I decided to do a study of Arkansas' school library budgets as a major research project for a two-semester seminar class. Since 2009, I've read articles about how numerous library budgets and staff have experienced major cuts in all types of libraries. For the blog this month, I want to share highlights from my final paper and a link to the full document for those that want to read it. I also want to thank the 109 participants in my survey instrument from the membership of the Arkansas Association of Instructional Media (AAIM) for making this study possible!
Below are the highlights from the research paper. You can read the full paper here.
Results and Data Analysis
There were 109 survey participants covering four categories of public schools: elementary, middle school, junior high, and high school. 43 (39.4%) of the respondents were from elementary schools, 31 (28.4%) from middle schools, 22 (20.2%) from junior high schools, and 41 (37.6%) from high schools (Figure 1). The largest categories represented by participants were from elementary and high schools.
Survey Participant Categories
Library Budget Reductions
The responses for library budgets indicated that 54 (49.5%) respondents had experienced cuts while 55 (50.5%) had not (Figure 2). 64 participants indicated their budget either stayed the same or increased. 54 (84.4%) responded that their budget had not increased and 10 (15.6%) revealed their budget increased (Figure 3). According to this sample, it appeared that more schools did not experience budget cuts.
Budget Reduction Impact
57 participants indicated one of five common impacts to their program as a result of budget reductions (Figure 4). 50 (45.9%) reported a reduced amount of book purchases, 33 (30.3%) shared they had to cut the amount of library supplies they buy, 16 (14.7%) indicated they have reduced the amount of library professional development they attend, 7 (6.4%) reported other reductions in their library program, and 13 (11.9%) reported the reduction of a library aide. According to this portion of the survey, the highest number of participants in the sample population that experienced budget reductions indicated they had to purchase fewer books.
The optional open response question that asked participants to report any reasons they were given for budget cuts had a variety of responses. Most reasons given by respondents for library budget cuts were due to a drop in student enrollment or a district being in financial distress. Others stated that they were given no reason for budget cuts by their administrators. An additional open response question asked participants to share any specific challenges they have experienced by budget cuts. The top responses provided by participants were that they must do fundraisers or write grants to have additional funding. Other challenges included not being able to purchase all current novels and cutting periodical purchasing. A few librarians shared that they use their own money to make purchases. Some librarians indicated that they lost their library aide positions, and the increased workload of not having assistance was a significant challenge. Another optional question asked respondents if they have had a library aide cut or reassigned. 42 of 64 participants (65%) on this question suggested that their library aide was pulled from the library frequently and/ or that the position was lost altogether. 28 respondents shared their email addresses to show interest in participating in an interview to provide additional information.
Interview Participant Categories
A five-question interview was sent to all 28 participants on March 1, 2020. 15 participants responded to the interview which consisted of one multiple choice question and 4 open response questions. The participants were from 7 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 1 junior high, and 3 high schools (Figure 5). Librarians described their budgets in one of the responses. The results were from one extreme to another. One librarian indicated that there was no budget provided for the library program. Another participant shared the allocated budget was approximately $20,000. Several other librarians shared their budget allocation breakdowns. $7908 was the mean budget shared by the 13 school librarians who answered the open response question about their current allocated funds for 2019-2020. In another question librarians shared how their budgets had changed over the years. Some experienced decreases while others stayed the same and/ or increased. Most individuals shared that their budget funding was based on the number of students enrolled in the school.
In another question, librarians reported how they have supplemented their budget money. Most participants indicated they either applied for grants or that they hosted school book fairs to supplement their library budgets. Some of the grants included organizations like PledgeCents, Donors Choose, and Wal-Mart community grants. Some librarians suggested they sell other items like candy, candy grams, and other similar items to raise needed funds. One librarian indicated they depended partially on donations from the community for fundraising. One participant shared that they spent their own personal funds when necessary to purchase needed items for the library.
Discussion/ Practical Implications
Research Question 1: How have budget cuts impacted Arkansas’ school libraries?
Respondents indicated that 49.5% of the schools in the sample had experienced budget reductions (see Figure 2). It was expected that this number would have been higher based on the review of literature presented in this paper. It was assumed that the results of this sample reflected the entire state in that just under 50% of public-school libraries have experienced cuts in their budgets. In terms of how these cuts have impacted the sample of schools that participated, there are many effects that were indicated. The most disturbing consequences indicated by school librarians were that they could not purchase as many books with reduced budget funds. This is a problem that directly impacts students of all ages. A few librarians suggested that they could not purchase the newest novels in a series because of less funding. In addition, school librarians shared that they had to hold book fairs as a means of compensating for reduced budget money. Librarians also shared that they have applied for grants for additional funding. A few respondents indicated that they had to use their own money to make purchases for students. The survey respondents revealed that budget cuts had made it more difficult to make purchases.
Research Question 2: What do school librarians perceive the long-term results of budget reductions will be to their programs?
The personalized responses to this question came through in the open response spaces of the survey and interview. One participant stated that the current budget was not enough to purchase technology for the library in addition to books. This librarian stated: I feel that there is no way to have both technology and books with our current budget. For a true 21st century library, I need to have both. Another librarian stated: Especially in the elementary, we touch and see EVERY student. We offer so many options beyond check-in/ out. Adequately or inadequately funding the library has reciprocal effects on the children. One librarian discussed how it was necessary to use personal money when library funds are exhausted: I am sure every teacher says the same thing, but a lot of what I use comes out of my pocket. When a kid needs the 3rd book to a series and I am out of money, I just order it myself.
While the question was not answered specifically for long-term impacts, the struggles of these few examples were evident. Budget reductions impacted school librarians directly since some used personal money to make purchases. Others have made hard decisions about balancing purchases between library books and to make essential technologies available to their learning communities. In addition, other questions in the study revealed that budget cuts were causing some librarians to fall behind in their library professional development.
Research Question 3: Have Arkansas’ school library support staff been reduced?
42 of 64 participants revealed that their library aides were either pulled from the library more than in the past or they lost their aides altogether. Some of the librarians indicated that the reduction of library aide support had made it more difficult to do their jobs. There were many responses to the reasons other than budget reductions. One librarian indicated that the aide was pulled for dyslexia support in the building. Another shared that the aide position was never filled when the previous aide retired. Several respondents shared that aides were pulled for hall/ facility duty throughout the day while others stated the aide was frequently pulled to cover classes for absent teachers. One librarian wrote: The loss of the library aide has had the largest impact. I spend more time doing secretarial duties and have less time to devote to activities that directly impact students - researching books, developing programming, book-talking, collaboration with teachers. Another participant reported: I no longer have a para so I have cut back on the "extras" I would do (newsletter, free-flow times, reading incentives, etc.). I also have come to rely more on book fair funds. Another librarian shared that it was difficult to collaborate with teachers since the library aide was only part-time. The results of this study indicated that a portion of the sample had experienced various reductions of support staff. It was uncertain if these reductions of support were a direct result of budget cuts since there were different reasons presented by survey participants.
Research Question 4: Are Arkansas school librarians allocated budget funds to allow attendance at relevant professional development opportunities?
This question was not clearly answered in the study. 16 school librarians indicated that they had to reduce the amount of their library specific professional development. In retrospect, this question should have been directly asked in either the survey or follow-up interview form. At least it was known that of the 54 librarians that indicated they had experienced budget reductions, 14.7% also had to reduce their school library professional learning. In the state of Arkansas, this would likely mean reducing their participation in the Arkansas Association of Instructional Media conference, the Arkansas Library Association conference, or local Arkansas education cooperative library specific trainings throughout the school year.
Conclusion/ Next Steps
This study only answered a few questions after it was completed. It also created many more additional questions to be investigated. One thing is suggested as a result of the study: school librarians must advocate for their programs and report their activities to add value to both their positions and programs. Clear communication with administrators and other stakeholders is key. The responses from participants revealed that many school librarians are innovative and have a “can do” attitude. These educators find ways to do more with less by spending additional time seeking grants, sponsoring book fair events, and even using their own personal funds to provide for those they serve. Perhaps if school library stories are told via social media and other outlets, perceptions can be changed. Such increased communication of library program impact and value may help solve some of the budget issues revealed by the participants of this study. There is much more to learn and to be investigated where school library budgets are concerned. This will be an even more relevant subject for study following the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on school districts, economics, and how libraries will function in an uncertain future.
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