What’s Happening with School Libraries?

20 04 2017

Rick Susman, Managing Director of the Booklegger and founder of the Book Bank Initiative, is interviewed by Jon Faine and Sally Warhaft. (Broadcast Wednesday, 26 April on ABC Melbourne 774 Morning show.)  Catch up online.

Australian School Library Survey

15 05 2013

Research studies continue to show that library programs run by a trained teacher library improve student literacy and learning. These studies provide important evidence of the true value of libraries in schools and support our ability to effectively advocate the role of teacher librarians.

One survey which goes a long way to help reinforce the value of our industry is Softlink’s Australian School Library Survey. Since 2010, this survey has identified a positive link between well-resourced libraries and student literacy (NAPLAN) results.

The 2013 Australian School Library Survey is now open.

We encourage school and teacher librarians to participate in the survey and ensure your voice is heard.

The survey will again this year analyse Australian school library budgets, qualified staffing levels and literacy results as well as other key trends impacting school libraries. The results will be provided in an industry-wide report. A copy is distributed to all participates as well as federal and state government and education department decision makers.

For more information please visit the Softlink 2013 Australian School Library Survey.

SHOUT for Literacy and Libraries

21 07 2011

More cuts to library services, now in the public arena.  In times of global economic crisis, libraries which provide internet connections, newspapers, magazines, narrative non-fiction, e-books, audio-books, p-books are needed more than ever.  While I haven’t been able to locate figures for Australia, over a quarter of UK children and young people do not own books.  Without books in the home, school and public libraries become even more valuable.

PISA reading test results (2009) for Australia show the gap is widening between higher socio-economic status readers and lower ones.  The gap is the equivalent of three years of schooling.

What would help overcome this gap? Books, books and more books!  As Professor Stephen Krashen has found over many years of research and study,   “It has been firmly established that more reading leads to better reading (and writing, spelling, vocabulary and grammar), and that more access to books results in more reading” (Krashen, Lee and McQuillan, 2010).  The most fiscally responsible way to provide these books is through public and school libraries.

Yet the recent literacy educators conference in Melbourne had nary a reference to the role of libraries in literacy.  Why?  Could it be that so many literacy teachers have no libraries in their schools? Or if they have them, they are poorly funded and inadequately staffed? Most do not have qualified teacher librarians to network with colleagues, book councils, booksellers and publishers and read professional reviews to select the best reading, whether it is e-reading or p-reading, for their unique student body.  Could it be that teacher educators, even literacy educators, have had little experience in excellent school libraries and do not pass on to pre-service teachers knowledge of the role of TLs in literacy learning?  Could it be that principals have little to go on to justify expenditure on TL staffing and library funding?

Yet if we truly believe that it is the right of every child and citizen to be able to read and to have fiction and narrative non-fiction and picture books and e-books and manga and graphic novels and iPad ezines and biographies and folklore and fairy tales and stories of exploration and invention and imagination, then we must all SHOUT FOR LITERACY AND FOR LIBRARIES!

Let your local council, your local newspaper editor, your local talkback host, your local school principal, your state government, your federal representatives and opposition spokespeople know,  children and adults need libraries to be well funded and well-staffed as never before.

To assist in this, The Hub is establishing a new information site to connect teacher educators, principals, teachers and TLs.  Your practical ideas would be appreciated. Contact hellohub@gmail.com

SHOUT FOR LIBRARIES is the catch cry of Patrick Ness, winner of the 2011 Carnegie Medal, in his acceptance speech.  It was sent by The Hub to every state and federal education minister with a request to:

  • Insist on National Guidelines for quality school library services.
  • Offer scholarships now for training places, as in NSW.
  • Put teacher librarians and libraries into federal and state policies on literacy and the national curriculum.
  • Tie literacy grants to teacher librarian staffing.
  • Ensure National Partnership Agreements and awards can not trade off specialist teachers, such as teacher librarians.
  • And read the speech in full!

Empowering Local Schools to dismiss teacher librarians

7 03 2011

Someone should tell the state premiers.  It’s been good spin for you for the past few years, but meanwhile who will be running your reading challenges when all the teacher librarians have turned out the lights? When all the books are left to parents to purchase for their child’s iPad or laptop?

Books of the Year? Sorry, can only afford to download Wind and the Willows and Alice in Wonderland and Macbeth.  Share those with bub on the knee.

What is it with Inquiries?  Do they give the imprematur to speed up the very practices being investigated for their negative effects?  Wrong word, of course. Imprematur is license to print.  We are talking here about the license to burn, discard, disregard the print.  Unless its out of copyright free print or disjointed, unverifiable, unedited, non-narrative print. Because you sure won’t find narrative non-fiction or a free Book of the Year on your laptop, Sally and Johnnie and Mohammed.

Mad?  Yes I’m mad! When I hear that the South Australian government has negotiated away any safeguard for teacher librarian positions, and school support officers are trying to cope with supporting teacher curriculum needs and students who need to be taught how to find reliable information.

Mad when I hear that Western Australia’s government is going full-steam ahead with its “Independent Public Schools” program. Teacher librarians of 20 years are suddenly supernumaries and feeling betrayed.  Library Officers get Level 2 pay to do a professional teacher’s job.  Teachers and students get short changed.

Do the real independent schools do this?  Hardly! New $8 million Resource Centre Learning Hub Libraries with four full-time professional staff speak loud and clear to prospective parents. (“Libraries turn a fresh page,” Sun Herald, 27 Feb 2011) They are saying, “We know quality libraries support quality teaching and learning.”

So what is Julia’s Empowering Local Schools policy really about?  Without the funds of independent schools, it can only be about shifting the responsibility and the blame. Even Julia knows that NAPLAN literacy results have been correlated with well-staffed and well-stocked school libraries.

So premiers, be sure you have a license for your bookmobiles. The challenge will be that the next generation can read at all.

Write a letter to your local federal member and to the House Education and Employment Inquiry committee now.

BER in Queensland: New Libraries But No Books or TLs?

9 12 2009

A Guest Blogger (name supplied but withheld) from Queensland has contributed the following:

Maralyn Parker’s article in the Daily Telegraph (19 Nov 2009), about the Rudd government’s Building Education Revolution, has opened up an interesting debate. The comments on the blog which followed suggest that there are serious problems with the construction and staffing of libraries in many states.  In Queensland, problems are in two inter-linked areas:

1.     the direction provided to schools for the design and outfitting of the new  libraries

2.     the flexible staffing arrangements which allow individual schools to decide on TL time allocation.

BER Library Design

On the first of these issues, the Manager of Library Services for Education Queensland has no background in libraries or significant qualifications in that area. Yet this person has the authority to lead the implementation of the BER.  Library 21 seminars have been held throughout Queensland and bus trips organised to look at state-of-the-art libraries. The library was promoted as “the information and knowledge hub of a school and a key facility to the transformation of learning in schools in line with the contemporary rethinking of schooling”.  That sounds altruistic, but the Manager goes on to say: “Having said that – the role of the teacher librarian will be very different in the future”, and that is where the disjuncture begins.

The new library designs advocated are spacious, attractive and modeled on marketing books as evidenced in large, commercial bookstores.  Movable, flexible shelving, whilst appearing to display books more appealingly, cannot house the collections of books already held in schools. As the Manager of Library Services said on the Queensland TL listserv, “A library that is considered as a facility only for its custodial role of looking after books will no longer meet the needs of learners in the future.”  Culling on a massive scale is advised and thousands of great books discarded.  One school has been told to get rid of any books published before 2002.  So what happens to the classics and the treasured stories, thousands of which will never be available as e-books?  Another could only display Junior Fiction to the letter O because there was no more shelving space in the new design.  Such examples seem ludicrous, but are the reality of modern design being placed above functionality and practicality.

The move towards e-learning and e-books, whilst worthy, is not matched by the extremely poor state of technology in schools.  Kindles and the usage of e-books may well advantage adults who want the convenience of them, but dispensing with real books in favour of the computerised version is not a scenario suitable for schools – especially primary schools. Teachers who speak in favour of books are seen to be old fashioned and unwilling to take on the “brave new world of technology in the 21st century”, but our libraries have great collections of valuable books, and very few, if any,  Kindles.  Too many computers are in a sorry state and will not fill the void unless mega-money is put into their improvement.  Radical, knee-jerk reactions by the minority, causing wholesale change (quite possibly for political gain only), does not appear a responsible course of action for schools. Barbara Combes (2009) comments that empowering students from as young as primary school is essential if educators are to enable them to navigate an ever-increasing technological landscape.  A specialist teacher librarian in a school is imperative to teach students and teachers to efficiently and effectively research information,  understand cyber safety and provide access to quality multimedia that supports the curriculum.

Staffing of School Libraries

The second aspect of the future of effective libraries in schools is the key role of teacher librarians.  They should be vital members of every school staff, but are undervalued in some schools. An anonymous commentor from Queensland to Parker’s blog states: “In Q’ld state schools, every school with an enrolment of 300 or more qualifies for a dedicated TL position and the policy is that it be filled by a qualified person wherever possible.

In Queensland, principals have the authority to decide upon the allocation of specialist time within their own schools.  Depending upon the priority given to various specialist areas, time may be taken from teacher librarians and weighted in favour of music, physical education or LOTE.  If a principal is supposed to have a teaching load as well as an administrative role, he/she can re-allocate the time so that they are full time administration and the other specialists make up the shortfall by trading their time for the principal’s teaching duties.  In other instances, teacher librarians can be taken from their regular duties in the library to cover staffing absences or special programs.  In some schools, the principal has dispensed with their teacher librarian altogether and staffed the library with an aide, technician or an unqualified person. How many parents are aware of this situation? Parents of students in schools that value their teacher librarian may assume that all schools are similar in their access to high quality library service. The converse is true for schools where a trade-off has occured.

Until Education Queensland values its TLs’ contributions to literature, literacy and information literacy by making the time non-negotiable within schools, the full worth of these grand new libraries will not be utilised.

How will we keep their legacy? Pt. 1

11 11 2009

Roy Lundin.  Joyce Fardell.  Margaret Trask. Jim Dwyer. Laurie McGrath. John Gorton. Malcolm Fraser.  How many of us know what they did for the school libraries we now work in and which our children love?   Jim Dwyer’s ACE Archival Brief No. 7 tells us.

There were no school libraries to speak of before Professor Sarah Fenwick’s study visit to Australia in 1964 was commissioned by the Library Association of Australia, now ALIA. (Fenwick, S. 1966. School and children’s libraries in Australia: a report to the Children’s Libraries Section of the Library Association of Australia Cheshire, Melbourne)

“Libraries of substance at that time were virtually non-existent in primary schools. At secondary level most schools had a classroom set aside as a library, with a collection limited in size, scope and recency, due mainly to an almost total lack of trained library staff.” (Dwyer, 2009)

Fenwick’s report formed the basis for the building of a coalition and a movement.

“By 1966 the calls for Commonwealth intervention to provide financial support for libraries in educational institutions had grown apace. These calls had come from not just the LAA but also other bodies including the Australian School Library Association (ASLA), state and private school authorities, teacher associations, school councils and professors of education. Of special note was the backing of the Australian Teachers Federation (ATF).” (Dwyer, 2009)

The LAA then established the Committee on Federal Aid to Secondary Libraries with Dr. Andrew Fabinyi as Convenor and Margaret Trask as secretary. They worked for four years “on contacting the widest possible range of education-related bodies to seek their support and advice and encourage their active involvement.” Fabinyi and Trask met with Senator John Gorton, Minister for Education and Science. “It was at this meeting that Gorton, strongly supportive of the committee’s aims, suggested that a meeting with Prime Minister Harold Holt might be advantageous. The suggestion was followed up and on 12 December 1967 the Prime Minister replied, agreeing to arrange a meeting early in 1968.  Sadly, within a week the Prime Minister was missing, presumed drowned.”

When Gorton became Prime Minister,  Malcolm Fraser was appointed Minister of Education. At a meeting with Fraser in May 1968, it was agreed that Federal aid should be provided to train secondary teacher librarians and stock school libraries.  $27 million was allocated in the Federal Budget in August. A committee was also formed to establish standards. The entire scheme was eventually overseen by the Schools Commission established in 1973.  They appointed a separate committee to extend the program to primary libraries.

Thus the efforts of the many groups involved came to fruition.  School libraries were established with trained teacher librarians to oversee their management which changed teaching practice, to resource-based, inquiry learning.  The Commission was also responsible for computer generated catalogue studies and the initial funding of the Australian Schools Catalogue Information Service (eventually SCIS). Jim Dwyer goes on to say “Without doubt this was one of the few truly successful national, cooperative endeavours in Australian education history.”

Next Pt. 2: 40 years on

Teacher Librarians: A Dying Breed?

11 06 2009

NSW Children’s Book Council President, Carol Keeble, has written a fine editorial in this month’s newsletter urging all who value books and literacy to lobby local, state and national legislators about the need for teacher librarians and school libraries.  We post it here with permission.


Teacher Librarians: A dying breed?

Teacher Librarians: A dying breed?


Click here for a sample letter with current correspondence with the Shadow Education Minister, ChristopherPyne.

Do we want something from the budget?? You bet!

28 04 2009

post from G Phillips


Federal budget time looms around the corner on the 12th of May.

Do we have anything to say about it?

You bet we do. Ask your federal member and senator now (then also ask your state member!):


The federal government will still be spending money on building new school libraries.  How about staffing them?

We need to let politicians and the public know how inequitable school library services are in Australia, whether we have nice new “infrastructure” buildings or not. NT remote schools have no TLs.  WA primary schools have no TLs appointed.  Vic and ACT  count TLs as part of teaching staff, may or may not have a teacher deployed in the library and do not require that teacher to be a teacher librarian. Probably one in 10 public primary schools in Vic have TLs. In South Australia in 2002  apart from those very small schools with no teacher librarian entitlement, a third of school libraries around the state were understaffed and/or staffed with unqualified personnel. 

Even in Tas and Qld principals are being forced by inadequate staffing budgets to downgrade staff in school libraries, often to clerical positions. It’s not good enough.

Meanwhile, since the early 70s  NSW primary schools have been staffed with trained teacher librarians.  While too often used for teacher relief planning time, they nevertheless are professionally trained in collection management, literacy support, leadership, collaborative teaching and other unique TL professional standards.  If we are talking about equity, I know we agree that ALL Aus students deserve professional school library services run by professionally trained TLs.


What can the federal government do?

National standards can be written for school library facilities and staffing, especially primary libraries.

Dollars can be allocated to increase teacher librarian training positions in university programs.

Federal state school funding can be tied to appropriate school library staffing levels.


The federal government will still be spending money on computers.  How can we make sure students can use them?

MCEETYA (Performance Measurement and Reporting Taskforce, 2005) defines ICT literacy as being able to“access, manage  and evaluate information, develop new understandings, and  communicate with others in order to participate effectively in society” (Statements of Learning for ICT, 2006).

The Council of Australian University Librarians defines information literacy almost identically: “an understanding and set of abilities enabling individuals to recognise when information is needed and have the capacity to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” (CAUL, 2005).  Bringing these literacies (an example matrix) together should be a future aim for MCEETYA. A learning statement on information and ICT literacy should be supported by a national statement on the role of teacher librarians, teachers and principals in creating information literate school communities.


The federal government will still be spending money on a National Schools Assessment and Data Centre.  Will they be collecting appropriate data on school libraries?

Julia Gillard has stated (see letter attached) that it is likely that COAG will be considering the need for better data on teacher librarians. 

We must make sure that separate data is collected on teacher librarian qualifications, library staffing and scheduling and on library funding across all states and territories and all sectors. (See US example.) This must be part of the government’s “transparency and accountability” policy. 


The federal government will still be spending money on improving literacy. The role of teacher librarians and school libraries must be recognized in these efforts.


The federal government could fund programs similar to the US Improving Literacy Through School Libraries grants program. 

The government should fund research into the effect of well-staffed, well-funded school libraries on improving literacy. 1997 was one of the last in Australia! This study indicated that  Extensive use of the school library can increase literacy achievement by as many as 27 points. J. Masters and M. Forster. Mapping Literacy Achievement: Results of the 1996 national School English Literacy Survey. ACER, Melbourne, 1997.

International research speaks strongly.  Teacher librarians give students the opportunity to read by providing materials of interest and books appropriate to each student’s reading level. In addition, school library  programs provide ready access to books. According to Stephen Krashen it is unnecessary to urge young people to read more and understand the importance of reading because, given the chance, they do in fact read quite a bit, and they certainly do understand the importance of reading…. More access to reading results in more reading. 

All literacy programs should explicitly recognize the central role school libraries have in “student achievement, literacy attainment, and preparation for post-secondary success” (Ontario  Coalition for School Libraries) .

So let our federal members and senators know we expect to see school libraries targeted in the budget! Attach copies of your letters in comment space below. School libraries make a difference!



Is the federal government responsible?

11 02 2009

The continuing argy bargy over who is responsible for school library staffing is beginning to grate.  How long can we allow the federal government to continue to fob us off with “Ensuring that there were trained librarians in libraries would therefore be a responsibility of the states “? (See latest response to questions on notice in the current Senate inquiry.) Let’s look at some examples of the way the federal government can influence staffing, and has in the past.

First, the federal government compiles national education and training statistics, to
“provide measures of the levels and outcomes of education and training activity. They are seen as key indicators of the well-being of society. The information is used by governments for purposes such as planning, budgeting, policy design, and program evaluation. The data are also used by providers of education and training, researchers, and community organisations.” (ABS on Education and Training)
Yet what planning can be made by these bodies when no statistics are collected on staffing levels, qualifications and number of graduates for teacher librarians?  This is clearly a federal responsibility.
The federal government has taken an active role in the development of national standards for teaching.  The teacher librarianship profession has responded admirably and Standards of professional excellence for teacher-librarians is frequently pointed out as a model to other teaching professions.

The federal government should now have the responsibility for the

  • Inclusion of statements supporting the significant role of school libraries and teacher librarians in federal Education policy.
  • Recognition of the significant role of school libraries and teacher librarians in federal Literacy and other Education initiatives.
  • Federally funded research into the impact of Australian school libraries on the literacy skills and academic achievement of students at all levels and across all sectors.
  • Development and validation of national standards for school library facilities and staffing.

The federal government frequently prioritizes teacher training in specific areas.  Their latest initiative is to support childhood education teaching.
“The Government is committed to meeting the TAFE fees of people who want to become child care workers. We want people to be going into this industry. We want to encourage them to do so and we’ll be meeting their TAFE fees if that’s what they want to do. We’re also creating 1500 new places at Australian universities for early childhood teachers”. Julia Gillard , June 20, 2008.
So it is a federal responsibility to determine the necessary number of trained teacher librarians to staff every Australian school library, to  increase the number of teacher librarian courses (for example, to reintroduce a Graduate Diploma in Teacher Librarianship and broaden Graduate courses in teacher librarianship in South Australia) and to create places in these courses for TLs.
A recent email from a retired state school library consultant (yes, we had many of them once!) stated, “Whitlam was big for primary libraries and for training TLs. In 1974 selected secondary & primary librarians were seconded to tertiary institutions to undertake a year’s training. Kuring-gai CAE was … asked at short notice to design a course for primary TLs. It was still being designed when delivery began. From memory the first course for secondary TLs was at Newcastle, later transferred under Margaret Trask to Kuring-gai where it was still going on when I left in 1985. The initiative seemed to have come from the federal government….”

The federal government has frequently and continually tied state grants to conditions. Commonwealth funds for state school resources can and should be tied to established school library staffing standards to ensure professional selection, accountability and use of these resources.
So who is responsible for the state of our nation’s school libraries?  You be the judge.

21st Century School Libraries Need 21st Century TLs

4 02 2009

I was possibly one of a few who caught the PM’s “fireside chat” announcing the latest economic stimulus package. Everyone else, including my husband, was rightly still at the beach.  And I surely was one of a small minority who let out a whoop when school libraries were mentioned!!  Now that the dog and I have settled down, memory nags.  Didn’t something like this happen back in the 70s?  Some 1200 new secondary libraries were built by 1977 with Commonwealth grants, following intense lobbying by ASLA, LAA (now ALIA), ALPC, state government and other groups and individuals. 

I can tell you it was an exciting time to be visiting new NSW school libraries armed with that powerful departmental furniture catalogue!!

Yet a survey of all state and territory supervisors of school libraries at that time found that by 1978 there were only some 3500 qualified (at least the equivalent of one term full-time training in school librarianship) teacher librarians in Australia, although 5000 more were needed to meet the standards outlined in the Schools Commission’s standards, Books and Beyond.  

Since then, no one is even keeping track.  The federal government can not tell you how many TLs there are in school libraries. How many “state and territory supervisors of school libraries” even exist anymore to ask? ALIA can not tell you how many TL graduates there are in Australia. ASLA can not tell you how many TLs are needed to be trained to staff Australia’s 6,853 (2007 figures) government schools to their professional standards. State departments of education don’t even distinguish between classroom teachers and teacher librarians in their staffing statistics. So they can’t tell you which schools have no teacher librarians, let alone what training their TLs might have.

Yet there IS anecdotal evidence and some preliminary data which shows that all too few Australian primary school libraries are staffed to professional standards. For example, possibly up to half the primary schools in Victoria do not have teacher librarians. The Northern Territory has very few professionally trained primary teacher librarians and none in remote schools, and government primary schools in Western Australia are not staffed with teacher librarians.

So we ask the question (updated) which was asked in the 1970s:

What use are 21st century primary school libraries if they are not staffed by 21st century teacher librarians?

Today might be a good day to ask a state senator (click for sample letter and suggested email addresses).