Starving literacy

This post updated 22 Sep 2006 with further news of the Minnesota Book Awards

Quite a surprise this morning while reading my morning St. Paul Pioneer Press to find that the new sponsor of the Minnesota Book Awards will be the Minnesota Library Association, according to a quote from the MLA Executive Director, Barbara Vaughn. (link to article) The future of the Book Awards was thrown into doubt earlier in the week when the Minnesota Humanities Commission said they would no longer sponsor the program, since they were focusing their efforts (and reduced funding) on early childhood and secondary education. (link to Humanies Commission statement and press release on its strategic decision) Vaughn stated that she will be seeking partnerships, especially corporate sponsorships, to fund the Minnesota Book Awards program.

I am disturbed that the state of Minnesota education has brought the Humanities Commission to make this decision – to provide support of basic education at the expense of the Book Awards program which enhanced the recognition and encouragement of Minnesota writers and literary culture. When I grew up in a neighboring state, education in Minnesota was a program to be emulated. Since I have lived in Minnesota (since 1999) there has been a drastic downturn in the capacity, ability, and willingness of state and local administrations to assume responsibility for development of our most important asset and precious resource and provide education for our children.

In the past week, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking with school library media specialists and other educators, who are starting their school year with a pronounced reduction in funding for materials and staff (sometimes unexpected). School libraries, like the Minnesota Book Awards, are the sacrificial lamb in the educational system. And the literacy of our children and our communities is being starved out of existence. It makes me very, very sad.