President's Message - March 2011

By Anne Wade
 
Having recently returned from the Ontario Library Association’s annual conference, I thought I would provide a brief overview of my impressions of a couple of sessions that left me pondering thought-provoking issues that our profession faces.
 
The opening plenary session, entitled Meet the Next Generation, was facilitated by the seasonedStephen Abram(Vice President for Strategic Partnerships and Markets, Gale Cengage Learning). Abram’s unique and interesting format consisted of about a dozen grade 11 and 12 Toronto students sitting on a stage, who responded to Abram’s pre-determined questions and spontaneous questions from the audience. Designed to inform and educate the audience about this generation’s preferences related to multi-media use and information seeking behaviour, questions spanned a wide spectrum. A sample of questions along with their responses were: ”Do you own a cell phone?” (Unanimous answer: Yes), “What type of cell phone do you have?” (Majority answer: Either a Blackberry or a slider phone), ”How important is branding to you?” (Majority answer: Not really important), “How many tabs or windows do you have open when you are working on a school assignment?” (Majority answer: At least five), “How do you listen to music?” (Majority answer: On an MP3 player or the cell phone), “When was the last time you bought music?” (Unanimous answer: I don’t), “What tools do you use for research?” (Majority answer: Google and, if little information is found, a database), “Do you evaluate the information found before using it?” (Majority answer: Yes), “Do you use the school or public library?” (Majority answer: Yes), “What services do you want at your local library?” (Majority answer: Being informed of interesting events), “Do you use the Young Adult section of the library?” (Majority answer: No, the books in this section are too juvenile for me). While this group of students didn’t accurately represent all aspects of the general population (e.g., most used a library, most evaluated their information, etc.), the session still provided an informative snapshot of the next generation’s habits and preferences.
 
Another session that stands out was Why a National Reading Strategy is Important facilitated by Annie Kidder (People For Education) and Peggy Thomas (Library Service Manager, Pape/Danforth District, Toronto PL). A follow up to two previous summits--the first was held in Toronto in 2009 and the second was held in Montreal at the beginning of 2011--this informal session solicited audience input on how we can market the concept of “reading” to Canadians. The overarching goal of the NRS is to achieve a “Canadian reading society” driven by the belief that “reading contributes to our sense of self, our cultural awareness, our capacity for self-expression and, ultimately our notion of engaged citizenship and the collective good. Reading, after all, is about so much more than a technical act that allows us to communicate, consume media and perform the activities of daily life. To be literate is necessary, but it is not enough” (National Reading Campaign, 2011). While this notion is an interesting one, what strikes me about this statement and the corresponding discussion that ensued in the session, was the deliberate de-emphasis on the importance of literacy and the need to become a literate society.
 
Every few years, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) implements the Programme for International Student Assessment that measures the basic competencies of 15-year olds from 65 industrialized countries. The latest results for literacy revealed that Canadian students fared relatively well in comparison to those in other countries as their average performance was in the upper percentile (OECD, 2010). Yet it was also found that 10% of Canadian students performed at or below Level 2, where Level 2 is considered “a baseline level of proficiency, at which students begin to demonstrate the reading skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life. Students who do not reach Level 2 have difficulties locating basic information that meets several conditions, making comparisons or contrasts around a single feature, working out what a well-defined part of a text means when the information is not prominent, or making connections between the text and outside knowledge by drawing on personal experience and attitudes” (OECD, 2010, p.13.). And a staggering 30% of Canadian youth did not reach reading proficiency Level 3.
 
Why do we need to sit up and take notice of these statistics? Because literacy has a direct impact on the academic achievement of students, their personal well being and their opportunities for future employment. Building on this, Statistics Canada (Bussière, Cartwright, Knighton, & Rogers, 2004) estimates that a one percent increase in the Canadian literacy rate would drive a sustainable growth in Gross Domestic product of $18.4 billion annually. Thus, a literate society is one that is economically and socially thriving. Yes, a national reading strategy is a worthwhile initiative, but portraying a fundamental competency such as literacy as a “technical act” does a disservice to the cause. To me, it is both the love of reading and the ability to read that need to go together.
 
References
 
Bussière, P., Cartwright, F., Knighton, T., & Rogers, T. (2004). Measuring up: Canadian results of the OECD PISA study. The performance of Canada's youth in mathematics, reading, science and problem solving: 2003 first findings for Canadians aged 15 (No.81-590-XPE — No. 2). Retrieved from Statistics Canada website: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-590-x/81-590-x2004001-eng.pdf
 
National Reading Campaign. (2011). Why do we need a national reading campaign? Retrieved on February 14, 2011 from http://nationalreadingcampaign.ca/about/
 
Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. (2010). PISA 2009: Science competencies for tomorrow's world. Paris: OECD Publications.