Teacher Librarian numbers in decline

Lonsdale Report excerpt (ACER, 2003)

(See also the results of more recent surveys and the statistics by state/territory)

4.1 Teacher librarian population

In the absence of systematically aggregated national data, it is difficult to gain an accurate picture of national trends in Australia in relation to the staffing of school libraries. Anecdotal evidence, and information gained from several State-based surveys, however, indicate:

  • a general shortage of teacher librarians (and other specialist teachers);
  • the practice of schools using librarians rather than teacher librarians, or having staff with no library or teaching qualifications at all;
  • teacher librarians being used in classrooms as subject teachers to fill gaps in staffing;
  • an ageing profession, with retirees not being replaced by sufficient numbers of graduates; and
  • added responsibilities for teacher librarians in terms of technology maintenance and student use of technology.

In addition, devolution of financial management to schools means that funding for school libraries relies on the resource allocation priorities established by the school community, which might or might not place a high priority on the need for a well-staffed library system.

An Australian Education Union (AEU) survey in 2002 by the South Australian branch shows that of the 303 work sites that responded, 107 have school libraries staffed below the recommended level and 109 have staff without teacher librarian qualifications (AEU 2002).

A position paper by the AEU Tasmanian Branch (AEU 2000) notes that in recent years school libraries have undergone cuts in staffing and resources and that teacher aides have replaced professional staff. Principals, senior staff and parents, the paper suggests, have not sufficiently valued either the school library or the teacher librarian. The paper also points out that teacher librarians ‘are being asked to spend more time in the classroom and, as a result, are unable to do literature promotion, book clubs, staff liaison, effective teaching of information and research skills, co-operative teaching and planning, let alone management’ (p. 7). The position paper notes that precisely at a time when schools are in the middle of an information explosion ‘libraries have been marginalised and considered optional or non-core services in schools’ (p. 5).

Another discussion paper from the State Library of Tasmania notes a decline of nearly fifty per cent in the number of teacher librarians in Tasmanian schools in the period 1996-2000 and that the student/teacher librarian ratio has increased substantially from 1:875 students in 1996 to 1:1219 in 2000 (State Library of Tasmania 2000). The paper also highlights the inequitable access to human resources in libraries among schools.

An NSW Primary Principals’ Association position paper (NSWPPA 2002) notes that whereas previously relief from face-to-face teaching (RFF) was provided by RFF teachers from RFF allocations of two hours per teacher, now many schools use the teacher librarian to deliver part of the RFF program. The paper suggests that information literacy ‘is too important to be taught in isolation from other class activities’ and that the responsibilities of the teacher librarian are already demanding and complex enough without this added responsibility.

Two recent surveys carried out in Victorian primary and secondary schools confirm this grim scenario. Using the standards developed by ASLA and the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) as a benchmark, Welch and Braybrook (2002) found that twenty per cent of schools in Victoria are staffed at a level equal to or above the recommended level and eighty per cent are below this standard, and that seventy per cent of schools in the survey operate below the recommended number of hours needed to staff school libraries.

Reynolds and Carroll (2001) found that since 1983 the number of primary school libraries being staffed by qualified teacher librarians has dropped dramatically from fifty-five to thirteen per cent. They also found that twelve per cent of the school libraries in their survey are being managed by someone with no formal qualifications of any kind, although some of these schools had at least one qualified teacher librarian on their staff. The Reynolds and Carroll survey also reveals that many respondents are undertaking other responsibilities in addition to their library ones, such as arts co-ordinator, assistant principal, classroom teacher, integration teacher, information technology co-ordinator, LOTE teacher and literacy co-ordinator.

Kaye (2000) and Alderman (2001) note several trends, including the greying of the profession. Many women in the library profession often opt for early retirement, Kaye suggests, because there are few promotional opportunities open to them. As schools assume greater administrative and financial autonomy, the hiring and firing of staff is increasingly being taken on by the principal rather than the Education Department, with the result that in some schools teacher librarians have had to take on a subject teaching load that compromises their library responsibilities. One consequence of having fewer schools of information and library studies at the tertiary level, and thus fewer graduates moving into the profession, Kay warns, is that there are also fewer strong advocates for school libraries. In Tasmania, for example, until recently, no teacher librarianship course of study was offered. Those wanting to undertake a teacher librarianship course had to enrol externally with mainland institutions. If the numbers of school librarians are not being replenished, and if those teacher librarians who do already work in schools are often being used in other roles, then a review that highlights the positive impact of school librarians on student achievement is an important strategic step.

The Welch-Braybrook and Reynolds-Carroll surveys provide evidence of the decline of library services and staffing in schools (Cotter 2002). The ASLA briefing document for this review acknowledges that in Australia ‘there has been a serious decline in the number of qualified teacher librarians employed in school libraries in public schools’. Although this decline is difficult to substantiate in a systematic and substantial way owing to the lack of readily accessible national data, the findings above, taken together with anecdotal evidence from the various States and Territories, confirm the ASLA view that a review of the impact of school libraries on student achievement is urgently needed.

from Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement: A Review of the Research

18 responses

18 05 2009
Debi Burden

Sad to hear that trained T/Ls are on the decline. Lots of primary schools have their principal take on the role as part of their load. RFF in primary schools is also increasing, taking away from services which can be provided. I know of a librarian that has been appointed (at a local school) that is not a teacher. He is struggling. What support is there out there for these people that the Department throws in the deep end?
Interested in your group and happy to help. I have experience as both primary and secondary schools in NSW.
Debi Burden

28 04 2010
K Johns

School librarianship has always intrigued me. I qualified as a librarian fifteen years ago and went to work in public libraries for a number of years and then into academic libraries.

As part of my BA (Librarianship) degree, the course covered all aspects of information literacy and the requirements to teach this to others in all types of libraries. Upon graduation, many of us were employed in state or local government departments, while others opted to stay on and do a teaching year, which allowed a student to teach in the fields in which they have majored.

I have never understood why it is necessary for a school librarian to have the teaching diploma. When I worked in local government I did not have a diploma in local government or politics; in academia, I did not need a Ph.D. to liaise with academic and administrative staff. My librarianship qualifications were enough to qualify me to run a library, or specialise within an area of librarianship.

I believe the term “teacher librarian” is tautological. Librarians are trained in information literacy, and teaching this to others is a daily occurence for many. More particularly, librarians are trained in the dissemination of information and critiquing of information sources, which now more than ever – in this “digitisation is the new circulation” age of research – needs teaching to all members of the school user community.

I think the requirement of the Dept. of Ed to insist on a teaching qualification for someone employed to run the library is really a “double dip”. It perpetuates a myth that the school library – as most libraries are – a place of enormous value to the stakeholders, but little more than tokenistic show for the school itself. Such places tend to be staid and uninspiring, when all of us who cherish libraries know they should be dynamic and progressive, particularly in a technological world where proving your relevance is almost a daily ritual in some workplaces.

Librarians teach necessary research skills to all members of the school community -teaching staff, support staff, admin and the children and parents – is a big enough job (assuming the operational functions of acquistions, technical services and collection development are all accounted for as well) Generally, all these jobs fall to one person in a school library as well as a few dedicated volunteer helpers. (Don’t get me started on volunteers and training!)

Perhaps teacher librarian numbers wouldn’t be in decline if the job was redefined in line with the requirements of an IT position and, while still support, maintaining the standards of professionalism required throughout all streams of librarianship in Australia.

ALIA should have a fit if they realised the extent to which – to quote Debi above – teachers get “thrown in at the deep end” to run the school library without the necessary training.

I know it all comes down to the three “R’s” resources, resources, resources. But at what cost is the compromise?


29 04 2010
Ian McLean

K. Johns, you can answer your own question by asking yourself exactly what your other BA (Librarianship) student colleagues were studying during their “teaching year”. This part of the course is where students are exposed to the theories of how learning occurs in children, ways to the various ways of planning, programming and teaching from a syllabus, what are outcomes and indicators, effective methods for class management and student discipline, aspects of pastoral care and teacher responsibilities, etc. And the opportunity to put all their theories into practice in organised, supervised practicums in schools.

A public librarian might learn *some* of these skills through the school of hard knocks, their own child-rearing, journal articles, or short professional development courses, but the teacher-librarian is (theoretically) always arriving on duty a fully-qualified teacher. You can’t leave a class of students unsupervised with an adult volunteer, a visiting speaker or a public librarian, but a teacher-librarian can quickly become a teacher as required – because they are already a teacher.

If school libraries are to be staffed with clerical assistants or public librarians (a much lower pay scale than teacher-librarians), the assumption that quality teacher was (theoretically) always happening couldn’t be made.

29 04 2010
Kerrie Brownscombe

I agree, having spent 20 years in the education system at various levels as a school assistant, my newly acquired degree in librarianship is backed by years of experience dealing with teacher’s and students.

2 04 2010
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11 04 2010
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29 04 2010
Dianne McKenzie

I am a teacher librarian and I do more than teach information literacy skills. I am on the school leadership team, I am in planning meetings with every teacher sometime during the year and, because of my teaching background I am able to see things from a teachers perspective and then add to the conversation about class activities that may or may not involve information literacy. I attend and help organise camps, as well as other excursions. I am the chair of the school social committee, I work alongside the digital literacies co-ordinator, I am able go beyond the role of librarian (in fact I am expected to). In my experience of working with Librarians without the teaching qualification, as much as I believe many are capable, it is very rare for a librarian to be as involved in a school life as a Teacher Librarian. They are not given the authority by the school, in many cases a Teacher is their line manager and calls the shots (who may or may not have time, experience, understanding or the inclination to do this job well). In the schools where there are teacher librarians their literacy programmes seem to be richer, the library is really the hub of the school and collaboration is really happening.

Teachers do make a difference in the role as school librarian as they can see everything they do from an educational perspective – not just an administrative perspective. I can see a resource and think about different ways it can be used in a unit of inquiry, rather than just that it might be useful, and with a teaching background I am able to express to the teachers my thoughts and ideas, and where I think it would fit into their planning.

As a teacher I understand and embrace planning time, the staff also include me in the planning, and welcome my thoughts and ideas from an outside teaching perspective, these are not always about information literacy. I know what resources we have available and understand what to order based on the perspective the unit takes. Without being involved in planning, this is quite difficult to do.

As a teacher I am also able to take a class without another teacher present, the students understand that I am a teacher and although it should not be the case, it does happen that they tend to respect what you are able to help them with more than if they know you are not a teacher. As a teacher I am also aware of classroom management strategies and processes of teaching to help make what the students need to learn engaging and meaningful. I am happy to ‘lose control’ and allow learning to happen in an inquiry and social context, and if learning moments happen when students are on the edge of learning – I can recognise that and use them.

I also am able to administer the library from a users perspective, trying to ensure that everyone can access what they need when they need it. Sometimes librarians who have worked outside of school libraries find it difficult to work with the fluidity and disruptive style of day that is a school. As an educator I know that is the way it is, and you need to work with it to keep the motion going.

I am also seen as an educator of the staff, running professional development on web 2.0 in education as well as other topics of equal importance. I create resources for teachers to use to help the students learn, I find links that help them become better teachers and send them to them, rather than wait for them to come to me.

I am an integral part of the school teaching community who is able to add value to the school as a whole rather than being a “librarian who is able to teach information literacy”. The TL role is way more than that in my school, if it isn’t in others, then a Librarian can do the job.

29 04 2010

Thanks for this, Dianne. A great example of best practice.

30 04 2010
Chantal Hochstrasser

In response to comments by K Johns,
It is most unfortunate that there are those who evidently do not value the role of the teacher. Her comments highlight the fact that, like many others, she is unaware of the skills and expertise that qualified teachers bring to a classroom (any classroom, including libraries, which are also learning spaces).

As many others have stated here and on the OzTl net, we have made the effort to obtain not one but two qualifications, because it is necessary for us to have both, in order to fulfil the role of teacher and librarian effectively. (This is also why we get paid more than public librarians, yet interestingly…not more than teachers.)

Very few of us would privately or publically bash anothers’ profession or question their relevance, however it is apparant that there are many who feel they are entitled to question the role of teachers, and especially of teacher librarians. Perhaps it is time that we take on the view of the Singapore government, who splash their buses with the following… “If you can read this, THANK A TEACHER” (and in our case, also a TL, since more often than not, it is the TL who changes the mind of the reluctant reader)!

I wish K Johns well in her choice of profession, and trust that she will respect the fact that we all are entitled to the same respect in ours.

To Ian, Dianne, Kerrie and all the other TLs out there… (who know our worth and how much we contribute) thank you for helping others see how much we do on a daily basis, for the benefit of students, staff and parents, in such a professional manner.

3 05 2010
ADHD Librarian

I find it strange that Chantal takes K. Johns’ comments as an affront to teachers. But then, I am a School Librarian rather than a teacher librarian, so perhaps I am one of those undercutting the professionalism of the school library? After all, according to Ian, a Librarian is on par with a clerical assistant when it comes to professionalism or is an adult volunteer a better comparison?

It is an odd situation in which I find myself because I have complained myself about the increase in unqualified staff in libraries and the importing of non-librarians as library managers.

But when I read things like “…I do more than teach information literacy skills. I am on the school leadership team, I am in planning meetings with every teacher sometime during the year and, because of my teaching background I am able to see things from a teachers perspective and then add to the conversation about class activities that may or may not involve information literacy. I attend and help organise camps, as well as other excursions. I am the chair of the school social committee, I work alongside the digital literacies co-ordinator, I am able go beyond the role of librarian (in fact I am expected to).”

I can stand up and say, “so do I”. Sure I may have to change a line or two. “because of my NON-teaching background I am able to see things from a DIFFERENT perspective” you get the idea though.

but when I then read “it is very rare for a librarian to be as involved in a school life as a Teacher Librarian.” I want to ask what that has to do with professional qualifications? Because it seems to have more to do with anecdotal evidence and one person’s experiences. I have run the school cross country, I have coached a league team, I am on the magazine committee and the ICT committee…

What is it in a teaching qualification which would cause an increase in involvement in my workplace? As a public librarian I read bedtime stories to kids after hours, worked to hang artworks for openings, worked through the weekend to have a new branch open in time for an official ceremony. As an academic librarian, I marched in academic processions, stayed late to speak to students who attended evening classes and attended commencement ceremonies. Can you tell me that all teachers are this dedicated while all librarians lack the inclination. Seriously? The inclination! I can understand questioning whether a librarian has the qualifications or the understanding for the role but to question if we have the ‘time’ does time works differently once you have a Dip Ed?

Likewise “They are not given the authority by the school”. I am not? Are you sure, because it seems to me I am in control of my library, I have a budget line which I spend as I see fit I decide when the library is open and when it is shut, I decide when I accept a class in the library and when I decline…

I don’t think that saying there may be a place in a school library for a non-teacher librarian is the same as questioning the role of a teacher and I suspect that there are a few benefits to having a different perspective in the mix.

I would also like to ask, given the suggestion that there may be a lack of qualified TLs, who is the better fit in your library a non-teacher librarian or a non-librarian teacher? The answer I suspect would be that it depends on the skills of the individual and the skill mix in your school.

It does seem odd (especially given the support ALIA and a lot of librarians from other sectors have given during this government inquiry) that there are some rather loud voices in the Australian TL online communities who, rather than just expounding on the brilliance of a TL seem to be questioning the professionalism of librarians. Especially as many of us are already in ur skoolz eduk8ing ur n00bs. And doing it to the satisfaction of the principals who have employed us, the teachers who work alongside us and the kids who is learning.

3 05 2010
Therin of Andor

Dear ADHD – or whoever you are,

Re your comment – and your much longer tirade at

Nobody said they hated you. Nobody questioned your professionalism. Australian TLs were asked on “The Hub”, by a librarian with no diploma in education, what was so special about that extra year of study her colleagues (who became TLs) had done for them.

That’s a big chunk of my attempt to answer her that you’ve quoted in your recent “ADHD Librarian” blog entry. It was not addressed to you, and I’m sorry you took offence.

I was speaking from a NSW DET (New South Wales Department of Education & Training) perspective. Here, a recognised teaching qualification is an essential for teaching of our students.

Hate or admiration of other librarians has nothing to do with it.

Regards, Ian McLean,
Penrith PS,
NSW, Australia.

4 05 2010
ADHD Librarian

I just want to put in an apology (and correction) to my earlier post. I misread Dianne’s post slightly so when I raged against the suggestion that librarians were lacking in inclination I was arguing with things she had not said. Upon re-reading I realise that she was saying that a teacher supervising a librarian may lack the time or the inclination to supervise properly.
So, some of my hubris may have been misdirected.

8 05 2010
22 05 2010
Library decimation | libraryLustre

[…] under Uncategorized Just read this link I found on another blog.   https://hubinfo.wordpress.com/background/few-statistics/teacher-librarian-numbers-in-decline/   It is totally outrageous to suggest that the teaching of information literacy is too difficult […]

22 09 2011
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10 07 2013
Maria Hurd (@hurinand)

As a teacher in training who wants to go on and complete the masters in teacher librarianship I would just like to know if I do end up completing the masters will I even be able to get a job when the positions are all being filled by non-teacher librarians? On another note I read all the comments above and have to wonder why there is so much hating going on? I hate that I have to do the teaching degree first but am so passionate about education and literature that I will do it even if I never use the qualification. I understand both perspectives but the same time have to wonder why anyone feels the need to justify their own work to others. Each of you clearly work hard in what you are willing and capable of doing and if there really is a lack of teacher librarian (which is what the article indicates) then why are you arguing over who is more qualified? You should (according to my child’s librarian) be arguing with the department to keep the jobs you have as there is talk that they are removing the job completely to rely solely on volunteers. I would hate to see this but if she is right, qualification is the least of our troubles. Have any of you noticed the lack of advertising the need to fill your positions? I have noticed the call for teachers in science, maths and geography, for male teachers especially primary school but nothing on teacher librarians until this article. I had to actually do like five hours of research just to find out where I could complete a teacher librarian degree and that I would have to complete my teaching degree first. Even now I am not certain that when I complete my current degree that the masters will still be there for me to do as budget cuts and removal of degrees at unis that do not have enough students or are deemed unnecessary are removed from their offerings. So please stop hating on each other and recognize that all librarians in schools are important even if all that is available is someone who has a passion for caring for books and sharing the wealth of information that can be found only in a library regardless of where it is or how small it may be.

9 02 2016
Margie E Headlam

I am a retired Teacher Librarian and came across The Hub while searching for the number of TLs still employed in Tasmanian schools. I work as a volunteer in our local District High School and it breaks my heart to see the hard working Library Technician marginalised and unsupported. A Teacher Librarian in this position would work with the Teachers, support the Learning and Teaching, have a place at the Staff meetings and generally be an advocate for Inquiry based learning. The present teachers and students just don’t know what they are missing.

11 11 2017
Advocacy is not enough we need power – Informative Flights

[…] countries that used to be bastions of (school / public) libraries and librarianship: the UK ; USA; Australia, and […]

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