Friday, July 23, 2010

The Case Against Summer Vacation

David Von Drehle - Thursday, Jul. 22, 2010

The following is an abridged version of an article that appears in the August 2, print and iPad editions of TIME magazine.

Blame Tom Sawyer: Americans have a skewed view of childhood and summertime. We associate the school year with oppression and the summer months with liberty. School is regimen; summer is creativity. School is work and summer is play. But when American students are competing with children around the globe who may be spending four weeks longer in school each year, larking through summer is a luxury we can't afford. What's more, for many children — especially children of low-income families — summer is a season of boredom, inactivity and isolation.

Deprived of healthy stimulation, millions of low-income kids lose a significant amount of what they learn during the school year. Call it "summer learning loss," as the academics do, or "the summer slide," but by any name summer is among the most pernicious — if least acknowledged — causes of achievement gaps in America's schools. Children with access to high-quality experiences can exercise their minds and bodies at sleep-away camp, on family vacations, in museums and libraries and enrichment classes. Meanwhile, children without resources languish on street corners or in front of glowing screens. By the time the bell rings on a new school year, the poorer kids have fallen weeks, if not months, behind. And even well-off American students may be falling behind their peers around the world.

And what starts as a hiccup in a 6-year-old's education can be a crisis by the time that child reaches high school. A major study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University concluded that while students made similar progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, the better-off kids held steady or continued to advance during the summer — while disadvantaged students fell back. By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind. By ninth grade, roughly two-thirds of the learning gap separating income groups could be blamed on summer learning loss.

"There is an idyllic view of summer, but we've known for decades that the reality is very different for a lot of underprivileged kids," says Ron Fairchild, CEO of a non-profit organization in Baltimore called the National Summer Learning Association.

Fairchild and his organization are part of a growing movement to stop the summer slide by coordinating, expanding, and improving summer enrichment programs — especially for low-income children. Supporters include some of the nation's largest private foundations. But as reformers strive to redeem summer as an educational resource, the trick is to seize the opportunity without destroying what's best about the season: the possibility of fun and freedom and play.

In Indianapolis a group of local philanthropies, led by the Lilly Endowment, decided in the 1990s to coordinate their efforts to provide safe places for children when they weren't in school. In recent years, says Lilly's Willis Bright, the focus has increasingly been on "the learning element" — a critical need, given that the Indianapolis Public Schools graduate fewer than half of their students. "But that doesn't mean you make it just another classroom," Bright adds. "You can teach physics with a basketball."

Grants from the group support everything from field trips to teacher salaries. Third and fourth graders at the Hawthorne Community Center in West Indianapolis learn pre-algebra thanks to the local donors, while other students explore plant science at an urban garden created by retired biochemist Aster Bekele. The strategy is to build on the city's existing patchwork of day camps, community centers, sports camps and summer jobs programs. Improve quality while keeping costs low.

But demand outstrips supply. Experts believe that a majority of the 30 million American kids poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches do not attend any kind of summer enrichment program.

The obvious way to reach a much larger group is through the public schools. And indeed, education reformers have been talking about lengthening the school year to make America's students more competitive for at least a generation. Long summer holidays are the legacy of our vanished agrarian past, when kids were needed in the fields during the growing season.

Cincinnati's public schools are tackling the problem of summer learning loss through a program called "Fifth Quarter," offering an additional month of classes in 16 schools serving low-income students. Houston schools offer four weeks of math and science education for at-risk students.

In the Appalachian town of Corbin, Kentucky, public school administrator Karen West has built a 10-week operation, running 10 hours per day, from the day after school lets out until the day before classes resume.

For Ron Fairchild, successes like these show the possibilities in a new approach to summer school. "That phrase has such a bad ring to it," he notes. "We need to push school districts to frame summer school as a good thing, something extra — not a punishment. There is a cultural barrier that we have to overcome. We're not The Grinch That Stole Summer Vacation."

Read more:,8599,2005654,00.html#ixzz0uX3C6vjE

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Tribute to Roddenbery Memorial Library

by Joe Jennette

Roddenbery Memorial Library is the cultural heart of Cairo and Grady County, Georgia. Its stately presence next to the Court House acknowledges its prominent position in the civic and cultural life of our community. I’d be willing to bet that no library in Georgia can outrank our library in providing all the blessing we enjoy but, I fear, we have come to take for granted.

The library is our collective living room, where we can visit with friends and neighbors and welcome with pride any visitors who might be in town and want to check out this “attraction” they read about on the city and county web sites--visitors who might be seriously looking for a good place to settle and raise their families. Our “living room” is there at the library, and we do not have to worry about keeping it presentable for company, for it is always immaculate.

At the library we can seek advice on any subject and be guided by the staff to just the right reference, a reference we can rely on to give us the most up-to-date, authentic information available. We can find that book we have been led to read in the library, or it can be sent from another library for us by way of the intra-PINES or interlibrary loan system.  In effect we have the library of the whole state of Georgia available to us.  The latest issue of a periodical or newspaper is there for us. An excellent collection of carefully selected DVDs and CDs can be checked out.

And, there is free access to the Internet for a wealth of information from all over the world.  Here again, the knowledgeable staff can guide us through the web to find the information we seek, info that may be the opening to a new job or career. We can reserve one of the two meeting rooms free of charge for any gathering of special interest groups. Or watch our children become enlightened with the wonderful children’s activities that will set their standards for reading and interaction with others for the rest of their lives--and so on. Our library is indispensable for the well being of our community.

We owe so much to the hard work and genuine devotion of all the librarians and members of the Board of Trustees who have steered the library along the way from a WPA project back in 1939, located on the second floor of the City Hall, to the beautiful facility we enjoy today.

We can thank Alan Kaye, the present director, for his leadership in establishing and continually updating the state-of-the-art computer system we now enjoy. Alan has been able to keep the building and property in top shape with constant preventative maintenance. This includes the latest energy efficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, not only for energy cost savings, but to ensure the quality of air we breathe exceeds the standards required by public health laws.

Alan and the staff have been able to keep and enhance the top quality of all the services of the library we have come to expect as representing our cultural spirit. The immaculately landscaped grounds and courtyard are a joy to see and walk through each time we visit. The Annex has been turned into a proper companion to the main building with its new roof and interior renovation. The book, reference and resource collection all in the care of a well qualified staff rank among the best of any library of similar size in the country. And yet all of these features we enjoy have been maintained for us by this valiant staff and board with funds that have shrunk dramatically over the past few years. Thank you Mr. Kaye and all the Friends of the Library who have donated money and services to help Alan keep RML alive and well.

To Cindy Johnson and the others who helped in converting the “back door” off the parking lot to the delightful East entrance with its classic trellised pick-up/drop-off area and terraced walkways leading up to the door of the library and entrance to the Annex we use so frequently. All of it beautifully landscaped in such a way that we would not be ashamed to tell any visitor to come on in through the “back door.”

To Tom Lehman, member of the Board of Trustees, for his leadership in the fund raising campaign for the expansion of the building to its present configuration back in 1988. This added the auditorium and children’s room plus other areas. His efforts gave the library $300,000 cash collected from our community—a gift we are so grateful for today. Thank you Tom and all those who contributed to this effort.

To the Roddenbery family, we are forever grateful for their generous gift of the property and original building, for their support through the years to make sure their namesake stays presentable in appearance and serves all of us as Mr. Roddenbery wished.

But it is to Miss Wessie Connell we owe the very essence of the life of our library. As a WPA worker back in the upstairs of City Hall, she recognized the need for a proper library in the overall well being of her community, and she dedicated her life to seeing that need fulfilled. Without the care and devotion of Miss Wessie we would not have the first-class library we enjoy today. I can feel Miss Wessie crying out for help in her soft but persuasive way for us to keep the quality of library service alive and well for all the people--a service she and the dedicated directors after her have spent so much of their lives to give us.

These gifts we cannot ignore and shrug off with an “Oh well, times have changed” frame of mind and rationalize that we really don’t need a library in this age of computers. This train of thought is about as far from reality as you can get. Wake up folks, look around and see that our library is in more demand for services today than ever before. That our library is providing more of all types of quality educational, literary and public services than ever before. That the demand for these services increases every year, especially recently with the economic downturn that has been thrust upon us. We cannot ignore the need for a safe haven for all citizens to enter with the hope that here they can find the resources needed to survive these tough economic times.

This legacy we have been given we pledge to hand on to generations to come. We cannot afford to deny our children the benefits our library provides us today. Do whatever you can to ensure this wonderful legacy remains healthy. Donate to the fund raising effort now going on, but of equal importance, spread the word to all who are not aware of our library’s quality services. Let the library and our elected officials know what our library means to you and your children. Let Miss Wessie know that you hear her calling and are on the way with help.

Joe Jennette, Library Advocate

Monday, July 12, 2010

U.S. Public Libraries: We Lose Them at Our Peril

by Marilyn Johnson
printed in the Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010

The U.S. is beginning an interesting experiment in democracy: We're cutting public library funds, shrinking our public and school libraries, and in some places, shutting them altogether.

These actions have nothing to do with whether the libraries are any good or whether the staff provides useful service to the community. This country's largest circulating library, in Queens, N.Y., was named the best system in the U.S. last year by Library Journal. Its budget is due to shrink by a third. Los Angeles libraries are being slashed, and beginning this week, the doors will be locked two days a week and at least 100 jobs cut. And until it got a six-month reprieve June 23, Siskiyou County almost became California's only county without a public library. Such cuts and close calls are happening across the country. We won't miss a third of our librarians and branch libraries the way we'd miss a third of our firefighters and firehouses, the rationale goes … but I wonder.

I've spent four years following librarians as they deal with the tremendous increase in information and the many ways we receive it. They've been adapting as capably as any profession, managing our public computers and serving growing numbers of patrons, but it seems that their work has been all but invisible to those in power. I've talked to librarians whose jobs have expanded with the demand for computers and training, and because so many other government services are being cut. The people left in the lurch have looked to the library, where kind, knowledgeable professionals help them navigate the government bureaucracy, apply for benefits, access social services. Public officials will tell you they love libraries and are committed to them; they just don't believe they constitute a "core" service.

But if you visit public libraries, you will see an essential service in action, as librarians help people who don't have other ways to get online, can't get the answers they urgently need, or simply need a safe place to bring their children. I've stood in the parking lot of the Topeka and Shawnee County Library in Kansas on a Sunday morning and watched families pour through doors and head in all directions to do homework or genealogical research, attend computer classes, read the newspapers. I've stood outside New York city libraries with other self-employed people, waiting for the doors to open and give us access to the computers and a warm and affordable place to work. I've met librarians who serve as interpreters and guides to communities of cancer survivors, Polish-speaking citizens, teenage filmmakers, veterans.

The people who welcome us to the library are idealists, who believe that accurate information leads to good decisions and that exposure to the intellectual riches of civilization leads to a better world. The next Abraham Lincoln could be sitting in their library, teaching himself all he needs to know to save the country. While they help us get online, employed and informed, librarians don't try to sell us anything. Nor do they turn around and broadcast our problems, send us spam or keep a record of our interests and needs, because no matter how savvy this profession is at navigating the online world, it clings to that old-fashioned value, privacy. (A profession dedicated to privacy in charge of our public computers? That's brilliant.) They represent the best civic value out there, an army of resourceful workers that can help us compete in the world.

But instead of putting such conscientious, economical and service-oriented professionals to work helping us, we're handing them pink slips. The school libraries and public libraries in which we've invested decades and even centuries of resources will disappear unless we fight for them. The communities that treasure and support their libraries will have an undeniable competitive advantage. Those that don't will watch in envy as the Darien Library in Connecticut hosts networking breakfasts for its out-of-work patrons, and the tiny Gilpin County Public Library in Colorado beckons patrons with a sign that promises "Free coffee, Internet, notary, phone, smiles, restrooms and ideas."

Those lucky enough to live in those towns, or those who own computers, or have high-speed Internet service and on-call technical assistance, will not notice the effects of a diminished public library system — not at first. Whizzes who can whittle down 15 million hits on a Google search to find the useful and accurate bits of info, and those able to buy any book or article or film they want, will escape the immediate consequences of these cuts.

Those in cities that haven't preserved their libraries, those less fortunate and baffled by technology, and our children will be the first to suffer. But sooner or later, we'll all feel the loss as one of the most effective levelers of privilege and avenues of reinvention — one of the great engines of democracy — begins to disappear.

Marilyn Johnson is the author of, most recently, "This Book Is Overdue!"
[Who would ever have thought that Grady County, Georgia, would be at the front of the line to participate in this "experiment!"  Maybe we can turn the tide!  --Alan]

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Comments from a Student

To whom it may concern,

Roddenbery Memorial Library has been a treasure to the children, teens, and adults.  I am a teen that often comes to this wonderful library.  I have been coming here for a very long time.  Since you cut some of the funds here, the library is going downhill.  They are going to start having to close the library on Saturdays!  That is the only time some people can come.  I believe instead of cutting funds for education, why don't you cut it for fast food restaurants?  Fast food kills some people, but a library helps them grow.  Please put what I have said to thought and give the library more funds!

Nikki Anderson

Fox News vs. Chicago Area Libraries

Main reading room of New York Public Library
A room with a view ... New York Public Library's public reading room.
Photograph: Reuters Photographer / Reuters/X90033

Chicago's public library commissioner has hit back at a report on Fox News that suggested libraries are a "waste of tax money", saying that the argument posed by the story was a "non-starter" and a contributor who suggested salaries in the public sector were higher than those in the private sector was "simply wrong".

Last week's Fox News slot on Chicago's libraries saw the right wing American television channel question whether they were still needed. "There are 799 public libraries in Illinois. And they're busy. People borrow more than 88m times a year. But keeping libraries running costs big money. In Chicago, the city pumps $120m a year into them. A full 2.5% of our yearly property taxes go to fund them. That's money that could go elsewhere – like for schools ... police or pensions," the Fox report said. "Libraries are quiet havens for the community. They can take you to another world ... But should these institutions – that date back to 1900 BC – be on the way out?"

Now, the Chicago public library commissioner, Mary A Dempsey, has responded, saying that she was "astounded at the lack of understanding" the Fox report showed and pointing to the 12 million visitors that Chicago's public libraries receive every year, the 10 million items checked out from the libraries' 74 locations in 2009 and the 3.8 million free one-hour internet sessions the people of Chicago used last year.

She took particular issue with an "undercover" section of the report, which counted about 300 visitors using the Harold Washington library over the course of one hour. "Most of them were using the free internet. The bookshelves weren't so busy," said Fox.

"Your 'undercover cameras' shots were taken in a series of stacks devoted to bound periodicals used for reference. Next time, try looking at the circulating collections throughout the building," responded Dempsey in a letter to Fox.

"The public library is supported by taxpayers for the common good of all the people of Chicago – just like public school. We don't ask our schools to make profit. Neither should we ask it of the public library," she said. "As journalist Walter Cronkite once remarked, 'Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.'"

Monday, June 28, 2010

Augusta's New Library Offers a Lot

Augusta's new $24 million library opened on June 25 following a 10:00 a.m. ribbon cutting ceremony.

The opening will be followed with a week of activities for young and old, beginning with NASCAR and Richmond County fire truck displays, an afternoon clown and magician show and an evening event with author Dorothea Benton Frank.

On top of that, there will be 22,000 new books on the shelves.

The opening is the culmination of five years of planning and work by Richmond County Library Board President Jane Howington; Gary Swint, director of the East Central Georgia Regional Library; Hugh Connolly, incorporator and honorary chairman of the Library Foundation and Millie Klosinski, development officer, as well as the library board and staff.

The library was built with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money, $2 million from the state, and additional funding from the foundation board's capital campaign to raise $3 million.

The 95,000-square-foot building at 823 Telfair St. was designed by the Craig Gaulden Davis architectural firm of Greenville, S.C., and built by R.W. Allen Construction.

"I think the new library will be what Augusta deserves and has deserved for a long time," Swint said. "It will be a library that's for modern day. We have information from past ages, but we're also looking toward the future."  (cont'd in The Augusta Chronicle)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pause for Thought

Libraries Throughout a Lifetime

By James LaRue of Colorado

As director of Douglas County Libraries, I have witnessed firsthand the tremendous growth and development of many individuals in the communities we serve. I’ve come to recognize that the true significance of our profession is simply this: we’re there.

We’re there throughout all of the various phases of life, from birth to childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood and beyond. We provide a host of customized offerings, for everybody, at every phase. We help individuals through every possible transition of life. The library as an institution assembles the public around activities that promote the public good—literacy, lifelong learning, civic engagement and culture. Together, libraries encourage our communities to be both more civilized and more interesting.

The odds are good that at least one of these big life transitions—or the many smaller transitions that occur within one’s lifetime (such as a job change or health crisis) will catch people off guard.

And there we are: with books and databases and programs on healthy pregnancy, on early brain development, on support for education, on the issues of young adulthood, on career planning, on rearing children and relationships, on retirement, and on estate planning.

What is at times “a nice thing to have” suddenly becomes absolutely essential to navigating times of profound transformation. And we’re there, as an established community partner, with professionals trained to guide people quickly and confidentially to the sources that make a difference. Libraries are for all the phases of our all too complicated lives.

James LaRue, Director
Douglas County Libraries
Castle Rock, Colorado

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Letter from Sharada in Ecuador!

Dear Grady County Board of Education Members,

I was recently informed that the local Roddenbery Library has been forced to reduce hours (including no Saturdays) in order to accommodate recent budget cuts.

I am writing this email to urge you to reconsider funding for the library. As a former resident of Whigham and Cairo, Georgia, I utilized library resources immensely as a customer and as a high school student worker. The library equipped me with skills that I still use today as a student at Stanford University in California. In fact, I am currently in Ecuador working with the CARE International Aid Organization in order to help them reorganize their library materials and resources. RML helped me gain the skills to earn this fellowship opportunity.

I would also like to point out that the library is an invaluable resource for improving education in South Georgia. With reduced hours, parents cannot take their students to the library on Saturdays. After working at RML for two years, I have come to know several families that regularly visit the library on Saturday.

Additionally, as a student from a low income family, working on Saturdays at the library helped me support myself and my family. Without hours on Saturdays, high school students, who work at the library, will face significant pay cuts.

I ask you to please reconsider and utilize one of the best resources in Grady County to the fullest. I personally know that Education is the key to success. The reduced budget moves South Georgia one step back rather than forward in improving academics.

Thank you for your time.


Sharada Jambulapati
Stanford University Class of 2012
B.A. International Relations