Schools face new realities after library staff cuts

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Kara Turner, president of Bayview Community School&#8217;s Home and School Association, is upset by the cuts made to South Shore school libraries back in June. The move prompted letters from the association to be sent to the school board as well as the province.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Grade 11 student Gwendolyn Williams doesn&#8217;t like the changes the school board made to the library at Liverpool Regional High School, nor is she happy with cuts that have led to the closure of that space many day of the week.</p>

It may be an increasingly digital world, but some are still fighting to keep libraries and access to literature open to young minds, including some South Shore schools.

Bayview Community School is fighting to gain more access to their library after South Shore schools saw their library staff quietly cut by over half just before the summer break.

"The only reason I heard was because the school librarian came up to me as I was picking up my kids and said 'I just lost my job,'" said Kara Turner, president of the Home and School Association for the Mahone Bay school.

The association has been topping up the librarian salary to give them access three times a week but after cuts were made, they find themselves having to double the funds raised and bring in volunteers in an attempt to maintain the status quo.

Turner believes there is a need for libraries in schools, particularly in a place like Mahone Bay where the town itself lacks a library. Those wishing to access literature can visit the bookmobile once a week or they have to drive to Bridgewater or Lunenburg, which is not feasible for some.

"There's nowhere else for students to go and self-select their reading material, unless you have a parent who is willing to drive you," said Turner.

"The other thing about libraries that I think is so important, apart from the fact that it's access available for all, regardless of socio-economic status ... it just allows any student of any background to go into a space that is completely dedicated to reading and learning and just let them go wild."

The Home and School Association has written a letter to Zach Churchill, the Minister of Education, regarding the issues with the library. As an individual, Turner has also sent emails to her local MLA, Churchill and the school board.

"It's super important that your child is exposed to stories, that you spend that time reading, we're told that from the day that they're born," said Turner. "It's not sending a positive message to the parents, it's presumably not sending a positive message to the students either."

Funding challenges

Bayview Community School gets access to a librarian twice a week, though one of those days is provided using funds raised by the home and school association. Last year, the school board paid for 17.5 hours a week with the home and school association topping that up by 3.5 hours.

This year SSRSB is paying for seven hours per week and the association is paying for seven hours a week. In 2016-17, the SSRSB paid for 17.5 hours a week, the Home and School Association paid 3.5 hours for a total of 21 hours. In 2017-18, the SSRSB pays for seven hours a week and the Home and School pays for seven hours a week, for a total of 14 hours. The association first started to top up the library money after a round of cuts in 2013.

Before the cuts, a librarian was present three days a week. Now it's two days a week and volunteers come by one day a week to keep the library open, though they cannot check books out to students as it violates union rules for library staff.

The association paid some $3,500 to top up the librarian's salary. Now they hope to raise another $7,000 to top up the position further.Turner says some of the other money the association raises for the school currently will have to be channeled into the library fund.

"We won't be spending as much money on sports, music, or literacy programs, breakfast programs," she said, though she worries continuous fundraising for the library may not always be sustainable in the future.

The library of the future?

At the time of the cuts, Jeff DeWolfe, Director of Programs and Student Service for the South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB), told LighthouseNOW the move was a part of the board's switch to a learning commons model, which include shared spaces for students to work collaboratively, sometimes using technology.

Mahone Bay's school does not have a learning commons yet; however, Theresa Schroder, communications for the SSRSB, says there will be moves made to change the traditional style of library they currently have, into a learning commons.

Liverpool Regional High School (LRHS) had their library changed over to a learning commons last year, removing old furniture and a large portion of the books. They also went from having a librarian full time to having one for two days one week and one day a week the next.

According to a Grade 11 student at LRHS, representatives from SSRSB came to the high school last month to get feedback on the new learning commons.

"A lot of the kids complained about the technology, the wifi, the library never being open because the librarians were cut," said Gwendolyn Williams.

The discussion included a presentation of a video in which she says students were filmed using the "library of the future" which included more technology and a lot of books, something that incensed Williams because she said in reality their library lacks in books.

"I go full Hermione Granger and stick my hand in the air," said Williams.

She called the video "ridiculous," saying it's nothing like what her school has.

"If you go into our learning commons, we have a corner, just a corner of books."

Williams claims the representatives seemed surprised she wanted to read books for pleasure and that they suggested she could download them to an iPad or Kindle if she was looking for them.

Williams also says she now often lacks a place to spend her time during free periods, instead studying in the cafeteria much of the time, or a free classroom.

The learning commons is behind closed doors and is only open when a teacher or librarian is present. Usually it's used for group activities, with less emphasis on being quiet than in a traditional library.

Williams' mother, Alison Williams, is the music teacher at Dr. John C. Wickwire Academy - the elementary school in Liverpool. She says the school doesn't have access to a librarian at all anymore and although sometimes teachers take students to the library for projects, they aren't able to check out books, hold book fairs, or bring in reading tutors like they once did.

Alison says the school board doesn't recognize the demographics in Queens, where the poverty rate is high and many of the students are bussed in to school from as far away as Port Joli and Danesville, meaning for some, this may be their only chance to access a library.

"We are the only school of our size that does not have a librarian at all," said Alison. "It is a sin and the kids miss it and the kids complain."

But Schroder says the former principal at Wickwire declined the offer of a librarian once a week following the changes and that the board is now in talks with the new principal to see about changing that decision.

"[The former principal] said they could make other arrangements to meet their needs," said Schroder.

Schroder also says they are also looking into reinstating tutoring for reading that used to take place in the library as well.

LighthouseNOW reached out to the principal of the elementary school for comment, but did not hear back before publication.

School board response

"For the most part [schools] are adapting to the adjustments," said Schroder adding that some schools are still coming to terms with the changes.

Schroder says the cuts occured because of changes that needed to be made in operations including four teachers who were hired to take on the roles of instructional coaches, rotating through different South Shore Schools.

"When they changed things they were listening to the schools. Teachers were asking for help with different things and with the budget, there was no discretionary budget at all so they just had to shift things around so that's why the library positions were pulled back," said Schroder.

The school board passed a balanced budget on October 25 with a project budget of $84,745,645.

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