DC School Libraries: Disparities, Possibilities

Peter MacPherson, long-time advocate, joined the Education Town Hall to provide an update on DC school libraries and share a proposal for enhancing and equalizing collections. In his travels across the District of Columbia, MacPherson has found that schools vary substantially in their collections, many of which do not meet AASL size recommendations.

As an example, MacPerson described the conditions at two DCPS middle schools: At Johnson, in Southeast, the library has been recently renovated but contains fewer materials than needed; computers were not yet hooked up at the start of the school year. The new Brookland Middle School is packed with more books than enrollment would dictate.

Johnson Middle School library not ready for prime time (credit: P. MacPherson)
Johnson Middle School library not ready for prime time (credit: P. MacPherson)
Brookland Middle School overflowing (credit: P. MacPherson)
Brookland Middle School library overflows (credit: P. MacPherson)

To help equalize collections and ensure that all schools have sufficient and updated materials, MacPherson proposes using some $13 million in unspent District funds. See open letter.

Listen to full discussion Track 4 here —

The Education Town Hall broadcasts from Historic Anacostia in Washington, DC, Thursdays
at 11:00 a.m. Eastern on We Act Radio.
Listen live via TuneIn.
Shows are archived for convenient listening shortly after broadcast.

The Education Town Hall BUS is a monthly program
organized by BadAss Teachers, United Opt Out, and SOS March.
The program regularly airs on the 4th Thursday of each month.

Open Letter re: DC Public School Libraries

In the past several years real progress has been made in improving libraries in the District of Columbia Public Schools. But like many efforts in our city the work is not completed. The good news is that what the school libraries need now are resources and there’s money available to deal with this issue decisively. We now have the ability to give every school in DCPS an excellent, well-stocked library. The task ahead for all of us is to ensure that this opportunity is not squandered.

It’s important to reiterate the current school library state of affairs. We have large elementary schools, like Stanton, that need more 10,000 volumes. We have libraries undergoing expensive modernizations, like those at Stuart-Hobson and Johnson Middle, that will reopen next week with the the same old and substandard collections in place. We have high schools that have only half the volumes they should relative to their enrollment. Many education campuses, grades pre-K through 8, have some of the poorest libraries. The students attending these schools have had lousy libraries from the moment they start in DCPS to moment they enter secondary school.

The collective library hole our libraries are in is quite deep. DCPS needs to buy around 400,000 new volumes to bring all our campuses to national standards. And the needs are not simply books. Many school libraries lack adequate shelving and crucial technology like computers.

The solution is close at hand. In the spring the city settled litigation with Chartwells the company that provides meal service for the schools. The company had been bilking DCPS and there is now $13.7 million in the city treasury unspent. The money that Chartwells shouldn’t have received prevented District students getting key assets like good school libraries. The money recovered should go back to the students.

I’m urging you to call or write those below and advocate for using the $13.7 million for a definitive solution to the problems besetting the libraries. The District’s chief financial officer informed me earlier in the week that the money has been transferred to the city and is unencumbered.This is money that can be used to benefit every student in DCPS and does require a parochial appeal. Please express to those listed below the urgency of using the money for this purpose, that a school system in which more than half the students scored below proficient on the reading portion of the DC-CAS cannot afford to have anything less than world class libraries.


Peter MacPherson

Mayor Muriel Bowser

Phil Mendelson, chairman of the DC Council

Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles

DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson

David Grosso, chairman of the DC Council’s education committee.

Charles Allen, council member for Ward Six

Anita Bonds, at-large council member

Yvette Alexander, council member for Ward Seven

Brandon Todd, council member for Ward Four


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s