The Past (The Past: Longer Version)
It was intense lobbying which kick started Australian school libraries in the 1960s and 70s. In the twelve years 1969-1980, it is suggested some $200 million of federal government funds were spent on school libraries. This was the result of reports commissioned by library associations and submissions from a broad range of education and library groups. (See Jim Dwyer’s Federal Aid to School Libraries – A Perspective, ACE, 2009)
About 1200 new secondary school libraries were built by 1977. By 1978 there were some 3500 qualified (at least the equivalent of one term full-time training in school librarianship) teacher librarians in Australia.
All this was as a result of pressure on the Federal government.
The Accountability and Rationalization Years
An excellent account of economic and political forces which affected schools and school libraries in the 1990s can be found in the Teacher Librarians and School Library Policy of the Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Education Union (2008). Commonwealth school library grants ceased. School staffs were rationalized, and teacher librarians were counted as part of the teaching staff, not extra to it. Central school library services dwindled. IT was seen by many as a panacea. Library courses in South Australia and Tasmania were cut. And the TL workforce is greying.
So almost 30 years after the halcyon days, school libraries are again facing a crisis. Faced with global budgeting shortfalls, principals are forced to make cutbacks, and unfortunately, the library has often been the easiest place to do this.
Evidence tells us that library budgets have plummeted across the country. Staffing levels have also been greatly reduced in an effort to save money. See recent survey results.
Without the strong state school library services which existed in the 1980s, state and national statistics are hard to obtain. The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and the Australian School Library Association (ASLA) fortunately have undertaken a project with Edith Cowan University to gather statistical data. (See Combes, 2008. Australian School Library Research Project). It tells us that the situation in many, if not most, government schools is dire. Meanwhile, tertiary places for teacher librarians are decreasing. The University of Melbourne has ceased the only course available in Victoria.
After submission of your petition with over 1600 signatures, a federal House Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians took place over four months in all states and territories in 2010. The Committee’s ReportSchool libraries and teacher librarians in 21st century Australia, was tabled on May 23 2011. The complex issues of teacher librarian decline and cross-sector inequities were explored in 13 hearings with over 100 witnesses and 387 submissions. We now await the government’s response to the Report’s recommendations. Here is a brief history of The Hub’s involvement with the Inquiry.
The Children’s Book Council of Australia undertook a comprehensive survey for their federal inquiry submission. It found that,
- “many BER libraries will be limited in services and collections, including digital collection, because of their operating constraints due to staffing and limited budgets”, and
- “financially, there is a great information divide between libraries in different educational sectors, with average budgets ranging from $10,000 (Government), $20,000 (Catholic), $37,000 (Independent) and $44,000 (Anglican) schools.”
School libraries are not the same as public libraries.
Take a few minutes to click here and read about why school libraries are unique, and why they require specialist staffing.
Maureen Nimon has published an excellent article on School Libraries in Australia in the Australian Library Journal, 2003.
Alan Bundy, also, has written a great deal about learning and libraries. His article Essential Connections: School and Public Libraries for Lifelong Learning, presented at the Forging Future Directions ASLA conference in 2001, provides a good explanation of the Reports and surveys which guided early development of libraries and the connection between school and public libraries.
And the Future?
Joyce Valenza, Springfield Township HS librarian (PA, USA) gives us an excellent chart of where school libraries have been and where they are going. For a view of the future go to her article How my life has changed / How will my life change? 30 years of information and educational change; how should our practice respond?