Empty library shelves are an embarrassment City schools: Cross Country Elementary's plight symptomatic of low regard given to libraries.


EMPTY SHELVES greet students who enter the library at Cross Country Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore. That school's plight, as outlined by Sun reporter Mike Bowler last week, is symptomatic of a school system and a city that have badly depleted a precious resource -- books -- that is absolutely critical if students are to succeed at learning to read.

While Cross Country's desperate situation was caused by a flooded room and termites, other city schools reflect a lack of concern for libraries. When it comes to setting funding priorities, the library is near the bottom of the list.

Take Northwestern High School. Its library is hopelessly outdated -- most books are more than 20 years old. It has two computers to serve 1,400 students. A lack of staffing forced the school to close its library for an entire school year.

Three of 123 Baltimore elementary schools meet state standards for library books; 16 have full-time librarians and only 43 others have part-time professionals.

It is an appalling situation. And an embarrassment for every resident. The lack of action by school officials and leaders at City Hall has led to the formation of a private Northwest Schools-Community Partnership to help overcome library shortcomings in that part of town. There's a special drive to help restock Cross Country's shelves, too (Book Fund/Cross Country Elementary School Foundation, P.O. Box 32007, Baltimore 21282-2007).

What is Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who devised the "city that reads" slogan, doing to help restore libraries to their proper place throughout Baltimore? For starters, he ought to waste no time putting up $380,000 in July to make city schools eligible for a matching grant from the state. It is the first part of a five-year state program to bolster libraries in public schools.

The mayor seems interested in helping restore books to Cross Country's library. Time is important, though, if that library is to be ready when students return in September.

Young students desperately need all the help they can get learning to read. Libraries are an essential element. It is time for the mayor to step forward, and for other Baltimoreans to do the same.

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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