With the end of the year in sight, various activities were happening all at once in D.’s classroom. For those who were done, the option of reading quietly in the resource room was offered. “75 blissful minutes” as D. pronounced.
Through her intermediate years of elementary school D. was fortunate with teachers who encouraged reading and writing. I am thankful that has continued into high-school. If one does not read, one cannot write. A point reiterated by Heather Mallick, columnist for the The Star, in Why Canadian kids can’t read. Mallick highlights pronounced disinterest in reading by teens and twenty-somethings; a disinterest that fuels, and is fuelled by, the denigration of libraries in Canada. She writes:
How does a smart but untutored child become an autodidact, a self-teacher? You need good teachers who introduced you to books. And you need a book source.
That same theme was picked up by Ian Brown, of The Globe and Mail, in Don’t discard the librarians. He writes:
In the late 1990s, 80 per cent of Ontario’s elementary schools had a teacher-librarian; today, only 56 per cent do, despite the statistical fact that active libraries and librarians improve student performance.
Mallick and Brown set their remarks upon an Ontario schoolboard’s decision to shut down its school libraries. The move is designed to make up for shortages in funding and to abandon the nostalgia associated to libraries in favour of teaching 21st century learning skills.
As to what those learning skills are is unclear. People for Education (an Ontario-based group that advocates restoring funding to libraries) states:
Some suggest adding the 4C’s of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity to the 3Rs; others focus more on technological skills. But the common core element of this new movement is a focus on developing students’ capacity to find, evaluate, organize and transform all the information now available in the staggeringly large, unfiltered and collaborative digital universe.
Students need guidance to navigate through that “staggeringly large universe.” If we believe the rhetoric of the information society and the knowledge economy, libraries are not a retreat of nostalgia but a critical element in preparing students for a future where they will be judged upon the quality of their knowledge and their skill in conveying information.
And what does this have to do with copyright? Nothing for now but everything for later. The knowledge economy is predicated upon a currently insidious realm of intellectual property, with copyright at the forefront of intrusion in daily individual life. People – whether they aspire to business, the fine arts, sciences or the humanities – will not be able to capitalize upon their talents. They will neither be able to legitimately utilize existing resources, nor be able to protect themselves from illegitimate claims. Yet as professional legal assistance is beyond the means of most (nor should it be necessary), individuals who wish to succeed will need education in these matters.
Libraries have traditionally served as sites of knowledge advancement. They are also implicated by copyright and now have to grapple with the subject in order to do what they do best — offer the public a haven for exploration, quiet contemplation and self-improvement. Libraries could play a key role in educating the public in terms of legitimate uses of copyrighted material. But first we must hang on to, and expand, our libraries.