Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Facing the Funding Squeeze: A School District/public Library Partnership

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Facing the Funding Squeeze: A School District/public Library Partnership

Article excerpt

In Ontario, a large number of school districts are facing severe financial restraint and hardship. Diminishing resources, both human and material, are becoming the norm. The flow of monies to school districts from their provincial government has declined significantly. Municipal and commercial tax dollars are not enough to maintain the level of service to which people are accustomed.

In 1996, the Ontario minister of education reduced payments to school districts by $400 million, and he has already stated that for 1997, funds will be reduced by a further $600 million.

Many believe that unless creative ways are found to deal with this situation, some educational programs and services may disappear. In some districts, it has already started. Class sizes have increased and a number of school jurisdictions have eliminated or downsized programs and services such as junior kindergarten, adult education, busing, lunch-hour monitors, support staff... and, of course, library services. More reductions are to follow.

The Squeeze on Libraries

School libraries face some of the greatest challenges. As their budgets decrease and the costs of educational and information resources increase, it is becoming more and more difficult to add much-needed resources to their collections.

It seems ironic that it is happening now. Information has become the currency of the kingdom and the preeminent resource for its citizens. Free and unfettered access to information, lots of it, is the definitive equalizer. Yet access is of little value if the resource base is limited or has disappeared. For educators, who know the importance of resource-based learning, collaborative partnerships, and information technology, this reality is all too painful.

A Strategic Solution

However, another reality is emerging--a pragmatic reality leading down a path to strategic alliances and partnerships. For those who are prepared to risk the journey, it can create opportunities to an extent not thought possible a decade ago. It requires trust, vision, goodwill, respect, and a belief in the value and wisdom of cooperation and collaboration. In one school district, the journey has begun.

A few years ago, in the region of Waterloo, in the city of Cambridge, Ontario, two separate and distinct institutions--a regional school district and a local public library--saw the wisdom in forming strategic alliance and did something about it. It was more than a strategy for survival, it was an initiative born out of mutual awareness and respect for what the other had to offer.

It was timely. The present structure of the school in question--St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School--no longer satisfied its current enrollment level or its desired functions. The current school's multiple additions and renovations, in conjunction with 26 temporary--or portable--classrooms, formed a "dysfunctional mosaic of space" for the staff and students, in the words of a local architect. A new building made sense.

The Cambridge Public Library had a different problem. It needed to find a way to respond more quickly to the desire for better access to library services from a population that resides in one of the high-growth areas in the city. A new branch was not anticipated until at least the year 2000, or later.

The School/Library Partnership Takes Shape

Next September, a unique partnership will take life when St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School i, inn alliance with the Cambridge Public Library, opens its new facility with a branch library on its premises. It is an unprecedented move for schools in the area and, for that matter, in most parts of the province. The landscape of St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School will change dramatically in what amounts to a wholesale transformation.

Nick Roehrig, the school's principal, says he is pleased to open his doors to the community of public library patrons, and he points out that one of the immediate benefits for his adopted public will be access to the Internet. …

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