School Libraries in Australia – Without Librarians – A TTW Guest Post by Vivienne Taylor

Thought you may be interested in this article in The Age newspaper today - Melbourne’s main newspaper.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/library-specialists-being-shelved-20100806-11o9t.html?rand=1281079644026

The Australian government’s response to the Global Financial Crisis included a massive infrastructure rebuilding program for government and non-government schools, with particular emphasis on creating new school halls, community spaces and YES – school libraries! Many of these libraries are about to open or have already opened – my school library is a couple of months away from completion!  Whilst there has been some criticism of budget mismanagement for some of these libraries, the one that I have visited so far was fabulous! The Building the Education Revolution program has had a big impact helping keep down the unmployment rate in Australia to its current 5.1% (Australian Bureau of Statistics – August figures).  Australia is one of the few developed nations that did not go into recession during the GFC.

Whilst the Federal Government has held recently an inquiry into school libraries with interested parties being given the opportunity to make submissions – it was all done with a very short time frame and has now been forgotten in the current election campaign.

I am listening to the sounds of the builders working on our new Library/tech lab as I write this and will be looking forward to mid-October when we hope to “move in”. Every school in my area (and probably around the whole country) is in a similar position.  The libraries, particularly in the non-government school system where schools have a lot more input into design, are being progressively opened – much to the delight of the school communities.

The rebuilding program has also provoked a great discussion about staffing these new facilities.  In the primary school sector where I work many libraries no longer have qualified teacher librarians.  I am a library technician, working with no teacher at all in the library and despite the best efforts of classroom teachers I have seen to my great disappointment  the decline in information literacy skills of students.

Vivienne Taylor

Vivienne Taylor is a library Technician in a small Catholic primary school library in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

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3 thoughts on “School Libraries in Australia – Without Librarians – A TTW Guest Post by Vivienne Taylor”

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how arrogant some school leaders can be to insist on a school library without providing a good range of qualified library staff. Not only should there be at least one good teacher librarian, but that person should be supported by at least one good library technician. It is nonsense to think that such important facilities should be run with inadequate staff – rather like running the English Faculty without a qualified leader, or a Maths Faculty without a qualified leader. The outstanding thing about teacher librarians is that they can have a positive impact on all faculties/subject areas/or classes. Congratulations on the work you do Vivienne – I hope that some day you have the joy of working within a great library team. We need committed Library Technicians like yourself too!

  2. The problem that I see with some Australian school libraries that I’ve seen is that the librarians don’t take ownership of the curriculum. This could be for a number of reasons – they don’t have the time or resources on top of basic collection and systems maintenance. The teaching staff won’t include them in developing curriculum. They’re “not qualified” (in the case of school libraries that are run by library technicians or qualified-but-non-teaching-librarians). Or they just plain don’t want to.

    Library professionals in schools need to insist on developing curriculum, and embedding library skills into the coursework that is being taught in schools. It’s not enough to simply engage students in the library in an education support capacity – students need to be assessed on information literacy skills, because one way or another, there will be consequences if they do not develop them!

    If librarians took a more active role in taking ownership of school curriculum, I’m sure that there would be less inclination on the part of school management to do away with these leading teaching professionals in schools. I’m currently working to effect such change in a school where the library staff have not done so in the past 20 years, and thus I have an uphill battle in getting teaching staff to let me in, and even so, it’s only to a limited “education support” capacity. Mostly, they just want me to buy books for them, and babysit their students if they haven’t prepared a class. But generate more marking for them? Not a chance that they’d want that… :(

    Having worked in academic libraries, I have been quite shocked by the lack of information skills in a substantial number of students, and I can kinda see why this is the case, now that I work in a secondary school. And if qualified teacher librarians don’t develop the coursework, teach these skills, and assess students on them, then the unfortunate reality is that nobody will.

  3. Whilst I agree with what you are saying Andrew, the reality IS exactly the situation you have described in your post. As a non-teaching qualified librarian, I left a primary school earlier in the year because the Principal would not take my ideas to incorporate research/library skills into the curriculum, or my miniscule requests for PD (about $800-worth per year) to keep my knowledge and skills up, seriously. The fact that they replaced me (0.8) with a Library Tech (0.4) and an IT assistant, also (0.4) speaks volumes about where the priorities lie in the school. Unless the Principal can be brought on board with the librarian’s vision, it’s all over before you even start….
    The worst part now is that I would love to get into a secondary school library to share my ideas and enthusiasm and I can’t because I am not a qualified teacher (I have over 20 years experience in working with “yoof” and young children in libraries). THAT is frustrating too!

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