Skip to main content

The Number of Librarians in Philly Continues to Dwindle

Public schools in Philadelphia have suffered a 94 percent drop in the number of full-time librarians between 1991 and 2015.

Public school librarians in the City of Brotherly Love are becoming increasingly scarce, a report published Monday in the Philadelphia Inquirer shows. Just eight full-time, certified librarians work in Philadelphia School District buildings, down from 11 in 2015—and a whopping 94 percent decrease since 1991, when 176 librarians staffed Philly’s public schools.

The Inquirer’sKristen A. Graham credits dwindlingpublic school budgets for the layoffs (in 2013, for example, city officials voted to close 23 public schools, 10 percent of the city’s total number, as the city faced a budget deficit of $1.35 billion over five years). Though the layoffs aren’t that shocking—this is a city that“until very recently did not have full-time nurses and counselors in every school,” Graham reports—they are extremely damaging: Speaking to Graham, Debra Kachel, a professor at Antioch University Seattle and school library expert, estimated that the number of employed librarians in Philadelphia public schools ranks as “the worst nationally.”

For a state with some of the lowest scores in standardized reading and math exams among large metropolitan areas— a 2011 Commonwealth Foundation report shows that fourth grade students in Philadelphia rank 16th out of the country’s largest 18 cities in reading scores—the decrease in librarians is acutely felt.

In 2015, Wes Juddreported in Pacific Standard that the presence of well-funded libraries helps students learn to think more critically and perform better on reading and writing exams.

Judd reported that Hispanic students in particular are more likely to feel the positive impact of access to librarians; a 2007 joint study by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association and the Education Law Center shows they are three times as likely to earn “Advanced” scores on writing tests when schools are staffed with a full-time librarian than their peers without access to one.

Time will tell whether likely incoming secretary of education Betsy DeVos — who would be the first in her position to not have attended or sent her children to public school — will make enriching public education resources a priority. If she does, data indicates a potential payoff in standardized test scores: Judd reported that, on average, a librarian with a support staff “was responsible for a 9 percent increase in students who score ‘Advanced’ in reading.” For a city that has seen slow progress in bolstering reading and math scores, results like that would be a boon.