The Best-Read Province Is —

Saskatchewan has the highest enrollment of any province in a federally-managed reading program for boys and girls, data show. Enrollment in the subsidized TD Summer Reading Club is up to three times the rate in other provinces.

“Saskatchewan has historically had a very high participation rate,” said Lianne Fortin, club program manager for Library & Archives Canada. Of all elementary school-age children, nine percent enrolled in the reading club in Saskatchewan according to a Harris Decima audit commissioned by the national library.

“The club is there to promote lifelong reading for boys and girls,” Fortin said. “Libraries are changing. It is no longer, ‘Shhh – no talking’; libraries are reinventing themselves to become places where new ideas are created.”

The audit Final Report On Program Statistics found 289,542 children nationwide enrolled in the Summer Reading Club that encourages library visits for recommended novels and non-fiction works. Girls outnumber boys in the program: “I can’t guess why,” Fortin said. “There is definitely a push to get boys to read more.”

About half of club members become repeat library users according to ten years’ worth of national data. Saskatchewan’s 9 percent enrollment is followed by Alberta, Nova Scotia and Ontario (6 percent); Prince Edward Island (5 percent); Manitoba (4 percent); Québec and Newfoundland & Labrador (3 percent). There were no data for New Brunswick or British Columbia. Statistics were based on user rates from 757 library systems.

Among 6 to 8-year olds, club enrollment in Saskatchewan peaked at 20 percent — the highest in the country, compared to 15 percent in neighbouring Alberta and 11 percent in Manitoba. “We really do push the summer reading programs,” said Gwen Schmidt, president of the Saskatchewan Library Association. “In Saskatoon every librarian will go to 12 schools to speak to the children.” Current titles recommended in the children’s reading club include:

  • •Banjo Of Destiny by Cary Fagan, the story of a privileged boy forbidden by his parents from playing the banjo;
  • •Fox And Squirrel Make A Friend by Ruth Ohi, a tale of two mammals’ friendship that is tested when “Yellow Bird comes along”;
  • •Kid Confidential: An Insider’s Guide To Grown-Ups by Monte Montgomery, that asks: “What do teachers really talk about in the teacher’s lounge?”
  • •Willie O’Ree: The Story Of The First Black Player In The NHL by Nicole Mortillaro, a biography of the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Famer drafted by the Bruins in 1958.

“Libraries are growing and changing,” Schmidt said. “The internet is not an enemy of the library in any way. The challenge is that there is so much electronic information, how do you know what is current and truthful? There is a real place for libraries to help develop critical thinking skills.”

Schmidt attributed the high Saskatchewan usage rates in part to a 2010 Integrated Library System enacted under the province’s Public Libraries Act. It allows readers with any locally-issued card to access most catalogued items in any other library in the province. “Libraries in Saskatchewan are on the forefront of program changes and community connections,” Schmidt said.

Bookseller in 2013 also rated Saskatoon and Regina among the Top Five per capita book buyers in the nation, along with Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.

By Tom Korski

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