The following is reposted with permission of the author from the new ASA online journal, Australian Author.
Letter: Libraries in Crisis
Australian school libraries need our support as they face the loss of their printed books and trained Teacher-Librarians. These former places of respite have become glorified Resource Centres, filled with computers, and active classrooms.
Now, I’m no Luddite; I use computers daily for research, communication and networking. Internet research in school libraries is a key part of learning – but not at the expense of losing fiction collections.
Librarians tell horror stories – like school principals who rush to buy ebooks and toss out their printed library books (yes, even into dumpsters). No consideration given to the many thousands of titles still waiting for electronic status. Their students will never have the chance to be transported, beguiled, to laugh until they almost wet their pants, to learn about life from these treasures. In countless primary schools, kids only get a few minutes once a week to visit the school library, choose a book, then rush off to the next lesson.
Even worse, one Torres Strait Island school was directed to dispose of its library books and replace them with ebooks, obviously without much thought to maintenance problems and IT availability. The logistics of getting a techie there by boat in cyclone season are mindboggling.
We authors and illustrators owe a lot to school Teacher-Librarians and public librarians – they are the forward troops in battle, the foot soldiers, and the engineers. They prepare the ground by enthusing children about books.
T-Ls are specialists. They know what books will most suit less able readers, or kids who are frantic to read a particular genre. They have the ability to integrate literature into every subject area. They also pay children’s authors to come into their schools for author visits and workshops. And the toughest task of all, they scratch through their depleted funds to buy new titles.
The disappearance of T-L training courses across all states adds to the problems. In many schools that have deliberately got rid of their Teacher-Librarians, principals rope in other staff as library gatekeepers. (Generalisation alert here … how many Phys Ed teachers would be comfortable recommending a book to a fourteen-year-old girl about first love? Or could enthuse a reluctant nine-year-old reader to have a go at his first Andy Griffiths book? I know my son’s PE teacher would’ve rather eaten his own toenails.)
I’m a children’s author and yes, I have an ulterior motive in pushing this barrow – my passion for a multitude of wonderful Australian children’s books. I want Aussie kids to read them. There are thousands of Australian titles in school libraries, all contributing Educational Lending Right (ELR) payments to authors – payments authors do not currently receive for ebooks.
Is there a way to stop this decline? Yes – that tried and true way called People Power: writing to State and Federal MPs about declining funds and lack of T-Ls; encouraging parents to kick up a stink; and getting authors to speak out about the issue.
That’s what online support organisation Friends of the Hub does. But this Campaign for Quality School Libraries in Australia needs more people to follow their lead.
If you think the problem is restricted to children’s books, think again. How long before our fabulous, free public libraries are privatised or shut down because certain politicians are hell-bent on scaling back public services? That already happens in the US and the UK.
As Joni Mitchell sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.
- Friends of the Hub http://hubinfo.wordpress.com/action/froth/
- The Guardian “UK lost more than 200 libraries in 2012″ http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/dec/10/uk-lost-200-libraries-2012
- Australian House of Representatives Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians – the Brisbane Hearing 6 July 2010 http://hubinfo.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/do-we-need-federal-standards-do-we-ever/
Sheryl Gwyther is a children’s author and Assistant Regional Advisor (QLD) to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is also a member of the ASA Board of Directors.