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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004

Library cuts harm literacy efforts

by Marÿka Gregg

Annually the B.C.Teacher-Librarians’ Association (BCTLA) surveys its members via its Working and Learning Conditions survey (W&L survey). 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 following data from the 2003–04 survey, represents 30 school districts—743 elementary and 190 secondary school library resource centres. The full report has been published as the Spring 2004 issue of The Bookmark. The full report is also available on the BCTLA web site bctf.ca/psas/bctla.

It is interesting to reflect on the BCTLA W&L survey results in conjunction with the cuts by our current government. In the shadow of Bill 28, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act, the BCTLA W&L survey reveals a decline in the state of school libraries and working and learning conditions for teacher-librarians. While the government claims that literacy is a priority, it imposes drastic cuts to the programs and institutions that assist in achieving literacy. Those senseless decisions are hardly best practice in terms of our students and their futures.

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, 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.

Currently that is not where school libraries in B.C. are headed due to years of cuts and poor decision making.

Our survey shows that the number of teacher-librarians, expressed in full-time equivalent (FTE) per 1000 students has increased slightly at the elementary level to a meager 1.72 FTE / 1000. At the secondary level, the number of teacher-librarians has fallen to 1.06 FTE / 1000. The number of teacher-librarians providing preparation time for teaching colleagues at the elementary level has increased to over 27%. Preparation coverage by teacher-librarians reduces the amount of true library service provided within teacher-librarians’ assignments. The ability to flexibly schedule at least some time was reported by 50.3% of elementary libraries and 88.8% of secondary libraries.

These are troubling statistics. Less teacher-librarian time is available within school libraries, and more of the time is being spent on preparation coverage. Prep coverage by teacher-librarians reduces flexible scheduling of the school library, which is key if the goal is to improve student attitudes toward reading and increase access to information and literature. Flexible scheduling also allows the teacher-librarian to provide leadership and allows teachers and teacher-librarians to work collaboratively.

It is difficult to gather information on school library budget allocations given the timing of the annual survey and the late release of solid budget figures.

Based on the data received this year, the level of funding for library resources is continuing to decline. The trend is disturbing considering the increases in the cost of library materials and technology. Average school district budget allocations per student range from a low of $3.97 to $31.50. The BCTLA W&L data reveals inadequate funding of school libraries and their programs across the province.

School libraries can hardly be expected to maintain an up-to-date collection in good repair when funding is so low.

Examination of Haycock’s report and the BCTLA’s W&L survey reveals that the Ministry of Education and our current government need to make some critical decisions if B.C.’s school library programs are to make a difference in students’ education.

If the focus of our school system is to improve literacy and achievement among students, changes must be implemented immediately. The research overwhelmingly points to the need for support of school libraries, but will those directing ministry policies listen and implement change?

Marÿka Gregg is working and learning chair, BCTLA, and teacher-librarian at Clarence Michiel Elementary School and Cassie Hall Elementary School, Terrace.

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