Writer in Residence

The School Library - Why It Matters More Than Ever

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.

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Pirate Queen

The most powerful pirate in history was a woman who was born into poverty in Guangzhou, China, in the late 1700s. When pirates attacked her town and the captain took a liking to her, she saw a way out. Zheng Yi Sao agreed to marry him only if she got an equal share of his business. When her husband died six years later, she took command of the fleet.

Over the next decade, the pirate queen built a fleet of over 1,800 ships and 70,000 men. On land and sea, Zheng Yi Sao’s power rivaled the emperor himself. Time and again, her ships triumphed over the emperor’s ships.

When she was ready to retire, Zheng Yi Sao surrendered — on her own terms, of course. Even though there was a price on her head, she was able to negotiate her freedom, living in peace and prosperity for the rest of her days.

Zheng Yi Sao’s powerful story is told in lyrical prose by award-winning author Helaine Becker. Liz Wong’s colorful, engaging illustrations illuminate this inspiring woman in history.

An author’s note provides historical context and outlines the challenges of researching a figure about whom little is known.