MONEY ISN'T always the best way to solve a problem, yet Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger proposes to do just that for school libraries. In his fiscal 2001 budget proposal, Mr. Ruppersberger wants the school system to spend $10.5 million to buy 400,000 new books for the county's middle and high school libraries.
He's doing the right thing, and no one should oppose this initiative.
For more than a decade, libraries have been the school system's neglected stepchildren. First, there was a recession, and library materials were the first to fall victim to budget-cutting scalpels. Libraries and media specialists were then eliminated.
By the time the economic recovery started producing more money for schools, computers -- the new member of the instructional family -- began to absorb attention and resources.
As a result, spending on school libraries has declined across the state. Some systems allocate as little as 44 cents per student on books and media materials, while state guidelines call for spending no less than $20 per student.
Baltimore County's condition is indicative of how steep that fall has been. Not one of the system's 26 middle schools has a library collection that is considered current. Libraries in only five schools have collections of sufficient size to meet the state standard -- 25 items (books, periodicals, videos and CD-ROMs) per student.
County high schools are in even worse shape. Of the county's 23 secondary schools, only two have sufficient-sized collections, and only two have current collections. Much of the research material on current history, science and social studies is so outdated as to be irrelevant.
Even though we are currently infatuated with computers and high technology, books form the backbone of any school's education program. No students should go without them. Fortunately, Baltimore's County's librarians and school officials made the case for more and newer books, and the county executive listened.
The challenge will be to provide enough money in future years to ensure that county school library collections never fall so far behind again.