This article appears in the November 2004 issue
of the BC School Trustees Association publication Education
It is also in available as Nov-04.pdf
Form versus Function: Improving British Columbia’s School Libraries
The BC Coalition for School Libraries has a very lofty mission
statement: "to advance literacy, culture and student achievement
through strong school library programs in British Columbia".
This small group of parents, educators, publishers and librarians
is concerned, along with parents and educators all over the province,
that provision of quality school library programs in BC is rapidly
deteriorating. We believe that our lobby efforts may encourage
the Ministry, Districts and schools to apply the necessary resources
to achieve the objectives outlined in our mission statement.
Every elementary school in British Columbia has a library, but
there are many configurations. There are tiny little book
rooms, grand expansive spaces created long before the current limits
on school construction, and basic classroom size spaces crammed
with books, tables and chairs and the traditional circulation counter.
There are spaces that have been re-created from other functions
? offices, courtyards and multi-purpose rooms, while some are re-shaped
by the addition of computer labs. Every new school has a library
as part of its design. What is it that these libraries do? How do
they contribute to the learning outcomes the school has adopted?
However, the issue is not about space but function. We have many
school libraries that really have little to do with the schools
they are meant to serve. How can a library manned by a part-time
clerk or .2 teacher-librarian "advance literacy, culture and student
achievement" with an outdated collection largely supported by donated
materials ? not selected based on units of study or the needs of
students engaged in that curriculum? A new school in the Sooke
District launched its school library in September with so few materials
it is not yet lending books.
We all expect that the library will contain books, periodicals,
reference materials, videos and kits and computer connections to
the Internet. If we expect that those things will be "learning
resources," then it follows that we should expect that the library
would play a very important part in the process of teaching and
learning in the school. The school library would be the focus
of a program that makes a difference to learners in the school.
If we expect that program to offer quality resources and appropriate
instruction in its use and application, we must expect that an educator
?trained as a teacher-librarian, would deliver the school library
program. A qualified teacher-librarian must be available to assist
both students and other educators to access and benefit from those
Without an orchestrated program, it is difficult to expect the
library to engage children and their teachers in meaningful ways.
Few children will be expected to use the
library when it has little or no relationship to the objectives
of their classroom or their lives. As well, the library collection
becomes less relevant as teachers find other means to meet their
objectives. The classroom collection, with its obvious limits,
becomes central. It is the teacher-librarian who is key to
this "orchestrated program" and it is this specialist who has been
taken out of the schools. Consider what we lose in that action:
• The teacher-librarian plans a comprehensive program of library
and research skill development in consultation with teachers.
This is the "cooperative planning" concept that supports the teacher-librarian
as they integrate library instruction into curriculum.
• The teacher-librarian makes the library into a literacy centre
supporting reading at every level for every child. The library
has always been seen to be a crucial support for reading in a school.
• Blended with reading, the library becomes a cultural centre in
the school emphasizing multiculturalism, Canadian perspectives on
the world, and unique resources that reflect the school in the community.
• The acquisition of quality learning resources that reflect the
demands of the curriculum, teachers and students is a prime responsibility
for the teacher-librarian. This process demands interaction
between teacher and librarian to ensure that every child will find
appropriate resources in the collection.
• The teacher-librarian must also administer the library and direct
its staff. Materials must be purchased, catalogued and made
ready for circulation so they are made as accessible as possible
to every student. The electronic catalogue must be maintained
For many small schools a library is a method of assembling scarce
resources for shared use. Even in small schools with limited
resources sharing teacher-librarian time with another school might
remediate some of the deficiencies of such a circumstance.
[In one District on Vancouver Island, 2 teacher-librarians serve
We know that many "studies demonstrate, with great clarity, that
an investment in school libraries and teacher-librarians provides
the sorts of dividends educators now seek from public school funding:
better student achievement, improved literacy and reading skills,
and enhanced readiness to succeed in a post-secondary environment"
. In this province, literacy has been given a high priority by the
Premier and the Minister of Education, yet school libraries have
not been identified as important to the process of developing a
literate society. It is often the librarian in the library who helps
the non-literate student discover the joy of reading. The infrastructure
?the school libraries, are in place but the teacher-librarians necessary
to make them work are missing.
To effect the Coalition’s mission: "to advance literacy, culture
and student achievement through strong school library programs in
British Columbia" a substantial reassignment of priorities would
need to be undertaken at all levels. The provision of school
library programs is not equal or accessible to all children in B.C.
. It is not possible to advance the school library program
without direct recognition of its importance by the Ministry of
Education. We need strong provincial standards to ensure that all
children have equal opportunity to engage quality school library
The BC Coalition for School Libraries welcomes your support.
It may be reached through: http://bccsl.ca by phone at 604-683-5321
or by mail at BCCSL, 150-900 Howe Street, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 2M4
Donald Hamilton is the Chair of the BC Coalition for School Libraries.
He recently retired from the University of Victoria where he was
Education Librarian for many years. In that position he developed
many programs for the education of teacher-librarians. He
also serves as a trustee on the Greater Victoria Public Library