Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Blast from the Past

I was cleaning up some files on my computer today when I found this letter to the editor (of the Toronto Star) from 2011. It was in response to a school board dropping school libraries, and the Star's coverage of the story.

It shook me.

I thought I'd post it verbatim because public and school libraries are about to be attacked again in this province (Ontario), as they are around North America.

Dear Editor,

As someone who writes for children and visits about forty or so schools in the GTA each year I was (as you can imagine) alarmed at the story about the Windsor-Essex school board’s decision to drop its libraries.

Yes, the library should be the heart of a school. It should be a place where children go for information, for relaxation and for support. Librarians are the original search engines, and can still do something Google Chrome can’t… they can enter a discussion with the students about why they are looking for something in particular.

Would you rather have a human being or an algorithm helping you child write that essay on Leonardo da Vinci?

Some of the suppositions of the people making these decisions have me really worried, because they seem to make sense.

There’s an assumption on behalf of the school board, and of many people, that the book is a fading bit of nostalgia (a term used by at least one educator in the Star). Computers are replacing books as the source of literacy, the thinking goes.

As a writer, I can tell you that I don’t miss the manual typewriter and I own an iPad and a Kobo. But the computer is just part of an education puzzle. I’d like to point to the recent Forest of Reading celebration which was held this week down at Harbourfront.

More than 8,000 school children packed the site to celebrate their favourite authors. These are children who have been raised to be computer literate from childbirth – children who have easy access to video games, laptops, cell-phones.

Yet, books were held like cherished teddy bears or held high as the winning books were announced. (It’s worth pointing out that the press coverage of this was practically nil. How can we decry the loss of a school library if we adults ignore the value of kid’s reading? C’mon media, catch the wave.)

This is an event coordinated, supported and celebrated by school librarians. The students qualified for the event by reading most of the nominated books. These are not all high-achievers but a real cross-section of the school system. And there were many kids in that crowd who would fall by the wayside without the encouragement and guidance of the school librarian.

Besides, who says the computer can’t find its way next to the books in a well structured and well-SUPPORTED school library?

I just returned from the TD Book Week tour of Quebec. While there, I visited a number of loaded private schools. One thing they all had in common, whether they were all-boys or all-girls… each had a full-time librarian (or two!) They had iMacs set up at comfortable desks, comfortable seating areas for the younger students.

Yes, they have the money to make that choice. Maybe the question is, why doesn’t everybody?

Kevin Sylvester

May 16, 2011

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