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.
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.Booktopia. You can also compare prices on Fishpond and Bookworld for Australian purchases.If you live in the US or would prefer to use Amazon click here. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here. Purchases clicked through from the Children’s Books Daily site result in a small commission. Commission is used in part to maintain Children’s Books Daily and to support community groups which connect children with books.