“One school in the district has a librarian, an assistant, and a book clerk,” says Susan Stone, president of the Portland Association of School Librarians. “That’s a wonderful model, but Marshall doesn’t have that. If Portland is all about equity, how does that work?”

It doesn’t. But it also doesn’t have to be that way. Not if the state makes funding libraries a priority for all schools in all districts. The proof lies just north of the border. There, three women from Spokane, Washington—Lisa Layera Brunkan, Denette Hill, and Susan McBurney—lobbied the state legislature to set aside funding for school libraries after learning that their district planned to reduce 10 librarians to half-time. After nine months of lobbying, the women’s campaign, Fund Our Future, succeeded in getting $4 million set aside for school libraries across the state, inspiring Arizona and Oregon to try similar Fund Our Future efforts.

“But that money was just supplemental,” says McBurney. “It won’t be there next year; we need to find a long-term solution.”

So does Oregon. Here, only 5 percent of school libraries meet the standards for adequate staffing (one certified librarian and an assistant) and resource acquisition set out by the state’s Quality Education Commission. In Multnomah County, only two schools—Madison High School and Beach Elementary School—meet them. In the Hillsboro School District, to which Indian Hills belongs, none do.

“There’s no library time anymore,” Sue Keane, an Indian Hills teacher and former librarian, tells me when she stops by the library. “Just 30 minutes of browsing and check-out time once a week for each class.”

I survey the room once more, and my eyes stop in the space where the magic square should have been.

“Hey, what happened to the magic square?” I ask Keane.

“Oh, that’s been gone for years,” she says. “I think someone’s grandmother fell down and hurt herself or something.”

I walk over to the dark corner where I’d once spent so many hours accompanying Alice and Nancy and George on their adventures. I stomp on the floor. It’s hollow­—covered with plywood and carpet. Gone. Given everything else that has disappeared over the last 20 years, the empty sound that echoes through the room somehow seems fitting.