Archive for the ‘Literacy’ Category

Budget time at VSB

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

This year, as in many others, parents from Friends of the School Library presented a brief at the Vancouver School Board meetings in April.

The Friends of the School Library (FOSL) believe that qualified teacher-librarians serve as key partners working with students, their families, local community agencies and public libraries to foster a love of Canadian culture, libraries and reading. This year’s budget, in keeping with the Vancouver School District’s goal of achieving excellence in student learning, needs to support school library programs so they are staffed with qualified teacher-librarians who work to positively influence that outcome. Thank you for recognizing the many roles and responsibilities of teacher-librarians with adequate funding: for recognizing that for many children their only experience with technology, books and libraries occurs within elementary and secondary schools; that course development teams benefit by the inclusion of teacher-librarians to critically select electronic/print resources; and that qualified teacher-librarians play a role in mentoring beginning teachers and contribute to staff development programs to educate teachers about the changing array of information technologies and ways of engaging digital learners.

We would like to address two major school library issues the Vancouver School Board to should consider in the coming months.

We ask that:
The District set a minimum standard for technology in libraries to ensure equitable access to computers and technology instruction across all libraries within the District.

FOSL would like to know:
Do all elementary school libraries have a minimum allotment of computers?
When technology is purchased for schoolS labs, is there consideration of the technology needs for the school library?
Do teacher-librarians have access to instructional technology for teaching the information literacy skills that students will need for post-secondary education?
Do students have opportunities for instruction that supports inquiry or research using technology and electronic resources?
Why is there such a ‘digital divide’ across the District so exacerbated by the ability of parents to fundraise that one westside school library has 30 computers and other school libraries have student computers not powerful enough to load free online newspapers?
Do we really need yet another object lesson for children in less affluent neighbourhoods that this is yet another set of ‘playground equipment’ unavailable to them?

We ask that:
The District set minimum staffing levels for school libraries that will guarantee reasonable access to collections, connections and a welcoming physical space.

Given that there will be a reduction in incremental time for next year, if there is no basic minimum of service, there is a risk that school library time in some schools will be reduced yet agaihn. Some schools have only .1 of an FTE. How low can we go? How many schools at .1 is too many?

As well, having learned recently that the Ministry of Education is requiring each district to submit a contract for literacy, we would like to ask what the role of school libraries is in this process?
Libraries advance literacy. How does Vancouver’s literacy contract reflect this?

School District Management teams make decisions that have an impact well beyond the realm of individual schools or districts and those decisions should be made after assessing current research and best practice recommendations. They might consider that a study of Canadian publishers finds that; ‘they consider the loss of teacher-librarians to have broken their connection with children, fueled the loss of independent booksellers, and subsequently gutted Canadian publishing for children.’ Without them there will be a conspicuous hush; many students will not find certain kinds of voices in the materials available for them.

The District might consider the 2006 Provincial Health Officer’s Annual Report ‘An Ounce of Prevention Revisited.’ which is a review of health promotion and selected outcomes for children and youth in BC schools which finds that “students who feel a strong connection to school are less likely to attempt suicide, use hard drugs, smoke cigarettes, use marijuana, binge drink, carry a weapon to school, fight, have poor health, etc. etc.” Given the importance of connectedness, the BC Health Officer recommends closely study[ing] the “best” schools/school districts and sharing the lessons learned and promising practices from schools/school districts with high levels of connectedness”.

I would be willing to bet that the schools with the most connected students have a school library they feel welcome in throughout the day, where their artwork is on the wall, where they can volunteer and where the teacher librarian can give them the gift of their time.

District policy based on high standards of attainment for information literacy through quality school library collections, services and staff are needed to establish basic minimums that are both sustainable and equitable. We urge the Senior Management Team to develop such district benchmarks. We wish you success in the year ahead and thank you for all your hard work.

Yours truly,
Friends of the School Library

Provincial Health Officer’s Annual Report (2006). An Ounce of Prevention Revisited.
A review of health promotion and selected outcomes for children and youth in BC schools. (

Saltman, J and Edwards, G. Creativity and Passion: 40 Years of Publishing for Children in Canada. Presentation at BCLA, April 19, 2008.

Library = Literacy

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Literacy is about reading…right?

Libraries overflow with things to read, on paper and on-screen. What is ‘not to get’ about school libraries and literacy?
Perhaps we are blindsided in the scramble to attain higher reading comprehension scores while avoiding the fallout of the” information explosion”. Or we are distracted by the sound of grinding axes anxious to cash in on the definition - just add the word literacy to the following terms: functional; cultural; multicultural; information; media; visual; computer; mathematical; scientific; new media; digital; technology; and global. We feel the pressure to provide Band-Aid solutions; send in the literacy troops, buy more laptops.

Is the library - literacy connection too obvious?

It is hard to separate the process of reading from the reading material itself.

But simply put…Kids + books = literacy.

Now, kids can be led to books, and they can decide to watch hockey instead. Let loose in the most beautifully-designed library with comfy chairs and volumes of age-appropriate, enticing reading material - they can still choose to zone out. There is no shortcut to literacy. We learn to read by reading. Non-readers become readers by reading beginner books, which enables them to read books just a bit harder, which allows them to grasp more sophisticated writing and concepts.

We need inspired teachers and teacher-librarians to lead us on the path to literacy, but books are perhaps the more subtle, and throughout our lives, the more powerful teachers. Without knowing it, we, as readers, absorb not only the phrases and vocabulary, but also the thoughts, images, values and visions of the writer. To a literate person, the library is a world of collective wisdom, a map to everywhere. No wonder it is the cornerstone of our schools, society, and institutions.

Further reading

A Call to Action: What We Know About Adolescent Literacy and Ways to Support Teachers in Meeting Students’ Needs; A Position/Action Statement from NCTE’s Commission on Reading
May 2004

Judith Comfort

Dr. Charles Best Secondary School Library, Coquitlam

Literacy and Today’s Youth

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

When I learned this week that 68% of young Canadians feel they need more instruction on authenticating online information I felt buoyed up, and anxious. Isn’t it terrific that so many young people understand their limitations in the face of the deluge of information on the Internet, but who, I ask myself, is going to help them navigate their way through the plethora of information available to them with a critical eye, ear and mind?

This conundrum was presented to an audience last week at the Burnaby Public Library by Mr. Keith McPherson and Dr. Marlene Asselin both experts in media information at UBC. Further statistics from “Young Canadians in a Wired World” ( note that 94% of these young people access the internet from home, 34% have been bullied online, 33% of their top 50 websites include violent and sexual content, and that 75% do not realize they are being advertised to through the Net. In such an environment, Asselin and McPherson pointed out, it is critical that students become more aware. Basic literacy remains an essential skill, they contend, but critical literacy is, well, critical. McPherson, assured parents and teachers present that with critical thinking skills “mental habits that foster justice, honesty, and ethical treatment of others” will have a better chance of prevailing.

With teachers such as Asselin and McPherson in our midst one can feel more confident that the young people who will be in charge of the world are in good hands. Already we know that they are what these teachers call active participants who are goal-oriented, believe in choice and variety and are active decision-makers. They are also an economic force. They believe in connectivity and community, they take action, are early adopters and are passionately tolerant. They creative ‘personal landscapes’ in the way they learn, shop and work. They learn by doing, they multi-task and importantly they believe in social transformation.

These are the leaders of the future. We are in good hands it seems but we must as parents and teachers ensure that they get the critical thinking skills they themselves say they need. All the more reason, in my view, that we ensure that teacher-librarians who are so well placed to take on this task, have the resources to undertake such an important social role. Every school in the province needs a teacher-librarian with enough hours to teach the skills our children will need in this ever-changing and demanding environment and so that, as Mr. McPherson so eloquently put it, all students can fulfill their dreams.

Margaret Reynolds, Executive Director, Association of Book Publishers of BC

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