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Judging a Library by Its Cover

By Carly Mitchell / New York City

(The author, a public-school teacher, is using a pseudonym for professional reasons)

Every time I walk past the library at the middle school where I work, my heart sinks a little. The room is large and sunny, there are plenty of books and places to sit and read, but everything is in disarray (so long, Dewey Decimal system). There are no students curiously browsing the shelves, and there is no librarian to help students discover the wonders of literature.

By now you probably know that I am an English teacher at a Title 1 school in Brooklyn, N.Y., meaning a high percentage of our students are from low-income families. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a grandfather who was a librarian, to live in a house with a basement full of books (at one point I even ran a pretend library down there), and to attend well-funded schools in Westchester County that always had beautiful libraries. As a result, I have a profound appreciation of books, and the sacred spaces where they can be enjoyed by the community.

At my former school (a small charter high school in northern Brooklyn), there was no library. We occupied only two floors of the building we were in, and there was simply no space. So when I first started working at my current school, I was excited to lay eyes on the school library. Unfortunately, I soon learned that because of budget cuts, our library is just a room full of books.

To be clear, there are small libraries in each English classroom and we receive some wonderful literature from our school district–but the fact that we have a designated library that is no longer funded is criminal. Before becoming a teacher in the New York City schools, I didn’t realize there would be so many deficiencies in our education system. After all, we are one of the wealthiest states in the entire U.S.! Alas, there are a number of glaring issues that are not necessarily public knowledge.

For example, in order to get certain supplies that are not supported by our budget, many teachers have been forced to get creative. A number of my colleagues have started using the program, a public charity founded by a former Bronx, N.Y. teacher that helps public school teachers raise money for their classrooms.

Teachers I work with have created DonorsChoose pages to purchase items like laptops, headphones, and furniture for their classrooms. DonorsChoose is wonderful and our projects are always funded, but it strikes me as ridiculous that teachers have to go so far in order to secure basic resources.

I often wonder if things would be different if our school population were wealthier. Would we need programs like DonorsChoose? Would we have a functioning library? I suppose I’ll never know. In the meantime, my fellow seventh grade English teachers and I plan on taking the students in our classes on a field trip to a Brooklyn public library. We want our students to share in the glorious experience that is a room full of books, old and new, and a professional guide to help them navigate the magical place. To me, there is nothing better.


Carly Mitchell (a pseudonym) is a public-school teacher in Brooklyn N.Y. who loves to learn, to educate, and to expose the hypocrisy of New York City politicians.

1 comment



Getting student to love reading is tough enough without the neglect of libraries making it tougher. I don't think anything nurtures love of learning more than encouraging student to read on their own. I hope the administrators start getting their priorities straight.

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