(With apologies for cross-posting)

               GLOBE AND MAIL
               THU JUN.07,2001
               SEAN FINE
               National News
               Metro DATELINE:

Canada gets failing grade for school

Books key to success U.S. studies show


EDUCATION REPORTER School libraries are in a
sorry state across Canada, says Roch Carrier, the
<national> <librarian> of Canada.

"The state of our nation's libraries can only be
described as a desperate one in almost every province
in Canada," Mr. Carrier writes in a draft of a statement
to be published this fall. "In my regular visits to library
communities across the country, there is consistent
heartbreak." It is so bad that in one small community in
a wealthy province -- Mr. Carrier won't say which one
-- a principal gave him a tour of the school and took
him everywhere but the library.

"We walked the corridors and talked. Finally, we went
to the gymnasium.

The fact is they didn't want to show me their library
because they were feeling very bad," the celebrated
Quebec novelist said in an interview yesterday.

The rush onto the Internet seems to be harming school
libraries. Mr. Carrier, author of the famous short story
The Hockey Sweater ,has been told that because
"everything is there in cyberspace for free," schools
don't need to build libraries and don't need to have a
budget for book acquisition.

"I heard that in all kinds of places, at all levels, all
over Canada. Everybody is looking for simple
explanations and ideas.

The idea that information in cyberspace is free is easy
to grasp. You're saving a lot of money by not buying

But in fact, access to cyberspace is not free. The
hardware costs money, and then there are the licensing
agreements to gain access to good-quality sources of

In Prince Edward Island, for instance, the high schools
must pay for their use of an on-line encyclopedia, said
Ray Doiron, the president of the Canadian School
Library Association.

Other library officials backed up Mr. Carrier's
comments. "Things out West are pretty grim," said
Judith Sykes, the president of the Association for
Teacher-Librarianship in Canada and a Calgary school

"Generally, we went from having state-of-the-art
library programs to seeing many of those libraries
closed, or only open half time," and often staffed by a

Mr. Carrier said that his pleas for attention to the issue
have been dismissed as "whining," because he has not
presented statistical data to back them up.

It has not made the radar screen as a national issue for
the country's education ministers. Boyd Pelley, a
spokesman for the Council of Ministers of Education of
Canada, said yesterday the group has not discussed the

Only 2 per cent of Ontario elementary schools have
full-time teacher-librarians, Mr. Carrier said. In Nova
Scotia's elementary, middle and some high schools,
librarians are employed as mere technicians or facility
managers, rather than as instructors, Mr. Doiron said.

Only in British Columbia, he said, is the number of
teacher-librarians growing.

But for the most part, hard data about what is happening
to school libraries in the age of the Internet are difficult
to obtain.

The National Library has been trying to work with
library groups across Canada to gather the information,
but researchers have had a tough time answering even
the basic questions of budget sizes, numbers of
librarians and students served.

"It tells me that the situation is worse than we can
imagine," Mr. Carrier said.

Studies in the United States show a strong link between
good school libraries and high levels of student
achievement, he said.

The stereotype of librarians is of mere shelf-managers
whispering "shhh" at anyone who dares to speak.

But Mr. Carrier says that teacher-librarians are
essential for helping children find information, learn to
distinguish good sources from bad, and develop
critical-thinking skills.

Although he said new technologies should be
encouraged, he is still a believer in the power of a
book to inspire -- and of the librarian to find the right

"The teacher-librarian is there to change the life of the
kids," he said.