School librarians are an endangered species outside of Toronto—but should we care?

School librarians are an endangered species outside of Toronto—but should we care?

Is there a place for old-school librarians in today's world? (Image: Mr. T in DC)

The number of librarians across Ontario is on the decline. According to a new study by People for Education, 80 per cent of the province’s schools had at least one full- or part-time librarian in 2001, but today that number has dropped to a measly 56 per cent. Toronto has managed to buck the larger trend—a whopping 92 per cent of schools in the GTA have a librarian on staff—but we can’t help but wonder if that’s as big of a boon as it seems. In 2011, e-books are booming, tablets and cellphones are becoming cheaper, more powerful and more ubiquitous, and the Canadian ink-and-paper publishing industry isn’t exactly booming. Really, how relevant is a shelf full of encyclopedias in the back corner of a musty room?

Marketing guru Seth Godin offered his thoughts on the subject the other day, and we like what he has to say. From his blog:

The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books. Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for information. (Please don’t say I’m anti-book! I think through my actions and career choices, I’ve demonstrated my pro-book chops. I’m not saying I want paper to go away, I’m merely describing what’s inevitably occurring.) We all love the vision of the underprivileged kid bootstrapping himself out of poverty with books, but now (most of the time), the insight and leverage is going to come from being fast and smart with online resources, not from hiding in the stacks.

The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.

We agree. To think of librarians only as “people who preside over shelves of books and tell us not to talk so loud” is to miss the most important part of the job—which is exactly the argument that People for Education and teacher-librarians are making. Teaching students how to deal with the ocean of information available to them—not to mention, how to avoid Nigerian princes and Conservapedia—is going to keep getting more valuable, not less. For all the times the new school butts heads with the old school, here’s a case where everybody can actually get along.

Librarians fight for role in a digital world [Globe and Mail]
Ontario school library staffing down: report [CBC]
The future of the library [Seth Godin]