A Guest Blogger (name supplied but withheld) from Queensland has contributed the following:
Maralyn Parker’s article in the Daily Telegraph (19 Nov 2009), about the Rudd government’s Building Education Revolution, has opened up an interesting debate. The comments on the blog which followed suggest that there are serious problems with the construction and staffing of libraries in many states. In Queensland, problems are in two inter-linked areas:
1. the direction provided to schools for the design and outfitting of the new libraries
2. the flexible staffing arrangements which allow individual schools to decide on TL time allocation.
BER Library Design
On the first of these issues, the Manager of Library Services for Education Queensland has no background in libraries or significant qualifications in that area. Yet this person has the authority to lead the implementation of the BER. Library 21 seminars have been held throughout Queensland and bus trips organised to look at state-of-the-art libraries. The library was promoted as “the information and knowledge hub of a school and a key facility to the transformation of learning in schools in line with the contemporary rethinking of schooling”. That sounds altruistic, but the Manager goes on to say: “Having said that – the role of the teacher librarian will be very different in the future”, and that is where the disjuncture begins.
The new library designs advocated are spacious, attractive and modeled on marketing books as evidenced in large, commercial bookstores. Movable, flexible shelving, whilst appearing to display books more appealingly, cannot house the collections of books already held in schools. As the Manager of Library Services said on the Queensland TL listserv, “A library that is considered as a facility only for its custodial role of looking after books will no longer meet the needs of learners in the future.” Culling on a massive scale is advised and thousands of great books discarded. One school has been told to get rid of any books published before 2002. So what happens to the classics and the treasured stories, thousands of which will never be available as e-books? Another could only display Junior Fiction to the letter O because there was no more shelving space in the new design. Such examples seem ludicrous, but are the reality of modern design being placed above functionality and practicality.
The move towards e-learning and e-books, whilst worthy, is not matched by the extremely poor state of technology in schools. Kindles and the usage of e-books may well advantage adults who want the convenience of them, but dispensing with real books in favour of the computerised version is not a scenario suitable for schools – especially primary schools. Teachers who speak in favour of books are seen to be old fashioned and unwilling to take on the “brave new world of technology in the 21st century”, but our libraries have great collections of valuable books, and very few, if any, Kindles. Too many computers are in a sorry state and will not fill the void unless mega-money is put into their improvement. Radical, knee-jerk reactions by the minority, causing wholesale change (quite possibly for political gain only), does not appear a responsible course of action for schools. Barbara Combes (2009) comments that empowering students from as young as primary school is essential if educators are to enable them to navigate an ever-increasing technological landscape. A specialist teacher librarian in a school is imperative to teach students and teachers to efficiently and effectively research information, understand cyber safety and provide access to quality multimedia that supports the curriculum.
Staffing of School Libraries
The second aspect of the future of effective libraries in schools is the key role of teacher librarians. They should be vital members of every school staff, but are undervalued in some schools. An anonymous commentor from Queensland to Parker’s blog states: “In Q’ld state schools, every school with an enrolment of 300 or more qualifies for a dedicated TL position and the policy is that it be filled by a qualified person wherever possible.”
In Queensland, principals have the authority to decide upon the allocation of specialist time within their own schools. Depending upon the priority given to various specialist areas, time may be taken from teacher librarians and weighted in favour of music, physical education or LOTE. If a principal is supposed to have a teaching load as well as an administrative role, he/she can re-allocate the time so that they are full time administration and the other specialists make up the shortfall by trading their time for the principal’s teaching duties. In other instances, teacher librarians can be taken from their regular duties in the library to cover staffing absences or special programs. In some schools, the principal has dispensed with their teacher librarian altogether and staffed the library with an aide, technician or an unqualified person. How many parents are aware of this situation? Parents of students in schools that value their teacher librarian may assume that all schools are similar in their access to high quality library service. The converse is true for schools where a trade-off has occured.
Until Education Queensland values its TLs’ contributions to literature, literacy and information literacy by making the time non-negotiable within schools, the full worth of these grand new libraries will not be utilised.