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Canadian Books in School Libraries: Raising the Profile

October 18, 200518 October 2005

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Canadian Books in School Libraries summarizes the results of 125 in-depth interviews with teacher-librarians, library technicians, teachers, principals, school district administrators and education department officials in mid-2004. The report finds widespread support for the importance of Canadian books in school libraries, but “most estimates of Canadian content in school libraries ranged from under 10% to 30%”. Lack of awareness of Canadian books and limited budgets were cited as barriers to having more Canadian books in school libraries. “Word of mouth, bookstores and wholesalers, and reviews were stated most often as influences on awareness about books.”

Regarding the selection of individual titles, the strongest influences come from the curriculum, teacher requests, student requests, Canadian authors or content, and author visits to schools. The report indicates that many school libraries have experienced a decrease in budgets, teacher-librarians, collections, Canadian books and hours. In some provinces, library technicians have taken the place of teacher-librarians. Part-time library staffing is common.

The report outlines the loose funding models and practices in various jurisdictions as well as the limited staff, policies, standards, and attention for school libraries at the school district and education department levels. Only Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island have departmental policies that support teacher-librarians.In many jurisdictions, “school library policies and standards are outdated, absent, or inconsistently communicated.”

Despite an emphasis on literacy, school libraries have not become an educational priority. As one respondent noted, “people who are shaping curriculumand policy, the big thinkers in education, aren’t making the connection between libraries and literacy”. Many jurisdictions rely on packaged literacy programs rather than on teacher-librarians. In fact, the high cost of these literacy programs appears to have contributed to the decreases in school library budgets.

Citing American, British, European and South American research, the report argues that the situation in Canada’s school libraries may lead to “lower levels of student achievement, a lack of readiness for post-secondary education, less interest in reading for information and pleasure, a lack of understanding of Canadian heritage and culture, and a lack of awareness of Canadian authors and illustrators”. Equitable access to books may also be compromised.

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