CBCA Open Letter to Julia Gillard

An open letter to Julia Gillard 23 March 2010

Dear Ms Gillard,

Thank you for launching an Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians in Australian Schools. The Federal Government’s ‘Building an Educational Revolution’ stimulus package showed us your vision for 21st century school libraries. Now it’s time to consolidate that vision by staffing those buildings with professional teacher librarians.

All Australian students deserve 21st century schools staffed by 21st century professionally qualified teacher librarians.

Australian education stands at the crossroads of technological, educational and cultural reforms.

As a specialist in both information literacy and reading, the teacher librarian is uniquely placed to deal with such change.  The Lonsdale Report (2003) found that active school library programs run by a trained teacher librarian made a significant difference to student learning outcomes. Students in schools without a teacher librarian are educationally disadvantaged.

Teacher librarians are familiar with both the curriculum and with how students learn. They work across all curriculum areas to resource the curriculum with suitable resources catering for the individual student. They collaborate with teachers helping students to develop research skills and to  guide students to become independent learners who can negotiate a myriad of complex digital  sources of information. Teacher librarians help students develop ‘…the ability to process and use information effectively …the basic survival skill for those who wish to be successful members of the 21st century.’ (Learning for the future, 2001)

People connect with each other through reading.

The National Curriculum renews the emphasis on Literacy, Literature and History. Despite an influx of technology into schools, OECD survey results show that Australia’s reading literacy ratings have slipped. Reading literacy underpins an individual’s ability to succeed.  The best way to improve literacy is to immerse children in reading (Krashen, 2008). Teacher librarians maintain an in depth knowledge of literature and are dedicated to finding the right reading for each student. Teacher librarians run specialised reading programs within their schools to encourage reading. Not only does reading improve student literacy, it also fosters positive and enjoyable reading experiences that contribute to lifelong learning, to greater empathy for others, and the discovery of where and how we fit into our world.

Effective leadership places great value on its ‘people assets’.

There has not been a review of school libraries since the federal programs to build, staff and resource school libraries in the 1970s. With the decentralisation of power in education, there has been an erosion of the ‘people assets’ in Australian school libraries, a severe decline in the numbers of qualified teacher librarians staffing libraries, in the number of teacher librarian training programs, in school library funding, and in centralised school library services and policy advisors. Many school libraries throughout Australia lack the cross-curricular, multi-disciplinary expertise of teacher librarians vital to help students on the information journey.

It’s time for ‘Building an Educational Revolution’ WITHIN school libraries.

Much has changed since the 1970s. Libraries and teacher librarians also need to change and to become ‘changemakers’, adapting best practice to a digital environment. It’s time for national standards and policies about school libraries and library funding, for a recognition of the need for pre-service and in-service of teacher librarians for Australian schools, with reform informed by detailed data collection and research.

We commend the Federal Government on its initiative to launch this inquiry and look forward to a revolution within Australian school libraries.

Marj Kirkland

National President

The Children’s Book Council of Australia


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