Teacher Librarians are Fast Disappearing

While Peter Garrett, our federal education minister fiddles and doesn’t respond to the report of last year’s Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians and its (inadequate) recommendations, Australian students continue to lose teacher librarians and school libraries.

Julia Gillard’s Building the Education Revolution (BER) and Digital Education Revolution programs have succeeded in convincing many principals who lack adequate funds that laptops can replace libraries and that pretty buildings are fine without qualified staffing. The future divide in Australian education will not be digital, it will be between the schools which can afford one or more teacher librarians, and those where students have to rely on Google.

Here is an update of the worsening situation since the Inquiry.

Less than 13% of Victorian primary libraries now 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? Is such decision-making not accountable? And why do private schools continue to use well resourced and staffed school library resource centres as selling points?

Western Australia
Meanwhile campaigns are going on in Western Australia to save high school teacher librarians being sacked under a new “Independent Government Schools” cost cutting strategy. Few primary schools there have ever had teacher librarians. In fact the number of teacher librarians employed by the Education Department has dropped from 174 in 2007 to 140 this year, and the number of library officers has risen from 900 in 2007 to 922.

The WA education department has made the final push to complete its economic rationalist program first introduced in the late 1980s by Brian Burke. All resourcing has now been devolved to schools. Library Officers, who are not teachers, are being pressured by principals to take on duty of care and teaching duties, as well as professional duties such as budgets and the selection of resources. Independent schools are looking at hiring non-professional staff under federal awards – to pay them less. Schools in the independent sector which have had teacher librarians in the past, are also not replacing staff who retire or move to another school.

The central Curriculum Materials Information Service is now focusing on the Australian curriculum but what exactly they are doing we don’t know and have not been able to find out. We know that one of the TLs has quit because she is so disillusioned with what is happening. The website is not being maintained but will be decommissioned and moved into the Intranet. A world class teaching and learning resource disappears. One school parent group fought back and asked why a private school down the road had a grand library and their principal was proposing not to have one in their new school. The school subsequently included a library, although the teacher librarian is only half-time.

South Australia
In South Australia, under a new teaching award, teacher librarian positions and other specialist staff are no longer quarantined, so positions are being cashed in for cheaper options. At least seven high schools no longer have qualified teacher librarians in charge of their libraries. At least 5 primary schools have no teacher librarians and 5 more have had hours reduced. At least one high school has removed non-fiction books and replaced them with computers, leaving English teachers to promote reading and information literacy. Another is currently making similar plans, which includes re-allocation of library space.

The decision by South Australia’s Labor government not to include teacher librarians and student counsellors as essential members of staff in their latest Enterprise Bargaining Award (2010) has left the door open for the end of these positions.

In the ACT, almost 50% of primary schools in 2008 (latest available figures) did not have a qualified teacher librarian, although most had a teacher providing access to library resources for some of the time. A number of schools do not have any teacher employed to provide library services. The reasons given by principals for not having a qualified teacher librarian included the unavailability of qualified teacher librarians, insufficient staffing points to cover a librarian within current staffing arrangements/entitlements, and insufficient funding/unable to finance.

In Queensland teacher librarian numbers are dwindling. Probably 10-15% do not have teacher librarians in the library (they may be in classrooms instead). Even where trained teacher librarians are employed, up to 60% are teaching classes in the library. The professional role of the teacher librarian remains too often unacknowledged.

Now at least one director of schools is telling principals they don’t need libraries. Seven, soon to be eight, Gold Coast high schools do not have teacher librarians running their libraries. With no qualified central school library advisor, Education Queensland’s library services manager gives ill-informed advice such as getting rid of all books published before 2002.

Northern Territory
About 95% of schools in the Northern Territory do not have qualified staff (most of these are remote Aboriginal schools). Seventy per cent of primary schools have library budgets under $500. Of the 62 new federally funded BER school libraries only three are thought to have fully qualified staff.

Tasmania has lost 67% of their teacher librarians since school based staffing came in, and they are still being shed as money is being withdrawn from education. Only seven of Tasmania’s 57 new or refurbished BER libraries are believed to have qualified teacher librarians. Speaking at the Hobart hearing for the Inquiry ( Transcript 30 April 2010 ), Dr. Jenni Bales stated that Tasmania had 29 qualified teacher librarians out of 125 K-10 schools, or 23%.

New South Wales
In NSW, where teacher librarians are trained and staffed in all government schools, the government is now looking at bringing in school based management. The NSW Teachers’ Federation see this as entirely a cost cutting measure, as it is, and will fight it.

School autonomy
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.

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.

As Mark Moran wrote on Forbes.com, recently “Many absolutely clueless administrators still believe that a search engine is an adequate substitute for a trained research teacher.”

We ask you to urge the federal government to act now, to go beyond the Inquiry Report to address the need for national standards, tertiary scholarships and adequate government school funding now.

Georgia Phillips
The Hub: Campaign for Quality School Libraries in Australia

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