SCHOOL LIBRARIANS OF THE WORLD converge on Brisbane

Ever heard of the SLAQ/IASL? No? Neither had I before getting involved in the Australian school librarians’ push to get better conditions in school libraries, and then the Government inquiry into the issue.

Breakfasting with Australian children's authors and illustrators.

Last week, Brisbane was the lucky Australian city to host the School Library Association of Queensland Biennial Conference and the 39th International Association of School Librarianship Annual Conference – the 14th International Forum on Research in School Librarianship. Teacher Librarians from across the globe filled the Brisbane convention & Exhibition Centre at South Bank. Their theme: Diversity Challenge Resilience

Sixteen lucky Australian authors or illustrators (mostly from Queensland) were fortunate to be guests at their Authors’ Breakfast.

We included Belinda Jeffrey, Christine Bongers, Clare McFadden, David Cox, David McRobbie, Hazel Edwards, James Moloney, John Danalis, Kierin Meehan, Michael Bauer, Narelle Oliver, Peter Carnavas, Richard Newsome, Wendy Orr, Rebecca Johnson and me.

Sheryl with Pat Carmichael

We each got to give a run down of what we do and show an artifact to do with one of our stories. I took along my cast of dinosaur footprints from the Lark Quarry Dinosaur Stampede at Winton, plus a piece of 50 million-year-old coprolite, fossilised turtle poo. Many fascinating things to see – highlight for me was author, John Danalis’s possum fur cloak presented to him by the  Wamba Wamba elders.

It was also fabulous to meet and talk with so many enthusiastic TLs – without their commitment to literacy and literature, many children would not have the chance to read the books we write. And there would be many, many authors finding it even harder to make a living without the chance to get paid visits to school libraries and classrooms.

Wendy Orr with Janelle, librarian, central coast Qld

The battle to save school libraries continues with a new Government installed. The Inquiry had been launched by Julia Gillard last year – and playing a central role was Rob Oakeshott, a member of the Inquiry committee. Let’s hope he will continue to bat for TLs and school libraries in his role as an Independent in Parliament.

If you would like to know more about the Government Inquiry into the parlous state of School Libraries in Australia and also Teacher Librarian jobs, here’s the link to The Hub – a support blog.

And why wouldn’t you want to know? After all, without Teacher-Librarians and school libraries, authors and illustrators would not sell as many books, would we?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Last year, Australian children’s authors joined many other Australian book-lovers to fight against the proposed lifting of Restrictions against Parallel Importation of books into this country. That fight was successful.

But now, there is another threat to Australian children’s books. And this is worse – because it comes from within and it is insidious.

Children’s books are gradually disappearing from the shelves of school libraries. Why? Because those libraries are in crisis. They are disappearing, along with trained Teacher-Librarians.

It has been going for over a decade. Education Departments of State and Federal Governments of both political persuasions have allowed the whittling away of resources, staffing and funding for over ten years.

Many school libraries have become Resource Centres full of computers and set up for teaching with desks, chairs and whiteboards – space that was once shelving for fiction collections.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I use computers daily for research, communication and contact. Of course there is a place for computer research and writing in school libraries, but not at the expense of losing story books.

Some school principals say books can be bought as e-books so they throw out their collections. But there are many thousands of brilliantly-written books that cannot be replaced as e-books. Children will never have the chance to thrill, enjoy and learn about life from those fictional characters.

School-librarians are trained to teach and enthuse children about books and about reading. They are the ones who read book reviews. They know when great books are published. They have the skills to enthuse children and guide them in their book choice.

I have great respect for the trials of teaching Phys Ed, and yes, I know I am generalising here – but would your school’s Phys Ed teacher be comfortable recommending a book to your 15 year-old? I know our school’s PE teacher would have run a mile – the other way. But I have heard on the education grapevine that teachers are being seconded from other areas to cover the deliberate loss of the Teacher/Librarian.

Yes, I am a children’s author and yes, I have an ulterior motive in pushing this particular barrow. I love Australian children’s books to death, and I will do anything I can to promote them to Australian children, including my own (books, that is).

We authors owe a huge gratitude to Australian school librarians and public librarians – they are like the forward troops in any battle, the foot soldiers, and maybe the engineers. They prepare the ground by encouraging and enthusing children to read. They invite children’s authors into their schools to talk to children. They use their depleting funds to buy books. They have the skills to integrate literature into every subject area, even Phys. Ed.

Authors benefit from this, by book sales and from paid school and library visits. I encourage Australian children’s authors to write to their State and Federal Government’s Member of Parliament and their Education Ministers about the ever-decreasing funds for school libraries; and to question the lack of school Teacher-Librarians.

Support organisations like Friends of The Hub – Campaign for Quality School Libraries in Australia. This site provides sample protest letters which you can adjust to suit your State.

My home town, Brisbane, will host the INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL LIBRARY CONFERENCE on 27th September – 1st October 2010.  It is jointly hosted by the School Library Association of Queensland and the International Association of School Librarianship. Brisbane children’s authors will also be involved.

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