School Libraries Failing Our Kids

Susie Normandin, an eighth-grader at Washington Middle School, is an advocate for the school’s library | Jade Moon photo

Susie Normandin, an eighth-grader at Washington Middle School, is an advocate for the school’s library | Jade Moon photo

Hello, my name is Susie. I’m an eighth grader at Washington Middle School. Here at Washington we are faced with budget cuts that have put a toll on the material in our library. I know this issue may sound trivial, but it actually affects our students’ education tremendously.

Susie Normandin could have written a letter asking people to donate to their library, but she didn’t. She just wants people – all of us – to know what it’s like to have a school library that can’t provide what students need.

“We don’t really have new books,” she told me when I spoke with her in person, “and most of our books are outdated.”

Susie did research to back up her assertion that failing the library is, essentially, failing the students. They need state and federal funds. Private fundraising in their neighborhood just doesn’t work.

Washington students are particularly impoverished with our school’s district area possessing an average household income of $11,000 less than the state of Hawaii’s average household income. Furthermore, 62 percent of our student body receives free or reduced cost lunch

What this means, of course, is that more than half the kids who go to Washington Middle School can’t even afford lunch money. How can their parents donate to the library?

Let’s face it: We take a lot of things for granted. I sit here tapping away on my laptop, writing about kids who do without the basics.

“Most kids come to the library to do research because most kids don’t have computers,” Susie said. “The library is where students can get all the information for their classes.”

Or rather, where they should be able to get it.

The reality facing kids seeking knowledge is grim.

According to Susie’s teacher, librarian Erin Sonsona, their beautiful library doesn’t even have a budget this year. Last year they had a small budget for electronics, this year – nothing.

And think about it: Libraries need money for more than books. They need to buy computers for the many, many kids who don’t have one at home. They need money to maintain those computers and to upgrade their electrical systems to accommodate them. They need money to repair books that are damaged. The glue and binding needed to patch up books that are falling apart are not free.

Sonsona said fees and donations, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are just not enough.

If a library, the heart of a school, has no budget for new material, then the kids attending the school are not getting the resources they need and deserve!

When times are tight, when budgets get cut, when politicians fight over which slice of the pie to give or to withhold, we should remember who suffers most.

Libraries may seem outdated to those who have other options. But to the kids who depend on them, they are essential.

With this generation being in an unstable economy, kids need more nurture, not less. In hopes of restoring and maintaining our library’s viability, I am reaching out to you.

Thanks, Susie. I want everyone to hear you. The kids need the libraries. The libraries need our help. It would be terrible to let them down.