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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 1, September 2004

The school library

by Randi Louise Hermans

All children in Canada should have access to a school library run by a qualified teacher-librarian. Does your school have one? A teacher-librarian is a certified teacher who has an additional education diploma in the professional and management functions of a school library.

In 1998, the B.C. teachers’ contract had ratios for non-enrolling teachers. Schools were required to have one teacher-librarian for every 702 students. The language for non-enrolling teachers was stripped from our collective agreements by the B.C. Liberals in January 2002. Since then, many schools in our province have no teacher-librarian running the library, or the teacher-librarian time has been cut back to such a degree that there is no time to offer a quality library program. Many teacher-librarians have been forced to incorporate prep-time coverage into their library assignment. This is not the answer.

Teacher-librarians do far more than sign out books to students. Besides managing the collection, they teach research skills, encourage children to read, provide book talks and story times, work with teachers on co-operative units, organize author visits and book fairs, and select and purchase material to support the school curriculum. Teacher-librarians serve all students and every educational level, as well as every area of the curriculum.

Research done in nine states since 1999 shows that schools that have well-stocked school libraries, staffed by qualified teacher-librarians working with staff on co-operative units, have higher levels of student achievement. The research shows that scores are 10 to 20% higher in those schools. Similar results are likely in Canada.

In June 2003, the first Summit on Canadian School Libraries was held in Ottawa. Roch Carrier, the National Librarian of Canada at the time, deplored the state of school libraries in Canada: "The state of our school libraries can only be described as desperate in almost every province." British Columbia is one of the best provinces for school libraries in Canada, but unfortunately cuts continue to happen in all districts. A clerk or parent volunteer in the school library is not the answer. Many children are introduced to Canadian authors and Canadian stories at school. Children learn about our country’s culture and heritage by reading both fiction and non-fiction books written by Canadian authors. When teacher-librarians are eliminated or have their budgets slashed, these books don’t get purchased for the school library.

In his report titled "The Crisis in Canada’s School Libraries: The Case for Reform and Reinvestment," published in June 2003, Dr. Ken Haycock states: "Studies show that qualified teacher-librarians have systematically sought out Canadian books and other media to ensure that the Canadian experience forms a significant part of each child’s education."

The Canadian Coalition for School Libraries was formed in March 2002. Publishers, parents, authors, teachers, and teacher-librarians have joined forces to advocate for school libraries across Canada. The CCSL advocates for well-funded school libraries staffed by qualified teacher-librarians. More information is available on its web site: www.peopleforeducation.com/librarycoalition. As well, the B.C. Coalition for School Libraries was formed in the summer of 2003 to provide a provincial view and to advocate for school libraries in B.C.

Now that most homes and schools have access to computers and the Internet, parents, teachers, and administrators may feel that print resources are unimportant. But children need to learn the research steps in elementary school using print resources. The Internet can be a valuable resource tool, but students need to learn the process so they are not plagiarizing. Teacher-librarians working with classroom teachers are the best providers to teach this skill.

The School Library Manifesto was prepared by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and approved by UNESCO in 1999. It states:

The school library provides information and ideas that are fundamental to functioning successfully in today’s society, which is increasingly information and knowledge-based. The school library equips students with lifelong learning skills and develops the imagination, enabling them to live as responsible citizens.

October 25 is National School Library Day and International School Library Day. Schools across Canada and around the world will be using this day to celebrate school libraries. Please find out what is happening at your school and help to celebrate it. The web site for NSLD is www.nsld.ca/.

If your school or your child’s school doesn’t have a teacher-librarian, find out why. Teachers, parents, and grandparents need to demand that their children have access to a quality school library.

In future columns, we’ll be sharing ideas about how you can work with your teacher-librarian. My sincerest hope is that you have a teacher-librarian in your school.

Randi Louise Hermans is a teacher-librarian and is vice-president of the B.C. Teacher-Librarians’ Association.

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