After New York City’s public libraries last week averted deep cuts that would have significantly reduced hours, some parents and educators are raising alarm about the state of libraries in the city’s public schools.

For years, advocates have warned that many students do not have access to a library or a certified librarian on their campus. The nation’s largest school system, with 1,600 schools, has roughly 260 certified school librarians, education department officials said.

And according to a Chalkbeat analysis of school budget item lines for librarians, a larger share of high-poverty schools had no librarian on budget. (Other schools may employ librarians whose salaries are paid outside of school budgets, like through a school’s PTA, which may not be reflected in the data.)

It’s an issue that’s developed over years, as schools have had to make difficult financial decisions in the face of declining funds, and as librarians say their work has been devalued in the public eye. New York City isn’t alone. In Philadelphia, for example, there were just 10 certified school librarians in 2020, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

But in the five boroughs, where more than 800,000 K-12 students attend the city’s public schools, other factors have come into play. Under state law, secondary schools with more than 700 students are required to have a full-time, certified school librarian, with part-time librarians required for those who fall below the enrollment threshold. (Charter and elementary schools are exempt from the requirement.) But as the city trended toward smaller schools under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the early 2000s, schools found themselves with fewer students and shared building spaces — with libraries sometimes losing out.

“The library is often a thing that’s on the chopping block, because it isn’t seen as essential as a cafeteria, for example,” said Emily Drabinski, president-elect of the American Library Association and a CUNY librarian. “I don’t blame principals for having to make those tough calls. … But it speaks to our failure to understand the contributions that school librarians make to learning at school.”

Read the full article about access to school libraries by Julian Shen-Berro at Chalkbeat.