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IMPROVING LITERACY: School Libraries Targeted for Improvement

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"In a multi-cultural, rapidly-changing world, our students are placed at a major disadvantage if the only scientific, historical and geographic materials they have access to are outdated and inaccurate."

Imagine a child coming home from school with a backpack overflowing with library books. Most parents would be delighted that their child had discovered the magical world of literature, yet in some cases those books may be more than a little outdated. Secretary of Education Rod Paige recently examined some antiquated examples from books collecting dust in a Houston school library: “Some day man might even be able to travel to the moon,” read one passage.

Congress addressed these concerns in the No Child Left Behind Act when it authorized $250 million in competitive grants for school districts to improve library facilities and personnel training. The program, Improving Literacy Through School Libraries, is targeted toward high-poverty school districts. Last year, Congress appropriated only $12.5 million for this program, and President Bush has requested no additional funding for the coming year. While Congress prepares to make a decision on funding for this initiative, librarians across the country are keeping their fingers crossed.

According to the American Library Association, “In today’s information age, an individual’s success, even existence, depends largely on the ability to access, evaluate, and utilize information.” In reflecting this belief, Improving Literacy Through School Libraries also contains funding for technologically advanced school library media centers, along with the hiring of professionally certified school library media specialists. Librarians who apply for and receive funding are also authorized to facilitate Internet links and other resource-sharing networks, while making these resources available to students during non-school hours.

As sponsor Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) stated when proposing this legislation, “In a multi-cultural, rapidly-changing world, our students are placed at a major disadvantage if the only scientific, historical and geographic materials they have access to are outdated and inaccurate.” Improving Literacy Through School Libraries is a positive step forward in providing children with new skills that can help them achieve their goals.

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