The Case For Libraries and Librarians
Invited Paper, Submitted to
the Obama-Biden Education Policy Working Group,
by Stephen Krashen
"When I read about the way in which library
funds are being cut and cut, I can only think
that American society has found one more way to
destroy itself." (Isaac Asimov, from his
autobiography I Asimov)
The case for libraries is very strong.
Research shows that better public and school
libraries are related to better reading
achievement. The reason for this is obvious:
Children become better readers by reading more
(Krashen, 2004), and the library is a major
source of books for children. 1
Better Libraries > Better Reading Achievement
Study after study has shown that library
quality (number of books available or books per
student) is related to reading achievement at
the state level (Lance, 1994), national level
(McQuillan, 1998), and international level
(Elley, 1992; Krashen, Lee and McQuillan,
2008), even when researchers control for the
effects of poverty.
The library is especially important for
children of poverty, because they have very
little access to books at home (Feitelson and
Goldstein, 1986), at school, and in their
communities. The library is often their only
source of books. Unfortunately, children of
poverty are the least likely to have access to
quality libraries (Smith, Constantino, and
Krashen, 1996; De Loreto and Tse, 1999; Duke,
2000; Neuman and Celano, 2001).
Providing access to books is necessary but is
not sufficient: Not all children who have
access to libraries take full advantage of them
(Peck, 2000, Celano and Neuman, 2008). Keith
Curry Lance's studies confirm that the presence
of librarians and overall staffing contributes
to reading achievement independent of other
measures of library quality. The most obvious
way librarians contribute is helping children
find books, in addition to selecting books and
other materials for the library, and
collaborating with teachers. 2
Children of poverty are less likely to attend
schools that have libraries with credentialed
librarians (Celano and Neuman, 2001).
If America can increase funding for libraries
and librarians, I can only think that America
has found one important way to rebuild itself.
(1) There is consistent evidence that children
and adolescents get a substantial percentage of
the books they read (from 30 to 99%) from
classroom, school or public libraries (studies
reviewed in Krashen, 2004).
(2) According to the recent Scholastic's 2008
Kids and Family Reading Report, when asked who
gave them ideas about what books to read,
forty-eight percent of the youngsters polled
(ages 5 to 17) mentioned librarians. (Teachers,
57%, moms, 65%, dads, 43% and friends, 61%,
were mentioned more frequently, and TV shows,
the internet, other family members, and
magazines were mentioned less frequently.) For
a recent case history, see Adriance and Linder,
Adriance, L., and Lindner, E. 2008. Shameless!
School Library Journal, September, 53-54.
Celano, D. and Neuman, S. 2008. When schools
close, the knowledge gap grows. Phi Delta
Kappan 90 (4): 256-262.
Di Loreto, C., and Tse, L. 1999. Seeing is
believing: Disparity in books in two Los
Angeles area public libraries. School Library
Quarterly 17(3): 31-36.
Duke, N. 2000. For the rich it's richer: Print
experiences and environments offered to
children in very low- and very high-
socioeconomic status first-grade classrooms.
American Educational Research Journal 37(2):
Elley, W. 1992. How in the World do Children
Read? Hamburg: The International Association
for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.
Feitelson, D. & Goldstein, Z. (1986). Patterns
of book ownership and reading to young children
in Israeli school-oriented and nonschool
oriented families. The Reading Teacher, 39,
Krashen, S., Lee, SY, McQuillan, J. 2008. Is
the library important? Presented at the 37th
annual meeting of the International Association
of School Librarianship, Berkeley, CA.
Lance, K. 2004. The impact of school library
media centers on academic achievement. In Carol
Kuhlthau (Ed.), School Library Media Annual.
188-197. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
(For access to the many Lance studies done in
individual states, as well as studies done by
others at the state level, see
McQuillan, J. 1998. The Literacy Crisis: False
Claims and Real Solutions. Portsmouth, NH:
Neuman, S.B. & Celano, D. (2001). Access to
print in low-income and middle-income
communities: An ecological study of four
neighborhoods. Reading Research Quarterly, 36,
Pack, S. 2000. Public library use, school
performance, and the parental X-factor: A bio-
documentary approach to children's snapshots.
Reading Improvement 37: 161-172.
Obama-Biden Education Policy Working Group Invited Paper
INDEX OF RESEARCH THAT COUNTS