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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Cincinnati school libraries need big lift


Your voice: Mimi Gingold

This spring, as my daughter exits Walnut Hills High School to pursue higher education, I, too, will exit Cincinnati Public Schools, where I have spent 24 of my 30 years as an educator. I will walk out of the vibrantly painted "rain forest" doors of East Price Hill's Whittier Elementary School Library Media Center, where I have spent the last seven years. I will, unfortunately, leave a lot of work unfinished.

About 15 years ago I pursued my library media certification because I knew that the library could be a powerful instrument for influencing change throughout a school. And, working with an administrator and staff that recognized the value of a top-notch information center, Whittier created a Library Media Center that is among the best in the region. Every Whittier student attends library classes weekly and learns information skills necessary for lifelong learning.

I wish I could say that Cincinnati Public Schools made this Library Media Center a reality, but it is not so. The great majority of the funding came from philanthropic foundations in the city, state and country. I learned to write grants in order to provide what Indian Hills, Seven Hills, Forest Hills or Sycamore provide through their school budgets or with the generosity of their more affluent parents.

Sad to say, as Whittier's Library Media Center improved over the years, more than 20 of CPS' more than 60 elementary schools closed their libraries. Only a handful of elementary schools have top-quality libraries. Would suburban or private school parents tolerate this?

The great majority of CPS students fall on the wrong side of the divides - the digital divide, the literacy divide, the income divide. These are the kids who probably do not have Internet access at home.

I commend Superintendent Alton Frailey for squarely facing the reality of inequities in our system. He is right. Our overwhelming mobility rate in the non-magnet schools does underscore the need for a uniform curriculum. On Frailey's watch will come newly constructed schools that will have adequate library space - but what about the program, the trained personnel and the resources to go in it?

I believe the philanthropic and business community would be willing to forge a vital collaboration with the district to revitalize all of the CPS school libraries. It will be a huge undertaking.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is important work that our children need us to do.

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Mimi Gingold, an elementary library media specialist for Cincinnati Public Schools, lives in Kennedy Heights.

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