School libraries, now sometimes called Information Centres, have been getting short shrift in the last decade or so. Budgets have been slashed, staff hours cut and distributed among multiple locations, trained teacher-librarians replaced by library techs. Why? Many people, including the people running things, think that the library is irrelevant in an internet age.
Not so. Libraries and librarians are more important than ever. Yet across the country, even as literacy rates drop, school libraries are overlooked. This makes no sense, when they are a proven way to help boost student engagement with the written word. Tons of research supports this claim (see https://www.lrs.org/data-tools/school-libraries/impact-studies/ for further details).
The library is the heart and soul of a school. It’s the library where kids go to find research materials they can trust – the internet is not trustworthy, you know . They find entertainment - reading material that appeals to them, no matter their interests or reading level. They find supportive guidance in choosing and evaluating materials, reinforcement of traits like responsibility and initiative.
Teachers use the library too. Contemporary collaborative teaching - where educators act as a team to deliver curricular goals – works best when the information specialist can suggest and provide resources to help the teachers teach, and coordinate cross-curricular learning from a central position of oversight.
A great librarian makes the entire school hum by offering exciting programs like author visits, award program enrollment and support (like the incredible Forest of Reading program in Ontario), book fairs, Community Reads, Read-a-thons, Battle of the Books and D.E.A.R. Literacy only exists where people want to read, and libraries and librarians foster that desire year in and year out.
Now earlier in this piece I mentioned that the internet is just not trustworthy. You already know first hand how hard it is to separate fake news, propaganda, sales bumf and plain old BS from solid facts, right? Imagine how much harder it is for kids to separate the wheat from the chaff?
School libraries and their staff act like the all-important sieve. It is in the library where kids learn about how to evaluate information critically through dedicated teaching and examples. Librarians also help teachers who are frequently overloaded to choose better resources. I recall a recent dust-up over a teacher handing out a worksheet they’d found on line; it had outdated and racist terms in it. Vetting by a savvy librarian would have prevented that! Professional teacher-librarians are trained experts in information literacy and technology. They are both gatekeepers and door openers.
School libraries also offer personalized attention to their clientele. The very best librarians order books with their students in mind – choosing this book or that specifically for that sports enthusiast or the kids that’s mad about sloths. School libraries also support families, by providing books for children and caregivers to read together at home (and that’s a huge predictor of future academic and social success). Since many families don’t have well stocked home libraries, or access to a public library (especially in rural or remote regions of the country), a vibrant school library bridges those gaps.
“Build it and they will come” applies to literacy too. You can’t expect readers to read when there are no books. So let’s take this time out to think about what we want Canadian schools to deliver to our children. Let’s look to the scientific evidence, and to our own hearts, to determine our priorities going forward.
Support school libraries. It’s the right thing to do.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.