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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 7, May/June 2006

Teacher-librarians working and learning conditions survey

Annually the BC Teacher-Librarians’ Association (BCTLA) surveys its members via its Working and Learning Conditions survey (W&L). The data gathered allows the group to track staffing and funding levels around the province and inform and advocate for teacher-librarians, school libraries, and school library programs. The 2005–06 survey marked the 25th annual survey of teacher-librarians of BC by the BCTLA. The online survey gathered a total of 852 responses from school libraries across the province. Responses were received from schools in all but two districts. In total, 50.7% of schools responded. The full report will be published with the Spring 2006 issue of The Bookmark and is also available on the BCTLA web site bctf.ca/psas/bctla.

The research
According to Lance and Loertscher, Powering achievement: School library media programs make a difference: The evidence (2003), "In schools with well-stocked, well-equipped school libraries, managed by qualified and motivated professional teacher-librarians working with support staff, one can expect: capable and avid readers, learners who are information literate, and teachers who are partnering with the teacher-librarian to create high-quality learning experiences. Standardized scores tend to be 10 to 20% higher than in schools without this investment."

There are over 50 years of academic studies on the correlation between school libraries and student achievement. Most recent and notable include those completed in Alaska, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Scotland. Similar results and conclusions were reported in all the studies: school library programs and teacher-librarians have a positive impact on student academic achievement.

Dr. Ken Haycock, in his recent report, "The Crisis in Canada’s School Libraries—The Case for Reform and Re-Investment (2003)," details the conclusions of a multitude of academic studies on the relationship between school libraries, teacher-librarians, and student achievement. Haycock reveals a body of research evidence with a compelling link between student achievement and the presence of well-stocked, properly funded, and professionally developed school library programs and services.

School libraries in BC have a long way to go because of years of cuts and poor decision making.

Professional staffing
The BCTLA W&L survey results indicate that although there has been a marginal increase in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) teacher-librarians in the province (this year there is one teacher-librarian for every 820 students instead of one for every 828 students as was the case last year), only 18% of school libraries have a full-time teacher-librarian.

This study found 95% of libraries had a teacher-librarian in charge. Just over 3% of libraries had a technician or clerk in charge and over 1% had another person (parent, volunteer or principal) in charge. Three schools did not have anybody in charge of the library.

The survey shows that the number of teacher-librarians, expressed in FTE/1,000 students has increased slightly at the elementary level to 1.45 FTE/ 1,000. Middle and secondary school levels teacher-librarian FTEs fall at 1.19 and 0.99 respectively. Previous studies have shown an overall decline in teacher-librarian FTEs of 0.28 per 1,000 students for elementary schools and 0.22 per 1,000 students for secondary schools between 1999 and 2003.

The funding allocation for BC school libraries generally falls short of the national standards. National standards from Achieving Information Literacy: Standards for School Libraries published by the Canadian School Library Association and the Association for School Libraries in Canada (2003) identify acceptable funding per student as being between $36 to $45 for secondary, $31 to $42 for middle, and $26 to $35 for elementary based on the average costs of materials in the year 2002. The BCTLA W&L survey revealed average provincial funding levels per student to be $12.33 at elementary, $13.38 at middle school, and $12.74 at secondary. Average school district budget allocations per student range from a low of $5.92 to $36.84. School libraries can hardly be expected to maintain an up-to-date collection in good repair when funding with such inadequate budgets.

BC’s school libraries relying on fundraising to supplement core library budgets is cause for concern. Many schools turn to fundraising to attempt to fill the funding gap. The survey revealed that the amounts raised by parents, book fairs, bake sales, and other fundraising activities varies considerably by school, depending on the resources available and the wealth of the neighbourhood. The range of funds raised is further cause for concern given that it points to inequities in fundraising capacity and thus inequities in the provision of library services between schools. Data from the 2005–06 study, excluding those who did not report money from fundraising (117 out of 852 schools), show that the range of funds raised was from $50 at one small secondary school in the interior of the province to $45,000 for a school in the greater Vancouver region. This year, the provincial average amount raised per school was $2,410; last year it was slightly lower at $2,110.

The BCTLA welcomed the January 31, 2005 Ministry of Education news release that announced $150 million for school libraries, music, arts programs, and support for special needs students. It is not apparent, however, that this infusion has translated into substantive positive changes for school library programs and teacher-librarian staffing. The Ministry of Education web site identified that only 12 of 60 school districts indicated that they planned to use this funding for improving library and learning resources.

Although it is a goal of the government to make BC the most literate jurisdiction in North America by 2010, more attention must be given to funding and teacher-librarian staffing levels in BC public schools if this goal is to become a reality. BCTLA calls on the ministry to provide guidance for best practice by reviewing and revising "policies on school libraries and teacher-librarians based on best practice models" (The Crisis in Canada’s School Libraries, 39) to gain greatest return on the school library investment.

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