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Teen Reading Club on Chopping Block

Spending priorities have librarians questioning province's commitment to literacy.

By Shannon Smart 19 Jul 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Smart is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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'TeenRC is good for the world': forum post.

Six years and nearly 6,000 users later, the Teen Reading Club will close in September.

In 2005, the B.C. Library Association launched TeenRC, an organization that let book-loving teens escape the summer doldrums by sharing their love of books with others their age.

By 2007, the program had grown in popularity, and was running year-round and in several provinces across Canada. This summer, libraries across Canada are offering the program, which has evolved from a simple online discussion forum with booklists and reviews to a nation-wide program that includes author chats, library event listings, a page for teenage writers to post their work, a blog, and a place where users can create lists of their favourite books to share with others.

Safety first

As both an educational tool and a place for teens to hang out online, TeenRC made safety a priority. While "there are other book clubs for teens," Adrienne Wass of the Greater Victoria Public Library pointed out, "TeenRC offers privacy protection" that other online book clubs may lack.

Jacqueline van Dyk, director of the Public Library Services Branch of the Ministry of Education, noted the "countless hours" volunteered by "dozens of librarians and teens" to make the program a success and ensure that "the site is a safe, vibrant and fun place for teens to discuss books and share their own writing."

TeenRC costs between $40,000 and $50,000 a year to run, but this year's leaner budget has left the PLSB of the Ministry of Education -- the branch that provides the majority of funding for the Teen Reading Club -- with $4 million less to work with. The total 2009-2010 budget for the PLSB was $13.7 million.

In their Annual Service Plan Report, the Ministry of Education emphasizes the goal of "improved literacy for all British Columbians."

A review of current literacy levels in B.C. contained in the report shows that the targets set last year were not achieved. The Ministry of Education hoped to have 70 per cent of Grade 4 students and 68 per cent of Grade 7 students "meet or exceed reading expectations" for their grades; in 2009-2010, 67 per cent of Grade 4's and 65 per cent of Grade 7's were reading at acceptable levels.

"It's so hard not to get completely discouraged by the priorities of this government," said Karen Lindsay, a teacher-librarian from Victoria. Some of her students have volunteered with TeenRC, and one "is still doing wonderful reviews of young adult fiction for their blog." It is a program that "offers opportunities to kids across B.C." and "has had a real impact" -- particularly on teens from less privileged homes and from more remote areas of Canada. "The program works" said Lindsay, "and costs next to nothing to run."

Someone to take the reins?

At the Greater Victoria Public Library, the branch that administrated the program in its final year, Adrienne Wass is "hopeful that the PLSB will find someone to fund the program." "It is a unique program" said Wass, "it would be difficult to replace."

The director of the PLSB, van Dyk, also hopes that the program will continue, but recognizes that her organization is "no longer in a position to supply the $40,000 to $50,000 that has been required to operate the program each year." She noted that the PLSB "would be happy to discuss passing on the TeenRC reins to another organization."

The Teen Reading Club, continued van Dyk, "is an easy way for libraries to serve teens... a tough demographic to reach." It also allowed "libraries with limited resources to serve teens well."

The site's forum is full of posts by users that speak to the community it has created. "Homeschoolers!" calls out to users who don't have a classroom of peers to connect with, while a post titled "I'm New Here!" elicited dozens of warm, welcoming responses.

The barrier-free access offered by the online club is captured by one member's glowing review of TeenRC: "this program is AWESOME because it helps teens get involved in something that is educational (well it can be) by using something that we all use (the computer and libraries)... TeenRC is good for the world because it encourages teens to read."  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Education

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