NEW GLASGOW – Local school librarians still in shock over Thursday's announcement they will no longer be employed in the fall are vowing to fight for their jobs and the children who use their services.
Monica Nielsen, a library specialist with Northumberland Regional High School, said cutting back on library programs at a time when students need more help with literacy, not less, and on instruction in dealing with the effective use of information could have serious effects on the students' achievement.
“It was direct hit on us,” she said hours after learning that 100 per cent of the library staff at the CCRSB would be unemployed in a few months. “We thought maybe we would see a reduction of services in some areas or a reduction in elementary schools or even a possible realignment of services. We thought we would be stretched a little thin.”
She said school library staff are trained to select excellent resources to encourage student reading and support the curriculum, to give instruction in 21st century skills, and to collaborate with teachers.
The loss of library service is the first of many staff reductions expected to take place within the CCRSB as it struggles to meet a budget shortfall of $6.5 million. The Nova Scotia government has cut school funding across the province by three per cent this year in addition the cost of living increases each board will have to absorb. It had similar budget reductions last year.
The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board held a straw vote earlier this week that allowed it to approve, in principle, the reduction of 130 full-time equivalent employees for the upcoming year. The vote let employers and unions begin collaborations with staff affected by the reductions.
The board recommendations included a reduction of 51.8 full-time equivalent teaching staff and 54.6 full-time equivalent reductions of workers with the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, which includes librarians, educational assistants and administrative staff.
Other staff reductions will include 20.5 full-time equivalent employees with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing maintenance workers and bus drivers. Four non-union full-time equivalents will also be laid off.
Gary Clarke, superintendent for the board, confirmed Thursday that library staff were told their jobs would be ending after June 30.
He said libraries will still exist in schools in the region, but there won’t be any librarians working in them. The board employs the equivalent of 38 full-time positions in library services. Clarke added that no libraries were closed as a result of Thursday’s announcement and services would continue as usual until the end of the school year.
Nielsen said having libraries without librarians is pointless, adding that her job entails more than just "checking out books." She said library services are a valuable part of a student's learning process and a school library advocacy committee has been started to draw awareness to their role.
“Without trained professionals, they might has well stick the students in a room by themselves,” she said. “We are there to support the students and the teachers as well.”
Joan Jessome, president of the NSGEU, strongly condemns all the school board layoffs. “This is going to be devastating. Taking libraries out of schools is like taking food out of the cafeteria,” Jessome said. “There is simply no question these cuts will have a terrible impact on the education received by thousands of Nova Scotia children.”
School Board member Ron Marks accused the provincial government of turning the education clock back 20 years by demanding such cuts and warned of devastating effects on students. He said library services have proven to improve literacy in school age children, but they are the “sacrificial cows” of the system.
“Librarians increase the likelihood of students wanting to read by 20 per cent,” he said. “If they are not readying, they are not learning.”
Marks recommended that the school board ask the provincial government that it be able to use some of its $6.5 million surplus to help offset budget reductions. He said about $4 million of the money cannot be touched because of cash flow requirements, however, he said, at least $2 million, which could be spread over two years, would help with the CCRSB’s budget crisis.
Nielsen said she has already paid a visit to Pictou Centre MLA Ross Landry’s office in her fight to keep the service the alive.
“We have to fight until the bitter end,” she said. “It’s a very unfortunate circumstance when you remove an entire service because you will never get it back. We will be asking about that surplus and what needs to be done to get that money. If not for us then for other services that will be lost.”