NAPLAN Results and the Role of the School Library and Teacher Librarian

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I don’t agree with standardized testing such as NAPLAN, but at this point there is no avoiding it, so I will at least use the data to shine a light on an issue I am passionate about – the role of the teacher librarian. Literacy rates are flatlining, and in some cases, declining, and yet the very people within schools who can add immense value to literacy rates, qualified and passionate teacher librarians, are also on the decline and it makes my blood boil and steam rise from my already over-active head.

NAPLAN data released yesterday showed overall stalling of literacy skills, with declines in writing across the country, particularly in Queensland. The professional organisation for library services in Australia, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) released this statement in regards to NAPLAN data: school libraries and teacher librarians are well placed to contribute to improving student skills in reading, digital literacy, critical thinking and research skills. However we see only a small number of teacher librarians on staff compared to other specialist teachers in schools (Sue McKerracher, Chief Executive Officer, ALIA)

It really is no surprise, to me at least, that literacy rates are declining. For several years now I have watched in horror (and spoken out against) the decline of the school library and the role of the teacher librarian. I was recently interviewed for the article, ‘Where Have all the Teacher Librarians Gone?’, and in this article Kylie Matthews spoke at length about the downward trend: teacher librarians are disappearing from schools all over Australia at a ridiculous rate, which is resulting in a drastic drop in children’s literacy skills across the board  (Kylie Matthews, Kidspot).

Some years ago now, when I was the National Vice-President of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, I was a witness at the 2010 Parliamentary Inquiry into school libraries and teacher librarians in Australian school. The inquiry shone a dazzlingly bright light on the potential of school libraries and teacher librarians to contribute to improved educational and community outcomes. Comments included: The Committee has been struck by the breadth of anecdotal evidence that it received demonstrating the significant contribution to learning outcomes in primary and secondary schools that a fully resourced school library, when staffed by a fully qualified and active teacher librarian, can make. This supports the findings of Australian and international research in this area (House of Representatives, 2011). This overwhelmingly positive inquiry was finalised and then seemed to disappear into deep political hole, never to be mentioned again. Dr Hilary Hughes, also a witness at this inquiry, states: International research provides compelling evidence that school libraries and teacher-librarians make a significant contribution to student literacy and learning outcomes (Hughes, 2013). 

To me at least, part of the issue seems to be that people don’t really know what teacher librarians actually do. Everyone seems to understand the role of the French teacher, the Maths teacher, the primary classroom teacher, the school groundsman, and the school receptionist (AKA the jack of all trades in a school). But few people seem to know what a teacher librarian does and how crucial the role is ensuring the success of our schools and our students. For the specifics of what teacher librarians do, the Australia School Library Association role description is an excellent starting point: within the broad fields of education and librarianship, teacher librarians are uniquely qualified. This is valuable because curriculum knowledge and pedagogy are combined with library and information management knowledge and skills. Teacher librarians support and implement the vision of their school communities through advocating and building effective library and information services and programs that contribute to the development of lifelong learners (ALIA, 2014).

I am the first to admit that not all teacher librarians are created equal, and there are many who really need to change to a career more suited to them. Harsh perhaps, but the teacher librarians out there who are more the ‘shhhh’ variety or the unqualified variety or the ‘this will be an easy teaching option’ variety, are giving the rest of us a bad name and I’m heartily sick of defending them. I am fortunate to have a teacher librarian mother, who taught me everything I know about this job, and I started my teacher librarian life at a private school in Ipswich, a city which has the most active teacher librarian network group in the country and is home to the Story Arts Festival Ipswich. So when I won the Qld Teacher Librarian of the Year award last year, I was quite embarrassed as I am only where I am, career wise, due to the support, friendship and mentoring of the most amazing teacher librarians in the country (and my mum!).

I live and breathe this teacher librarian gig and firmly believe that if you are not in this role to inspire young readers and writers, to engage students in inquiry, to inspire them to tinker, design and build their digital and real-world imaginings and to challenge them to think critically and respond thoughtfully, then you can just move right along to a more sedentary profession. Teacher librarians should be passionate and loud advocates for their profession – end of story.

So as parents, grandparents and educators, what can you do to ensure the role of the school library and the teacher librarian remains at the very core of your school? You can get to know your school teacher librarian, ask them questions, pick their brains about reading options for your young reader and become involved in what is on offer in your school library – does it have a makerspace? If there is not much on offer in your school library then you should jump up and down and be loud about it. Take matters into your own hands and meet with those in charge at your school and suggest positive changes and involvement with organisations such as The Children’s Book Council of Australia, which has been managing Book Week and the Australian Book of the Year Awards for 70 years. Join your P&F and make changes from within to ensure quality literature is available to the students in your school. Make a noise about the benefits and pure joy of author visits at your school and ensure funding is put aside for this each year, or to visit local literature festivals. Write letters, be loud, make change happen.ChickPea New Farm Library

Further Reading

NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Library Edition here.

School Library Advocacy here.

Children and Reading here.

What the Staff in Australia’s Schools surveys tell us about teachers working in school libraries here.

Softlink Australian School Library Survey here.


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14 COMMENTS

  1. As a Melbourne based bookstore owner, one of my greatest pleasures is to take authors of children’s books into schools and see how they inspire the children to give a new book a go. The feedback I get from parents is fantastic and they all want to have their schools involved. Unfortunately, many do not have a librarian to advocate within these schools for the visits and I’m relying on busy teachers who are not so enthusiastic and so the children miss out. To make matters worst these visits are supported by the authors and/or their publishers and so are free to the school. It’s such a shame.

    • Oh Tracey, I KNOW. The author visits are SO valuable and it KILLS ME that schools can’t organise them as they don’t have a librarian to make them happen. Author visits bring books to life like nothing else and I am so so sad to see it happening less and less due to the declining number of TLs.

  2. Yes! Love a great school librarian. Our school does have one part-time, she needs a little enthusiasm boost. I think declining literacy rates are more about the push down of the academic curriculum onto younger and younger children- and how the packed curriculum leaves little time for teachers to read great stories. And teacher-librarians have a key role in that as well- for reigniting the love of reading for children who become disheartened in the reading process through the push-down.
    One thing our school has which I love is a Book Swap Shop. Each Tuesday morning before school our library is filled with readers bringing a book to swap with some other reader’s hand-me-down. Our kids get a stamp on their book marks each week- and ten stamps earn a small bookish prize or Faction Token. So many happy readers with new to them books.

    • Yes you are completely correct…the crowded curriculum is a terrible problem and ‘reading for pleasure’ has no place anymore. I love the Book Swap Shop! We do a Book Swap once a year, but this is FAB!

  3. I would absolutely love to become a teacher-librarian. I currently teach English at a large state high on Brisbane’s northside, and have considered studying my masters in Teacher-Librarianship. Two things have made me hesitant, however: the first being “how do I juggle work, AND my three kids, AND studying?!” The second is – are there even that many jobs out there? What if I spend two years studying, and I can’t get a job because it’s becoming a role that isn’t valued as much as it should be? I’ve even heard of schools who don’t have a librarian at all, and it’s such a sad loss to the education system. Thanks for this blog entry – an interesting read!

    • It’s SUCH a big decision to make these days, to do the Masters or not! I did do mine a few years back and it DID nearly kill me but the pain is fading! I ADORE what I do. Would I recommend people enter the profession now? Look I just do not know. Best job ever, but if there is no jobs…there is no jobs. ARGH. And yes…there are now many schools who do not have a librarian.

  4. The role of Teacher Librarian (TL) has been eroded at our school, with no consultation with teachers. Also to have a children’s author visit our rural school in North Qld, Atherton Tablelands would be a godsend, but in the six years I’ve been there, there has been zero authors grace us with their presence. I anticipate there are numerous reasons why it hasn’t happened. But it just got worse at our school, with the Teacher Librarian dividing their role into a HOC position. As for what schools prioritise in terms of their regional goals astounds me. I firmly believe that every single Principal and VP should spend one full term in the classroom teaching, doing running records, report cards, handling the over crowded curriculum, dealing with parents and understanding the workload of teachers. Perhaps if they did, it may ensure teachers had access to Teacher Librarians who can make such a difference to the teachers’ and students’ teaching and learning outcomes. NAPLAN is something else we have to contend with. But an earnest TL would be invaluable. Sorry to say but it all comes down to the $$$.

  5. More computer/IT emphasis at schools equals less books. Not a good move in any respect. Schools down size libraries for “computer literacy centres” etc then wonder why students cannot read, have little interest in the world of books, cannot relax and cannot focus on one task for extended periods, cannot construct sentences, have difficulty with creative writing, cannot spell or use grammar correctly.
    Most of the above impact directly on students ability to succeed at University and obtain or hold jobs in areas other than IT (and they still exist).

  6. I was lucky enough to be a Teacher Librarian for eight years in a K-12 school. One of the most satisfying aspects of the role, for me, was sharing stories with children and young adults. The TL role has the distinct advantage of allowing students to simply enjoy a story – at times it can be that you’re facilitating and modelling what it is to read for pleasure. I came to teaching in my late 30s with a background in English Literature and Film and worked in the role without a qualification (yes, I’m the ‘unqualified variety’). I completed half of the very expensive Masters in Teacher Librarianship but made the decision to withdraw when it became clear that course was focussed more on adapting libraries and the TL role to be relevant in a burgeoning digital landscape. Encouraging a love of reading and appreciation of literature barely rated a mention. Obviously literacy outcomes are improved if a school has a well-resourced library and an active, enthusiastic and well-read teacher librarian. Do you need a masters to do this? I don’t believe so.

  7. Hi Megan
    I would like to know how to juggle the RFF TL role and how you would use the 1 hour per week I have with the children to teach, borrow, love books and develop interest with the children.
    Love to hear your ideas and how you run your library
    Thanks

  8. A fabulous post Megan! You say so succinctly what I feel and believe. How I wish that more Teacher Librarians would take up the role of advocating the value of their role and of their school library.

  9. A fabulous post Megan! You express so succinctly what I feel and believe. Teacher Librarians need to loudly advocate the value and importance of their role – constantly – so that their school communities have reason to value both Teacher Librarians and School Libraries.

  10. When I grow up I want to be a teacher-librarian (until then I’ll have to stay a child psychologist). I saw my primary school teacher librarian last year – the first time since the 80’s – I and numerous booksellers are forever in her debt.

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