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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10 thoughts on “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

  1. Hi Sheryl

    I have at last got off my bum and written my submission re: the Inquiry into Teacher Librarians. It took a little over twenty minutes. I suspect some people don’t know where to begin but all you need to do is make two or three points. Let’s hope we can effect some change!

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  2. Lexie, comments on Kevin Rudd’s literacy blog http://www.pm.gov.au/PM_Connect/PMs_Blog/Childrens_Literacy
    spoke loudly enough to Julia Gillard for her to think about this review. Everyone should make a post there.

    Carole, it would be great to have a sub from people like you who may have seen the difference between schools with and schools without qualified teacher librarians. 23 days to go.

    Go for it!

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  3. I can only hope that teacher-librarianship is reinstated as a subject at the teachers’ colleges in Victoria, where I live, because as far as I know, it’s gone. And all the people who should have made a fuss when schools started employing non-teachers/non-librarians in school libraries but didn’t, should hang their heads in shame.

    However, as someone who signed that on-line petition and was disappointed at the fact that fewer than 2000 have signed it so far, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email saying that as a result, Julia Gillard is going to look into the issue. We shouldn’t expect too much from a woman who thinks our schools should be run like American ones or that kids just out of university who got good marks in science or whatever should be given a crash course in teaching and sent out to schools to show real teachers how it should be done. But it’s a start and this is an election year.

    I urge any reader of this blog who hasn’t signed yet to do so and tell all their friends about it. Me, I’m going to send a copy of the news to Brian Henderson, Victorian AEU leader for the past umpteen years, and suggest he follows up on it, since he’s supposed to be supporting teacher-librarians.

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  4. Thanks so much Sheryl for your great blog in support of teacher librarians and books!

    It is so important, also, to show the community and its education decision makers why we need TEACHER librarians, not just librarians as in many WA and Tasmanian and Victorian schools. The special training in learning and curricula and critical thinking can put TLs at the centre of knowledge making through engagement with text (and non-text!) in all its forms.

    And the use of fiction in science, history, geography, even PE! as part of curriculum delivery is one great facet of this.

    Please let’s stay in touch as we Hubbers try to reach out to the media.

    Georgia

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  5. Lexie, I should mention that this problem has been going on for years, well before the present government. I blame the shift to economic rationalism – government departments and private companies are so immersed in the idea of saving money and making money they fail to see the damage done.
    All political parties in this country can share the blame. But we can do something about it before it’s too late – politicians listen to pressure groups when elections come around. They will listen to the concerns of parents, teachers and those who care about books and children reading – if enough people speak out.

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  6. I have heard about this. I find it most peculiar because Kevin Rudd is always going about children reading and being read to as being so important in their lives.
    What is going on?
    Who is running this country?
    As far as I’m concerned throwing away good books is a sin.

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  7. Thanks for bringing this to our attention Sheryl. It’s hard to believe schools could be so short-sighted. I’ve worked in schools that have had fantastic librarians and seen the results. I’ve worked with the children who have worked with the librarians! What a LOSS as they are subversively discarded.

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  8. Great post, Sheryl.

    I was reading a story last night about a Columbian primary teacher who carries a mobile library with him to different villages as part of his ongoing commitment to children’s literacy. He spends up to eight hours a day travelling on a donkey that is loaded up with books. He does this because these villages don’t have the resources/ money to buy books.

    Whilst this is an extreme example, I see a potential common thread as books slowly vanish from shelves in our schools due to similar reasons. Swept up in that vanishing act is the school librarian – the driving force that keeps the wonderful world of words alive in our schools.

    I guess some argue that e-books work as a suitable replacement for books on shelves- but not every child will have that kind of access and I fear this is where a child’s world of words can go straight down the proverbial drain – when we start assuming that all kids have e-book and computer access at all times.

    I’ve nothing against e-books but I have to think they force you into a particular environment in order to read. I can only read for a certain time from a computer screen. I wonder how reluctant readers feel about the confines placed on them from e-book reading.

    I don’t think there is a more beautiful picture than seeing a child immersed in a story, tucked up somewhere comfortable and safe with arms curled around a book. I hope we never take that opportunity away from them.

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  9. I loved my school library. I practically lived there – both in primary and secondary school, so I can’t imagine having schools without the libraries I grew up with. It is a sad thought indeed.

    We can’t deprive the generations to come of the joy of walking through the stacks, browsing books that have thrilled students for decades, grasping history between our fingers and smelling it through the old pages – such joys I remember vividly from my school life.

    We should all do whatever we can to stop this from happening. I’m not a published author, but I do hope to be someday and I care about this issue, so I’ll definitely be stopping by those links and letting my voice be heard.

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