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School Library Advocacy

quiet please, you foul little brats by rhoadeecha via flickr ( )

A number of news stories have surfaced about cuts to school libraries. One of the reasons cuts can happen is because those in charge don’t see any effect to the cuts. If you are a non-user of libraries, your attitude will be ‘who will miss this library?’ Recently, the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board in Ontario made a decision to close all libraries, lay off all library staff (39), and ‘disperse’ the library collections to the classroom. The superintendent, Jamie Bumbacco, stated “that was an area that we felt, as a senior administrative team, that would have little or no impact on student learning.” Despite evidence to the contrary (school libraries have been proven to improve student learning), the board made this decision without consultation. While budgets are tight, it is difficult to make cuts, but this is surely a short-sighted decision with the potential to be more expensive in the future; how many specialists/consultants will need to be hired when test scores drop and reading levels fall? A second superintendent commented “teachers are turning to scholarly journals found on the internet.” Well, how did those teachers access the content? This kind of statement shows that this superintendent has never actually conducted research online (successfully).

It comes as no surprise that this decision is now being ‘reconsidered’ due to the overwhelming negative, national press and outcry from both parents and students. The board obviously wasn’t aware that the library IS important to many.

An issue I take with some of the coverage is that often the reason offered for keeping libraries is rooted in nostalgia. Nostalgia is a dangerous justification for libraries because it is the same reason for making cuts in the first place. What can the quaint quiet library offer today’s amazingly techno-savvy students? Save the library because it’s so quaint and quiet and I loved curling up with a book when I was a child!

The key point in the Windsor Essex decision is that the administrators thought that relocating the books to the classroom would be an unnoticeable change. Again, this notion is rooted in thinking that the library is just a place for housing dusty books. Thankfully, some well-balanced pieces (Kate Hammer and Ian Brown in the Globe and Mail) were also published that highlighted the role of librarians in a digital world.

We can only save libraries by advocating for the services and resources provided by librarians, technicians, and other staff, and not for the nostalgia factor of curling up with a book.

In the U.S., the Department of Education announced it is cutting all federal funding to school libraries. In California, L.A. teacher librarians have to actually prove their qualifications to teach in court. This reporter still felt the need to include this unintentional insult:

“Sitting in during two court sessions this week, I felt bad for everyone present, including the LAUSD attorneys. After all, in the presence of a school librarian, you feel the need to whisper and be respectful. It must be very difficult, I thought, to grill a librarian.”

A hilarious and tragic image was provided to me by a relative: the kids’ school does not have a librarian so the library is staffed by the gym teacher. The gym teacher actually blows his whistle to stop reading time. How’s that for quaint and quiet?


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Knowledge Ontario matters

The cuts keep coming.

Dusting the books (1913); Source: New York Public Library

Next up is the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. Founded by Northrop Frye. Yes, Northrop Frye. If that’s not iconic enough, I’m afraid these types of decisions will continue.

In Alberta, The Alberta Library created a digital library service called the Lois Hole Campus Alberta Digital Library (LHCADL) – not exactly a catchy name, but named after Lois Hole, member of the Order of Canada and Lieutenant Governor of Alberta until her death from cancer in 2000. The thinking was that surely the government would never cut funding to such legacy. Well, the LHCADL is a shadow of its former self, but apparently will not be cut altogether (scrapping the initiative will cause bad press, so the government will just continue to provide less and less funding).

The LHCADL was a pleasant discovery for me after I moved from Ontario to Alberta. I had grown accustomed to superior library resources through collaboration and consortia arrangements, like Scholar’s Portal and Knowledge Ontario. You’d think libraries would all get a pat on the back for being such good sports, playing nicely together and sharing. Instead, this type of initiative (pennies, really, to the government) gets sidelined.

At U of T, the proposal is to create a School of Languages and Literature, one that would amalgamate the smaller and, let’s face it, unprofitable departments of interdisciplinary studies including East Asian Studies and Slavic Studies. This new approach is supposed to be responsive, more cost-efficient. Once all of these departments have found a way to exist as one School, will that save them from having resources continually cut? Will the School grow and flourish or shrink?

I’m also currently reading Juris Dilevko’s recent book The Politics of Professionalism: A Retro-Progressive Proposal for Librarianship, where he uses the corporatization of education institutions as a foundation for his argument.

As U of T English grad, I assume that the Department of English will always be ‘safe’. Upon entering my studies, almost any ‘outsider’ I met would say “English, really? What are you going to do with that?” Studying humanities always seemed to require justification. I thought that others just didn’t get it. Now it seems that the University itself is turning its back on learning for learning’s sake and the importance of the humanities. What’s next?

The good news is that people are noticing these types of decisions:

Sign the Save Comparative Literature at University of Toronto petition here and join the Facebook page.

Join the Knowledge Ontario Matters Facebook page.