After 13 hearings in major Australian capital cities in 2010 and 2011, a bi-partisan House Committee of Inquiry published its Report School libraries and teacher librarians in 21st century Australia (March 2011).
Few of its 11 Recommendations have been implemented, and none which bears upon the essential problem of the demise of a profession and its impact on declining student literacy and learning.
Of the government’s response in November 2011, crucial concerns remain unaddressed:
Still no government staffing statistics.
Reporting on the number and training of specialist staff is still to be included in My School information. As yet, no hard data has been collected by the government on the number of schools without professionally qualified teacher librarians. The closest related data, in the 2010 report on Staffing in Australia’s Schools includes principal reporting on unfilled positions. This is meaningless when most states do not require libraries to be staffed by qualified teacher librarians and budget-constrained principals are forced to view teacher librarians as a luxury.
The question remains, how many schools do not have at least one full-time equivalent teacher librarian?
The last survey to address this question, indicated that at least a third of government schools did not (and one third of Anglican schools have two or more librarians) (Australian School Libraries Research Project, 2008). Yet the government workforce data is skewed to show only 190 unfilled positions in 2010.
This brings us to the second crucial problem.
Insufficient training places.
The federal Labor government has worked a miracle in upgrading school infrastructure. Almost one third of Australia’s schools now have new BER libraries, 3177out of 9427 schools. This is wonderful!
But without qualified TLs, these are woefully underutilized facilities, too often closed or used as another classroom.
Better Schools money will mean that many of those budget-restricted principals will be able to professionally staff their libraries, AND be able to resource them with up-to-date digital book collections, databases, e-magazines, library apps for smart technology, resources which qualified teacher librarians can collaboratively integrate into teaching and learning encounters.
BUT, where will principals find these qualified teacher librarians? With only three tertiary teacher librarian courses, how many new TLs can be trained? Certainly not the thousands which seem to be needed. Unfortunately, universities are being stripped of funds to finance the Gonski reforms. Robbing Peter to pay Paul will not help our TL shortage.
So we must ask federal candidates of all parties:
- What will you do to collect useful government data on teacher librarian staffing?
- What will you do to increase tertiary education programs to ensure every school can have a qualified teacher librarian?
The government inquiry acknowledged the work of teacher librarians in respect to eLearning, literacy and leadership in their schools. What will you do now to see that that role is filled to support quality teachers and support our students in reading and learning?
Further information for teachers, principals and teacher educators on the role of teacher librarians in learning can be found at my website connect2tls.info. For parents at My School Library. GP