Little Free Libraries are getting a face-lift in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division.
The board of trustees has approved $3,850 to build, repair and re-stock tiny shelters located outside west Winnipeg schools for books community members can borrow, take and trade.
"While COVID-19 protocols have slowed the trading of books from home to home, we will use this opportunity to prepare these community spots for book trading and access in the near future," said Cheryl Smukowich, chairwoman of the school board, in an emailed statement.
"It is our hope that the Little Free Libraries will bring more joy and more books into our communities’ homes."
It’s important to the board that literature is both freely and easily accessible and the grassroots libraries have a successful history, Smukowich said.
A total of 13 free little libraries, which will be selected after schools in the division put forward requests, will be supported through the initiative.
Ongoing learning disruptions amid the pandemic have prompted school divisions to increase resources to support early literacy interventions with more support staff this year.
Reading and writing skills, particularly among elementary students, who have yet to become fully independent readers, appear to have suffered the most amid the disruptions.
Early data from both local school divisions and studies out of the University of Alberta suggest fewer students in grades 1-3 are exceeding grade level literacy expectations this year, while the number of learners who are struggling has increased.
For library technician Darren Wesselius, the single most important thing educators and parents can do to boost literacy levels among young students is to encourage reading of any kind.
"It doesn’t matter if it’s a graphic novel or a picture book, what reading material doesn’t matter, to develop that love of reading at this stage… it’s so important for us to get books into their hands," said Wesselius, who works at both Linwood School and Stevenson-Britannia School libraries in St. James-Assiniboia.
While COVID-19 has changed much about his job, the librarian technician said there have been some "silver linings" — among them, he’s been able to spend more time reading to his students.
Students can’t visit the library and scan shelves this year, in order to limit virus transmission, so he’s set up a system where students are introduced to the online library catalog and pick out their books of choice via iPad. Wesselius then puts aside all the holds and delivers them to each class. When the books are returned, he puts them into quarantine for up to five days.
Since he’s now fulfilling orders rather than helping students using library class time to find books, he’s been able to read chapter books to his students — while wearing both a medical mask and double fabric mask — during scheduled library slots.
"The kids were always excited coming to library, but when I'm going to their classrooms, they’re super, super excited," he said. "The library, if anything, is even more important now."
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.