The Cost of Not Having a Library
February 1, 2023
On December 13, 2021, I posted an article about the Academic Center at CCHS and its books. Or, the lack thereof.
In this article, I addressed the growing concerns about screen time among Cathedral students. It is evident that the majority of the day is spent with technology-based education, which is harmful to our health and vision. Several Cathedral Catholic English teachers voiced their concerns about these ideas and their hope for a library to be set on campus.
The school has been without a library since 2017. This change was explained by Dr. Calkins, who described the education system at CCHS as “innovative” and hoped that the academic center would be more “functional” than a library.
There is a growing increase of interest in books, which has made clear a major concern about the communication between students and administration: How do we, as students, make our voices heard to enforce changes to the school?
Although my previous article ended with a positive note, that there would be some hope of adding books to campus, no action was taken by the administration to do so.
The California Department of Education stated that “substantial research indicates that a school library… makes a positive impact on literacy as well as overall academic achievement.” It is recorded that 84 percent of California public schools have a library available on campus for students to access.
In the early years of Cathedral’s history, a library was available to students. However, many students will find that there is no longer a resource accessible to students on campus. To assess the significance of a library on campus, it is critical to review the history of what once was the USDH Library.
The Deans of Academics, Mr. McMurtry and Ms. Bailleul, navigate the student experiences through curriculum, such as course variety and management with teachers. They also maintain the AP program, admissions placement, honors societies, academic societies, publications, and budgeting with the teachers.
Mr. McMurtry began his teaching career at Uni in 2001 and began teaching at Cathedral as an English teacher in 2005. He then became the Head of the English Department and introduced the Mythology course to CCHS during his time for five years. He later transitioned to becoming the Dean of Academics.
Ms. Bailleul became the Head of the English Department after Mr. McMurtury’s advancement to the administrative position. She followed in his footsteps after also introducing several courses: Creative Writing, Academic Coaching, and AVID.
Both administrators expressed concern when the decision to replace the former library was finalized. However, both Deans did acknowledge the fact that the library being removed from Cathedral was extremely outdated and uncared for because of the lack of financial support the library received. There was no effort made to refresh the resources and books.
The idea of the student union was appealing to many, where counselors were accessible to students, and the space was utilized for collaboration. The former USDH Library was reinvented as the Academic Center. The name, however, is a misnomer, as the center is multi-use and not entirely a promotion of academic improvement and more of a student union.
When the library was removed, however, students were not asked for their opinions on whether they would check out a book in the future. The only data collected was whether they had already checked out books from an extremely outdated source.
The teachers then began to create classroom libraries and saw great amounts of student use. The next English Department Head, Ms. Allari, was advised to manage teacher budgets for classroom libraries. This started the growth of bookshelves in Cathedral classrooms that actually saw student use.
“Library skills are still a valuable tool out there, and I’m not sure anybody has been tasked to give students library skills,” Mr. McMurtry stated.
Mrs. Bailleul added, “You’re going to go to college, and you’re going to have a library and you’re going to have to use it. What does that look like, when you’ve had four years not using it?”
Although the Deans expressed the necessity of a library, they also pointed to major concerns. The library is a location where eating is not tolerated and quiet is encouraged; in replacing the academic center, the school must remove a student area. When the decision to remove the library was made, many believed that students would prefer a student area rather than a library.
There was a second major component of the USDH library’s removal: the cost. Libraries require an ongoing cost to maintain a collection that must be refreshed every year. It would cut into the school budget. There is also the cost of a librarian; however, the idea of student librarians may also be considered. The broad estimation of a library start-up is around $250k with a yearly refreshing budget. Adding a full-time position would be another $110k per year.
Although we can’t change the past, we can shed light on questions we left unanswered: Can Cathedral Catholic High School, established as a college preparatory school, afford to be a high school without a library? Is the price of the library so high that we will cost our students a negative setback compared to their future peers as they pursue higher education? Isn’t it worth it to have library skills?
Although Cathedral is regarded as a college preparatory school, students believe that academia is not well promoted on campus. Mia Compas ‘23, a member of ASB, a CCHS Varsity Volleyball player for two years, and a staffer for El Cid, transferred here her sophomore year. She finds the stark contrast between her previous school which had a library, and Cathedral’s campus, to be very appalling, “I would be in there all the time, like during lunch. I think if we just put books in the academic center, people would use it. Academia is not a big culture here at Cathedral. If we did have a library, or had some books in the academic center, that [academia] would be more encouraged.”
However, there are contrasting views on the academic culture of Cathedral Catholic. Lucy Jackman ‘24 is a junior who transferred from Xavier College Prep in Phoenix, Arizona, she adds, “I feel like reading culture might be higher here compared to my old school.” Despite that, it is strange to note that Cathedral is not nurturing the apparent attachment to literature in the student body.
Despite being the head of the Math Department, Ms. LaPorte, who has taught at Cathedral for the past eight years and is the administrator for Dons for Life, expresses the importance of a library on campus, “I think [a library] benefits the good of the school. There are classic texts in the Catholic faith that need to be on our campus and accessible to students at a Catholic school. While I might not bring my math students to a library, I would love to be able to resource something and say, ‘Well, the Great Books are at the library!’… I do mourn the loss of a space with select texts that are important across disciplines and to our faith somewhere at school.” To accommodate her students’ needs, Ms. LaPorte has a library for DFL, with many books and a functioning checkout system. The books were purchased with her own funds, “I do have a book that is currently checked out (How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul).”
Books are very much still prevalent in the student culture at Cathedral. Mrs. Lopatka, who is in her sixth year of teaching at Cathedral, and teaches both Honors Biology and AP Biology, explains, “I like to offer a variety of assignments to meet a diverse group of learners which also may include those students who enjoy reading novels that tell a relevant story of science.”
Teachers have a role in both educating students and accommodating their passions. Having taught at CCHS since 2008, and being Head of the Religion Department for eight years, Ms. BSG expresses the importance of meeting students’ needs, “As a teacher, because my philosophy revolves around student curiosity, every year I buy two or three more books and I add it to my supply of books. Sometimes you need something in your hand to pique your curiosity.” Rather than adding books to the academic center, Mrs. BSG proposed having classroom libraries with paper resources for students and teachers to share across campus.
However, multiple bookshelves across campus cannot replicate an important component of one centralized area for books: research skills. The burden of not having a literary resource on campus negatively impacts both reading culture and necessary research skills that students are not developing through using traditional materials.
Dr. Williams, who has been teaching at Cathedral for seven years and is currently the head of the English department, predicts a change in the English curriculum and a future shift towards traditional materials, “It’s going to change a bit now with the Chat GPT, the AI software. I know a lot of the teachers, especially the English department, are going to pivot towards more paper-based learning and texts until we can figure out how to deal with that.”
Research skills are negatively impacted by the reliance on technology on campus. Dr. Williams continued, “When they’re on the digital copies, when I see students looking for a quote, for example, they have no idea where in the text it occurs, they just type into the search bar and that populates it for them. There’s a time and place for both, but when you’re doing deep analytical work, I think physical copies are needed.”
NEHS moderator and English teacher, Ms. DeSantis, adds her thoughts on the CCHS research curriculum, “It’s online sources, so we teach them how to use the online databases that Cathedral pays for, and because we don’t have access to hard copy books anymore, they can’t do hard copy research unless they were to go to a library.”
As a former student of Cathedral, Ms. DeSantis recalls the former library on campus being used for research, “I was a student at Cathedral and I graduated in 2011, and we used to have a library then. There were a few projects I remember doing for my English classes so I had to go and find books and we had to use them in our papers.” During her time as a student, Ms.Desantis recalls the library being used primarily for research purposes; however, there were a few times she remembered her friends reading during lunch.
Ms. Harrington, the head of the History Department, has taught at Cathedral for seventeen years since the school opened. She described, “Our students really do not have research-based skills whatsoever. I think that a library has more than just research available to it, but it fosters a love of reading and accessibility to books that our students don’t have since the library was closed. Now they’re almost hurt in two ways in that a library offers a place where books could live and that was enough to inspire students to want to pick a book from the shelf and start reading; but, it’s also a place of research and that in and of itself is a huge skill for students to have as they go into college. And I think that it’s one that they may not appreciate until they get into college and have to do a real, full-blown research paper, and go to their college libraries because they’re lost and they don’t know how to use a library anymore.”
Current senior, Bella Moreno ‘23, is the NHS Off-Campus Tutoring Officer, Co-President of CSF, President of the Hispanic Latino Student Union, Vice President of the Spanish Honors Society, and member of NEHS, and the National Science Honors Society. Moreno believes that having research books available to students will offer academic progress in students’ learning paths. Because she did not have the opportunity to ever learn how to use a library throughout her entire academic career, she expressed concern for the future of Cathedral students, “I feel like if I did have the opportunity to learn that, I would definitely be reading more books than I do now. [In college,] if I compare myself to other peers who have learned how to use a library, it sets me apart in a negative way since I don’t know how to do that and they have all the information and access to anything they want and they know what they’re looking for.”
According to a survey released by EBSCO Information Services, almost two-thirds, or sixty-four percent, of students use the library as their primary source of research materials. “The results indicate that.. students are largely receiving library instruction and using library resources” (LRS). However, Inter-library loans, the Dewey Decimal System, and other forms of library research are foreign to Cathedral students.
A survey released to Cathedral students that received over 200 responses found that while 84 percent of students had a library at the previous school they attended, the majority of them, 51.6 percent, did not learn any research skills.
The survey also showed that 55.4 percent of students read books for entertainment and the majority of students would prefer the addition of bookshelves to the academic center.
A possibility of this could be simply taking two small walls and adding a curation of books, newspapers, magazines, and journals so that students may experience a growth in academic culture.
When informed of a proposal of adding books to the library and forming a collaboration with NEHS, Ms. Desantis responds, “Yes, I would love to do that. And I’m sure there are many students in NEHS who would love to be student librarians. I can see them using current news sources, and maybe a few current journals for literature or history in their classes, but it would have to be a very focused curation.”
Ms. Bascom has taught at CCHS since 2012 and transitioned to her position as the Dean of Wellness five years ago. She adds her thoughts on the addition of bookshelves into the academic center,
“I think if it’s something that the students need that’s going to help improve their mental health and wellbeing, then we should explore every opportunity and every idea. I think reading is a great opportunity for students and a great coping strategy for students that need calm, to recenter, or to refocus. No matter what, no matter where, if we can offer more opportunities, then I’m willing to explore them.”
With this achievable goal in mind, the idea was informally proposed to Dr. Calkins and Principal Conroy, with the belief that it may be funded by the annual appeal.
Dr. Calkins explained that the current annual appeal has plans until 2025. Toward the end of 2024, a new strategic plan will be put into action. During this time, stakeholders, donors, and the Cathedral community will navigate the appeals that may be approved to benefit the school.
While the annual appeal is historically a major financial request on campus, smaller appeals are also an option for the addition of a few bookshelves to the library. In order to do so, students must demonstrate an increasing interest in the addition of books on campus.
Dr. Calkins described, “I think we’re (Dr. Calkins and Principal Conroy) on the same page where we personally like books. When we were designing the remodel of the academic center, we talked about adding some bookshelves, some magazines, or certain periodicals that would be interesting to students.” While the idea was put into question, no action was taken to do so.
Principal Conroy was an English teacher at Cathedral during the movement of the library from Uni High School to Cathedral and expressed her concern about students’ interest in reading on campus, “How do we keep anything current, rotating, and available? And will students want it? Especially because we have amazing local libraries available to us.”
Neither Dr. Calkins nor Principal Conroy did not express concern about the research skills that students may be missing out on, referring to the online database that is available for students.
However, the California Department of Education states that “the Internet does not replace the need for books and often increases the demand for up-to-date library materials.
Although many could argue that iPads replaced the need for traditional materials, the California Department of Education stated that “despite growing up with mobile devices, there does not appear to be a corresponding increase in the ability of students to evaluate and integrate information.”
By the year 2025, the class of 2024 will have already graduated from Cathedral Catholic and many of our ideas will have left the school. Still, it cannot be ignored that a college preparatory school has not prioritized a necessary resource for students. The apparent wealth provided by libraries and the value that they hold clearly outweighs the cost.
The peculiar suffocation of a literary resource on campus is strangely dystopian. But even then, dystopian literature is hardly available for students to understand anyway.