California district closes 8 elementary school libraries due to budget crisis

Is it the end of an era, or just a blip on the education budget radar?

As school districts throughout the Sacramento region confront another year of multimillion-dollar deficits, school libraries have moved into the cross hairs.

On Thursday, the Natomas Unified School District closed all eight of its elementary school libraries in a last-ditch effort to overcome a $17.3 million shortfall.

"These kinds of cuts are a last resort," said Heidi Van Zant, Natomas district spokeswoman. "No one wants to close elementary school libraries, but our budget situation is so severe there was no choice."

Across the region, schools are closing libraries, laying off library staff or drastically cutting back hours. Unless funding improves, the traditional school library may join band, art, chorus, shop and other programs that have all but disappeared from the education landscape.

"We used to have dance and art," said Ramneek Kaur, a fourth-grade student at Bannon Creek Elementary in Natomas Unified. "Now, no books. All that is left is PE."

School libraries have always been more than a place to go for quiet reading and study. Decades ago, that's where kids were introduced to the Dewey Decimal System, encyclopedias and research methods. In recent years, they have become media centers with computers and other technology – and staff trained to support them.

Earlier this week, Ramneek and the rest of her fourth-grade class circled the tables in the Bannon Creek library excitedly picking through books to take home. Library technician Clara Allen was clearing out excess paperbacks before the library doors were locked for good Thursday.

Allen has been with the district 29 years. Thursday was her final day of work.

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