Your Child’s School Library: What you should know

A quality school library is kid friendly and student focused.

The school library is not just a storehouse run by a loans assistant, but a vital learning centre, operating under the guidance of a dual-trained teacher-librarian*, in partnership with classroom teachers.

Learning today means more than memorizing facts. It means learning to learn for a lifetime. Savvy parents and educators know that the school library is key to teaching students not just to read but to practice the skills they need to seek, evaluate and use information throughout their lives. In fact, research shows those students from schools with professionally staffed, fully equipped libraries score higher on literacy and achievement tests.

With no professionally qualified TL, what do students lose?
They lose:
o A trained professional who develops a targeted collection of print and digital resources to support teaching and learning
o A teacher who can coordinate a whole school approach to developing student information literacy skills
o A specialist in children’s literature who can excite and encourage the love of reading
o An information specialist who can provide IT, literacy, information literacy, copyright, cybersafety and plagiarism PD to teachers
o A specialist staff member who research has shown can make a difference to student literacy and learning

A further list of 100 things kids will miss if they don’t have a teacher librarian.

Does your child’s school library measure up?

  • Is there a qualified teacher librarian? Is the staffing adequate for the school’s size?  Is there adequate support staff? (Recommended staffing standards can be found in the Australian School Library Association and Australian Library and Information Association’s, Learning for the Future, 2nd ed. Curriculum Corporation, 2001. Here is a brief summary and link to the staffing section as sample pages.)
  • Does your child have access to the school library anytime during the day that he/she needs to use its resources? Does the library offer remote access from home via computer?
  • Is the school library budget adequate to provide a full range of both print and electronic resources?
  • Is the library central to the school’s literacy program?
  • Are school administrators knowledgeable and supportive of the school library?
  • Does the school provide ongoing training to support teachers and staff in learning about new technologies and integration of information skills?
  • Are teachers encouraged to work with the teacher librarian to extend learning opportunities?
  • Is there a process for ongoing evaluation of the school library?

Children cannot be educated to live and work in the 21st century using resources from the 1970s. Let your principal and school parent group and/or school board know of your concerns. Work with your principal to ensure support for the school library program.

Get to know your teacher librarian. Ask what the needs are and how you can help. Offer to volunteer your time.

Foster the love of reading by promoting reading at home and by regularly visiting your local public library. Read together with your child. Research shows that children who are read to in the home do better in school.

Support legislators who support libraries and education. Let them know you think the two go together and should be a high priority.

Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians in Australian Schools

Unfortunately, in Australia, over the past 15 years, principal autonomy in staffing along with inadequate budgets have led to the decline of qualified teacher librarians (TLs) in Victoria, Tasmania, and the ACT. 50% of Tasmanian schools and ACT primary schools now have no TLs. In Victoria this could now be as high as 87% of metropolitan primary schools. TLs are not required in WA primary schools. In Queensland TLs may not be placed in the library. Seven state high school libraries on the Gold Coast now do not have TLs. In South Australia 28% of primary libraries have no TLs.  In the NT only 5% of schools have qualified teacher librarians. NSW is the only state still staffing trained teacher librarians in every school, but in primary schools they are generally used for teacher relief time, diminishing their leadership and teaching potential.

In March 2010, Julia Gillard initiated a House Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians. The committee’s report has now been published.  After 382 submissions and hearings in every state and territory, the cross party House Committee on Education and Training  has come to grips with the complex issue of declining numbers of qualified teacher librarians in our state schools.

The loss of tertiary training programs, inadequate staffing budgets, lack of national standards, ignorance of international research linking well-staffed and well-supported school libraries with student literacy and learning and the loss of state school advisory services and their corporate knowledge are just some of the causes identified in the hearings.

The government  responded in November 2011 to the recommendations, yet crucial concerns have not been addressed. Ask your federal candidates to facilitate this. Ask your state member to address these issues. Every Australian student deserves a quality school library with a qualified teacher librarian.

Further information for Parents at The Hub: Campaign for Quality School Libraries in Australia and at ALIA and ASLA’s School Libraries 2011 where another checklist can also be downloaded.

See also What a Difference a School Library Makes, by our Australian professional library and school library associations.  Leave comments on their Facebook site.

Sources: AASL Advocacy Toolkit for parents at  http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslissues/toolkits/whatparentsshould.cfm, K. C. Lance & D. V. Loertscher (2003) Powering achievement:School library media programs make a difference: The  evidence 2nd ed.Hi Willow, Ontario School Library Association (n.d.)“How school library programs equal success for your child” and Wisconsin Department of Education (2006) Does your child’s school library media center meaure up?.

*A teacher-librarian holds a recognised teaching qualification AND qualifications in librarianship, with curriculum and pedagogy knowledge combined with library and information management knowledge.

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