Sucked into teacher-librarian advocacy, part I

I’m feeling terrible bad-blogger guilt at the close of this autumn, for not having posted as much as I intended.  Oh, if only you could see the many drafts I have written, but haven’t had the time to polish enough to feel confident putting out there for the world!  Typical blogger’s lament, I know.  I’m working on it, and should be getting some time to edit and roll out some of my thoughts from the past months soon. I’m busy, but so are all of you. Here’s one of the things that has been keeping me so busy this fall:

Yeah, there’s the work and teaching and coordinating a lecture series, and parenting and professional organization stuff, serving on boards, and yeah there’s family and oh yeah the class I’m taking too, and keeping up the house and garden, but then there was this one unexpected thing that tipped my scale from being regular quite-busy to too-much busy, and that is my son’s school library.

It’s not right.

Let me clarify.  What is right about his school library is, well, the school library. The collection makes me drool.  I want to sit in there for days and read all the graphic and young adult novels, and my son wants to sit in there for days and read all of those atrocious formulaic rainbow fairy books.  The other thing that’s right is that there is an enthusiastic and way qualified (both MLIS and education degrees, plus plenty of library experience!) teacher-librarian who seems to have great relationships with the kids.

What isn’t right is that, unless I take my son in early before school, he doesn’t ever actually get to see said teacher-librarian this year.

Here’s how it all began:

On the first day of school, we dropped off our son for the one hour headcount they do on that first day.  Having a short period of time to kill, we and some other parents decided to go check out the school library, maybe meet the librarian if she was available.  My son had a rough kindergarten year, and library time was the reliable highlight of his week.  Additionally, since he’s in French immersion and neither half of his parental unit speaks French, the regular rotation of level-appropriate French books to stumble through together was very much appreciated.

I had a bit of bad-librarian-no-biscuit feeling over not even knowing where to find the school library, but I got over it. We all introduced ourselves, got a quick tour (highlights: the new & hot books display and graphic novels book truck), drifted around the room a bit (jammed with books and enough workspace for a class to do research; no room for computers) and eventually came to the desk to chat again.  We thanked the librarian for her time (she told us to come back anytime; that she loves to have parents and families around!) and I asked her when my son would be having library time with her this year.

<Insert LP rrrrrriiiiip sound here.>

Oh, well, our kids wouldn’t exactly be having library time this year.  You see, the teacher-librarian time had been cut back yet more for this year to less than half time, and as a result many classes wouldn’t be having library time.  However, the teacher-librarian assured us she was determined to find a way to get all the kids in to at least do book exchange every week, in order to make sure that, at minimum, all kids had a supply of reading material. (This is super important in our school b/c we have a TON of language learners — ESL kids in English classes and FSL kids in French immersion — and a lot of these kids don’t have books at home in their new language.)

Wait a minute.

We just came off a pretty heinous first year of school.  And now, well, hopefully we’ll have a better year this time around, with a new teacher and all, but you are telling me that the best part of school last year will not happen anymore because of cutbacks?


And so began my foray into the world of school library advocacy. I don’t much like school.  You couldn’t pay me enough to work in a school. Honestly, I have my days when I just want to yank my kid out before he turns into a soul-sucked zombie (fortunately, I am able to see that some of this urge is my own post-school trauma, and try to just wait and see how things go for him before plunging our family into economic uncertainty by trying to homeschool in this city!).  But I do believe in public education. I think it’s a core element of democracy. It’s why I went into librarianship – because I thought libraries were true centres of public education.  And I do know from experience that if we don’t fight for our public education systems they are quickly eroded.

Thus, little old school-phobic me sat thorugh PAC meetings (very scary; should serve beer not cookies!), begged and borrowed information and statistics from anyone in the school system or teacher’s union I could get a hold of, started a friends of our school library group, got my partner to coordinate parent volunteers for the school library (thankfully she’s a former teacher so she has a higher school threshhold than I), met with members of a larger school libraries advocacy group, the principal, the vice principal, the school librarian, dragged the kid to school board candidate forums to ask about libraries…oy. Now other parents know me as “the library mum,” and I cannot step on school ground without getting questions about volunteer orientation, which political parties have the best platform for libraries, etc.  Which is all wonderful and yet….tiring.

The school library situation has been a classic case of seeing something that’s obviously not-right and talking to people, finding out we all agreed that it wasn’t right and thinking that, just because we all supposedly agree on what’s wrong, fixing it would be easy. Ha. The responses to our first round of letter-writing quickly put a damper on those hopes.

It’s going to be a long row to hoe.  There are issues at many levels. Here, teacher-librarians used to be a line item in provincial school funding budgets until 2002.  Next opportunity for the teacher’s union to address that will be in 2010, as I understand it. We may or may not have a new provincial government by then. Then at the local level, well, there are definitely neighbouring cities that are somehow getting more library services out of their budgets.  We have an almost entirely new school board as of last month, so hopefully they’ll be able to better advocate for literacy.  And at a school level, I was shocked to find out that our “good” school is among the worst (if not the worst – statistics I obtained were incomplete so some non-reporting schools may be worse off) in the district for teacher-librarian FTE per student population.

There’s plenty of research on school libraries and teacher-librarians improving literacy, raising those damned standardized test scores, and being a force for equity among populations. Yet I keep getting the message that school libraries are being cut so we can better serve our ESL, special needs and poorer populations. It’s so frustrating, and such an excuse for maintaining the status quo!  When the wealthier schools have better libraries, this is an equity issue, and it needs to be detangled from arguments about ESL or special needs funding.

So, there’s a bit on what has been keeping me too-busy this fall.  I’m going to label this “Part I” as I’m sure there will be more of my ranting on the school library advocacy issue in future posts.  This all can get rather tiring and I could use some inspiration, so if you’ve had success in advocating for your school libraries, I’d love to hear your success stories.



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