Lonsdale Report excerpt (ACER, 2003)
4.1 Teacher librarian population
In the absence of systematically aggregated national data, it is difficult to gain an accurate picture of national trends in Australia in relation to the staffing of school libraries. Anecdotal evidence, and information gained from several State-based surveys, however, indicate:
- a general shortage of teacher librarians (and other specialist teachers);
- the practice of schools using librarians rather than teacher librarians, or having staff with no library or teaching qualifications at all;
- teacher librarians being used in classrooms as subject teachers to fill gaps in staffing;
- an ageing profession, with retirees not being replaced by sufficient numbers of graduates; and
- added responsibilities for teacher librarians in terms of technology maintenance and student use of technology.
In addition, devolution of financial management to schools means that funding for school libraries relies on the resource allocation priorities established by the school community, which might or might not place a high priority on the need for a well-staffed library system.
An Australian Education Union (AEU) survey in 2002 by the South Australian branch shows that of the 303 work sites that responded, 107 have school libraries staffed below the recommended level and 109 have staff without teacher librarian qualifications (AEU 2002).
A position paper by the AEU Tasmanian Branch (AEU 2000) notes that in recent years school libraries have undergone cuts in staffing and resources and that teacher aides have replaced professional staff. Principals, senior staff and parents, the paper suggests, have not sufficiently valued either the school library or the teacher librarian. The paper also points out that teacher librarians ‘are being asked to spend more time in the classroom and, as a result, are unable to do literature promotion, book clubs, staff liaison, effective teaching of information and research skills, co-operative teaching and planning, let alone management’ (p. 7). The position paper notes that precisely at a time when schools are in the middle of an information explosion ‘libraries have been marginalised and considered optional or non-core services in schools’ (p. 5).
Another discussion paper from the State Library of Tasmania notes a decline of nearly fifty per cent in the number of teacher librarians in Tasmanian schools in the period 1996-2000 and that the student/teacher librarian ratio has increased substantially from 1:875 students in 1996 to 1:1219 in 2000 (State Library of Tasmania 2000). The paper also highlights the inequitable access to human resources in libraries among schools.
An NSW Primary Principals’ Association position paper (NSWPPA 2002) notes that whereas previously relief from face-to-face teaching (RFF) was provided by RFF teachers from RFF allocations of two hours per teacher, now many schools use the teacher librarian to deliver part of the RFF program. The paper suggests that information literacy ‘is too important to be taught in isolation from other class activities’ and that the responsibilities of the teacher librarian are already demanding and complex enough without this added responsibility.
Two recent surveys carried out in Victorian primary and secondary schools confirm this grim scenario. Using the standards developed by ASLA and the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) as a benchmark, Welch and Braybrook (2002) found that twenty per cent of schools in Victoria are staffed at a level equal to or above the recommended level and eighty per cent are below this standard, and that seventy per cent of schools in the survey operate below the recommended number of hours needed to staff school libraries.
Reynolds and Carroll (2001) found that since 1983 the number of primary school libraries being staffed by qualified teacher librarians has dropped dramatically from fifty-five to thirteen per cent. They also found that twelve per cent of the school libraries in their survey are being managed by someone with no formal qualifications of any kind, although some of these schools had at least one qualified teacher librarian on their staff. The Reynolds and Carroll survey also reveals that many respondents are undertaking other responsibilities in addition to their library ones, such as arts co-ordinator, assistant principal, classroom teacher, integration teacher, information technology co-ordinator, LOTE teacher and literacy co-ordinator.
Kaye (2000) and Alderman (2001) note several trends, including the greying of the profession. Many women in the library profession often opt for early retirement, Kaye suggests, because there are few promotional opportunities open to them. As schools assume greater administrative and financial autonomy, the hiring and firing of staff is increasingly being taken on by the principal rather than the Education Department, with the result that in some schools teacher librarians have had to take on a subject teaching load that compromises their library responsibilities. One consequence of having fewer schools of information and library studies at the tertiary level, and thus fewer graduates moving into the profession, Kay warns, is that there are also fewer strong advocates for school libraries. In Tasmania, for example, until recently, no teacher librarianship course of study was offered. Those wanting to undertake a teacher librarianship course had to enrol externally with mainland institutions. If the numbers of school librarians are not being replenished, and if those teacher librarians who do already work in schools are often being used in other roles, then a review that highlights the positive impact of school librarians on student achievement is an important strategic step.
The Welch-Braybrook and Reynolds-Carroll surveys provide evidence of the decline of library services and staffing in schools (Cotter 2002). The ASLA briefing document for this review acknowledges that in Australia ‘there has been a serious decline in the number of qualified teacher librarians employed in school libraries in public schools’. Although this decline is difficult to substantiate in a systematic and substantial way owing to the lack of readily accessible national data, the findings above, taken together with anecdotal evidence from the various States and Territories, confirm the ASLA view that a review of the impact of school libraries on student achievement is urgently needed.
from Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement: A Review of the Research