To the Sydney Morning Herald

23 05 2011

First off the ranks to report on the Inquiry Report, the Sydney Morning Herald journos’ “hook” leaves much to be desired.  We certainly have a long way to go with some journalists!

Here is our reply:

To Dan Harrison (dharrison@smh.com.au) and Kim Arlington and the editor SMH (letters@smh.com.au),

I don’t believe your initial focus on the most trivial aspect of a year long inquiry which gathered 387 submissions and held 12 public hearings nationwide.

Thousands of Australians would have contributed. Are you intentionally dumbing down for your readers or just reinforcing stereotypes because the federal education committee has a majority of Labor MPs on it (4 to 3!). And cartoonist Cathy Wilcox should know better! Perhaps TLs should think twice about buying her books.

The two committees who put such a great effort into analyzing the contributions of hundreds of parents, authors, educators and academics here and overseas must be appalled.

At a time when the teacher librarian profession faces its demise (at least 60% of primary schools do not have teacher librarians), their leadership and e-learning skills are needed more than ever. The public, parents especially, should know what their children lose when they lose a qualified teacher librarian. With 2802 much needed new primary libraries built with BER funding, more than any other building, and with the DER and the developing National Curriculum, the specialist teaching and resourcing skills of teacher librarians have never been more vital for student learning.

You have included many salient facts from the report, but making a “hook” through emphasis on stereotype is just plain ignorance. Or is it just the inability to think critically and deeply? Perhaps you didn’t have qualified teacher librarians in your primary and secondary schooling.  As stated in the Australian Primary Principal’s submission to the inquiry, and they should know, “the Commonwealth Government should establish a program, working with states and territories and education system and sector agencies, to ensure that school libraries in Australia are the best in the world, and that they can meet the range of challenges they now face.” Now get serious, and help.

Georgia Phillips for The Hub

My School Library site for parents at

<http://myschoollibrary.wordpress.com>

Here is the “same” article from today’s edition of The Age: “Dragon Librarians Come Out Fighting” and another Fairfax paper, The Illawarra Mercury recycles the same article as “School Librarians Left on the Shelf: Report.”  The same Herald article appeared today in the Courier Mail and in the Newcastle Herald.

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10 responses

23 05 2011
hubinfo

From BB to the SMH:

One of the very first things a teacher librarian learns in their post-grad studies is that they must “place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice” (School Library Bill of Rights, Australian School Library Association http://www.asla.org.au/policy/bill-of-rights.aspx ) so that they select resources which provide a variety of points of view.

They also learn to research, locating, evaluating and interpreting information so that they can then teach their students to produce responses which consider all aspects of the issue, not just a one-sided, copy-and-paste paper that is more about filling space than developing knowledge, understanding and insight.

Your article, “We’re not dragons in pearls, say librarians, we’re just misunderstood” published in the SMH today, would have been strengthened had you taken the time to consider why this issue is so important to our children’s learning that it caused a federal government inquiry and then investigated what it is that teacher librarians do, if, in fact, they are stereotyped. Do they actually have a case that warranted the investment of so many taxpayer dollars and hours in the writing and consideration of submissions, public hearings and the writing of the report? Given that there were 387 national and international submissions from education departments, peak bodies, unions, interest and community groups, schools and teachers, and 12 public hearings in each state and territory, clearly somebody thought there was a significant issue that needed investigation. Given that billions of tax-payers dollars have been invested in building or refurbishing school libraries in the last two years, clearly somebody thought school libraries were more than book depositories and their staff made a significant contribution to teaching and learning.

Yet you offer none of this in your article, choosing a demeaning and trivial focus that makes the highly-qualified teacher librarian sound like an unfaithful husband. You should have at least demonstrated that you had read the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians which was attached to the end of the report – you didn’t even have to search for it yourself. The document is also available at http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.aspx

Luckily for you, your pay cheque will still come in regardless of the quality of this article. But if this were an assignment on which your career depended, it would not meet the pass standard. Almost any Year 6 student could have skim-read, copied and pasted to create this article, but they would know better than to do so.

23 05 2011
Monica

The librarian I had at school was indeed a dragon, and would kick children out of the library for whispering. Unfortunately this has been the experience of thousands of Australian school children.
You only have to see the rude tone of your reply to know that perhaps you’re one of the “dragons” mentioned in the article?

23 05 2011
Maggie

Those were the ‘good old days’. Let’s hope if there are any dragons left in schools, they are pregnant. According to feng shui ‘A pregnant dragon is particularly auspicious as a symbol of future growth and expansion.’

23 05 2011
hubinfo

In Georgia’s defence, Monica, I think perhaps what you perceive as rudeness is merely her frustration that the depth and complexity of the issues raised at the hearings is being reduced to the same old stereotype. I actually think it will work to at least get more people to click on the links to read the article, even though I too would have liked to have seen a more intelligent response.
I do not doubt that you had the library experience you have mentioned. I did too, but that was 25 years ago. Today’s teacher librarians primarily see themselves as educators, so that sort of nonsense should not be occurring. I did see it recently, but it was from a older teacher who was given a library role. A perfect example of the need for qualified library staff. One has to wonder if your old librarian was indeed a TL?

23 05 2011
Noel McDonough

I am so sorry that Monica had the experience that she remembers. On the other hand, I’m wondering what [school] year she was in at the time, what was her attitude to school, reading and learning was at that time, whether this was her one and only visit to the library and exactly what she and her clique were actually ‘doing’ at that point of time in the library.
I’m sure that, if she’d been a relatively frequent visitor to the library for the purpose of gaining information through either reading [yech!!! perish the thought], questioning, searching or researching, she may actually have some positive, even if not exactly extatic, memories of the library.
Rather like the comment,”I don’t like oysters” “No of course I’ve never tried them – I don’t like them! Duh!!”
noel

23 05 2011
hubinfo

Margaret writes:
I take particular exception to the Cartoon.
I often flag articles for parents in our newsletter but not this time which I think is sad for all the work so many have put into this Inquiry.
Margaret

23 05 2011
Barbara Braxton

It has been suggested that rather than being reactive to the article distributed through Fairfax Press we should be pro-active and show, yet again, what it is we do and contribute to counteract the stereotype image.

Margaret Spillman has shared what she is doing by displaying the article and making a competition out of suggestions for improvements.

Linda Langford has suggested that we read Georgia Phillips’ article and start writing articles for our local and national media.

Ian Mclean has continually shared his great work with us and his staff, providing models to build on.

Ruth Buchanan has shown how a simple bookmark can be an advocacy tool.

And that’s just today.

But will any of this go beyond the realms of the members of these lists to an audience that still clearly needs to be educated?

Please share with us how you will make your lemonade and sell it to the wider community.

23 05 2011
Chantal

Georgia, This is a fabulous response and on behalf of those of us who have yet to develop this level of eloquence (ok, it is a little cutting, but not undeserved)…Thank-you!
I hope these journalists feel adequately put in their place and improve their writing and critical literacy skills before commencing their next article. Our media have to be responsible purveyors of information and the article in the the SMH was laughable in terms of quality reporting. Both you, BB and Noel have all made great points.

For my part, I posted below the SMH article on FB the following:
Personally, I am happy to be a treasure laden (Smaug-Tolkien), brightly coloured (Saphira – Chris Paolini), spunky (Gadzooks-Chris D’Lacey), funny, kick *ss (Toothless-Cressida Cowell) dragon wandering the library sharing pearls of wisdom and a love of all things literature :P..oh yes…and I prefer wearing diamonds, thanks.

I look forward to coming up with a humorous, yet informative response to this article, through our school newsletter, preferably with photographs of the library staff in an array of dragon costumes.

If we all do something wonderful in response to this article, it may well be an absolute blessing, despite the rather unsatisfactory penmanship. Have fun being a 21C dragon, everyone…the kind that increases library usage and has long past students message them on FB to say they still remember us and our love of books…and remain avid readers.

24 05 2011
hubinfo

That photo of staff in dragon costumes asap, Chantal! And be sure to invite in the local press and TV news. And your local member!! A dragon in every library, as long as they are certified to locate and share those pearls and empowered to teach the secrets of finding treasure.

25 05 2011
hubinfo

A poetical contribution from David Strempel 🙂

THE DRAGON AND THE PEARLS

Young Gerald George was old enough to go to school at last,
Despite his mother’s mournful tears he found himself in class.
His teacher was a caring sort who helped him work and learn,
But still he knew that there was more; it left him quite concerned.
He coloured in and matched the shapes and did as he was told,
He worked and shared and did his best and sang of Green and Gold.
Yet through all that he knew inside there must be more to learning,
Young Gerald George, at early age, was really quite discerning.

The weeks went by and George learnt more of all he had to know,
‘Bout how to count from 1 to 10 and how to tie a bow.
He learnt to kick a ball at last – that made his father proud,
And how say his tables right and how to spell out loud.
Still Gerald George was not at ease, he knew there must be more
Than adding up and ruling off and lining at the door.
Then one day he found himself lining up to enter
Another world he’d been denied. He’d found the Resource Centre.

He’d played X-Box, Nintendo, on Gameboy and on Wii,
He’d played the games on Gamecube, and Sony PS3.
He’d been a cute young Sackboy who’d conquered many places,
He’d raced with Super Mario and cleaned up all the aces.
Gerald George had fought and won, he’d shown the world his brilliance,
He’d found out at an early age what his teacher called resilience.
And he had found the secret paths in games on his Playstation.
He’d helped his friends, he learnt something the school called collaboration.

Yes Gerald George knew many things, he knew about Obama,
But going through those 3M gates, he knew he’d found Nirvana.
From wall to wall and back again, wherever he would look
He saw desktops with their monitors, he saw laptops, he saw books.
George could not believe his eyes, he’d found the dragon’s treasure
Yet he couldn’t see that dragon beast, he’d have to get its measure.
And then our George, he found himself upon the story mat,
Still wondering where the dragon lurked and if it had a bat

His eyes grew wide, his nostrils flared; he knew the beast was near,
Perhaps it hid behind the stacks; it filled the boy with fear.
The Library Teacher sat right down, a story book in hand
And read a tale of War and Peas set in another land.
George enjoyed the little book, with t’other boys and girls
And then it hit him suddenly. She was wearing pearls
His heart jumped up into his throat, it filled him with distress,
He knew that in some libraries, that’s how those dragons dress.

As time went by, Gerald George was wary as could be,
“What if she grows a tail and claws and tries to gobble me?”
Yet this so-called monster showed to George amazing tricks:
Define Locate and Synthesise, a thing called the Big Six.
He knew that he had found at last what he was searching for:
A key to use the info gained and open up the door,
To learn to learn and research and get himself top scores.
And in that time, young Gerald George had only one complaint,
He thought the Library Teacher should have been made a saint.

So when you read the headlines and stories in the press,
Don’t always think they’re accurate or gospel truth unless
You have learnt from Gerald George, applied the Big Six test
And organised and synthesised and ticked off all the rest.
‘Cos hiding in the Library, they’re plainly on display,
Are pearls of wisdom there for you each and every day.
Remember how young Gerald George and all the boys and girls
Found inspiration in their Library from a ‘dragon’ wearing pearls.

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