‘The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board said last month that declining enrollment is forcing them to lay off 39 school librarians and close the libraries. The board is facing a $10-million budget cut next year. It lost 800 students last year and is projecting a similar loss next year.’ (CBC News, 2011).
The biggest issue facing the role of the school library within schools is a lack of understanding about the role of the teacher librarian and the library itself. For many people, a library is a place stacked with books; a place that has diminished relevance in an increasingly digital world. It is worrying, that when faced with budgetary cuts, one school board effectively wiped out what should be considered THE two most relevant and important resources within the school: the library and the qualified teacher librarian who works in it. How or why can this happen?
I have to admit, there are days when I wonder if I can fully embrace the digital change that is occurring in libraries. And when I read about schools such as the Windsor Catholic schools, who removed all of their libraries from their schools, there are days when I sit back and wonder if many of the changes that are happening are a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This is troubling, when as discussed in the introduction to module 1, that there is no systemic research available yet, that provides guidance around whether these sweeping changes are actually of benefit to the school community.
This article ‘What to watch for in 2013’ (Shatzkin, 2013) points out an important fact regarding the transition of print resources to digital. ‘Immersive Books’, those books that are read from the first page, through the last, have been easily produced in ebook format. “Other than immersive’ books – reference books, picture books, illustrated books are still lagging behind in transitioning to digital format, and could do so for the foreseeable future. In resourcing the school library, and advocating for the types of resources that are acquired for the collection, this is an important understanding to have.
There is much about this process that will ultimately benefit from hindsight. It is an undeniable fact that yes, we now live in the ‘information age’. And yes, most of what people want to find out, they look for on google. And yes, one can download ebooks from the comfort of their own living rooms. Does being digital really mean the death of libraries? I don’t believe so. But I also don’t believe that libraries can only survive by going completely digital. It will be interesting to see research into the book-less, all-digital library in San Antonio, Texas compared with other more hybrid library designs, particularly concerning the reading matter that CAN’T be accessed through this approach.
I cannot agree with a decision to remove all printed books from the school library at this point in time, when many resources have not yet made the successful transition to digital dominance. To do so, right now, restricts students from accessing literature that has not yet been moved into digital format. It restricts student access to a multitude of well-researched and accurate reference material that they can trust and use in conjunction with online research. At this point in time, if the entire library catalogue is digital, it restricts the students from accessing reference books, picture books, illustrated books. These are not just books that students choose to research from, but are books that provide the teacher librarian with the opportunity to foster a love of reading across all genres and areas of information.
What is reassuring from reading this article and the follow up article, Libraries to return to Windsor Catholic schools (Jeflyn, 2011) are two things. One, the strong reaction from both the parents and students regarding the closing of what they considered an important area of their school. Secondly, was the subsequent back down from the board, to reintroduce libraries back into the schools through a partnership with the local public library system. It is reassuring to see the emphasis put back into book collections and exciting children about reading. It is wonderful so see how collaboration between the school library and local community in creating a resource space valued and used beyond the four walls of the school.
I believe there is a definite and important place for both digital and print resources in our school libraries at the present time. The challenge for teacher librarians is balancing these two important aspects of the collection, ensuring a professionally managed and well-resourced library that creates and nurtures an information rich learning environment. With this challenge, comes a need for the teacher librarian to be an advocate for the place of the school library, educating and working with the school leadership team and key committees in developing a common understanding for the place of the library with the schools learning environment. It is too early yet, to be throwing that baby out with the bath water.
Australian School Library Association (ASLA) & Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), (2004). Standards of Professional Excellence for teacher librarians. In Australian School Library Association::ASLA. Retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.aspx
CBC News (May 12, 2011). Parents don’t want book shut on school libraries. In CBC News Windsor. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/parents-don-t-want-book-shut-on-school-libraries-1.1061505
Idea Logical Blog. (
Jeflyn, P. (Nov 15, 2011). Libraries to return to Windsor Catholic Schools. In CBC News Windsor. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/libraries-to-return-to-windsor-catholic-schools-1.1021028
Shatzkin, M. (Jan 2, 2013). The Shatzkin Files – What to look for in 2013. In The Idea Logical Company. Retrieved from http://www.idealog.com/blog/what-to-watch-for-in-2013/