URGENT: DC School Library Action

Peter MacPherson, DC activist with years of experience advocating for school libraries, joined the August 1 edition of The Education Town Hall.

URGENT: ACT on August 1!!

by Peter MacPherson
Last week’s announcement about the proposed new soccer stadium for DC United is troubling. A new stadium would be a nice new civic amenity. But to even construct the outline of deal has required an enormous amount of effort by the Gray administration. And it’s going to need a huge amount of municipal treasure, on the order of $150 million. For 16 months we’ve been advocating for vibrant and well-staffed school libraries in DCPS. And there has been progress. We’ve gotten funding for a large number of full-time librarians positions. And Councilman Jack Evans sponsored an amendment, which passed handily, that requires the DC Department of General Services to use any funds leftover at the completion of a modernization to be used to buy an opening day library collection for that school.

Unfortunately these are starting to seem like paper victories. We’re dependent on the chancellor to actually recruit librarians and she has made hardly any effort to do so. Despite having the funding we are on track to begin the next academic year with 44 schools not having a librarian. After the Evans’ amendment passed there was a flurry of activity in the executive branch in trying to decide how to respond.

But now, unless enormous pressure is brought, the expensively modernized Cardozo and Dunbar High Schools will open with no books. The new middle school at McKinley Tech will open with no books. Anacostia High School will open for a second year with no books purchased for it by DCPS. Kramer Middle, a badly fraying school in Ward Eight, will open with no books.

What is cruelly ironic about this situation is the relative modesty of the resources required to definitively address the school library issue. We can have world class libraries in all schools for $15 million. That’s 1.8 percent of the FY14 DCPS budget and ten percent of what the city is proposing to spend on the stadium. Heaven and Earth are being moved to make the stadium possible. Solving a problem that requires very modest resources is treated as if a request to mine gold on Mars has been made.

We can still get books into the schools that have none by the time the new academic year begins. But they have to be ordered by Thursday. Below you’ll find some immediate a plan to address immediate school library needs. Please email or call the mayor and members of the council stressing the importance of acting on this plan. The libraries need to be fixed before any consideration can be given to the stadium. Also, we’re having a rally in front of the Wilson Building on Thursday in support of the libraries. Please make every effort to attend. It starts at 9am and will run until 4pm.

I’m sorry to have to come to you yet again to ask for your continued advocacy on this issue. But this fight can be won. The plan I’ve outlined will benefit every school.


Talking Points

  • Dunbar, Cardozo and Anacostia High Schools need new library by opening day. Kramer, McKinley and Cardozo middle schools need opening day collections as well. Mackin Educational Resources, a major supplier to school libraries, says that they can get these materials into the schools by the end of August. However, the materials need to be ordered by Thursday. A title list has already been assembled. Mackin can do this for about $1.1 million.
  • Every school with a librarian needs to receive 30 periodical subscriptions. By our estimates there will be 60 schools with librarians on opening day. The cost per school is around $1,260, according to an estimate I’ve received from W.T. Cox, Inc., a North Carolina-based company that distributes magazine for schools. This would cost around $76,000.
  • An aggressive librarian recruitment program is essential. To this end we want a national campaign that offers relocation expenses and signing bonuses. We’re competing for a scarce resource and DCPS has a terrible national reputation vis-à-vis school libraries. That makes additional inducements a necessity. The cost would be around $300,000.
  • We’d like every school not receiving an opening day collection get a $10,000 infusion of library materials. That would be $550,000.


Mayor Vincent Gray

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson

Council Jim Graham, Ward One

Councilman Jack Evans, Ward Two

Councilwoman Mary Cheh, Ward Three

Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, Ward Four

Councilman Kenyon McDuffie, Ward Five

Councilman Tommy Wells, Ward Six

Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, Ward Seven

Councilman Marion Barry, Ward Eight

Councilman Vincent Orange, At-Large


Councilman David Grosso, At-Large

Councilman David Catania, At-Large

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