Submission of SLASA to NITL, 2005

Submission No. 215

National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy


by the

School Library Association of South Australia Inc. (SLASA)

Contact: Alle Goldsworthy, Vice President SLASA, Ph 8226 2006 Email:


This submission has been prepared by the School Library Association of South Australia in consultation with its members who include teacher librarians from all three education sectors – Department of Education and Children’s Services, Catholic Education Office and Association of Independent Schools, South Australia – from Reception to Year 12.

The submission begins with a brief definition of literacy, followed by an important section outlining the relevance of the specialised skills of  teacher librarians in the area of literacy. Research demonstrating the role of the teacher librarian and the implications of this research are then outlined, finishing with three recommendations for the panel to consider.

Defining Literacy

“Literacy is the ability to understand, analyse, critically respond to and produce appropriate spoken, written, visual and multimedia communication in different contexts.”

South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability (SACSA) Framework 2001.

It includes information literacy and skills for lifelong learning. Literacy is developed in learners through reading, listening to and viewing a range of texts to identify conventions, ideas, events and information leading on to children constructing their own texts and meaning. It is recognised that literacy is very important in the formative early years but continues to be important right through to year 12 and beyond as a prerequisite for lifelong learning.

What do teacher librarians have to do with literacy?

Teacher librarians have specialised expertise in literacy, literature and learning which has a major impact on student learning and in particular, on student literacy.

‘Reading is both a skill and a behaviour. It is a combination of knowing how to read and the desire to do so’ (Carter, B 2000). Students need to be taught decoding and comprehension skills to read effectively but they should also develop the desire to read that comes from a love of books and reading. Gillett and Temple (1994) document numerous studies that show a positive correlation between the time spent reading and reading achievement. Children learn to read by reading and teacher librarians can open the door for students to become lifelong readers. Expertise in literature for children and young people enables teacher librarians to promote books and authors to classes and to match the right book with the right child. This, along with a rich, diverse and inclusive literature collection results in more voluntary reading by students as well as fostering an environment where students are encouraged to read for enjoyment and leisure. Teacher librarians also have a role in developing student understandings about the texts they are reading and looking at them with critical awareness. Teacher librarians are often the people who also offer professional learning to colleagues about books and authors.

Some school libraries and joint-use school community libraries provide books and services for a much younger clientele of preschool children playing an important role in their early years literacy development.

Life-long learning in the 21st century must also include information literacy. As new technologies become part of student learning they must be taught the skills to retrieve, evaluate and use information. The teacher librarian has an important role in working with classroom teachers to integrate information literacy skills into the curriculum enabling students to become independent and successful seekers and users of information.

The Australian School Library Association and Australian Library and Information Association have developed Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians in consultation with stakeholders in all Australian states and territories. The following indicators illustrate the major role Australian teacher librarians have in literacy education.

Excellent teacher-librarians

  • have a sound understanding of how children and young adults become independent readers
  • have a comprehensive understanding of literacy, literature for children and young adults, curriculum and specific programs in their schools
  • have a detailed knowledge of how to promote and foster reading
  • create and nurture an information-rich learning environment which supports the needs of the school community
  • provide access to information resources through efficient, effective and professionally-managed systems
  • foster an environment where learners are encouraged and empowered to read, view, listen and respond for understanding and enjoyment
  • evaluate student learning to provide evidence of progress in information literacy and reading foster a reading culture through the active promotion of literature

International research

The simple message of significant international reviews of research into reading (Cullinan 1992, Krashen 1993, McQuillan 1998) is that children and teens surrounded by sufficient quantities of books they want to read, actually read more, and that those who read more score higher on any academic achievement test they take.

Krashen’s (1993) conclusions come from a comprehensive meta-analysis of evidence from 100 years of research and showed that students who engaged in free reading did as well or better on standardised tests of reading comprehension than students who were given direct instruction in reading.

McQuillan (1998) collates statistical evidence to show that ”low reading scores are not attributable to the method used to teach reading, but the access to reading material.”

Cullinan (1992) notes that the 1% of children who learn to read before school entrance are those who are read to, that children need not be from privileged homes in order to learn to read early, but they must have access to print and have someone to read to them.

Australian Research

The 1996 National School English Literacy Survey (Masters & Forster, 1997) identified the following major differences between schools and students in terms of literacy achievement.

  • Students in schools where teachers make greater use of the school library with their classes tend to have higher levels of literacy achievement. (p. 208)
  • Students who report higher levels of enjoyment of literacy activities in class tend to have higher levels of literacy achievement. (p.209)

This local finding about the importance of access to a well-stocked and staffed school library in terms of literacy achievement is by no means unique. There has been a great deal of research internationally into the impact of school library and information services on children’s reading and learning outcomes. For a review of recent research and its relevance to Australian education, see: Lonsdale, Michele, 2003 Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement: a Review of the Research, Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne available at:

Implications of the research findings

  • Emphasis on literacy and reading by the government is invaluable.  This includes opportunities for professional development for teachers, resources, reports of ongoing research, incentives for children to read e.g. Premier’s Reading Challenge and occasions for promotion of literacy to wider public such as National Literacy and Numeracy Week. The success of the Premier’s Reading Challenge in many schools in South Australia, and possibly other states, is due to the support of teacher librarians and their collaboration and influence with teachers as well as students.
  • Well-resourced school libraries are essential.  They become a learning hub for the school, offering access to print and non-print resources and a gateway to resources from all around the world.  They also provide ease of access to information technology.
  • Physical space for reading and research is vital.  It needs to be comfortable, appealing, suited to individual, small group or large group activities.  It should have withdrawal space for class storytelling and performance.
  • The school library resource collection needs to meet criteria as set out in national standards such as Learning for the Future 2nd ed (Curriculum Corporation, 2001).  It needs to be up-to-date, in good repair and cater for all users and reading levels.
  • Targeted grants to school libraries, such as the Book Industry (BIAP) grants are essential to help all schools, but particularly small schools and under resourced schools, to ensure that all young people have equal opportunity to read. These grants have stopped in 2005 after four years.
  • The physical environment needs to be complemented by specialists who are qualified teacher librarians. Teacher librarians teach the skills of life-long learning by introducing students to the Inquiry Process and the skills of information literacy, visual literacy and critical literacy.  In a non-threatening environment, they support students in their quest for knowledge, allowing students to develop at their own pace and in many cases, pursuing their own interests.
  • Teacher librarians, as knowledge managers, are familiar with the latest developments in information technology and work with staff to promote the most effective systems and services, ensuring successful integration into the curriculum.
  • Teacher librarians are trained in children’s literature and reading development, and inspire young people with a love and knowledge of literature. They assist to find the right book for each child to suit differences in reading interests and levels. They provide the incentive and stimulation to discover new authors and books.
  • Teacher librarians work in partnership with school administrators, classroom teachers, literacy coordinators, Information and Communication Technology coordinators, public libraries and school community libraries, bookshops, parents and keep abreast of research into reading by academics.
  • Excellent teacher librarian training courses need to be provided in each State.  It is essential that we ensure that such valuable specialists continue to be available to our schools.  An Australian Education Union survey of South Australian government school library staffing in 2001 found that “a third of all schools are understaffed and/or staffed with unqualified personnel.” (Spence 2002)

In conclusion, the School Library Association of South Australia believe that one of the best outcomes for children and students of this National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy is to make recommendations that ensure

  • Every school in Australia is staffed with a teacher librarian with the dual qualifications of teaching and librarianship based on student numbers.
  • All states have access to Universities offering excellent teacher librarian courses ensuring the supply of qualified committed teacher librarians for all Australian schools
  • Commonwealth funding to improve the quality and quantity of resources in Australian school libraries is continued.


Carter, B. 2000, ‘Formula for failure’, [Online], Reed Business Information, Available: [20 February 2005]

Cullinan, Bernice, 2000, “Independent Reading and School Achievement” School Library Media Research [Online} 2000 Vol 3. Available: [20 February 2005]

Gillet, J., & Temple, C. 1994, Understanding reading problems: Assessment and

instruction, 2nd edition, Harper Collins College Publishers, New York.

Krashen, Stephen, 1993 The Power of Reading, Englewood, CO, Libraries Unlimited

Loertscher, David, 2000, Taxonomies of the school library media program 2nd ed San Jose, CA,

Hi Willow Research

Lonsdale, Michele, 2003 Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement: a Review of the

Research,[Online] Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne. Available: [20 February 2005]

Masters. G., and Forster, M. 1997. Mapping Literacy Achievement: Results of the 1996

National School English Literacy Survey, [Online] ACER, Melbourne. Available: [20 February 2005]

McQuillan, Jeff, 1998 The Literacy Crisis, Portsmouth NH, Heinemann.

Spence, Sue (2002), “Survey highlights major problems with library staffing”[Online]

AEU Journal, SA branch, December 2002. Available: [16 March 2005]

Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians, 2004 [Online] ALIA/ASLA.


Reproduced with the permission of Alle Goldsworthy, 2009

One response

6 08 2009
Submissions « The Hub

[…] Submission from the School Library Association of South Australia to the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, […]

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