School Libraries

School libraries have played an important role in teaching and learning in Saskatchewan for almost a century, and over the years the Department of Education (now called Saskatchewan Learning) has supported their development and growth. The earliest reference to school libraries was in the 1898 annual report of the Superintendent of Education for the North-West Territories, D.J. Goggin. He recognized the need and advocated for the establishment of libraries in all school districts. In 1901, funding was guaranteed to school libraries in the School Grants Ordinance, dedicated to the expansion of library collections. This had a positive impact in promoting school library development. By 1909, library inspectors recognized the need to encourage educators to understand the value of library resources and to use them in their teaching. Effective selection of learning resources was also identified as an issue. By 1928, school inspectors recommended that school library consultative services be established at the provincial level.

During the Depression, school libraries suffered as a result of the economic conditions of the times. School libraries were in poor condition generally, and old worn-out books could not be replaced. However, school inspectors believed in the importance of a good reference collection to support the new curriculum's “assignment” approach to instruction, and continued to encourage school boards to support school libraries. In one area of the province, sixteen school boards co-operated in organizing a Library and Mechanics Institute, which provided boxes of books to schools in the area, as well as circulating adult books to encourage interest among the taxpayers. In the 1940s, as the province began to recover, the Department of Education provided a higher level of support for school libraries. Grant money was provided to purchase books and send them to the schools; and in the 1944-45 school year, Lyle Evans was appointed as the first provincial supervisor of school libraries with the Department of Education. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the supervisor of school libraries worked with teachers to integrate reading and research into the instructional program, so that students would have a richer educational experience. In 1945-46, the Department created the School Libraries Division, and the supervisor assisted school divisions to develop unit- and school-level libraries, and also provided lists of suitable learning resources to support the curriculum.

The Department of Education provided other supports to schools in accessing suitable resources to support instruction in the early years as well, with the establishment of the Saskatchewan Book Bureau in 1936, the provision of school broadcasts (beginning originally in 1931), the establishment of the Audio Visual Branch of the Department in 1941, and the provision of grants to schools for the acquisition of radios, slides, films, and projectors in 1937. Over the years, school radio broadcasts - and later, school telecasts - provided support to teachers, as did the film loan service and video duplication services. The formation of larger school units following the passing of legislation in 1944 had the effect of allowing the larger units to provide stronger school library services. School libraries grew both in number and in size, and in 1964 the Saskatchewan Association of School Librarians published Proposed Standards for School Libraries in Saskatchewan. These standards helped to provide guidance to school divisions in building their school library programs. In that same year the Regina Campus of the University of Saskatchewan introduced an undergraduate major in Library Science and the Department of Education established grants for the purchase of library resources. The following year, demonstration school library projects were initiated to provide examples of the contribution of school libraries to the educational program.

From the millions of resources published/produced each year, school librarians must select those most appropriate for the curriculum and their students. In the 1940s, the Department of Education began assisting schools with this task by creating a materials evaluation process that continues today. The Department gathers and screens potential materials, arranges for them to be evaluated by classroom teachers, and compiles annotated bibliographies of recommended learning resources. The first initiatives took the form of displays and lists of recommended books. In 2004, bibliographies of recommended materials are available on-line and in print form. Teacher-librarians who add these resources to their library collection can be sure the resources meet quality standards and are relevant to the subject areas. In addition, the Department of Education helps teacher-librarians select materials that are free of gender, ethnic, and cultural stereotyping by publishing guidelines such as Selecting Fair and Equitable Materials. In 1984, a full-scale curriculum review led to a new vision for education in Saskatchewan, as described in a document called Directions. Subsequently, Core Curriculum was introduced. Resource-based learning is a key component of Core Curriculum, and enables students to use not just one textbook, but rather a wide variety of print and non-print resources. Resource-based learning means an expanded role for teacher-librarians, who work with teachers to plan units of study that integrate resources with classroom assignments, and teach students the processes needed to find, analyze, and present information. A school library stocked with relevant learning resources provides a foundation for learning success.

In 1987, the Department of Education released Resource-Based Learning: Policy Guidelines and Responsibilities for Saskatchewan Learning Resource Centres. In 1988, Learning Resource Centres in Saskatchewan: A Guide for Development was published. These documents became blueprints for school library development in Saskatchewan, and helped teachers and teacher-librarians make resource-based learning a reality. Electronic technology has added a whole new dimension to resource-based learning. An abundance of information is available on the World Wide Web. To help teacher-librarians select the best, the Department of Learning coordinates the evaluation of websites and recommends in an on-line database those suitable for school use. Electronic technology also makes it possible for the Department to deliver actual learning resources to schools as well as recommending materials. The full text of many journals and newspapers, and encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, and other reference materials is available on-line. The service gives teachers and teacher-librarians access to a wealth of resources.

Delee Cameron, Loraine Thompson