Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Lending a hand for learning

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.05.11
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PNAME: City Editorial
PAGE: C4
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen

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Lending a hand for learning

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The Internet is a mother-lode for information-seeking students. But access to the Internet is no substitute for a school library. When public funding for their libraries falls short, some Ottawa schools look to the private sector to help their students get a leg up on learning.

Libraries nurture the educational process and ensure that all members of the school community become effective users of information and ideas in different formats: books, CDs, videotapes, databases and through the Internet. In our information-rich environment, these skills are building blocks for future success.

Numerous studies have confirmed the direct relationship between higher student achievement and good school libraries. As a testament to their importance, school libraries are found in fully nine out of 10 schools in Canada according Canadian School Libraries and Teacher-Librarians, a new Statistics Canada study.

Yet a room marked "Library" with books on a shelf fails to make the grade. It takes spending on collections and staff to ignite a student's imagination. Again, studies confirm a direct, positive correlation between student achievement on reading tests and higher library funding per student.

In Ontario, library spending was well below national averages: this province spent $9.54 per student on the physical collection, comparing poorly with Saskatchewan ($23.31) Alberta ($19.63) or Manitoba ($17.32).

Conversely, Ontario led the country in "other" sources of funding for collection development like book fairs and corporate donations, no doubt a result of limited public money.

In Ottawa, Pinecrest Public School is a stellar fundraiser. Earlier this year, the school library received a donation of $10,000 from the Clennett family of Ottawa, in memory of the late Brenda Clennett, a library technician who had instilled a love of reading in her students.

Pinecrest Public School's good fortune does not end there. Pinecrest is one of 10 libraries nationwide to receive an Indigo "Love of Reading" award, $150,000 over three years to buy educational books, CDs and DVDs.

Ideally, the public school system would have ample resources to operate fully staffed libraries with dynamic collections that engage, inform and educate, free from commercial pressures.

So is corporate money in the school library a lesson in ignominy or enterprise? There's a long tradition of philanthropists supporting public libraries. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says corporate support is a 21st-century reality.

Corporate contributions to important public institutions such as schools are welcome and should be celebrated. In fact, we've wondered at times why there isn't more of such philanthropy in Canada. This should never, however, mean compromising the independence or integrity of the school.

Learning to read and reading to learn are twin goals of the school library. A twinning of public funding and corporate donations is making that a reality, and that's a good thing.

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