Study suggests province should provide more trained teacher-librarians for Ontario schools

KINGSTON, Ont. A new Queen's-led study offers the first Canadian analysis of the relationship between school library resources and student achievement, and provides substantial evidence that trained library staff improve student achievement in Ontario schools.

The study also urges the Ontario government to ensure students have access to library resources and trained professional staff while new literacy curriculum and policy is developed and the impact of school libraries is studied further.

Recommendations from the study, called School Libraries and Student Achievement in Ontario Schools, include:

  • immediately upgrading librarian salaries from their 1997 levels;
  • instituting a reporting mechanism to ensure funding for school libraries is spent on libraries and not used to cover shortfalls in funding for overall costs;
  • ensuring all Ontario students, regardless of the size of their schools or geographic location, have access to well-stocked and professionally staffed libraries.

"This is the first time that we have been able to provide evidence within a Canadian context that professionally staffed school libraries are linked not only to higher student achievement but also to more positive student attitudes towards reading," says Don Klinger, an assistant professor in Queen's Faculty of Education and lead author on the study. "The results provide promising initial findings worthy of further investigation."

This study confirms previous international research that says there is a correlation between a school library's staff and resources, and the achievement and enjoyment of students' reading.

Findings from the survey of more than 50,000 students in 800 of Ontario's publicly funded elementary schools include:

schools with trained teacher-librarians are more likely to have a higher proportion of Grade 6 students who meet provincial literacy standards (Level 3) or above; students from schools with trained library staff tend to score higher on the Grades 3 and 6 provincial reading tests; and Grades 3 and 6 students in schools with teacher-librarians more often report that they enjoy reading. School library staffing in Ontario is currently funded at a rate of one teacher-librarian for every 769 elementary students within a school board. And the average school in 2004-05 had 327 students.

Library staffing varies significantly across the province, from 10 per cent in Northern Ontario, to 87 per cent in South-Central, 23 per cent in Eastern and 59 per cent in Southwestern. Schools in Eastern Ontario are less likely to have a teacher-librarian compared to schools in all other regions except those in Northern Ontario.

The study suggests that an increase in the number of trained teacher-librarians in Ontario schools and better funding for library resources would contribute to raising literacy achievement levels for students across the province.

The decline of school libraries follows a national trend that began in the early 1990s when the federal government reduced its transfer payments for provincial social, health and education programs by billions of dollars, according to Statistics Canada.

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The study, commissioned by the Ontario Library Association was a partnership between Queen's and People for Education.

For more information or a copy of the study please contact Lorinda Peterson, 613 533-3234, petersn@post.queensu.ca or Sarah Withrow, 613 533-3234, withrows@post.queensu.ca, Queen's News and Media Services.


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