School Libraries--READesign Program and "Adopt a School Library Month"

Mr. President, When I was growing up in East St. Louis, I spent hours reading about faraway places, exciting adventures, and historic figures and events. I spent countless hours in the library discovering wonderful stories and developed a lifelong love of reading.

Now imagine going to school where the library is dark and uninviting, and where there is no librarian in sight. These conditions are real. I have visited schools in my home State of Illinois and seen libraries that show their years of neglect.

The dire circumstances that face some of these school libraries are not due to lack of concern by school officials. School leaders are working with limited budgets and unforgiving performance standards. School libraries were once one of the central features of our school, but are now one of the first programs to be cut.

In Cairo, IL, there is no money available for new books. The superintendent told me that his school libraries would have no books at all if it were not for the donations from the local community. In Collinsville, school libraries had science books so outdated they were published before man landed on the moon. We cannot expect our students to compete in today's global economy unless we provide them with the tools that they need to succeed.

Many studies have demonstrated the strong link between high-quality school libraries and student achievement, both in the classroom and on standardized tests. School libraries benefit all students, regardless of race, class, or family situation. According to a study by the Illinois School Library Media Association, students average 5 percent to 13 percent higher on their reading and writing test scores when their libraries are well-funded. Students in schools with more current collections in their libraries scored 7 percent to 13 percent higher in reading and writing in lower grades and 3 percent higher on college entrance exams. In Illinois, additional computers in school libraries led to an 8-percent increase in the reading performance of fifth to eighth graders, and to an 11-percent increase in the writing scores for eighth graders. The data is consistent and clear: All of our children are more likely to succeed when their school possesses a high-quality school library.

Many groups recognize the importance of school libraries and are doing something about it. In particular, I commend the Heart of America Foundation, which is focused on improving some of the Nation's most needy school libraries. In impoverished communities where many libraries have one book or less per student, Heart of America tries to bring the collections of these libraries up to at least the national average of 22 books per student. Its READesign program offers intensive care for school libraries through renovation, revitalizing technology, and replenishing book shelves. Heart of America makes READesigns a community effort by bringing together individuals, corporate sponsors, and community groups to provide schools with ``library makeovers.'' The transformation of these school libraries is truly extraordinary. It goes beyond simply painting and restocking the bookshelves. After a READesign, a school library once again becomes a welcoming and vibrant center of learning, books, and technology.

I am confident that others will be as inspired by the READesign program and the potential of our school libraries as I am. In designating September 2007 as "Adopt a School Library Month,'' it is my hope that individuals will remember the importance of school libraries in facilitating the academic achievement of our children and support needy school libraries in their respective communities.