When Leatrice Floyd, the new library aide at Wilshire Park Elementary School (4063 Ingraham St., just south of Wilshire and west of Wilton), first visited her new post last May, she was surprised to find many of the shelves in the bright, sunny school library empty…or filled with items like stuffed animals and cute signs instead of books.
And as Floyd settled into her new position during the first few weeks of school this fall, she became even more familiar with the space and its contents, and realized that although the facility itself is spacious and inviting (Wilshire Park, which opened in 2006, is one of 65 new schools built in LAUSD’s recent $19.3 billion construction boom), the library was apparently never filled to capacity, or even with adequate levels of books and technology to support the school’s approximately 550 students.
Also, while the library itself is just 10 years old (very new for a bricks and mortar building), almost all of its books are now also about 10 years old (very old for heavily-used paper-based objects), and many of them are literally in tatters and need to be replaced.
Finally, in addition to books, Floyd has always strived to incorporate technology-based research and instruction – vitally important for today’s students – into her library lessons. But there’s not a single computer in the Wilshire Park library available to students during their visits. A sturdy 6-station computer table still sits empty, 10 years after the school opened. (Floyd says the school does have a computer lab, but it’s in another part of the building and not convenient for library-based work or lessons. Also, according to Floyd, the computer lab workstations are also 10 years old – ancient in computer years, with software updates no longer available – and less than 10 of them are currently working.)
Just how dire is the situation at Wilshire Park?
According to the California Department of Education, “The latest figure for the average number of school library books per student in kindergarten through grade twelve (K–12) as reported in the 2013-14 CDE Online School Library Survey is 20.4.” Using that calculation, to meet four-year-old state averages, Wilshire Park’s library should have about 11,220 books.
But even that figure is outdated. Nationally, according to the same CDE page, “The 2012 School Libraries Count survey reports the average number of books as 13,517. During the same time period, California K–12 schools report the average number of books as 13,285.” And, it continues, “According to the 2013-14 CDE Online School Library Survey, the average number of books has risen to 14,137.”
So how many volumes are in the Wilshire Park library? According to Floyd, LAUSD reports that Wilshire Park’s last inventory counted just 7,000 books…and she estimates that the number currently on the shelves is far less than that. (She will be performing her own inventory later this month.)
As for the lack of computers, Floyd says a principal at another school advised her to let students use their smart phones for research, rather than trying to find new technology for the library. But Floyd points out that most of the Pre-K-5th grade students at this Title I (largely low income) school don’t have their own cell phones, and many parents don’t have fully capable smart phones either. But she’s quick to point out that the situation isn’t really about family economics. “There’s only one value in education that matters, and it’s community,” she told the Buzz last week. “This is a community building. Everybody has a stake in these schools.”
Given the lack of resources at the school, it might be easy for Floyd to be frustrated. But, she says, “I choose not to be angry.” Instead, she says, she is now making it her personal quest to fill the library’s shelves with books, and the computer station with actual computers.
To start with, of course, both Floyd and Wilshire Park Principal LeighAnn Creary are exploring the usual institutional resources for the library. For example, the school does buy a few new books each year with proceeds from its Scholastic Book Fairs. But Floyd and Creary say those funds aren’t anywhere near the amount the library needs to adequately stock its shelves. Also, while Scholastic offers a lot of popular titles and paperbacks, it doesn’t really provide the kinds of non-fiction books the library so desperately needs (especially up-to-date science and technology-related titles), nor the durable hardcover editions that libraries need to stand up to years of handling by young students.
To broaden the possibilities, Floyd and Creary are also exploring grant options for the library, and opportunities with local non-profits such as Access Books (which is working with nearby Wilshire Crest Elementary School this year) and Big Sunday, which can help with book donations to schools.
But Floyd wants to do even more, and she is hoping that another primary value she teachers to her students – partnership – will be the key to success. “The more we become a community and draw in resources,” she says, the more her students will learn. “It’s all about what you expose them to. I’m telling them from day one, ‘I want a partnership with you.'” But she says she also wants to teach them – by example – about the value in community partnerships. So she is working hard to get the word out about what the school needs…and about her and the school’s willingness to partner with neighbors and organizations in the effort to fill the library shelves and serve the neighborhood students.
“I don’t have a lot,” she says in the spirit of all good partners, “but I give a lot of who I am.”
People who would like to make a financial or book donation to the Wilshire Park School library, or who may otherwise be able to help provide the books and computers the library so desperately needs, can contact library aide Leatrice Floyd at (213) 739-4760 or firstname.lastname@example.org.