Budget crunch reduces librarian ranks in WSD


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School librarians, known for their organizational skills, research expertise and media literacy training, are becoming increasingly scarce in Manitoba’s public education system.

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School librarians, known for their organizational skills, research expertise and media literacy training, are becoming increasingly scarce in Manitoba’s public education system.

There were five times the number of full-time equivalent librarians employed in the Winnipeg School Division — the largest of its kind in the province — a decade ago than there are today.

The central division had 31 librarians in 2012-13, according to data obtained by the Free Press via freedom of information request.

That number climbed to 35 the following academic year, before the steady decline in these positions began. The total sum in 2022-23 is six.

“Information changes. Interests change. You need somebody who’s trained to help keep your collection current, to purchase new books that are relevant and up to date, and you need someone trained and ideally, working with a library technician, as well, to help curate and weed out books that are no longer relevant, books that are racist, books that are old or rundown or wrecked,” said Sandy Welbergen, president of the Manitoba School Library Association.

Welbergen noted the association, which represents teacher-librarians such as herself and library technicians, has been struggling to increase its membership due to cuts to both positions in recent years.

Teacher-librarians collaborate with their colleagues in classrooms to support curriculum delivery by curating library material and presentations. These employees are typically in charge of sourcing resources and tailoring collections to meet a school population’s needs as they evolve.

Library technicians oversee technical operations, including cataloguing, helping children sign out books and other clerical duties that ensure smooth day-to-day operations.

Every library in a K-12 building would be staffed with two professionals, in an ideal world, said Welbergen, who works at a middle school in Winnipeg.

However, she noted school leaders have a limited pot of money and varying priorities so they increasingly rely on a part-time librarian, education support worker or divisional employee to oversee their collections.

“If there’s no one there, oftentimes (library) doors are just locked and shut and we don’t have these inclusive spaces anymore for kids. They become dumping grounds, whether it’s for outdated equipment or piles of books,” Welbergen said, adding school libraries without a manager are better described as “book depositories.”

In response to a request for comment about the decline in school librarians, a spokesperson for the education department indicated Manitoba distributes the second highest per-pupil funding in all of Canada.

“As elected officials, school boards and trustees are charged with decision making that addresses their local needs, including things like staffing and budget decisions,” they wrote in an email.

(The statement did not acknowledge Manitoba’s rural regions have significant school transportation needs in comparison to other jurisdictions and that busing comes at a high price tag.)

Faced with annual operating funding that has failed to meet inflation for several consecutive years, boards have found cost savings in libraries in order to maintain class sizes, said James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

The union leader said school librarians are underappreciated because their roles are misunderstood. “To the uninformed, (a teacher-librarian) is an individual who stacks books on shelves, but it couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.

These educators specialize in teaching critical thinking in online and offline realms so students learn to fact-check information on the internet, Bedford said.

The chairwoman of Manitoba’s largest school board declined to comment. Betty Edel, who represents Ward 8 in WSD, cited the fact the newly elected board has not yet discussed the dwindling number of librarians in the district.

“With 21st-century learning, many schools use libraries as learning commons. (WSD) also has a centralized library support service, which supports student learning with a rich diversity of print, digital and online resources,” Radean Carter, manager of division communications, wrote in an email.

Carter said staffing is a school-based decision in the division, in which approximately 30,000 pupils learn in about 80 buildings across Winnipeg.


Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.


Updated on Thursday, December 29, 2022 7:11 AM CST: Fixes typo

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