The Australian School Library Association Conference next week in Perth is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves as teachers, librarians, parents, writers, and citizens to reversing the decline of school libraries in this country.
The Australian School Libraries Research Project (ASLRP) by ALIA, ASLA and Edith Cowan University, provides us initial “snapshots” on the current state of school library services in Australia (Barbara Combes, 2008) .
What it shows is a great inequity between school library staffing and funding across Australian schools.
The survey found that the majority of school library budgets are abysmal! Half of the government school budgets are under $5000, and one in six budgets are under $1000. In NT schools, most of which are remote, over half have budgets under $500!
Staffing in declline
The survey showed that 35% of government school libraries have no teacher librarians. Approximately two thirds of all schools have either no teacher librarian or less than one Full Time Equivalent (FTE) working in their school library. After the Northern Territory (5%), Tasmania (50%), Western Australia (almost 60%) and Victoria (65%) have the lowest number of TLs employed K-12 across all sectors. Instead there are high numbers of library technicians in Tasmania and Victoria and library officers in Western Australia.
Previous state surveys illustrate the downward slide. A discussion paper from the State Library of Tasmania noted a decline of nearly fifty per cent in the number of teacher librarians in Tasmanian schools in the period 1996-2000. (“Enhancing Student Outcomes with Improved Information Services and Provisioning”, 2000).
A position paper by the AEU Tasmanian Branch noted in 2000 that teacher aides were increasingly replacing teacher librarians, with one third of schools surveyed not having professional TLs. (“Leading the way: The changing role of the teacher librarian”). The ASLRP survey now places this at almost 50%.
While the ASLRP survey shows Victoria employs TLs in 65% of its schools, figures for Melbourne metropolitan primary schools may be even lower. Reynolds and Carroll in 2001 found that only 13% of primary schools had teacher librarians. (“Where have all the teacher librarians gone?” Access May 2001)
In South Australia in 2002, apart from those very small schools with no teacher librarian entitlement, a third of school libraries around the state were understaffed and/or staffed with unqualified personnel (Spence, “Survey highlights major problems with library staffing”, AEU Journal, 4 December 2002).
As Michelle Lonsdale stated in 2003, the “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.” (Impact of school libraries on student achievement, ACER). There is pressure in all state departments of education for this devolution, flexibility and choice in school staffing. Teacher librarians, where they have existed, are often being “cashed in” for classroom or other specialist teachers, or pushed increasingly into the classroom themselves.
In 1988, the Australian Library Summit deplored the lack of statistics relating to school library services. There is still no systematically collected national data. ALIA and ASLA together with ECU have given us the beginning of those statistics to work with. The ASLRP has provided a complex set of results, with many variables yet to be analysed, but little in it paints a good picture of the state of school libraries in this country, especially government schools.
Anne Hazell stated in 1988, after the initial regression of the 1980s in school library staffing, that unless (TLs) … act as advocates for their chosen profession, it is unlikely that the profession will survive into the 21st century.” We are well and truly on that edge.
So, here is a preview of The Hub’s conference paper, Getting the Word Out.