Toronto

Cuts to N.S. librarians match trend seen in Ontario

A Nova Scotia school board's proposal to cut all of its librarians to balance its books highlights a larger trend at some Canadian schools as libraries become victims of continued budget cuts, a development that some argue is having an impact on the quality of children's education.

A Nova Scotia school board's proposal to cut all of its 41 librarians to balance its books highlights a larger trend at some Canadian schools as libraries become victims of continued budget cuts, a development that some argue is having an impact on the quality of children's education.

And with the amount of information students have at their disposal because of the Internet, librarians are needed now more than ever to help sort through the wealth of information, the executive director of a parent-led group in Ontario says.

"They are usually up on all the new technology, and not just that, they can also teach kids ... about how to use that technology," says Annie Kidder of People for Education.

Kidder says librarians can be vital in helping students exercise "good judgment about what's relevant, what's credible information, what's really part of the garbage that is out there."

She says librarians can also influence a child's interest in reading.

"It also has an effect on your life in terms of the quality of your life, the richness of your life and your access to knowledge, to imagination, to the world."   

Number of Ontario school librarians in decline

In the group's annual report last year, it says the number of elementary schools with teacher-librarians in Ontario dropped to 56 per cent in 2010-11, down from 80 per cent in 1997-98. It found that 66 per cent of secondary schools had teacher-librarians in 2010-11, down from 78 per cent in 2000-01.

The report says of those elementary schools in Ontario that had teacher-librarians in 2010-11, 80 per cent of them were part-time.

Linda Shantz-Keresztes, chairwoman of the school-library advisory committee of the Canadian Library Association, says librarians provide an essential service and parents should be aware of their vital role.

"I think they need to become informed about the importance of school libraries and certified teacher-librarians and support staff in ensuring that their students get the skills and the strategies to survive in the 21st century," she says.

In Nova Scotia, the provincial government stepped in last week to stop the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board from cutting its librarians. The government has appointed a senior Treasury Board adviser to begin a review of the board's budget before any final decisions are made.

The board wanted to cut all of its librarians as it struggles with a $6.5-million budget shortfall.

Outcry over library cuts in Windsor, Ont.

There was an outcry from parents in Windsor, Ont., last year when the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board announced it was turning its libraries into digital learning centres, placing many of its books in classrooms and cutting the number of library-technicians.

School board spokesman Al Maghnieh said the uproar was a misunderstanding, stressing that students still had access to books. 

After student protests and extensive media coverage of parents speaking against the move, the board decided to change their approach, although it still employs fewer library staff.

Maghnieh said the school board is facing dropping enrolment and funding, just as many schools across Canada are, and it has had to restructure its operations.

"At the end of the day, regardless if we're going to have to put someone on layoff or not, the library will remain open and we will try to work with teachers to make sure they can be the human aspect to the library as well," he said.

"The old model of just stocking your shelves isn't as appealing as it used to be because of all the new ways you can run your library."

The school board has turned to greater use of digital technology in its libraries with the purchase of iPads and e-readers — tools that Maghnieh says give students a more interactive learning experience.

"It captivates their attention more than, say, throwing a textbook in front of them," said Maghnieh.

The board is also looking at a partnership with the Windsor Public Library in the hopes of sharing resources. Barry Holmes, the library's CEO, said they are discussing the creation of after-school programs that would allow librarians to work with students at schools to find resource material, as well as sharing library resources.

"We want that access to be able to keep kids and students connected with what the library has to offer," he said.

Speaking to parents about the potential partnership, Holmes has heard positive feedback and some parents like the idea of exposing students to e-reader technology as some cannot afford to do so at home.

"That's what libraries have always been about, right? Universal access."

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