Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to shelve the library question

I've been watching the discussion, coverage and analysis over the People for Education report on libraries that was published almost two weeks ago.
As expected, Minister of Education Leona Dombrowski's response was to tell parents to get angry with their school board trustees. As annoying as it is to hear that, she's right. Trustees control budgets and if they want to staff their libraries they can make it happen-- though it is by finding somewhere else that needs the money less.
Particularly rich was PC education critic (and herself the last PC minister of education) Elizabeth Witmer's response that urged Dombrowsky and the Liberal government to ensure librarian positions were being properly funded. Rich because Witmer received the Rozanski report in 2002-03, which called for school-based funding for a bunch of things similar to librarian positions. Also rich because Witmer's PC predecessors created the education funding formula that still stipulates exactly how many students are needed in one location before that school gets a full-time teacher-librarian.
Witmer's response is on my work computer, I'll PDF it and post it here if I get the opportunity.
The reality of that student-based formula is that very few elementary schools have large enough student bodies to generate the funding needed for a 1.0 teacher-librarian. Secondary schools are a bit different, but as declining student populations work their way through this panel in the coming six-to-seven years, it'll be an increasing reality there too.
The vast majority of elementary schools have partial teacher-librarians. In many, this is one of the teachers who does prep-time coverage for her/his counterparts-- often the time when that class may be using the library under that teacher-librarian's guidance or some times teaching some other subject.
The smaller the student population, the less time that person has to spend in the library. I shadowed a 0.2 teacher-librarian a few years back (who had 0.3 prep-time coverage on her contract, so she was in school every other day) who had little time to do much but manage student volunteers who reshelved books and take care of administrative stuff. As it happens, the library in this particular school was a converted classroom, so it wasn't the ideal library space to begin with.
Want to fix this problem?
Take the teacher-librarian position out of the portion of the GSN based on student population. My terminology may be slightly out of date, but back in 2004ish, the Liberals moved principals and other non-classroom staff to school-based funding (they called it school foundation grants at the time). So boards got funded to hire someone to full-time hours per school, independent of school size. Take funding for 1.0 teacher-librarian per elementary school and put it into this school-based funding. That ensures every library is staffed, but it does come at the cost of that position's wages and benefits. Given the expected but softer declining-enrolment attrition once full-day kindergarten is staffed, it might work out without needing to add to the employee rolls.
Given the demonstrated benefits of having a staffed school library, it should be worthwhile.


TDSBteacher said...

Some good ideas in your post. I thought it interesting that in the U.S., the Target department store chain is stepping up to the plate:
Target to help school libraries

I would hazard the idea that in a very small school a .5 librarian could be adequate, but librarians do a tremendous amount to foster literacy, promote children's reading, develop technological and research skills, and pique interest in many subject areas; often too, they do a great deal of informal mentoring and assisting of individual students.