Letters to Editor, The Age

Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2007 to letters@theage.com.au
Subject: How we lost the plot


Librarians can inspire readers
AGNES Nieuwenhuizen raises issues that are timely for us all. The challenge in developing a love of reading must be the promotion of both school and public libraries, as they offer free reading material to the entire community.
The role of the librarian is often overlooked in this issue, when it is the librarian who has the best skills in matching reader to book, the best knowledge in children’s literature, and the passion to inspire readers.

Until we uphold the value of libraries, especially school libraries, and provide them with adequate funding, qualified staff and employment not aligned to the number of students enrolled, then we are only providing lip service to any promotion of reading.
Sharon McGuinness, Thirroul, NSW

A second letter sent

If Agnes Nieuwenhuizen knew how many times her name was mentioned in my literature classes whilst studying to be teacher librarian almost twenty years ago, perhaps our profession might have rated a mention in her recent article. Teacher librarians hold dual qualifications in teaching and librarianship, and promoting a love of literature is at the heart of our work. We also ensure the provision of appropriate educational resources for staff and students, and integrate effective research strategies into learning. It is time for both state and federal governments to recognise the contribution that well funded and adequately staffed libraries make to education, and take steps to ensure that the decline in school library services stops now.

LP in Vic

A third letter!

Establishing a Reading Culture
A recent article in The Age by Agnes Van Nieuwenhuizen, addresses some of the key issues in fostering an interest in reading. This is my perspective as a Teacher-Librarian.

Firstly, schools have to maximize opportunities for free reading; especially when families are “time-poor.” Some schools call this time USSR, Uninterrupted Silent Sustained Reading. Call it whatever you will but schools must provide this time.

Secondly, school libraries must provide abundant engaging materials with the expectation that students borrow on a regular basis. This is easy in Australia as we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to reading material. What is embarrassing is that school library funding limits resources and therefore student choice.

How do we ensure that the material is engaging? Easy: involve students in the selection process. A little bit of democracy goes a long way. Reluctant boy readers are often able readers but find the material offered uninteresting.

Thirdly, schools must maximize reading aloud opportunities. In busy families the only language many hear is that of “command and demand.” Schools can address this imbalance.

Finally, all schools need to be staffed by qualified personnel, preferably a Teacher-Librarian who can take responsibility for the creation of a reading culture in all its complexity.

Teacher Librarian

A fourth letter!!

I can reassure Agnes Nieuwenhuizen that there are still people in schools whose job and privilege it is to encourage children and young adults to read. They are teacher librarians having both a knowledge and understanding of curriculum, and expertise in librarianship including children’s literature. The ability to match the right book to the child is still valued by teacher librarians if not the educational bureaucracies.

Last week three classes came to the library to select reading material, three classes with widely differing reading abilities and interests. For each class I created a book display. Each class had a different selection based on knowledge of the students. I highlighted Australian titles believing it is important that we see our own lives reflected in literature as well as vicariously living others’. Students chose what they liked (not limited to the books displayed) and most found something to interest them.

The sad thing is that teacher librarians are often not valued. Many Victorian schools have chosen not to employ teacher librarians despite research showing that a well-stocked school library with qualified staff has a positive effect on students’ academic results regardless of other variables. In my own state of New South Wales we still have teacher librarians but they have become subverted to provide relief from face to face teaching in primary schools and marginalised in secondary schools.


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