Over the past couple of decades, libraries have seen funding cuts in the form of both resource limitations and staffing. With declining enrollment in schools comes declining funding and school boards do not always prioritize funding to libraries and teacher-librarians.
Many elementary schools – and smaller secondary – function with part-time staffing, meaning that their school library is closed for part of the day. Alternately, many school boards are staffing libraries with librarian technicians, staff who do not have the same teaching background as teacher-librarians. In fact, in rural jurisdictions, this problem is exacerbated as many jurisdictions are staffing elementary school libraries solely with library technicians: in Northern Ontario, 58%; Eastern Ontario, 67%; Southwestern Ontario, 49%; Central Ontario, 17%; GTA, 14% (OSLA Infographic, Data from 2019 Statistics Courtesy of People for Education). In many jurisdictions, the average staffing levels of teacher-librarians do not add up to one full time teacher-librarian, as seen in the following graphic:
Although School Boards are responsible for funding and staffing, these decisions are directly related to Ministry of Education policies and the funding formula. In her blog, Anita Brooks Kirkland tells us that “Staffing for school libraries and guidance services has been placed outside funding for classroom teachers in the funding formula, and this has opened the door for school districts to staff libraries however they see appropriate. The resulting disparity in library staffing across Ontario’s schools contributes to overall confusion about the potential of the program.” Brooks Kirkland further points out that while library technicians are a significant and indispensable component of a library, “staffing structures that leverage the competencies of both roles are optimum.” I would argue that teacher-librarians, who have a pedagogical knowledge base that their library technicians do not, are better equipped to support the learning needs of students and staff.
According to the Ontario School Library Association (OSLA), these funding cuts are having a dramatic impact on student success:
“The decline in funding for libraries is having far-reaching impacts on student performance and outcomes, including math and science grades, EQAO test scores, literacy & research skills, digital literacy, and post-secondary readiness. The results are dramatic: alongside the slow decline in board-level support for school libraries, the percentage of Ontario students who enjoy reading has fallen from 76% in 1997 to only 47% in 2018 .” (OSLA)Ministry of Children & Youth Services. Gearing Up: A Strategic Framework to Help Ontario Middle Years Children Thrive. Toronto: Government of Ontario, 2017. & People for Education. Reading for Joy. Toronto: People for Education, 2011 as cited in OSLA.
Part of the OSLA’s mandate is to provide direction and advocate for funding increases with schools, school boards, and the Ministry of Education. On their website, this advice comes in the form of reports and suggested funding guidelines, toolkits for teachers, webinars, and resources to support school staff in advocacy initiatives. Arguably, at this point in time when the current Ontario government and Minister of Education frequently attacks and diminishes the role of the teacher in schools, these resources are needed more than ever. Unfortunately, as the Ford government continues to seek “efficiencies” in government, libraries will continue to bear the brunt of funding cuts.
Brooks Kirkland, Anita. (2015). “Ontario Needs Teacher-Librarians.” By the Brooks: Anita Brooks Kirkland. Retrieved 15 April 2020, from http://www.bythebrooks.ca/ontario-needs-teacher-librarians/
OSLA Infographic. “The State of Elementary School Libraries” “School Library Issues.” (2019). Ontario Library Association. Retrieved 15 April 2020, from http://www.accessola.org/WEB/Documents/Advocacy/2019%20-%20State%20of%20Elementary%20School%20Libraries%20-%20Infographic.pdf
OSLA. “School Library Issues.” (2020). Ontario Library Association. Retrieved 15 April 2020, from http://www.accessola.org/web/OLA/OSLA/School_Library_Advocacy/OLA/Issues_Advocacy/School_Library_Issues.aspx?hkey=127e3999-3f15-4ae0-872f-1234476e077a