Reading skills fundamental to success

Publisher would like to see more government funding devoted to promoting great readers.

Publisher Louise Wallace is concerned with the lack of government funding available to small publishing houses.

Publisher Louise Wallace is concerned with the lack of government funding available to small publishing houses.

A small local publishing firm is speaking out on the costs of illiteracy to a community.

Louise Wallace, who publishes books through Play Fort, High Gate Press and Midway Press, says business leaders maintain that up to 60 per cent of employees have literacy issues, creating a literacy gap that is a productivity killer.

“We have a mandate to help people become better readers, so we try to publish books that are age-appropriate topics with lower vocabulary levels making them easier to read and progress,” she says, enthusiastically endorsing the work of the Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap (LASS) and co-ordinator Jennifer Findlay.

But while there is plenty of good material – last year Wallace received 100 submissions – there is a lack of funding, she says.

Not only did the province cut $1.5 million from the literacy budget this year, but federal funding is hard to come by.

The good news is Canada’s municipal, provincial and federal governments are fairly supportive of the cultural industry, recognizing the value of creating Canadian content, she says.

The flip side, Wallace maintains, especially in publishing, is that a lot of the funding is in block grants that go to major publishers and are reserved for literary or, what Wallace calls high-brow fiction.

“Because of this, we have world-class fiction in Canada,” she says. “On the other hand, it’s my view that we’re not doing enough to make better readers – better writers yes, better readers no.”

Wallace has written to the Canadian Heritage Foundation and tried to get in touch with MP Colin Mayes, but says federal officials are reluctant to talk about the issue because they don’t wish to interfere with decisions made by Canada Council, the body that disburses federal funding.

A request to Canadian Heritage was met with an email from Media Relations Service referring the Observer to a website.

“The Application Guide thoroughly explains what criteria must be met by all applicants in order to qualify for funding assistance,” it reads.

The rules are indeed straightforward, but what Wallace argues with is the contention what she publishes is not literary enough.

“They want to know the money they are spending is worthwhile and of course it is, to the people who are getting it, but that’s a very exclusive club.”

Wallace also protests what she calls a huge and fundamental change in how Canadian-developed content, be it kids books, poetry or historical fiction, is delivered in a commercially viable way.

She points out that a number of once powerful Canadian publishing companies have been, or are in the process of, being bought out by American companies.

“This is the era of the über-publisher and I worry that our kids are getting too much merchandized fiction from large U.S. entertainment conglomerates,” she says. “I really think we need to tell our own stories. I don’t feel there’s enough accessible Canadian content in our schools or libraries.”

But Wallace says it’s not all bad news, with an increasing number of new ways to connect readers with writers – a connection Wallace deems to be critical to Canada’s ultimate success.

Wallace, who has a master’s degree in publishing from Simon Fraser University, has done extensive research and says indications are the “creative class” will be the next economic driver.

“That’s why things like writing, publishing, design, illustration and fine arts are finally being recognized for the value they contribute to the economy and society,” she says.

“Fifty years ago you couldn’t publish on your own, now everyone can publish, so why not use the skill sets here to develop a viable, collaborative, creative economic sector,” she asks, noting Salmon Arm has teachers, scientists, writers, artists and other talents needed.

As an example of the powerful potential to collaborate and share knowledge with the world, Wallace points to the Adams River Nature Society’s “Adopt a Salmon” application that will put the Adams River sockeye salmon run into the palms of many hands – a tablet game with enriched and interactive content that tells the sockeye story.

The application will allow school children and anyone else on the planet to virtually adopt a salmon and take care if it from egg to adult, through stages of the sockeye’s perilous journey from the Adams River to the Pacific Ocean and then return it home.