Manitoba writes last chapter for provincially run textbook supplier

The Manitoba government will close the book at the end of this school year on a resource that supplied teachers with textbooks.

Commonly called the Manitoba Textbook Bureau, office that supplied curriculum material will close in June

A centre Manitoba teachers have been using for decades to buy their textbooks is closing down at the end of the school year. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Manitoba government is closing the book on a resource that supplied teachers with textbooks.

Friday was the last day for  educators to buy materials not in stock from the Manitoba Learning Resource Centre, formerly known as the Manitoba Textbook Bureau, which closes at the end of June after a decades-long run.

The resource centre, which is headquartered in Souris, Man., is winding down because of declining interest, in a climate where education resources are increasingly accessed online, the province told CBC in a statement.

The centre made bulk buys of print and multimedia materials to keep costs down for individual divisions and schools, who would otherwise purchase those products on their own.

The province's statement said some divisions and schools didn't exhaust their allotted budget for the centre. More than $800,000 of the $5.2 million public schools could have spent last year went unused, the province said.

Interest in buying textbooks wanes

"In the modern context of fast and direct online access to materials, the [Manitoba Learning Resource Centre] model is no longer the best delivery mechanism of curricula materials. Manitoba is currently the last province with a textbook bureau," a provincial spokesperson said in a Feb. 4 email, in response to questions about the closure.

Divisions and schools will continue receiving the same curriculum support grants as before, but can spend the money at suppliers of their choice, according to the provincial spokesperson.

The centre's five staff will accept final orders for in-stock items until March 12, and will finalize all services and orders until the end of that month. The province said it is making every effort to redeploy workers to prevent layoffs.

The Manitoba Teachers' Society said its members were caught off guard by the centre's closure, and were only told about it last week, president James Bedford said. 

He said MTS is hopeful teachers won't face shortages in necessary supplies.

"I think the biggest concern for teachers is going into next year, that the resources that they need in classrooms will be available to them," he said.

In 2019, the province faced an outcry for shuttering another provincewide teacher resource, the Curriculum Support Centre, sometimes referred to as the "teachers' library," which served as a library of classroom materials.

Teachers held a protest outside the Portage Avenue centre at one point. Bedford said educators had a personal relationship with the library and its staff. 

Teachers protested the pending closure of the Curriculum Support Centre on Portage Avenue in March 2019. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

As for the textbook bureau, Bedford acknowledges that it's likely "the need has, in fact, fallen off."

But that doesn't mean the days of students hauling bulky textbooks into classrooms are numbered. There are still many barriers to electronic materials, he said, depending on geographical and socioeconomic considerations.

"I think we'll forever have hardcover textbooks in the classroom. We'll just supplement the work we do with the new resources as they become available."

With files from Stephen Ripley and Bartley Kives


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