Lessons and insights from the Baltimore Library Project

A new third-party evaluation demonstrates the impact of the Baltimore Elementary and Middle School Library Project and highlights key components of its success.

Launched in 2011 by the Weinberg Foundation; Baltimore City Public Schools; and federal, state, and local partners, the Library Project transforms city school libraries in neighborhoods where many students face academic and economic challenges. These libraries — which now serve over 7,700 students and their families in 17 schools — are an important resource for families, helping to meet critical needs such as food and clothing; encouraging adult learning; and providing access to technology for parents’ personal and professional use. They also underscore the fundamental belief that drives this effort: Every child deserves the best.

The evaluation’s findings are summarized below.

LIBRARY PROJECT IMPACT

Students at Library Project schools check out more books.

  • The average number of book checkouts per student in Library Project schools was nearly five times higher than the average in reference schools.
  • On average, Library Project schools had about 11,000 books in circulation — over 2,000 more than other city schools.

Students and teachers at Library Project schools give higher ratings for school climate.

  • Both rated all four aspects of school climate — school community, environment, relationships, and safety — higher than their counterparts at other city schools. This may reflect the contributions of community partners that provide enrichment and literacy programs, as well as access to needed resources, such as food, coats, and shoes. For example, one popular program has students read to dogs to help develop empathy, improve literacy, and become more comfortable reading aloud.

Renovated libraries offer an inviting space for students.

  • Schools use renovated libraries to attract prospective families, and parents mention having a Library Project space as one of the factors in choosing to send their child to a given school.
  • Students use the libraries as a place to unwind or take a break, especially when they are feeling overwhelmed from other events in their lives.

The libraries may foster student academic performance.

  • Library Project schools had significantly higher average school performance levels in English language arts and a significantly higher percentage of students proficient in the subject, based on 2018–2019 state assessment data.
  • On average, libraries in Library Project schools had almost five times the number of internet-accessible devices compared to other school libraries (50 versus 11).

KEY COMPONENTS OF SUCCESS AND SUSTAINABILITY

Project partners identify the Library Project as a productive and successful long-term partnership and attribute that success to vision and leadership, as well as the ongoing commitment and collaboration among partners. Other important factors:

Continued funding is necessary for sustainability.

Ongoing support from the Foundation is critical for maintaining the physical space, ensuring the staffing of a full-time librarian, and promoting full use of the libraries. Even with outside support, libraries struggle to keep shelves stocked with materials that interest students and aren’t too worn from use, and with nonfiction materials that don’t contain dated or incorrect information.

Library staff also would like to have books that reflect the diversity of their student body (e.g., history books on Black historical figures, books in languages other than English), but this is difficult to do given limited financial resources and other competing priorities related to collections.

Librarians are vital for success, but staffing is a challenge.

Students’ ability to check out books appears related to when library class is scheduled and whether before- and after-school hours are offered. This is often determined by whether librarians volunteer to be in the library during off hours, or if the school has a library assistant who can volunteer.

Full-time certified librarians are expensive, especially compared to other resource teachers or classroom teachers, at a cost of about $10,000–$15,000 more than a teacher position, and the pool of certified librarians is limited. The opportunity exists to collaboratively address the shortage of certified school librarians in Baltimore City.

Read the full evaluation.

Discover key steps for replicating the Library Project in other communities in this tool kit, which incorporates examples from the Baltimore effort. For more on the Library Project, visit www.baltimorelibraryproject.org.

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