The Power of School Libraries: Why Every Student Deserves Access


A warm welcome from a trusted adult. Shiny new books. Cozy seating. A quiet and calm space to read and study. These are some of the many things you’ll find walking into an OUSD school library. Although the library spaces and collections are as varied as the schools, students across the city benefit from rich school library services tailored to their needs. For many students, library visits are one of their favorite parts of school, a treasured time to make an independent decision about something that matters to them. In the school library students have their choice of thousands of books in multiple genres, to help them learn and use their imaginations.

School library services play an essential role in student literacy development, despite the fact that they are often treated like a nice add-on to schools rather than a necessary ingredient.  A truly powerful literacy toolkit utilizes the many services provided by school librarians. Growing and sustaining reading skills takes lots of practice, which requires access to lots of books. To find joy in reading, kids need books! Not just any books – they need books that grab their attention, hold their interest, reflect back their own reality, motivate them to keep reading, and help them expand their understanding of the world. Building reading joy helps kids learn and love to read, and to continue to identify as readers throughout their lives.

Kids at Greenleaf TK-8 library
Students cuddle up and read to stuffy buddies in the Greenleaf TK-8 library

Research shows that highly effective school libraries have a significant positive impact on student achievement. “Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs.” (Lance & Kachel, 2018). Several new studies also show that strong school libraries are linked to graduation rates and mastery of academic standards. The researchers controlled for school and community socioeconomic factors, and the correlations “cannot be explained away by student demographics, school funding levels,” or similar factors (Lance & Kachel, 2018). 

Students may be able to access books from other places such as classroom libraries or the public library. But an open, funded school library gives equitable book access to every student at the school. Students access a large variety of engaging, current, and relevant books in the school library. They also receive personalized guidance from a trained professional to assist them in selecting books that meet their interests. Students then return again and again throughout the school year, sustaining interest in a topic or series, or perhaps choosing something new that catches their interest each time. Growing readers need ongoing inspiration to sustain their interest and engagement in reading, and school library services provide these sparks throughout the school year. To keep library book collections current, school library staff receive professional training in book selection and ideally have annual funding to order new books. 

Students will find thousands of print books in every Oakland school library, as well as an additional 55,000 eBooks and audiobooks via the Sora online library. (Learn more about Sora by clicking here.) But kids get more than books and reading recommendations from their librarians. In the school library, students explore their interests through clubs, join book books, meet authors, learn to use technology, and gain information literacy skills. The school library can also be a much-needed haven for students in the midst of a busy school day.

Students also benefit from the collaborative work between school librarians and teachers. Librarians connect read-alouds and book recommendations with current study units. The librarian may introduce fiction and nonfiction print and digital books, and online research tools, to give kids a chance to explore their curricular topics more deeply. 

With these additional materials students may learn something that unlocks a topic or skill, or deepens their understanding of the work they’re doing in the classroom. Libraries aren’t separate from classroom learning – when they are stocked and staffed, they are an integral part of the school experience.

The great news is that an increasing number of OUSD students now have open school libraries! At this time, 88% of elementary school students, 91% of middle school students, and 34% of high school students have library services available at their schools, for an overall total of 72% of students in the district. This is an increase from 65% in the 2021-22 school year and 50% in the 2020-21 school year. Seventeen libraries have reopened in the 2022-23 school year alone! Every Oakland student deserves a fully funded school library to spark their reading joy and intellectual curiosity. To learn more or get involved in supporting school libraries, visit the School Library Partnerships page.

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