If you travel in library circles, an article published across various Fairfax publications on the weekend has been doing the rounds in your social media this week.
The ‘cleverly’ titled: One for the books: The unlikely renaissance of libraries in the digital age is just one of a number of library themed articles published recently, drawing attention to the role that the public library plays in our society – see also the article about the library building boom being experienced in New South Wales, and the emergence of ‘library tourism’ that is seeing visitor numbers to libraries soar as their patronage also climbs. In each of these articles, the role of public libraries as places of diversity and inclusion, an anchor of the community or a much needed third space is emphasised.
After reading the article on the weekend, the question that arose for me was this:
If the public library is an important inclusive space within a community, which meets learners where they are at and provides them with support and encouragement for learning, leisure and human connection, why on earth do we think that in schools, which are a microcosm of the wider community, we can do away with these spaces?
In the article, One for the Books, the observation is made that:
local libraries have many different purposes. People go to them for company as well as for literature. They’re centres for research, for recreation, for respite from the daily slog.
Exchange the words ‘local libraries’ for ‘school libraries’, and the argument remains the same. In a school library, students, teachers and other school community members find a space where they can meet with others, seek out literature, conduct research, engage in recreational activities, and sometimes just find a cool space to take a break from the blazing heat of the drought-stricken oval.
However it is more than just the space that the library offers which makes them so important. Not only the other users of the library, but the library staff themselves are essential for the ongoing success of this institution. As NSW State Librarian John Vallance says in the same article,
“It turns out that people love being around books.And around other people. In fact, I would say the people are just as important as the books. That’s something the planners never really understood.”
While the teacher librarian may seem to be easily replaceable by an automatic lending machine and an army of volunteer shelvers, the belief that a school library can exist without a qualified teacher librarian is misguided at best.
As a dual qualified professional, who has expertise in both teaching and librarianship, teacher librarians not only support struggling readers through a number of means they also educate students and teachers in information and digital literacies, manage complex hybrid collections of high quality and carefully selected resources and often lead the way into innovative learning areas such as Makerspaces or Virtual Reality.
Burwood Librarian, Helen Kassidis sums it up when she says
“Librarians are in the business of helping people make informed choices”
School libraries sometimes seem like they are in a death spiral, despite all of the positive press about how essential public libraries are. Perhaps it is because:
Librarians aren’t by nature publicity-seekers. “They go to work each day in the knowledge that they make a difference in people’s lives, and for them that’s enough,” says Public Libraries Victoria president Chris Buckingham.
We may feel as though teacher librarianship is at a low ebb, thanks to articles which report the massive reduction in teacher librarian staffing.
However, thanks to the incredible efforts of advocates such as Holly Godfree and her inspired Students Need School Libraries campaign, and the research of academics such as Margaret Merga, who provides hard evidence of the importance of a qualified teacher librarian to support student literacy, as well as the day to day efforts of hard working teacher librarians still involved in schools, I choose to believe that the tide is turning.
You can do your bit by sharing this and other articles such as the ones I’ve linked to in this post as widely as you can.
Don’t just share this to your professional networks. Share it to your general Facebook groups, pop it up on LinkedIn, spread the message to your Insta followers!
Many people are shocked when told that there is often no teacher librarian in many primary schools, and even in some secondary schools – they honestly don’t know!
Why not spread the word further?
Print a flier and take it to your next social gathering!
Ask the local butcher or grocery store to place a poster in their shop for others to see.
When we read articles such as those that support Public Libraries, chip in and share the situation of school libraries in the comments. The momentum is rising, and we need to keep it going.
Hit Share and continue the discussion in the comments :).