By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘To Boost the Use of Canadian Books’Launched in the spring of 2018 with the aim of getting Canadian books into Ontario classrooms, 49th Teachers expands on the established book promotion platforms 49th Shelf and 49th Kids, but is designed to connect directly with teachers and teacher-librarians.
And when Canada is the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s 2020 Guest of Honor—following Norway’s program this year—the new teacher initiative may well be of interest to other world markets’ publishers who would like to see their books better featured in educational settings.
The site offers educators a database of nearly 20,000 Canadian-authored kids’ and YA books as well as nearly 800 related resources, all available as free downloads.
One area of the site, for example, features “character education” selections that are recommended for development of respect, responsibility, empathy, kindness, teamwork, fairness, and so on. Another asset is a series of blog posts, Notes from a Children’s Librarian, by Julie Booker.
Supported in part by the Ontario Creates (formerly the Ontario Media Corporation) and the Ontario Book Publishers Organization, the program has received funding from the Canadian Books in Ontario Schools Fund as part of the Province of Ontario’s Cultural Strategy, allowing for the creation of teacher resources, reading guides, classroom activities and linked curriculum supports, all ready to use with students.
In addition to the database, the site offers users:
- Options to search by author, title, genre, subject area, age, and grade level
- Access to nearly 800 resources developed specifically for use with books in the database, searchable by subject, grade, and by resource type such as teacher’s guides, reading guides, handouts, etc.
- A variety of themed booklists prepared either by the site editor or by educators
- A books blog written by a children’s books librarian
- Links to reviews, recommendations, and purchasing options
- The ability to create book lists and share them with other site members
The “49th” element of the name reflects the 49th parallel north—the circle of latitude that that marks more than 2,000 miles of the Canadian border with the United States. And while 49th Shelf is a public-facing site that arrays more than 100,000 Canadian titles to potential readers, the kids’ and now teachers’ sites are specialized outreach efforts in the educational space.
Publishing Perspectives spoke with Craig Riggs, project manager at 49th Shelf, who tells us that the goal of 49th Teachers is to make it as easy as possible for education professionals to “find the Canadian books they are looking for.”
‘All These Books in One Place’
Publishing Perspectives: Tell us about the thinking that went into developing 49th Teachers. When did it launch? And is it part of 49th Kids—which has sponsorship from Amazon.ca—or is it a standalone site?
Craig Riggs: 49th Teachers was soft-launched in spring 2018 as a joint initiative with Ontario Book Publishers Organization and as an expansion of 49th Kids.
It reflects in part that 49th Kids is primarily aimed at those who are selecting books for kids and young adults, including family members, booksellers, librarians, and educators. We have a real commitment to making it as easy as possible for all of these groups to find the Canadian books they’re looking for. For us, that starts with assembling all these books in one place. Next, we want to make it very easy for users to browse the books by category, through themed reading lists, or by age and grade level.
Building on additional support for educators just felt to us like a natural extension of this goal. We see a lot of interest on the part of Canadian teachers and librarians in selecting Canadian books, but both of these professional groups are very pressed for time, and often also for resources that would help them bring Canadian books into the classroom or school library.
We’re hoping to help address this by adding some additional resources and services for educators, such as we have begun to provide through 49th Teachers.
PP: It’s supported in part by the Ontario Creates and the Ontario Book Publishers Organization—is there a connection between 49th Teachers and the Ontario government initiative (announced in 2017) to promote Canadian literature to Ontario’s teachers and librarians?
CR: Absolutely so. The 49th Shelf platform is produced by the Association of Canadian Publishers.
And ACP is partnered with the Ontario Book Publishers Organization on expanding 49th Kids to better server teachers and librarians. That partnership, with the Ontario publishers as the lead applicant, was successful in securing funding from Ontario Crates and the Canadian Books in Ontario Schools Fund.
This fund was created by the Province of Ontario as part of its 2016 Cultural Strategy, and specifically in support of its goal to boost the use of Canadian books in Ontario schools.
The funding provides both for the expansion of 49th Kids to incorporate the additional services and resources for teachers that I’ve described, and also for a sustained marketing and outreach effort to promote the site to Ontario educators.
PP: To be clear, with support from the Ontario Book Publishers Organization, does the site promote books exclusively from that association’s member publishers?
CR: Not at all. The site is open to all Canadian children’s and YA books published by presses across the country. The Ontario publishers’ organization is a very important partner in the project and has taken a leadership role in driving its expansion to better serve educators in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada.
‘Great Guidance’ From Teachers
PP: Was there a consulting process with educators and teacher-librarians?
CR: Yes, we did some early rounds of user testing and gathering input from educators in fall 2017.
We received a lot of great guidance through those conversations, and their feedback is well reflected in the site as it stands today. The project is also supported by an advisory panel of educators–teachers, teacher librarians, technology coordinators, and system librarians–from across the province. And they provide ongoing input into the platform’s continuing development and improvement.
PP: Teacher and classroom resources are available as free downloads. Do most of these reading and study guides come from the publishers? Or are some created uniquely for the site?
CR: There are nearly 800 classroom resources on the site today, all produced and provided by Canadian publishers. We’ll shortly open the site further to allow teachers to share resources that they’ve created with their colleagues.
PP: Do some resources have direct links to the Ontario curriculum?
CR: Yes, certainly to specific grades and subject areas and, in some cases, to specific learning outcomes in the curriculum.
The Site ‘Will Ramp Up Through 2019’
PP: How have teachers responded? Have you heard from educators outside the province as well? How do you measure the site’s success? Are there any plans to expand the focus to include other provinces?
“The ultimate test will be if we can observe that Canadian books do indeed have a more prominent place in Ontario classrooms two or three years from now.”Craig Riggs
CR: The feedback we’ve had to date has been tremendous but these are early days. We’ve been slowly rolling the site out, and a lot of the marketing and outreach activity around it will ramp up through 2019.
While we appreciate the enthusiastic response we’ve had from educators in these early phases of development, the real test for the site, as for any site, is how widely and well it’s used. So we’re monitoring traffic but also purchase-activity linked off the site, downloads of classroom resources, etc.
The ultimate test will be if we can observe that Canadian books do indeed have a more prominent place in Ontario classrooms two or three years from now. That’s a powerful ambition in a province and in a country where Canadian books have generally not been widely taught in schools. That’s the goal we’re chasing with 49th Kids and 49th Teachers, and that’s what keeps pushing us forward in our work to further strengthen and expand the site.