School libraries in 21st century schools?

The School Libraries & Information Literacy Unit at State Office, NSW DET, is asking for comments on the question, “Do we need a school library in 21st century schools?”. There is a School Libraries 21C blog and associated readings.

Today I added thusly:

I love those reports from country towns, where their tiny public library facility would be under threat of closure – and many of the people who turn up to the town meeting would be residents who’ve never actually stepped foot into the library. But they realise its importance, and they don’t wish to contemplate the possibility of life without a public library. Just in case…

Even for myself, I tend to buy most books I want/must have/need to read. My own ventures into libraries unknown (public, university and school) – as a then-class teacher, when a mature age student, and also when researching a commercial piece of freelance writing – are quite sporadic, but the thought of a 21st century that’s somehow “moved on” from the concept of a physical library space is quite abhorrent.

But I think I am ready for any future library to have a different size, shape, location (partly in holographic or even cyber space?) or collection. I stare at my amazing, new iPhone – which is so reminiscent of Dick Tracy’s funky little two-way wrist radio/computer in comic strips of the 50s – and am lost for words. I mean, I only just discovered that my iPhone has been diligently copying across all songs I’ve been downloading from iTunes to my Macbook Pro, ever since I bought it last September. I simply hadn’t thought to look in that bit up till now!

The other day, while doing a presentation about wikis and blogs, and relying on a live Internet connection, the link went down and we had to call for a replacement computer. Only later, I remembered that all of my extended notes, on another page of the wiki, were accessible via my iPhone’s internet connection. I had my palm cards, of course, but the PowerPoint material and much more were only a few button-presses away!

An off-the-cuff mention of Tasmania tigers yesterday, during Year 6’s library lesson (we were looking at a unique picture book, “How WEIRD is that?”, one of this year’s Crichton Award CBCA nominees), permitted the impromptu calling-up of 1930s b/w moving footage of Australia’s last captive Thylacine, and now we can display him on the IWB at point of need.

Library books aren’t going away – I’m especially reminded on those days when air-conditioner-overload causes yet another blackout in the library, but the power of us having so much instantaneous information is both exciting, and another whole can of worms (as to helping students to be able to sift their way through it all).

One thought on “School libraries in 21st century schools?

  1. I’m a bit bamboozled by Georgia Phillips’ statistics on the 21C blog today. I’ve worked long-term in three NSW DET public school libraries (two x 400 students and one x 800 students) and have never had a budget over $8000 per annum. (Didn’t stop me doing my job, though. Not in the slightest, even when I’d hear how much other school libraries sometimes received!)

    I’ve never really felt that I had inadequate funds to do the job. If I don’t have enough, I adapt. Buy less, do things differently. Having lots of money – to buy lots of new book resources – is lovely, but the places where an effective teacher-librarian can really make a difference in students’ learning can’t be measured in how many new books can be bought and processed in a year.

    Surely Georgia is lumping large, small, infants, primary and secondary schools together in her figures? Without further breakdown, I can’t make any sense out of them. Sorry.

    I do find it distressing to hear of how many other states of Australia are seemingly without trained teacher librarians, or indeed don’t have any teacher librarians at all. During my tenure as editor of “Scan”, I realised how important it was for groups of principals to have a thorough understanding of the importance of information skills, and the explicit teaching and provision of activities that encouraged higher order thinking. If teacher librarians can win over these principal teams (ie. the movers and shakers who organise principals’ conferences), they go a long way to empowering other principals to make sensible/efficient choices should the NSW DET ever grant principals the (often-rumoured to be coming) power to divert funds normally set aside for a teacher librarian’s salary, to be used elsewhere in the school, if they see fit.

    If a school principal is granted such a power, and decides that his or her school has no need for a teacher librarian, but needs an extra technology person instead, then the teacher librarian should be ready to make that transition to technology person. (Assuming it pays the same salary as a teacher, of course; I’m not advocating pay cuts.)

    A good teacher librarian is not going to be “let go” if they are highly valued by the staff, students and executive team. TLs need to become irreplaceable. The key is for the teacher librarian to ensure that they are thought of as an invaluable member of the school team.

    That puts a lot back onto the TL, of course. “Why should we have to keep up our advocacy work?” people will ask. But actions speak louder than words. I’d like to think that no principal of mine would ever tell me I was no longer required, and my salary would be better utilized by employing a library technician, because I work very hard to make sure I’m not so easily disposable.

    I’m “the wiki man”. The “website man”. The “book rap expert”. The “Book Week man”. “OASIS Man”. The “picture books man”. The “readers’ theatre guy”. The “report card editor”. The person with the wackiest hat on Crazy Hat Day. And more recently: “the IWB person”. Hopefully, I’m also the person to whom teachers come for advice on how to build in high order thinking into their KLA programs, and to ensure that their evaluation tasks are measurable.

    I cannot see NSW DET eliminating school libraries or teacher librarians just yet. Maybe those libraries and TLs incapable of adapting and evolving will disappear? Especially if all students soon have a clever little handheld device that puts them in 24/7 touch with an overload of digitised information. It may not be immediately obvious that TLs still have a role to play. Again, I say TLs need to become irreplaceable.

    Like it or not, it’s survival of the fittest. Other states have seemingly not survived as well as NSW. But budgets really have very little to do with that.

    I guess we need to ask, what do NAPLAN test results have to say about Australian states without teacher librarians. Or schools with small library budgets? And do TLs in NSW want to know those answers?

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