Yesterday, the Globe and Mail reported that “many Canadian children have never seen a school librarian and many never will”. While research shows that scholastic achievement is linked to the presence of school libraries and librarians, according to People for Education, less than 12 per cent of Ontario elementary schools have full-time librarians. The issue is widespread in Canada. Currently there are no librarians in Nova Scotia schools and only 3 in New Brunswick.
Coincidentally, marketing guru Seth Godin, posted an article yesterday titled The Future of the Library. “The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user serviceable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it’s fun,” said Seth.
What does this have to do with corporate social responsibility? As Canadian corporations explore and expand their social purpose, they ought to look carefully at this issue as both an problem and an opportunity. In terms of enlightened self-interest, corporations need bright, curious, and creative people. This is already a problem and will only get worse if we continue to loose school libraries and librarians.
Helping to address this issue is also a corporate social opportunity. Most large corporations already support education in some way. However, corporate community investments in this area are most often generic. Today, without a more specific focus, supporting education will be seen as appropriate but not as remarkable. Focusing on libraries and librarians would be a great way for corporations to address a serious issue in a focused, dynamic way. Here are a few examples of what could be done:
- Leadership: Perhaps companies such as Microsoft, Apple, or IBM could become advocates for the issue and establish an annual “report card” that would demonstrate the importance of libraries and help influence decision-making in school boards.
- Funding: Consumer packaged goods companies create cause-marketing programs designed to raise money for funding librarians. (This would resonate well with mothers who are usually the primary shoppers for their families).
- Volunteering: Most large corporations have in-house learning expertise. Perhaps these people (and other corporate employees) could volunteer in local schools.
Clearly, any programs in this area need to be done in a way that is sensitive to the school environment and are not seen as endorsing products and services that are inappropriate.
It’s not right that our children are without librarians. It’s also an area that would be really appropriate for the right corporations demonstrate their social purpose.