The books at Roxborough High's library sit untouched and unread by students. Renovated at considerable expense in 2007, the library was closed three years ago when, due to budget cuts, it became too expensive to keep open. It’s used for meetings, presentations, and small assemblies now.
When I mentioned over the dinner table the fact that in Philadelphia, almost all public school libraries were closed, my 5-year-old granddaughter, who attends a suburban elementary school, almost fell off her chair. “What, no libraries? Library is fun!” Her father, a graduate of Central, was equally upset. He spent the bulk of his lunch periods in the library, either studying, reading magazines, or shooting the breeze with friends.
In some of the city's elementary schools, libraries were closed a decade ago. It’s sad to think that some high schoolers have never attended a school with a library. Closing libraries might save the School District money, but what happens when districts cease to fund libraries?
There’s something special about going to the library and choosing a book that suits your mood that day. Little children, like my granddaughter, who are just beginning their school careers, will have a tough time falling in love with books without a library. Generations of children grew up reading The Snowy Day and Corduroy and Madeline. I still remember someone reading The Little House to me as a kindergartner at Richmond Public School. I could not wait to read it myself.
Children who are expected to learn at high levels require books to reach those levels. If there are no books in the home and families do not use the neighborhood library, the school must provide access to books. Without accessible books, children cannot develop a facility with reading.
As with sports, the more a child reads, the better reader he or she will become. Reading is far more than developing skills and the ability to answer questions on tests. Ask any teacher.
The lack of access to books is a cruel blow to the city's high school students, who don’t have access to libraries for research. I have mentored students writing their senior papers; sadly, most of their sources come from non-academic articles found on the Internet. Even the best English teacher can’t provide the books that college-bound students need if they are to write a high-quality paper. What can replace sitting in a library with a stack of books?
Libraries also provide safe or quiet haven for large numbers of children who can't function in the cafeteria during lunch or who need a private place not available at home. Best of all, a library is a place where those of us who cannot live without books can sit quietly and do what we love best: read. From hours of reading come all sorts of ideas and inventions and movements.
This is why anonymous donors paid to keep the libraries at Central High and Masterman open. The donors knew what libraries meant to them and how the availability of books led to their own success.
Eileen M. DiFranco, R.N., is a certified school nurse who has proudly served the schoolchildren of Philadelphia for 23 years. She is a lifelong resident of Philadelphia.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.