BER in Queensland: New Libraries But No Books or TLs?

9 12 2009

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.

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4 responses

9 12 2009
Peter Macinnis

Santayana’s Law says “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. I would be inclined to say rather that those who do not pay attention to drama are condemned to foul up ineffably.

A library is a bridge between culture and minds, a source of inspiration and entrancement. Whether it holds notched sticks, clay tablets, papyri, scrolls, illuminated and chained volumes, print books or digital media, it must be cared for, curated and maintained. It must be managed by people who know what they are doing.

That got me thinking of Tom Stoppard’s 1967 play ‘Albert’s Bridge’. Albert has a happy life, working along a bridge, painting it bit by bit, stroke by stroke, day by day, and when he reaches the end, he starts all over again.

Enter new and vibrant sparky management (no, I shan’t draw a parallel here, but you may). The new management sacks Albert, waits three years and then marches a thousand painters onto the bridge, tasked with painting it in a day. The bridge falls down, as bridges are wont to do when marched on.

No, I shan’t draw a parallel here. But you should.

9 12 2009
hubinfo

Love the parable, wordmeister!!

9 12 2009
Bronwyn Hughes

Being in a secondary library we aren’t getting a new library, but I have to say all the TLs in our area, whilst not always allowed involvement in planning of the new buildings (something I don’t get!!), are excited and energised by the possibilities of making real change for themselves and their communities and in the way they can deliver their services. All our schools here have at least a part time TL but most have fulltime. It has been interesting to see the excitement generated and we are touring all the new libraries as they are completed. In fact we recently viewed one of the unfinished buildings and were really impressed. At our school we have received some other funding that is allowing us to continued the gradual refurbishments we have been undertaking. Every improvement is appreciated by the students and staff.

13 12 2009
Andrew

The comments made by ‘A Guest Blogger (name supplied but withheld) from Queensland’ contain a number of statements that are incorrect.
Why the Manager of Library Services is even included in this post is lost on me.
I wonder if this piece of poorly researched information has been gleamed from discussion lists and hearsay. If so; then the comments referring to information literacy seem to be slightly ill placed here.
I have met the new Manager and have seen the start of the transformation of the actual Library attached to Library Services. Where stacked shelves that reached the roof in a cramped and over crowded space stacked with materials that still referred to Outcomes-based education covered in dust, now has meeting spaces, conference area, mobile shelving with a rotating collection; all lit with more natural light! This library is ‘walking the walk’ of what Library 21 workshops present.
Remember that this library was previously managed by a qualified Senior Librarian.
Has ‘Guest Blogger’ been to Library Services lately to be more informed? It would appear that this is not the case. Has the ‘Guest blogger’ met with the present manager and discussed the complete overhaul of this service? I think not. Has the ‘Guest Blogger’ been to a Library 21 workshop or attended a recent conference to hear the Manager speak? Has the ‘guest blogger’ attended a recent TL network meeting to meet those that complain the most and investigated their work practices. It would appear not. Maybe if he had, and I have by the way, then he would realize that Library Services is now becoming better situated to supply relevant information, including digital resources, to its clients.
I have found that it doesn’t matter to me that the Manager is not a qualified librarian. In fact, I think its great! He is very well informed and his information/presentations are well researched and informed by a wide variety of members of our community-locally, nationally and internationally. His focus for conferences remind us that the focus for our libraries should be on the learner and learning and challenges us to focus on their needs in this technological era. Maybe thats why teacher comes before librarian.
It is sad to attend network meetings to find that some TLs have not even turned on their laptops which was supplied free by the Computers for Teachers. Many of these TLs are the very ones complaining that the Principal is replacing them.
Library Services has established (or is establishing) partnerships with State Library of Queensland, State Museum, Art groups and other business that have resources that could be used by teachers. Digital resources are being included in the resources, staff are being up dated in the latest technologies, services are being focused on far west schools and one teacher schools to assist them by providing books to enhance their library, and courses are being developed to improve the skill set and knowledge of teacher-librarians. Hmmm, this is what I want from a library service.
Let me just say that I completed my TL training in 2002 and very little referred to the actual ‘librarianship’. That I learnt on the job, by attending professional development, searching web sites and by asking my aide. With the addition of SCIS Services – available to every Queensland school free and managed by Library Services – I am wondering what actually is the “librarianship” that many refer to?
If, as ‘guest blogger’ has just demonstrated, information literacy is not to be part of our skill set, then what is…? Surely it can’t be limited to adding keywords to our library catalogue or creating glitter-covered signs for our walls with statements like “Reading is Fun!” and “STOP and READ”. My, they so inspire my Year 5 disengaged boys to pick up a book and read it from cover to cover!
Come on guest blogger, back up your statements with actual well researched and referenced facts. Show me that YOU have librarian skills.
I am getting my library refurbished and am delighted that anything is being done. I don’t have a perfect relationship with my Principal, but I have endeavored to become involved in the vision collaboratively decided upon for our school and match my work to that vision where ever possible. Slowly, she has come to respect the library for more than just a place where students go to borrow a book and listen to me read them a story. I keep her informed on the library and the developing services it can deliver and ensure that she is involved in all the celebrations that happen in the library. She is becoming a constant visitor during lunchtimes to see what else happens in a very busy, noisy environment … and she appears to like what she sees.
Just my thoughts
Andrew (Teacher-Librarian, Queensland Primary School)

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