(With apologies for cross-posting) PUBLICATION GLOBE AND MAIL DATE: THU JUN.07,2001 PAGE: A9 BYLINE: SEAN FINE CLASS: National News EDITION: Metro DATELINE: WORDS: 690 Canada gets failing grade for school libraries Books key to success U.S. studies show SEAN FINE 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 books." 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 information. 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 principal. "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 clerk. 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 issue. 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 book. "The teacher-librarian is there to change the life of the kids," he said.