Funding the Future: A message from the President and CEO of Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation

As part of HISD’s effort to inform the community about important financial decisions being made ahead of the Board of Education’s budget vote in June, the spotlight has been put on librarians and their significant impact on students.

Dr. Julie Baker Finck, President and CEO of Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, has shared an editorial providing insight into the benefits of improving library access in HISD under the proposed budget.

Reading is Fundamental. School Libraries are Foundational.

As a young child reading was neither my favorite subject nor hobby. But, in fourth grade I began serving as an assistant for my school’s librarian, Mrs. Jacobson. I spent many hours card cataloging books, placing them on shelves, and talking with her about the stories which lived inside their covers.

I also participated in the reading programs Mrs. Jacobson organized for our school in which she would offer incentives based on the number of pages we read or other criteria to motivate us to read. In fact, in my childhood memorabilia, I still have several crocheted bookworms, certificates of achievement, and even a trophy for being the 4th grade reading champion.

While I don’t recall the exact moment when I became a bibliophile, I know that Mrs. Jacobson played a prominent role in fostering my life-long love of reading. She truly made a tremendous difference in my life, and I am certain, she did the same for many other children who visited the school’s library.

Although much has changed in the more than 40 years since I was a fourth grader, research remains conclusive about the value and importance of school libraries and certified librarians. Specifically, a growing body of research conducted over the past two decades, including findings from 26 statewide school library impact studies, has consistently shown that high-quality library programs and student achievement are positively correlated. (Achterman, 2008; Gretes, 2013; Scholastic, 2016) “In fact, [researchers] have often found that the benefits associated with good library programs are strongest for the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities” (Lance & Kachel, 2018).

Beyond test scores, school libraries serve as gateways to the world for students and certified librarians play a pivotal role as navigators for students so that they become pilots of their own learning, creativity, dreams, and success. Certified librarians not only help a child find special books to read to spark a love of books and reading, but oftentimes also serve as a technology instructor, reading motivator and interventionist, source for instructional support, professional developer of teachers, and more.

According to results of the 2019 State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR), reading performance at the “Meets Grade Level” standard ranged from a mere 26% in grade 6 to 40% in grade 5 for all students tested in HISD. Furthermore, 62 of the 256 HISD school libraries are considered non-functioning per the Texas State Libraries and Archives Commission.

It is vitally important that HISD ensure every school has a certified librarian, a 21st Century library, and robust library programs as a strategic imperative for boosting literacy rates. That is why I am so pleased that HISD not only committed $15 million towards updating school library collections, but also adopted a policy requiring that schools have a certified librarian beginning in the 2022-2023 school year.

We can and must do more to help all children graduate on time, participate fully in our economy, engage in society, and reach their fullest potential. It all begins with helping them learn how to read.

If we all believe that reading is fundamental, then we must invest in practices that have been proven, time and time again, to be foundational for reading success. Having robust school libraries with certified librarians in them is paramount.

Every child deserves a Mrs. Jacobson.