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Morton McMichael School library re-opens after two decades

By the Notebook on Oct 12, 2012 09:53 AM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

A volunteer from West Philadelphia Alliance for Children reads to Morton McMichael School students during the library's re-opening.

By Kofi Biney

For 25 years, Morton McMichael School has operated without a library, not unlike many schools throughout Philadelphia. But today students at the West Philadelphia school celebrated the library's re-opening.  

Getting the school library up and running again was made possible by the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC), a nonprofit that helps to renovate and set up school libraries, and the Hamilton Family Foundation, which provided WePAC a substantial grant to do the work.

McMichael is the 16th public elementary school library in the city to be opened by WePAC since 2009, and the 12th one it will be running this year.

“It is absolutely critical at this stage, given what’s happening with the School District, that private funders are able to support public schools,” said WePAC executive director David S. Florig.

“We provide our library services to the schools at no cost to the schools and the School District.”

Volunteers and staff worked throughout the summer to clean and outfit the library. Though the library does not have a dedicated librarian, WePAC volunteers will staff the library two days a week, reading stories to students and conducting various activities with classes.

Nancy Brent, executive director of the Hamilton Family Foundation, said the re-opening of the library fits with the organization’s overall mission to provide financial support to help improve the educational lives of students in under-resourced schools.

“We feel that the access to school libraries, especially to kids at a young age, improves their educational achievement and their long-term academic success," Brent said. "So we were anxious to have a good library in place for them.”


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Comments (14)

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on October 12, 2012 2:35 pm

While it is good these students will have some access to what a library brings a school, it is a sign of the times that our schools are increasingly dependent on charity.   A library staffed with a certified librarian should be a part of every school, not a rarity as it is becoming in Philadelphia.   

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 7:30 pm

Yes, it reminds me of when John Street announced with PRIDE that the kids at Peirce Middle would have heat in the dead of winter. You just can't make this crap up !! The level of inequity is stunning and even taken for granted by the poor.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 6:44 pm

I'm happy that the Mc Michael School is receiving a library. The children's will have a place to go to read and to take home a book which is important, reading will inspired the children to set goals. But the one thing that took me back for a minute is that the school never had a library in 25 years are you kidding me 25 years no library. The School District wasn't broke then, so nobody thought that the children in this school didn't deserve a library. What a shame. Thank GOD that somebody outside of the District cares about the children at this school because the leader of the District sure didn't 25 years without a Library again WHAT A SHAME!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 8:27 pm

Beware of Lissa Johnson....she likes to throw items out that are beneficial to students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 12, 2012 8:43 pm


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 13, 2012 6:04 am

It is wonderful that a new library was established at the McMichael Elementary School. It is my understanding that the process for obtaining this new library was under the direction of Mrs. Carol Martin, former principal of McMichael, who sadly became ill last school and who is still recovering from her illness. I believe that she is very proud that her vision of seeing a library at McMichael come to life.

As a person who has been reading books all of their life, it was sad to me to learn that this school did not have a functional library for 25 years. What was the reason why someone in a top position at the School District didn't see the need to get this library up and running 25 years ago? What a disgrace. Money certainly was not the reason why these children didn't have a functional library 25 years ago with all the money that the District had back then, money that we all know was wasted. Why wasn't it a priority for these children living in poverty not to have access to a library in their school? I can think of many reasons, but all I can say is SHAME ON YOU! But let's not leave parents out of this equation, why weren't you demanding that your children have a library in your child's school?

Schools are in the business of educating children and encouraging children to read and having recent, up to date reading material available for children to read is a part of educating children, particularly children who are living in poverty stricken areas of our city. Books open doors for children. Books open the minds of children and books allow for creativity in children.

Personally, it is a disgrace that it took 25 years for these children to have a decent library in their school. How many other schools don't have functional libraries in their schools? McMichael has their library now and I hope that other schools will be able to get their libraries up and running as well and I hope that it doesn't take them 25 years to obtain working, functional libraries in their schools.

Great job McMichael staff, friends of McMichael. Enjoy your new library. I know the children will enjoy going to their new library.

Submitted by Gina Conallen (not verified) on October 13, 2012 10:54 am

Yesterday's opening of the library at McMichael is the culmination of years of hard work by many dedicated individuals at our school, as well as donors and community partners. Former administrators Angela Edwards and Carol Martin were both advocates for the library, with the former initiating the conversion/construction of the physical space and the latter pursuing partnerships to enhance the collection. Current principal Brian Wallace has worked closely with WePAC and been very supportive of the project. Staff members have served on a variety of grant-writing teams over the years, as well as contributing many, many hours to the labor-intensive process of moving, weeding, and shelving the collection. Drexel professors and volunteers have given time generously to the project. The Maurice Romy Foundation provided the funding necessary to automate the collection, as well as to add new, high-interest titles and periodicals. WePAC volunteers have spent over 200 hours in the last month alone cataloging the collection and readying it for circulation.

Like at many schools, my understanding is that McMichael’s original library suffered a slow decline under years of budget cuts. This isn’t just a Philadelphia problem, or just an inner city school problem; it has happened, and is still happening, all over the country. It usually progresses like this: first, funding for the collection disappears, leaving the books outdated and increasingly less suitable for student use; next, the librarian is replaced by a part-time assistant or the position is eliminated entirely; and finally, after years of neglect, the school is left with a locked room full of dusty old books that no one ever uses. This is especially disturbing given that, like reduced class size, the presence of a school library staffed with a certified school librarian is one of the few factors proven to increase student achievement. I encourage everyone to look at the websites of the American Association of School Librarians, the Philadelphia Association of School Librarians, Library Build, and especially WePAC for more information on school libraries and student achievement, as well as scary statistics on the number of schools without libraries.

On another note, I don’t think it’s fair to blame parents for the absence of a school library. When you are fighting for the basics, like adequate staffing and funding for curriculum basics, the things viewed as “extras” will sometimes fall by the wayside. Parents at McMichael have been very supportive of the project, and definitely care about getting as many resources for their kids as possible.

Anyway, anyone who saw those little faces on the news yesterday knows that this labor of love was definitely worth it. Many, many thanks to any and all who have supported the McMichael School Library, or any school library!

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 13, 2012 2:46 pm

Gina--You're well intentioned post misses the point. ALL Public Schools should be guaranteed a library staffed by a librarian. It should be taken for granted. NO public school should have to beg, borrow and steal, to give the kids what they deserve already.

Submitted by Gina Conallen (not verified) on October 13, 2012 3:48 pm

You will not find argument from me there! As Mr. Florig from WePAC stated in the news broadcast, it's required that all PA prisons have libraries staffed by certified librarians, but sadly, no such requirement exists for schools.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 13, 2012 5:54 pm

Thank you, Gina, for sharing this fact. It is a crime that we ensure prisons have something as basic as a library while schools do not have to have a library/librarian. I understand why prisons have a library - and the necessity - but I also believe schools also need a viable library / librarian. How many Philly neighborhood schools have a library with a librarian? I don't know but I believe the number is very low.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 13, 2012 9:42 pm

There are 43 certified librarians employed by the SDP this school year. There were 176 certified school librarians employed by the SDP in 1992.
The Association of Philadelphia School Librarians has been advocating loudly for certified school librarians in EVERY school for at least 10 years.
No Philadelphia policy- or decision-maker has acted to support extensive research over years that proves that low-income children especially are academically benefited by access to certified librarians. Jerry Jordan has spoken out. Bill Green (Philadelphia City Councilman-at-Large) has listened, as has an aide to James R. Roebuck, Jr. (Minority Chair of the PA House Education Committee). APSL received advocacy assistance from the Philadelphia office of the Education Law Center, but changes must come from inside the District to affect our students' equity of access to adequately resourced school libraries, which includes the services of certified librarians.
Presently, principals make the decisions about school library resources with certified school librarians at the school level. If you want a school library with a certified school librarian, make the case to your child's principal. Priorities need to be rearranged and parental influence is crucial.
APSL's efforts are chronicled on the web page

Especially interesting is the Offenberg and Clark study.
The next time I testify to the SRC about the dearth of certified librarians in the SDP, any concerned person in attendance is welcome to stand behind me.
School libraries with certified librarians prepare our young citizens to support our democracy.
Thank you for your concern and support.
Carol Heinsdorf, President
Association of Philadelphia School Librarians (APSL)

Submitted by Darryl Bundrige (not verified) on November 1, 2012 8:58 pm
Hello. I must clarify something. I'm not sure where the information was obtained that Morton McMichael School did not have a library for 25 years, but it's not accurate. I served as an Americorps member with the National School and Community Corps program, now known as EducationWorks from July 1997 - Dec. 1999. Rose Shambourger Ford was the principal of the school at the time and Dr. Janet Samuels was the cluster leader of University City. While McMichael had it's challenges at the time, it definitely had a library. It was on the lower level of the school with the Head Starts, cafeteria, Mantua Family Center and profound needs special education classes. Mrs. Tsikata was the librarian and she was there full time. Mrs. Shambourger Ford has a strong emphasis on reading and the K-2 literacy program was especially strong. I particularly recall Ms. Allen, a second grade teacher, spending a great deal of time painting a beautiful mural in the library and another teacher, Ms. Treadwell, worked with the librarian to hang curtains and do other beautifications. I remained active with the school and know that the library remained in tact until Edison Schools took over the building and the library was closed. And even in my last visit, the library had been moved upstairs. A space had been set aside, but the room sat full of unpacked books. I just want to be sure that all the facts are accurately shared.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 8:33 pm
Thank you for correcting the inaccurate report. It is very interesting that Edison Schools, a for profit entity that was suppose to "improve" schools, closed the library. I assume it was a "cost saving" measure. How much more will we lose as the privatization train runs amok in Philly?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 19, 2013 3:29 pm
When there is no mandate for libraries and they are at the principal's diescretion they often go down the tubes.The principal will claim they have to choose between music/ art/ or a library. Having been at many schools I don't think every school needs a certified librarian, but at the least a library instructional materials assistant who initially learns the job from a librarian. Parents, teachers and others who are may be well meaning do not have the time or knowledge to run and maintain a good library. That all being said I think the drastic reduction in librarians has been detrimental to the system (and to their careers)) but so has everything else that's been going on in the great privatization migration that's been taking place. THAT is the enemy along with improper funding. One cannot speak of "the children" then take away those things which every child should have. Take note that the phrase "the children" has morphed into"''failing schools," receiving schools" and empty seats."

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