Baltimore Library Project Renovates 14th School Library

Fourteen libraries in the Baltimore City Public Schools have been renovated and now boast expanded collections and updated technology, thanks to a partnership with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

The newly renovated library at Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School.

Fourteen libraries in the Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) have now been renovated with new designs and furniture, expanded collections, and updated technology as part of a partnership with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School is the latest campus to benefit from the Baltimore Library Project, which began in 2011 and leverages existing Quality Zone Academy Bonds to fund the improvements. Ten percent of the district’s students—6,000—now attend one of the elementary or middle schools with renovated library spaces. The project, however, involves much more than new furnishings and equipment. To participate, the schools also commit to having a full-time, certified librarian. In return, the foundation pays for a part-time library clerk, a maintenance fund, and access to 25 pounds of food for the school’s families from a mobile food pantry run by the Maryland Food Bank. Each school library in the project also features an “Enoch Pratt Parent Place,” a corner in the library where parents and guardians can read, conduct research, complete job applications, have group conversations, and access other resources. The schools work in partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library in downtown Baltimore to determine what services the members of their community might need, says Stacey Davis, coordinator for media and instructional technology for BCPS.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh at the opening of the new library at Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School, October 25, 2017.

“We have always intended that these libraries would not only improve academic achievement but also engage the entire family and community more directly in the schools, and through partnerships and extracurricular programs,” Rachel Garbow Monroe, president and chief executive officer of the Weinberg Foundation, said in a press release. The foundation has committed $10 million of the total $30 million project investment. In addition to the foundation and the district, the project includes more than 30 community partners, such as Art with a Heart, which paints murals in the libraries, and the Baltimore City Campaign for Grade Level Reading, which works with other organizations to organize the SummerREADS program. Seven school libraries were open four days a week this past summer for reading and other learning activities. “They’re really working to connect the libraries and the schools with community partners,” Davis says.

Evaluation shows academic benefits

The Baltimore Education Research Consortium has been tracking the impact of the Library Project’s renovations and additional library materials. Over the first three years, the researchers found that six of the 10 highest book checkout rates were at project sites, and over a four-year period, checkouts in those schools increased 400 percent. The evaluation has also found significant increases in reading fluency among third graders at some of the first schools with library renovations and higher reading proficiency scores on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test than those of students at other district schools. Davis says she also sees the the pride students feel once the transformations are complete. “Kids really kind of emulate the environment they are in,” she says. “If they go into an environment that says, “‘you’re important and you’re special,’ you will see a change in behavior.” Of the district’s 177 schools, 89 of them have certified librarians, about half of whom are full time, Davis says. Whether to fund the position, she adds, is a local school decision. “In some of these schools, it’s been a stretch to keep that full-time librarian,” she says, but adds that many school leadership teams have been effective at working with volunteers to clean up collections, get book donations, and organize catalogs. A few years ago, for example, members of a local neighborhood association worked with Wolfe Street Elementary, near  Baltimore Harbor, to turn an office space near the school’s cafeteria into a reading room. Interns from the University of Maryland School of Social Work also helped by organizing existing and newly donated books, and a retired public librarian helped catalog the materials so students could check them out. Next year’s Library Project renovation will take place at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School and the Foundation has committed to renovating 10 more.
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