When I first became a reader and was taken to the school library I had two thoughts: I can read as many books as I want, and I can read then for free? It seemed unfathomable to my young mind and I was determined to read everything available. But as I got older the libraries changed. The upper-grade library and resource center had more books than the lower-grade library, the junior high library was many times larger that my elementary school libraries, the high school library even larger. Added to that my town had branch libraries with a few blocks from every school, if not literally on school property, which magnified the availability of books available. I cannot recall a time in my pre-adult life when I couldn’t find a book on any subject that interested me at the library.
But that was all some time ago. Back before budget cuts attacked libraries, gutted schools of literacy programs and specialists, before educational “reforms” became more focused on measuring test scores than meeting needs. Before “redistricting” and “performance” became part of our dialog about education.
A few years ago I signed on with a group of other bloggers to help build Guys Lit Wire, a blog dedicated to recommending books of interest to teen boys. Beyond the reviews, once a year Guys Lit Wire creates a virtual book fare for a community or organization in need and make a public appeal to help. This year we’re helping a high school library that barely has a 1:1 ratio for each of its 1200 students, Ballou Senior High School in Washington DC.
Can I just point out how wrong it is that a school library in the nation’s capitol doesn’t come anywhere near the ALA recommended 11:1 ratio of books to students? You would think that if politicians were serious about education they would lead by example and show the rest of the country how it’s done right, not wrong.
Politics aside, our appeal is to help whittle down Ballou High School’s wish list by asking everyone who can to purchase and donate books to help a library become an actual library full of books. Everything is best explained at this Guys Lit Wire post and for some background on the school at this Washington Post article. I would encourage you at the very least to go to the Guys Lit Wire post and, without reading anything, watch the video that’s embedded there. Watch the camera pan the school library, and the pick up your jaw when it ends just as you think it’s going to continue to sweep around and show you the rest of the room. There is no ‘rest of the room’ to show. This library has fewer shelves full of books then some homes. Is it possible a bookmobile has more books in it? And this is for a high school of 1200 students?
Because the book fair is being run through Powell’s Bookstore online there is an option for used books to be part of the donation. With some books listed at less than $3 it doesn’t seem impossible to imagine that we cannot whittle down this school’s 900-title wish list.
But it isn’t just a wish list, it’s a hope list. And I know how hokey that sounds, and I don’t care. When a community is devastated by a flood or a tornado or a hurricane or some other external force and people from outside that community come and help those affected rebuild it gives them a renewed sense of hope that everything will be alright. These kids at Ballou Senior High School, they didn’t create their school’s economic problems any more than a national disaster victim creates their circumstance. But we can show them that there are people out there who care about libraries, care about schools and education enough to support communities beyond their own.
All it takes is one book. At least one book. We can do that much.