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A borrower and a lender be

Having visited countless libraries for twenty years, David Ellis urges we still need teacher-librarians to carefully buy the right books and also to connect teachers and students to both computer and book resources.

January 27th, 2015

David Ellis practices "precision bookselling" to First Nations communities and schools.

The response to an article in B.C. BookWorld [The Roving Bookseller] about David Ellis has prompted Ellis to speak his mind about the importance of teacher-libraries.


by David Ellis

As a recent article in B.C. BookWorld about me made clear, medical I work with the librarians to help them acquire out of print books, store mainly on B.C. First Nations, or B.C.’s resource industries or B.C. local histories. Over the last 20 years I have had the privilege of visiting almost every school and college, public and private, in B.C.

The publishers just cannot keep everything in print. Shakespeare, yes, but not the history of each small city or town like Kamloops. Local libraries increasingly do not have the budgets now to research and acquire such titles. It takes time and focus. My job, essentially, has been to give them a hand.

If you under-fund the librarians and reduce library budgets, schools and public libraries cannot acquire a wide range of B.C. books, many out of print, and so the integrity of education is in trouble.

If you go the next step and lay off the teacher librarians, as many school district have now done in B.C., then you have a disaster. These teacher librarians are essential for connecting the student and the teachers to both the books and to the best web sites about B.C. topics.

The Internet is a great resource if used wisely but education is not just sitting a child down before a computer. But many schools are, in fact, doing mainly this. With the advent of computers, they are closing down their underused libraries. In my opinion, because of this, literacy is plunging in B.C. and Alberta, where I have also visited approximately 100 schools.

This not “because of computers.” It is due to a loss of priority in education funding, and a loss of a basic understanding of what education is. A big part of education, everywhere, is maintaining libraries, to support curriculum but also the special wants of each school and its unique teachers.

I have been to hundreds of our libraries. I can tell you, for a fact, that school and even university libraries are now collapsing, due to a lack of budget support.

You just cannot reduce these budgets and hope children can learn sufficiently from screens. The introduction of computers means you have to increase the book budget and also work to see the books are actually used. Yes, computers should be used wisely, but not at the expense of books.

There are lots of studies these days that prove the superiority of ‘book learning.’ I’m simply adding my voice of experience from the field. If we truly care about education, we have to continue to care about teacher-librarians and libraries. Old School cannot be entirely jettisoned for New School.

Most of us can remember a key teacher who inspired us. School can be boring; these teachers of inspiration are needed. Every school must be able to accommodate the keen interests of the teacher, as well as the students. Only then can they “let loose” and inspire the student.

My inspiration was actually a teacher-librarian in grades 11 and 12 who encouraged me to read Canadian history. That’s when I discovered Simon Fraser’s journal. Outings like visits to historic sites like Fort Langley must be supported before and after by inspiring talks and books.

As a bookseller I used to supply books on geology, First Nations wild berry harvesting and Fort Langley, etc., but schools no longer have budgets for these extra books or often for the teacher-libraries to obtain them. And when the teacher librarian is eliminated, the library ceases to function.

The introduction of the Internet means that library budgets need to be increased. You still need to have the books, but you also need the extra money for computers. Laying off the teacher-librarians leads to a collapse of knowledge and learning.

David Ellis is based in Vancouver, davidellis@lightspeed.ca

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