In one of the core classes in library school we had field trips to different types of libraries (public, academic, school, legal, special, etc). I had the pleasure of visiting Sylvia’s school library and was inspired by how alive the library felt and the creative projects that the students were doing. On National School Libraries Day I heard her speak as the President of the Vancouver Teacher-Librarians’ Association. I loved that she ended her dynamic talk by reading Where Willy Went, a picture book about a sperm, out loud.
The mantra of public librarians around intellectual freedom issues seems to be “we do not operate in loco parentis“, meaning public librarians do not have any legal responsibilities like parents do with their children. I know this is different for school librarians. I was wondering about the differences in intellectual freedom issues in school libraries compared to public libraries, so I asked Sylvia if I could interview her over email. Here’s what she had to say.
Tara: Tell us about your job.
Sylvia: I am a teacher-librarian at public elementary school in Vancouver BC. I was an elementary teacher for 5 years, and then completed a Teacher-Librarian Diploma program offered at the University of British Columbia and became the teacher-librarian. My job is 0.6 librarian and 0.4 resource, so I provide resources in a variety of ways! I collaborate a lot with teachers so right now I teach a Grade 6/7 Language Arts course with 4 other teachers, a Grade 4 Social Studies course with 2 other teachers and a Grade 6 science unit with a High School Liaison teacher. I also provide a book exchange with all the Primary classes, and we do things like stories, information book activities, learning how to use computers, etc.
Tell us about your school.
I work at a very collaborative school, where most teachers team-teach or work closely with others. We have a very diverse student population of approximately 250 students. Every classroom and the library has an interactive white board. Our school is currently involved with the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation in doing a research project on technology and its impact on student learning. We have a small but very committed Parent Association Committee. Our students all participate in a school wide recycling program, which is a great way to raise funds for field trips. Each year our Grade 5 students go to Barkerville for 3 days and the Grade 6/7 students go camping. This year, our Grade 7 class will do an exchange with a school in Ottawa. We have hired dancing instructors, so one year all the students learned ballroom dancing, and the next year, hip hop. I think we have a very well rounded program here.
What kind of intellectual freedom issues are there in a school library?
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Issues about Intellectual freedom in a school library are twofold – the rights and responsibilities of students to access information and their rights and responsibilities when imparting information.
The Vancouver School Board blocks certain web sites like Facebook, Barbie, and other web sites. Search words like ”sex” get automatically blocked, or gaming and social interaction sites are blocked. Reasons appear with the blocked sign, like: personal relationships, gambling, games or adult material. The man responsible for blocking web sites works at the school board as a supervisor of Learning Information Technology. I am not sure what his criteria is or what the process is for blocking web sites. In my school library, I have a rule about no violent Internet games. A comprehensive public policy would help in clarifying the how and why of Internet blocks and a process for challenges.
How students impart information and ideas is a concern. This can be copyright issues, as many students copy and paste information from the Internet into their assignments. Students upload video clips onto Youtube or other sites that show and identify students, and that is a concern about privacy and safety.
I haven’t been challenged on any of the books available in the library, but I do know the process to follow should it happen. There are books in my school library that I know have been challenged in other school throughout North America, but it has not been a problem here.
How does this differ from a public library or a university or college library?
The age of our clientele makes a difference. Children as young as two or three take out books from the school library, as well as 13 year olds. Teachers need books that support the curriculum and their units. My decisions on what to buy are definitely shaped by the age of the client, and the support they need.
I am a teacher, as well as a librarian. It is my duty as a teacher to act as a wise and judicious parent, and that guides my decisions when purchasing resources and supervising computer use.
I am aware the school library budgets are not adequate (how much do you get per student again?)
A measly $8 per student. I fundraise 3 times a year and get another $10 per student. I do not get paid for the extra time and work I do as a fundraiser.
How does your budget affect the selection process?
I buy only what I must have and need, and what I am positive will circulate. There are so many picture books, and chapter books that I would love to buy but I don’t have the money for it. I don’t have any magazine subscriptions. I keep ratty copies of books because I can’t replace the items.
Thank you Sylvia!