The Australian School Library Association Inc. (ASLA) has developed a plan for active advocacy with the government. This plan reflects the ongoing objective of the association - "Maintain the awareness of Government bodies on the needs and educational significance of school library resource services and advise them on all matters concerning school library resource services and teacher librarianship."
Pre-election correspondence should be sent to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition
ASLA acknowledges the contribution of the School Library Association of South Australia (SLASA) for the initial development of the correspondence framework.
Sample of correspondence
Dear [insert name]
As part of your education platform in this upcoming election, we seek your response to a number of issues relating to school libraries and their staff.
School libraries were established in the 1970s thanks to Commonwealth funding which also extended to training teacher librarians. Regrettably, that investment has not been maintained and the international reputation that Australia developed in supporting the development of information literate citizens is now under threat. Australian school libraries have not had an injection of Commonwealth funding support since the Karmel Commission tagged library grants of the 1970's, unlike the Commonwealth's intervention in curriculum management areas of Civics, Literacy & Numeracy, Science and Technology.
Whilst state government authorities may be responsible for the staffing and facilities of state schools, we look to the federal government to take the lead with education policies that acknowledge and support the important role of school libraries and teacher librarians in the education process across all sectors. The failure of state education departments to understand resource management implications as well as the loss of literacy outcomes because of poorly acquired, collected and managed school resources in increasing numbers of schools without adequate school libraries and school library staff needs to be addressed.Michelle Lonsdale of the Australian Council of Educational Research conducted research in 2003, in conjunction with Charles Sturt University and the Australian School Library Association, which stated that school libraries can have a positive impact on a range of learning areas, including reading scores, literacy, and broader learning.
The US Congress intorduced the SKILLs Act (Strengthening Kids' Interest in Learning and Libraries Act) in 2007 which authorizsed appropriations for the Improving Literacy through School Libraries grant program. (THOMAS 2007) This program will require at least one highly qualified school library media specialist (or teacher librarian) in every school that receives such funds. This is a US federal government response to: “Study after study”, which proved that, “students in schools with well-stocked libraries and highly qualified, state-certified school librarians learn more, get better grades and score higher on standardized tests than students who do not have the same benefits…..” (Burger 2007 http://www.ala.org/ala/pressreleases2007/june2007/skillsactpr.htm)
This scenario is very familiar for many Australian school libraries, across all sectors. As peak professional bodies: Australian School Library Association (ASLA) and Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) have developed Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians (see attachment) and published guidelines and indicators for developing information and ICT literacy in schools: Learning for the future: developing information services in schools (Second edition). What we need now is recognition and support for those standards and benchmarks embedded in federal government policy.
Most of the teacher librarians trained in the 1970s with federal funds have retired or are about to retire; many of the library buildings built with federal finds three decades ago are in dire need of modernising to cope with 21st century technological standards. Fresh injections of federal funds as well as policy statements are required to re-invigorate if not rescue school libraries across the country. Particular areas for federal attention include:
- Inclusion of statements supporting the significant role of school libraries and teacher librarians in federal Education policy.
- Recognition of the significant role of school libraries and teacher librarians in federal Literacy and other Education initiatives.
- Federally funded research into the impact of Australian school libraries on the literacy skills and academic achievement of students at all levels and across all sectors.
- Development and validation of national standards for school library facilities and staffing.
- Due consideration of the impact of Broadband Access and Internet filtering requirements on school libraries, particularly those in country areas.
- Improved provision of teacher librarianship courses at universities in each state e.g. the reintroduction of a Graduate Diploma in Teacher Librarianship and the broadening of Graduate courses in teacher librarianship in South Australia.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet “Federalist paper 2: The future of schooling in Australia: A report by the states and territories” (2007) states: “…there is a critical need for skills to prioritise and interpret the proliferation of information. There is an expectation that young adults will leave school with the capacity to communicate and learn in this context.”
School libraries and qualified teacher librarians are essential to meet that need and that expectation.
Responsibility for recognising and supporting school libraries and teacher librarians rests as much with our federal members of parliament as with our state representatives. In this election year, we look forward to hearing how your policies and programs will address the issues raised in this letter. To date, it is noted that you have made no formal statements on education in general although you have stated that indigenous students will have more education opportunities and you will endeavour to lift the retention rates of students in schools. We ask that you give due consideration to all areas of education and the crucial role of school libraries and qualified, quality staff to assist students with their life long learning at every level of their education.