A few months ago, I was contacted by Helaine Becker, a writer friend. She'd been in LA and had visited a school with virtually no books on the library shelves. Not one to accept the status quo, Helaine decided to do something about it. That something is about to come to fruition.
The following is a press release she sent along this morning.
Children’s book author orchestrates Canada-wide book drive to stack library shelves of inner city school in Los Angeles.
Helaine Becker’s Airlift to LA highlights the state of Canadian school libraries.
August 23, 2010 (Toronto, ON) Shocked by the empty library bookshelves during an author visit to a Los Angeles-area elementary school, children’s book author Helaine Becker is taking action. She’s started a campaign to put books in the hands of disadvantaged children in LA, and, just as important, is bringing attention to the alarming state of Canadian school libraries.
Becker, an award-winning Toronto area author, has written over 40 books for children, including Science on the Loose (Maple Tree Press 2008), and is known for her wacky, off beat humour for the younger set.
In a recent trip to California, Becker collected over 650 books (most were discards from more affluent schools) for Barton Elementary School, located in an inner city area of Long Beach. Books not up to library standards were given directly to the children and for most of these children, it was the first time they had ever owned a book or even read for pleasure. Now back in Canada, Helaine is spearheading a campaign — Airlift to LA — to stock the shelves of another Los Angeles-area elementary school in the Compton district.
“The three schools I visited were all understaffed, underfunded, and under stocked to the point of breakdown,” explains Becker. “I was completely shocked by how bad the situation was there. The way U.S. schools are funded through property taxes means schools in low-income areas have virtually no ability to meet existing school standards, nor to effectively educate the next generation.
“My hope is that by helping the kids in the Compton-area, we will not only deliver books to kids who need them, but also draw attention to the fact that Canadian school libraries are heading the same way. Our libraries are also dramatically underfunded, in every single province and territory,” explains Becker who recently visited a northern Canadian school whose dusty shelves included books such as The Red Indian and Young John Kennedy. “If you only have a part-time library tech to come in and look after the place one half-day a week, and no funding to restock the shelves with books less than 50 years-old, well, Compton, here we come.”
A long-time advocate for school libraries, Becker sees helping the children in LA as a short-term solution. “The real problem we are trying to address is the systemic problems we face on both sides of the border. Almost none of the school libraries I visit are up to Canadian standards set by the Canadian Library Association,” says Becker who authored a document that allows the public to determine how their school libraries stack up. “If they do the assessment they will see how poorly we are doing and, as a result, why our literacy numbers are going sideways. My hope is that the public will use the results to put pressure on the government to put the funding back where it can do so much good — in a fully-functioning, fully-staffed school library.”
Becker has partnered with Sandra Tsing-Loh, columnist and local celebrity in the LA-area and an advocate for public education, and Rebecca Constantino, founder of Access Books — a non-profit organization which organizes book drives and funding for underserviced school libraries. Last week, Becker shipped approximately 1200 books from over a hundred Canadian authors, publishers and the public to LA. in advance of the book presentation event at Ralph Bunche Elementary School, October 2, 2010.
The event will include author presentations by several Canadian writers including Becker, Wendy Kitts, Rob Weston and Kari-Lynn Winters who will also help refurbish the Bunche school library by sorting and cataloguing books and painting wall murals with the students.
For more information on Airlift to LA go tohttp://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=121216734588705.
To see how your school library “stacks up”, download the Canadian Coalition for School Libraries and Canadian Association for School Libraries Library/Media Assessment Questionnaire athttp://www.scribd.com/doc/36299260/Library-Assessment-Final-Draft
For further information on Airlift to LA contact:
506-382-4360 or 506-852-1600
To send a book donation by October 2, 2010:
Airlift to LA
c/o Access Books
3622 W. Slauson Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90043