Monday, October 27, 2008

Set an example: Read today

20-minute reading session stresses importance of literacy

Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun
Monday, October 27, 2008

Drop everything and read.

That's what librarians are asking British Columbians to do today at 11 a.m. to mark National School Library Day and deliver a strong signal to children about the importance of literacy.

"The message it sends could be so powerful," said Karen Lindsay, librarian at Reynolds secondary school in Victoria and chief organizer of the Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) event. "It costs nothing [and] it has that Zen-like simplicity."

The DEAR project began as an experiment last year in Surrey, but this year it's being promoted provincewide and Lindsay is determined to make it a national event. She hopes answering machines everywhere will advise callers to ring back after the 20-minute reading time has lapsed -- unless it's an emergency.

The event also calls attention to the state of school libraries, described several years ago as being on life-support as scarce resources were stretched in different directions and reduced hours for teacher-librarians forced some library closures during the school day.

Whether things have improved since then is a matter of opinion.

Heather Daly, president of the B.C. Teacher-Librarians' Association, said the situation is better than it was five years ago -- after the Liberals changed the teachers' contract and eliminated guaranteed staffing levels for libraries.

Staffing became a school board responsibility and the number of teacher-librarians fell as boards spent scarce dollars elsewhere. "Those were dark times," Daly said. "From that position, we've grown back and we're finally to a position where it feels healthy again.

"Provincially, it feels like things are more positive," she said, crediting the government's decision to give responsibility for all libraries to Education Minister Shirley Bond.

That linked school libraries with public, post-secondary and specialty libraries and allowed them to share resources.

Still, she said there are variations in schools around the province.

Moira Ekdahl, library consultant for Vancouver schools, said staffing in her district hasn't improved dramatically and there are still struggles to keep resources current but there have been some remarkable innovations.

Livingston elementary is leading the way with interactive white boards called Smart Boards, and John Oliver secondary has one of the most vibrant reading communities in the province.

"They have a rock-solid silent reading program," Ekdahl said. "Even the secretaries drop their tools to read every single day."

Kerrisdale elementary also has a well-equipped library, Ekdahl said. Teacher-librarian Michele Farquharson, who won an award of merit from her association this month, said staffing levels are always a challenge.

"It's not a rosy [situation] because it's not a well-understood position," said Farquharson, who has a .8 teacher-librarian position in a school with more than 600 students.

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