Friday, January 28, 2011

Standing on Principles - Who Spoke Up for Libraries This Week?

Thanks, Vancouver's leading digital administrator Gino Bondi, for your Learning the Now "Points of Inquiry" blog post this week which puts life and humour into the concept of school libraries as learning commons.  He gets it! Yahoo. His tweeps have responded.

Thanks, BCTF President Susan Lambert, who, when speaking to the Representative Assembly on Friday, held up our Points of Inquiry graphic and document as one example of how BC educators are moving ahead with 21st Century learning.  There was decidedly more clarity in Susan's speech than this photo would reveal. 

Thanks, Charlie Naylor, for the superb discussion paper 21st century learning— Widening the frame of focus and debate: A BCTF Research discussion paper (see Executive Summary or complete document) in which he lauds the engaging and empowering capacity of technology in classrooms but also contextualizes 21st Century Learning in 50 years of educational thinking and cautions us to examine initiatives as much for what is there as for what is not there, including attention to 21st Century concerns with sustainability and social justice.  Thanks for including the BCTLA's Points of Inquiry work.

And thanks to Anqelique Crowther in our Vancouver School District's Communications department for forwarding the article that prompts deeper considerations in this week's blog posting.  Angelique is an avid daily reader of The Guardian, a strong supporter of libraries, and an invaluable district asset!

Here is the great article from Friday's The Guardian that links to both a contextualizing article ("Too precious to destroy") and to the full-text speech Leave the Libraries Alone (both from blog False Economy), passionately delivered by author Philip Pullman in defence of the 20 of 43 Oxfordshire public libraries at risk of being closed.  From Oxford he scans other libraries, those of his childhood in Battersea and Wales as well as those such as Alexandria doomed by the ignorant of history.  He deplores "the bidding culture" of today that pits one group against another for the ever-diminishing pool of funds.  By extension, what Pullman says is true for every library -- be it public, academic, special, or school -- that new-think and forces of market fundamentalism have put at risk. 

Herein lie the conditions that are calculatingly constructed to create such Faustian bargains as the one identified in last week's blog, where the Humanities were to be cut in favour of the Sciences at an American university.  What Pullman says could equally as passionately be applied to the school libraries so gravely at risk here at home, when we consider the 25% cuts to TL staffing in the last 10 years here in BC (20% in Vancouver), surely cause for concern.  In 2008, Pullman spoke in fierce defence of a school library at risk in the UK, calling the plan to remove the program, trained staff, and non-fiction collection "virtual philistinism."  He has joined Britain's Children's Laureate Michael Rosen in a campaign to save school libraries.

Thanks to Debbie Pawluk for her quick thinking in capturing the photo above and also for the invitation to submit a few school library facts for our secondary teacher colleagues to consider, published in this week's VSTA Tackboard (see page 2): 

Did you know ...
  • When measured against the circulation of other library systems in BC, VSB school libraries are the 10th largest circulating system in the province, circulating more than the Coquitlam and West Vancouver public libraries do in a year; 1.7 million items moved in and out of 109 school libraries in just 10 months last year.
  • When compared to UBC, Vancouver's 55 000 students, as well as educators and families, are supported by 79 FTE TLs, 6.5 FTEs VSB support, parent volunteers, and the work of students in CS and clubs.  UBC's 50 000 students are serviced by 84 Librarians, 32 managers, 163 support staff, and 29 paid students.  TLs are pretty good value for the service and instructional support they give here in schools, don't you think!
  • There are for the first time three secondary schools with one or more blocks "closed" for service due to reduced staffing.  The BCTF is clear: no teacher can do the work of a TL when he or she isn't there.
  • Last year alone, the ranks of Vancouver TLs were reduced by 8%.
  • In some Districts where Literacy is a key district goal, school libraries programs and qualified staffing are non-existent.  What does this mean for students and education in BC, relatively speaking, when those districts include Nisga'a and Haida Gwaii?  Do we believe in principles of equity, including that all students in BC should have equitable access, both physical and intellectual, to books and other resources and the professional expertise needed to support reading based on choice, reading for information, research, and learning to learn about information and technology?  If it isn't happening close to home or in your school library, is it good enough to reassure ourselves we're okay?
  • In some school districts, as TLs have disappeared, support staff have continued to run the library.  In Comox, there are three times more support staff working in the school libraries as there are TLs; in Abbotsford, twice as many.  In Richmond, pretty close to home, secondary school libraries are run by full-time assistants and three-eighths of a TL. 
No other specialist teacher group has been so deeply decimated proportionally as TLs here in BC. Who will speak up for our programs and what they mean for teachers and students? And when?  Already, in some districts, who can remember and speak for the quality instructional programs enabled by qualified TLs with sufficient resources, technology, and time, when they have been and are still being reduced to book exchange and then eradicated as unnecessary or irrelevant?

Who will seek out, protect, and steward quality Canadian and local resources in the face of the globalizing agenda, and what does it mean when there is no one left to interrupt and interrogate the market forces and "philistinism" as these are increasingly dictating resource and collection un/development to ensure young British Columbians and young Canadians are given opportunities to learn about their unique place in the world? And, when we TLs are gone because no one spoke up, who will speak up for other specialist teacher groups whose support also ensures our students are taught within the world-class education system the public has come to expect?  Reminds me of a poem!

Now would be a really really good time for authors, parents, teacher-colleagues, administrators, and educational leaders in districts and union offices to start speaking up on our behalf. It's time to stand up and be counted on to say, No More!  No more Faustian bargains -- TLs have never been needed more than now!

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