined. As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, the question of how we teach our children about access to information is something that remains to be seen.

Looking for more information on the necessity of school librarians? Check out: