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Last modified: Monday, October 18, 2004

Indiana elementary school libraries struggle to get students good books

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Libraries in elementary schools across Indiana are struggling to provide the books and services necessary to meet the state's more rigorous literacy and academic goals even as the focus on students' academic achievement intensifies, a study by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University Bloomington has found.

Research has shown a link between the quality of library materials and students' literacy and performance on achievement tests. Yet librarians describe a discouraging state of affairs as they seek out alternative funding sources -- including pop tab collections, candy sales and grant applications -- to maintain diminished services. These unstable funding sources all too often are unsustainable, according to Jonathan Plucker, executive director of CEEP, and could result in a dramatic decline in services "when the wheels fall off."

"If reading really is one of our most important educational goals, kids have to read something. The question is, 'Where is that something going to come from?'" Plucker said. "Right now schools are fighting as hard as they can to make sure they're putting quality reading materials in the hands of children. How long can they keep this up with the price of books rising, the number of students increasing and budgets all tightening? I'm not that optimistic."

The School Library Printed Materials Grant program, created and funded by the General Assembly, provided elementary and high schools across the state with a total of $13 million for library purchases between 1997 and 2002, when the grant program was partially funded and cut short because of state budget difficulties. The CEEP study examines the grant's impact on K-8 schools.

Challenges since the grant ended:

  • Book purchases per student decreased an average of 13.7 percent since 2000.
  • The mean number of book purchases per school increased from 2002 to 2004, but the number of books purchased per student actually declined 6.3 percent because of student enrollment increase.
  • Many librarians report compromising services to maintain essential book purchases. This includes buying paperback rather than hardback materials, dropping periodicals, and choosing to support some literacy initiatives at the cost of others.

Successes reported during the grant period:

  • The number of books purchased per school and per student increased nearly 25 percent from 1997 to 2002.
  • The number of books circulated per school and per student increased nearly 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively, over the course of that funding program.

The report suggests that "despite the state's considerable financial challenges, the role of library materials should be considered in any comprehensive plan to increase the literacy of Indiana students."

The full report is available at

CEEP is a leading non-partisan program evaluation and education policy research organization. The center's research involves primarily, but not exclusively, educational, human services and non-profit organizations. For this report, it analyzed data collected in an annual survey conducted by the Middle Grades Reading Network at the University of Evansville.

To speak with Plucker, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 and