The geographer Russo explores the accessibility of books in French across Saskatchewan.


Books in English are fairly easy to find on a whim, depending on where you are. Books in French, less.

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Books in English are fairly easy to find on a whim, depending on where you are. Books in French, less.

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This is what Richard Russo discovered in his research on access to books in the Fransaskois community.

A geographer at Frostburg State University of Maryland and a Fulbright scholar, Russo has traveled thousands of kilometers across Saskatchewan to explore communities’ access to French books.

“How an English speaker can use a library, he can just walk into a library without knowing what he wants and maybe walk out with a book that will change his life,” Russo said.

“But this experience is not necessarily offered to Francophones. … You have to know what you want and order it. It’s a different experience than libraries as a place of discovery.

This research relates to Russo’s work as a cultural geographer, exploring cultural spaces.

“Wherever you have books, you create a space,” he says, whether it’s a bookstore or a public library or a book fair – or a Fransaskois school library.

Once the kids have finished high school, however, “What books are available for your brain, your mind, to live in French?” That’s basically what interests me, ”Russo said.

He was drawn to Saskatchewan after reading a 2008 report from the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise (ACF), which offered a progressive vision of the Fransaskois identity to keep the minority culture alive.

His work in Saskatchewan is based at La Cité at the University of Regina, but he has traveled to visit libraries and community centers in Willow Bunch, Saskatoon, Zenon Park, St. Isidore de Bellevue, Ponteix and beyond.

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What he found is an uneven availability of French books.

“You can go to the Saskatoon Public Library and there’s this pretty nice collection of French books that you can browse, and then you can go to the Debden Public Library, where a third of the people in town speak French, but there are no French adult books in town in the library, ”Russo said.

This is not to say that there are no options for French-speaking residents of Debden and similar communities.

Saskatchewan has an interlibrary loan system, which allows people to order from branches of public libraries across the province. The collection includes some French books.

At Collège Mathieu de Gravelbourg, Le Lien provides material in French, including more than 40,000 books. The Link is a free service that ships books throughout Western Canada and pays the return shipping costs.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way, it’s something I’ve found,” Russo said. “But, that said, it takes a lot of work on the part of someone who might just want to go to their public library and find books in French.”

Russo doesn’t know if this is a problem.

Maybe people aren’t worried that their libraries don’t carry huge amounts of French books, Russo speculated. Maybe the Debden library had books in French, but no one looked at them.

“Maybe everyone who wants to read French books gets French books one way or another and that’s okay,” Russo said.

Russo’s goal is to “describe the situation on the ground.” He will not ask people about the state of affairs, but hopes to spark a conversation within the Fransaskois community.

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