Dalton McGuinty, newly elected premier of Ontario, made a campaign promise of increased funds for school libraries – increased funds to the tune of $80 million for books. According to McGuinty, this is “the biggest investment of new books in Ontario in a generation.”
The catch: McGuinty named pal Heather Reisman’s company, Indigo Books & Music, as the “sole supplier” of this $80 million worth of books.
Indigo assures us that the books will be passed on “at cost,” which is cold comfort for many independent publishers and booksellers, existing school library book suppliers, and intellectual freedom and media democracy advocates.
Ontario is such an influential province that there is concern that this could be a trend that sweeps the country.
Is Indigo qualified to serve as major supplier to school libraries? Concerns have been expressed over materials processing (not a service of Indigo), as well as Indigo’s book selection (known for being skewed toward the mainstream and “inoffensive”) being ill-equipped to meet the diverse needs of our school library collections. The many small, niche publishers and distributors who have served the school library market for years and thus built developed an expertise in Canadian curricular requirements may not be Liberal party insiders, but they seem to be doing their job well as is.
The increased funding should go directly to school librarians, for them to use for the selection and purchase of new materials from whoever may be the most appropriate distributor.
Of course this is all being couched in the charity and “good works” of Indigo Books, which has recently released a film about Canadian (il)literacy and provides some grants to schools through its “Love of Reading” foundation. I’m sure there’s no need for me to launch into my full rant on “corporate social responsibility” and the limits thereof right now – let it just be said that when materials are being provided by a monopolistic big box store “at cost,” part of that cost is increased squeezing out of independent competitors.
Very uncritical interview of Heather Reisman by SLJ
More critical article in the Globe & Mail, which unfortunately requires subscription access:
Adams, James. (2007, October 8 ) Educational book sector alarmed by Indigo deal. Globe & Mail, p.R1. (*cough* but try searching the title of the article in your favourite web browser if you don’t have a subscription *cough*)
Girard, D. (2007, September 20). Library books for schools have a McGuinty imprint. Toronto Star. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from
Doble, M. (2007, November 2). Indigo in election pledge row. The Bookseller.com. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from http://www.thebookseller.com/us/us-news/47474-indigo-in-election-pledge-row.html .