I’m a children’s book author, a mom, and a grownup whose earliest childhood memories involve trips to the library. As a kid in the ’70s my mother would take me to the public library, where I’d fill my plastic flowered library bag to the brim. It was a magical and mysterious place, with its distinct smell of books and the Shakespeare portrait by the water fountain that gave me the creeps. At school, on crisp fall days, our librarian Mrs. Bright read us the Cranberryport series by Wende and Harry Devlin. She helped us discover our favorite authors and expertly guided us through book reports about unusual animals such as the aye-aye. My time in libraries was a treasure and a privilege—one that some kids will never know.

As a grownup, I know that things are not fair. Not all kids get to go to the public library or bookstores on weekends. Not all homes have shelves brimming with books, or parents who read bedtime stories. For some kids, their best—and possibly only—chance to interact in a meaningful way with books is at school.

School library programs provide equal access to books, technology, and research skills—lifelong and life-altering benefits. School library programs improve students’ literacy outcomes, test scores, and even graduation rates.

In addition to providing equal access to materials, there are social-emotional benefits to having trained librarians in schools as well. Kids feel seen by a knowledgeable adult, a reading concierge of sorts, who recognizes what they like to read and can show them to new and interesting books, topics, and authors. In the school library, kids have choice, autonomy, and freedom. This differs greatly from the classroom, where reading can be mired in leveling, mechanics, and even shame at not being on par with other students. It’s in the school library where children truly choose books for pleasure, where they fall in love with them and become life-long readers.

In education today the key word is equity. It’s everywhere. And study after study makes it very clear: school library programs—with trained librarians—are pillars of equity in schools. Paradoxically, in spite of the clear-cut research, these salaries are being shaved from stretched, underfunded budgets now more than ever. According to a statistic from Forbes in 2018 (which does not even take into account post-pandemic losses), the U.S. has lost more than 20% of its school libraries, and according to ALA, of the remaining school libraries nation wide, nearly 40% were not staffed by certified librarians.

These losses are affecting our most vulnerable student communities disproportionately. In her 2019 article “The Loss of School Libraries is Hurting Kids (and Teachers),” Samantha Cleaver states, “Lack of libraries widens the gap between rich and poor. Low-income schools and schools serving other marginalized populations lost libraries and librarians at a greater rate than schools that don’t. This matters because school librarians are most important for students who are considered to be at risk.”

In the city of Philadelphia, as of 2020, there were only around seven trained librarians on the payroll for all of the city’s public schools. On the flip side, Washington, D.C., with the help of advocacy organization EveryLibrary, made strides in funding librarians for all of its public schools. It can be done, but the government, on all levels—local, state, and federal—needs to put its money where its mouth is. It must invest in equity, literacy, and yes, librarians, for all of our schools. And we as citizens must demand it.

My child’s elementary school has struggled to keep a librarian for years. We currently don’t have one. At some point I realized, as both an author and a mom, that I needed to become more than just a library lover—I needed to join the fight for the future of school libraries for all of our kids. I brought the issue to my writer’s group and my friend, illustrator Jia Liu, created this beautiful artwork for a postcard to mail to elected officials. We decided to make the card from a kid’s point of view. It’s their futures being affected, and I hope that the advocacy will help them feel empowered. After mentioning it to a teacher at school, I had requests within a day for 300 postcards for kids to fill out at school, with more requests rolling in after that. After the great response from teachers, we now have a postcard mailing event set up for January 19 to create a more cohesive and focused schoolwide effort.”

It’s pretty clear that most people want librarians in our schools, but it’s important that we get loud and actively vocalize that message to our leaders—by mail, email, phone calls, town halls, or whatever other means available. Librarians in schools are no longer a given, and this is not an isolated problem. It is a growing problem and a very present threat. If your community hasn’t been affected yet, it still could be. I urge my fellow authors and illustrators, agents, and publishers—whether parents or not, whether your school still has a library or not—to get involved in this fight. In the children’s book world, librarians are our greatest advocates, and it’s about time we became theirs.

J.F. (Jenny) Fox is a mother, author, school book committee chairperson, and library advocate. She lives in New York, where her sons attend public school in Brooklyn. Her books include Friday Night Wrestlefest (Roaring Brook) and the Head-to-Head History series (Kids Can Press). You can visit her website: jffox.com.