Garrett and Baillieu fiddle while Rome burns

19 09 2011

You wouldn’t want to be seen running a Woolies like Victorian principals are now running their school libraries.  Investments accrued over decades amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars are increasingly being left to be run by the “check out chicks” as “managers” are fired.

That’s what continues to be happening in Victoria’s government school libraries. Less than 13% of primary libraries have qualified teacher librarians in charge, including the 248 new federally funded BER libraries at $2-3 million dollars each. And that’s just the infrastructure. Now secondary schools are being battered.  Three more qualified teacher librarians in large state high schools have been told they won’t be replaced on retirement or will be moved to other duties or into the classroom.

This leaves multi-million dollar resource centres in the hands of technicians and volunteers. Does the state see this practice as good management? Do they run their own “corporation” this way? Where is the educational rationale and accountability?

When Victorian schools went to ‘global budgeting’ in the 1990’s the writing was on the wall. Ever shrinking state budgets have meant that principals have had to cut here, cut there over the years.  Gradually, all non-face-to-face teaching positions have disappeared – careers teachers, teacher librarians, student welfare co-ordinators and so on.  Only the very biggest schools can still afford these.  Also, time allowance for positions of responsibility have reduced to the point of disappearing. Special payments for positions of responsibility are also in decline.

Global budgeting is sold to the community as a way for principals and schools to determine their own needs.  In reality, they have become a means by which governments of all persuasions have been able to continually slash education budgets without having to wear the pain. “The school made that decision” is the constant refrain when a well loved program is axed.  Our situation is part of a much larger issue of declining education funding.  Over the past 20 years, education funding in Australia has declined, as funding in other OECD countries has increased.  We are now among the lowest funding countries in the developed world, 28th after Lithuania and Greece.

Local control of local schools is fine for local projects.  But without adequate funding and without transparency in decision-making and accountability, it will only send us further down the educational and economic ladder.

Meanwhile, we await the federal government’s response to the recently tabled report on the Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians, if there are any left by then.

20 September 2011

The Hub (with thanks to P.M.)

New government formed at last. Two more coming up soon:-)

8 09 2010

It has been an exciting fortnight with many  changes and programs negotiated by Independents and Greens to form a Labor government. It seems more real work got done than in all the campaign bru ha ha!  The central role of Rob Oakeshott, who was a member of our Inquiry committee, was especially exciting.  Let’s hope he will still bat for us whatever role he plays in the future. We wish him well.

Meanwhile we still wait for the votes to be finalized and seats to be declared. Then Parliament will resume and  the new House Committee on Education and Training can be officially formed.  This should happen in the next few weeks.  Hopefully the “new” committee will be charged with completing the report for our Inquiry.

In the meantime, two state elections are coming up.  Associations and lobby groups should be planning now in Victoria for November, and in NSW for next March.  What is it you want to tell your state senators and MPs?

Should we be working on making school libraries statutory as happened in Washington state, or is the object of the UK campaign.

Joyce Valenza’s  checklist for survival shows decision makers what you could be doing if they gave you the time!  Mark Moran in last March, advocated for needing TLs even more in these e-times.  Whatever way you decide is the way for you, the time has never been more right for getting the word out there!

Why do we need library technicians in our school libraries?

11 05 2010

Guest blogger, Kerri Cicolani, from Victoria writes:

I’m often asked what I do for a living and see the puzzled look on people’s faces when I say I’m a library technician and I work for the Department of Education in Victoria, where I run 3 primary school libraries. The majority of people assume that I’m a “Librarian” or a “Teacher”, very few admit to not knowing what a library technician is and I often find myself explaining the differences.

I’m not a teacher (they assume this because I work in a primary school). I’m not a librarian as that involves the “Librarianship” qualifications. I’m a “technician,” I run the “technical” side of the library.  Most still remain perplexed about the difference and that always entails more of an explanation!

I started in the school library many years ago without “qualifications” with a teacher who did have library qualifications, but not the current “teacher-librarian” qualifications of today. When she went on to greener pastures l worked alongside another teacher  who didn’t have any formal qualifications either, but we were both very passionate about the role of the library within the school and the services that we offered and the importance of the school library and its role in the curriculum.

Both my teacher librarian and I went on to gain more formal qualifications, and with learning became a different understanding about the differences in our roles and more importantly the services we could now offer our patrons. We can both undertake the administrative, clerical and budgetary running of the library; we are both able to assist our patrons with locating and retrieving information. We can create online web-based resources for classroom use, assist them in locating a book whether for project work or personal pleasure, produce displays;  provide input into planning sessions and the hundreds of other day-to-day tasks that are involved in providing a viable library service.

Whilst undertaking my study l focused most of my readings on the primary school library setting and was amazed at the research into the impact of school libraries and what suitably trained library staff could offer the school community. l begun to understand the differences in having some basic idea of my role to learning how l could enhance our library services with my new found training and with all that l was learning.  At the same time my teacher-librarian was undertaking her library qualifications and our understanding about our differences were becoming vastly evident. She no longer saw herself as a “keeper” of the books as it were, but someone who is fundamental in the learning outcomes of our students whilst providing peer support to her teaching colleagues at the same time.

Our natural progression saw our roles change and evolve over time to where l undertook all the technical aspects of running the library, cataloguing, maintaining the automated systems in all areas etc. thus allowing the teacher librarian to concentrate on her dual roles, that of the teacher and the librarian. Her expertise as a teacher and a librarian provided us with the opportunity to offer information to our patrons with a school library webpage that expanded our library beyond its walls in that l had the expertise in web design, she had the curriculum knowledge and we both had the ability to select suitable web content for our patrons.

I do not have a teaching qualification, nor do I have the desire to attain it. I love the technical aspects of my job. I love the cataloguing and revel in learning and teaching everything Web 2.0. l have a strong understanding of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards, but l lack the vital expertise of the teacher in a school library setting.  I cannot offer my colleagues the specialised knowledge that comes from having that teaching training.

Library staff work in isolation in a school setting, whether we are teacher librarians or library technicians. We all envisage a library service that includes digital content, a library programme rich in ICTs, web 2.0 capabilities, a library that allows our users to seek information from a wide variety of media sources, flexible timetabling, co-operative planning and most of all to not be seen as “time release” or “babysitting” for classroom teachers.

Many library technicians are employed in primary school libraries due to budgetary decision-making in schools as I am and I’m certainly very thankful for that! l successfully run 3 school libraries single-handedly and do an excellent job in all 3 libraries. Why? Because I have trained alongside a teacher-librarian and have been given the opportunity to learn all the aspects required to confidently run them.  But I reiterate I cannot fully offer my patrons that expert knowledge that a teacher librarian can.

Recently, I lost my last teacher librarian due to retirement and I am now responsible for that third library. If both teacher-librarians and technicians were allowed to work as they should, staff, students and the wider community would enjoy the benefits of boosted literacy achievement, students who have a love of literature and who are confident in seeking information in an abundant and media rich environment, where the library equips its users with skills in their quest for life-long learning.

A school library that is staffed by qualified teacher librarians and trained support staff is often the first step in helping students learn how to become ‘information literate’. A library program that is run in conjunction with an information literacy curriculum teaches students how to access and utilise relevant information, where and how to locate it and to be able to adapt it to suit their needs.

How will we ever be able to provide a viable library service if the fundamental differences between teacher librarians and library technicians are not seen? It should not be an either or situation, adequately staffed school libraries MUST consist of qualified teacher librarians, library technicians and library support staff who all by their very nature undertake different roles to provide a library service that is central to the user’s education. School leadership must take the time to understand these fundamental differences and ensure adequate funding to service library programmes within schools in the same way that they fund the curriculum programmes elsewhere. This begins with qualified library staff, and the rest is just a natural progression.

Not a good news week

25 08 2008

It hasn’t been good news for school libraries around Australia in the last week.  First we hear of South Australia’s Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS) enterprise bargaining which threatens to implement full time face-to-face teaching loads for teacher librarians.  Then we read this story in The West Australian in which teacher librarians are set to be moved from their “non teaching” role to classroom positions. (what do TLs have to say about being described as “non-teaching”?)

Now we realise there’s a teacher shortage, so something has to change, but I have a different solution.  Let’s get rid of history.  Then all the history teachers can be used to make up the shortfall.  It’s not a very useful subject, and the only students who find it helpful are those who want to be history teachers, so it’s a win-win situation.

I could be wrong, but should this decision ever be made in an Australian state, I predict it would attract significant media attention, with criticism from all sides. Yet the redistribution of TLs is on the cards with barely a (media) whimper, despite the best efforts of the associations and unions.

One hubber makes the astute observation that the largest number of non-teaching teachers in schools may well be the principals and their deputies.  Perhaps that’s the answer?

This week we read of Victorian education minister Bronywn Pike’s plan to improve performance in low performing schools.  Send in relatively unqualified novices!  Genius or madness?  I suggest it fails to recognise many of the qualities that great teachers possess.  It’s fashioned on two overseas models, but I don’t know if there’s much evidence that it actually works. Meanwhile, the overwhelming evidence that libraries make a difference continues to be ignored. Victorians might like to pen a letter to Ms Pike this week, as I will be. In the meantime, I managed to get a few words in today’s Age newspaper.

Victorian school library funding from the state?

11 02 2008

There’s an interesting comment at the end of this report, taken from today’s Age.

On the issue of  payrise demands from Victorian school teachers,

Matt Nurse, spokesman for Education Minister Bronwyn Pike, said the Government wanted to lift standards in schools and find better career pathways for teachers.

But giving teachers a 10% wage rise and better working conditions would cost taxpayers $8 billion, he said.

“If we agreed to this claim we would have no money left for new classrooms, new technology or libraries for our students,” Mr Nurse said.

Now, correct me if I am wrong Ms Pike or Mr Nurse, but I’m not aware that the Victorian state government does put money into school libraries.  No, the one-off PRC grants do not count.  I believe schools are allocated a global fund and this money is distributed as each principal sees fit.  The problem is though, that not all principals value libraries, so don’t really invest in them all that much.  Sure, there may be a space allocated for a collection of resources, but unless they also appoint the staff to work there, the door remains locked for much of the school year.  

 I don’t mind the Education Department pointing out that the money needs to come from somewhere, but please don’t pretend that it threatens library funding.  You don’t provide any.