It’s time to accept the challenge and show politicians, administrators and parents that eliminating school librarians comes with a high price not only to students but to the entire educational community. Leadership is no longer an option for you.It’s a job requirement.
In September and October I had the pleasure of facilitating International Baccalaureate (IB) workshops on Role of the Library with Jeri Hurd and Dianne McKenzie (in Hong Kong and Singapore) and working with amazing librarians. These were my first ‘face 2 face’ workshops for awhile (a Master of Education Knowledge Networks & Digital Innovation kept me busy along with full time work in the interim). It was invigorating to be once again participating in meaningful conversations about the library and librarian’s place and space in their school community.
It was also disconcerting to see the same issues and challenges continue to emerge for librarians within their school communities. Not for the fact that librarians experience them, but that they are still experiencing them – and this is something I have seen over 20+ years in school libraries – in both national and international school settings. And this month a blog post by a colleague and friend, Nadine Bailey brought this back to my attention (Bailey, 11 November 2017).
Advocacy and credibility is at the top of the list. Librarians still feel the need to be advocating for their positions and credibility within their school communities. As Nadine declared “But I’d like to cry foul. This has been going on for long enough……If anything after all these years of advocacy the situation has become worse rather than better”.
As the government report on School libraries and teacher librarians in 21st century (Australia House of Representatives, Education and Employment Committee, [AHREEC] 2011) acknowledged six years ago:
There is a perception by many librarians that they have to constantly demonstrate their worth to principals and the wider school community in order to receive support (p.2 ).
This in spite of research which has demonstrated a clear correlation between a good school library and qualified teacher librarian and student achievement (AHREEC , Indicator 1.6, p.2, 2011). And at a time when:
“The role of school libraries all over the world are undergoing change as technology evolves and students increasingly access information from the internet and electronic media” (AHREEC , Indicator 1.7, p.2, 2011).
In 1994 Lance Curry with Lynda Welborn and Christine Hamilton-Pennell published a study – The Impact of School Library Media Centres on Academic Achievement – which came to be known as the Colorado Study. It found that the size of the library in terms of its staff and its collection is a direct predictor of reading scores.
Since then Curry, associates and others have replicated the same results in different studies. In 2003 Lonsdale conducted a review of the research on the impact of school libraries on student achievement on behalf of the Australian School Library Association. In 2004 School Libraries Work! was published and has continued to be updated in subsequent years with the latest being 2016. Since 2010 Softlink has published The School Library Survey annually for Australian schools and also for the first time in 2015 for New Zealand schools. Significant findings in the most recent Softlink report was a positive correlation between annual Australian school library budgets and NAPLAN Reading Literacy results; and a positive correlation between the number of school librarians employed in Australian school libraries and NAPLAN Reading Literacy results (2015, p.6). I am sure if I had access to a university library I would be able to find even more research confirming these results.
And our governments, leaders and school communities are still not listening, to the extent that there is concern that school libraries are ‘disappearing’ as the digital age takes over (ABC News, September 2017).
Staffing models were explored in the above IB Librarian workshops where participants looked at the different librarian archetypes that describe the ways librarians work in schools. It is not surprising that while the archetypes describe different roles and responsibilities that librarians undertake within their school communities, explicit within them is also the level of librarians’ qualifications. Hence, librarians fulfil their positions as qualified teacher librarians (qualified both as teachers and in librarianship), librarians with information science post graduate degrees (Masters and above) but not teaching qualification; to teachers in the role of librarian; library technicians with certificate qualifications in library science and library assistants/officers, i.e. those with no qualifications in either education or librarianship. Indeed, the workshop participants were a microcosm of these archetypes.
There has been a decline in the numbers of qualified teacher librarians employed in school libraries in public schools in Australia (Lonsdale Report, Executive Summary, 2003). The Australian School Libraries Research Project (ALIA, ASLA & Edith Cowan University, 2007) was a major data gathering exercise from school libraries across Australia which revealed that over 50% of schools in the survey had no professional staff or less than one FTE [full-time equivalent] working in their school library. ALIA in the Australian Government inquiry into school libraries (2011) indicated that many schools have libraries which are run by paraprofessionals, including library technicians, library officers or parents who do not have the skilled expertise of dual-qualified teacher librarians. The Australian government inquiry also raised the issue of libraries even being staffed by ‘underperforming teachers’ who were moved from the classroom to the library (AHREEC , Indicator 4.36, 2011, p. 67). The 2015 Softlink annual survey revealed 22% of Australian schools and 11% of New Zealand schools have seen a decrease in library staffing (2015, p.13). Mitchell & Weldon (2016) in The school library workforce in Australia (Australian Library and Information Association ALIA National 2016 Conference, Adelaide) looked at data which revealed that in 2013 over one-third of primary teachers and one-quarter of secondary teachers working in a school library role had not undertaken any tertiary study in the library field. They continued to state that:
“Increasingly schools are ignoring all professional components of the traditional library role and are funding only the transactional elements of a library service. Of course, as in any sector, there are amazing library support staff who go way beyond the level of service that is funded. The concern is that the school or education sector have determined that funding for a professional level of library service does not fit within their priorities” (2016, p.10).
(See also Teachers in school libraries – what does the data tell us? Mitchell, 24 May 2016)
This state of affairs is not surprising when there is a “Lack of understanding about role and merit of modern teacher librarians and what a teacher librarian actually does within schools , let alone the broader community” (AHREEC , Indicator 4.27, 2011, p.65).
The librarian’s role has moved way, way beyond teaching “library skills” and school leaders need to question their own understandings of how libraries and librarians are at the core of teaching and learning.
This library nostalgia and outdated perceptions by school leadership is acknowledged in Leaders and Librarians: meaningful conversations (in publication) by the International Baccalaureate which states that:
“IB World Schools are expected to modernize their libraries, and to challenge perceptions of the library’s function in the community. Libraries and librarians face problems with how they are perceived, despite the obvious transformation most have made. School leaders in particular often have library nostaglias that influence their decisions around how to resource library services”.
What is even more worrying about this state of affairs are the inequity concerns that have arisen as a result. Data has shown a greater reduction in librarian roles in schools in lower socio economic areas in Australia – those schools where the role of the librarian could have significant impact on student learning and literacy (Mitchell & Weldon, 2016, p.7).
The research and data to date also brings with it the issue of gender equality. Mitchell and Weldon in The school library workforce in Australia (2016) noted how over 80 per cent of teachers in a library role are female, with evidence that the population of teachers in a library role is ageing (2016, p. 6).
It then begs the question, does this gender imbalance influence the leadership roles of librarians within their school communities. Gender and a seat at the leadership table does appear to go together.
Nadine Bailey referenced the existence of gender bias in K-12 technology leadership positions and this is echoed elsewhere. The Pew Research Centre has published results from a survey (2017) of the US tech industry which stated that women are more concerned than men about gender in their workplaces.
Gender bias is alive and well in 2017 in spite of a decade of advocacy for gender equality. The 2008 Gender equality: What matters to Australian women and men The Listening Tour Community Report stated “Women spoke about the barriers to their career progression and workforce participation, providing their personal stories to explain the under-representation of women in senior leadership positions” (2008, p.3). The report dealt with other issues that women face, but underlying all of them was:
“a clear message from the community that gender inequality is a pervasive and deep rooted phenomenon that will not be successfully addressed without significant attitudinal change. Attitudes underpin every concrete action we take …” (2008, p.4).
Attitudes have not changed. Women continue to lack genuine male allies in the workplace, especially those in leadership positions (Smith & Johnson, 2017). As these authors declare gender equity is linked to leadership. It is a leadership issue not a ‘women’s issue’.
Not surprisingly, nor has the under-representation of women in leadership positions changed. In Australia men still earn more than women by an average of $26,527 per year in every industry and occupation and men still dominate the faces around these top tables in boardrooms and management positions (Ryan, 17 November 2017).
So, librarians in leadership positions, and having a seat at the table? It would certainly be interesting to gather data both nationally and internationally on those school librarians who do have a seat at the table. What are the variables that see librarians on the pedagogical leadership team within a school? Is it gender, qualifications, leadership, type of organisation (government, independent, religious schools) size of the school or ? There are obviously school librarians out there with a seat at the table. However, perhaps what we need to see is greater action from local, regional and national education and government authorities addressing this issue. It is very welcome to see the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IB) stating in no uncertain terms that “it is also strongly recommended that the librarian be placed in the pedagogical leadership team of the school so that the library is directly represented in meaningful conversations about learning, teaching and the community ” (Leaders and Librarians: Meaningful Conversations, IB, in publication).
Certainly, coming back to the studies, Lance Curry and associates in their ongoing research into school libraries and academic achievement over the past decade have found that three major sets of findings figure prominently. They are:
- the level of development of the school library
- the extent to which school librarians engage in leadership and collaboration activities that foster information literacy, and
- the extent to which instructional technology is utilized to extend the reach of the library program beyond the walls of the school library.
All the readings lead to the same conclusion – that librarians need to define and defend what they do in schools, unlike other specialists. We do need to promote our achievements, and step up to the challenge of being leaders in our school communities. To move beyond the “mutual hand wringing on budgets, staffing, literacy and advocacy issues” (Bailey, 11 November 2017) when school librarians meet at workshops, conferences and regional & local networks gatherings. Many librarians are already doing so, and have a seat at the table or are taking steps forward as librarian leaders. I remember stepping outside my comfort zone and presenting at the 2009 ECIS Administrators Conference, Cascais Portugal. There are others who are talking beyond the echo chamber of librarians to spread the message to administrators and school leaders, and who have been doing so for a long time now. Some to read are:
Hilda K. Weisburg:
Doug Johnson – Blue Skunk Blog
There are many many more, that I am sure can be added to the comments section in this post.
However, I also think it is time to move the responsibility from the librarian solely as the proactive agent in instigating conversations about the role of the school library and their role as teacher librarian to the leaders within their school communities (AHREEC , Indicator 3.76, p.64, 2011). I fully agree that:
“Librarians should not only be responsible for initiating conversations…It is the leaders’ responsibility to create the conditions for collaboration and library plan design, and to facilitate the open conversations that transform how the library/ian functions in any school” (Leaders and Librarians: Meaningful Conversations, IBO, in publication).
Perhaps too, the answer lies with Todd (2001b, p.15) who has long argued that there is a need for local evidence-based practice: ‘Sustaining the future is about action, not position; it is about evidence, not advocacy, and at the heart of this is inquiry-based learning for knowledge construction’ (in Londsdale, 2003, p. 30) (my bold).
I agree with Todd (2002c) that the most useful evidence of the contribution of school libraries to student learning is likely to come from local studies or micro-research i.e. statistics, stories or documented case studies (in Lonsdale, 2003, p.29-30).
Lonsdale (2003, p. 25-28) raised gaps that required evidence based research. Perhaps, some of these below have already been researched but yet some may still need further exploration and evidence and may present starting points:
- the impact of school library programs on information literacy skills acquisition
- the impact of personal attributes, qualifications and roles of school librarians on student learning (Williams, Wavell and Coles 2001)
- the impact of school library interventions on particular groups of disadvantaged and at risk students, including NESB students and indigenous students
- the impact of school library interventions on students’ confidence, motivation and self-esteem.
- more explicit research & data into national trends in school library staffing in Australia as well as any significant differences in roles, responsibilities, training, and working conditions among systems.
- determine the current views of principals in a cross-section of Australian schools on the role and potential contribution of the teacher librarian to student learning, particularly in regard to the teaching of information literacy skills.
- more evidence is needed in order to determine precisely how the school librarian contributes to the information skills acquisition of students and the relationship between information literacy and learning. For example, what does it mean to be information literate today? Which information skills is it important for students to have? How do we know that students have acquired these skills? What indicators will tell us this? How can we measure the contribution that school librarians have made to the information skills acquisition of students and teachers?
While this research is needed, I also believe, however, that school librarians need support in both undertaking the research and the dissemination of it. Evidence-based research will not achieve anything if it is does not reach beyond the ‘echo chamber’. It is a matter of how librarians can share their stories to the wider community and how the community responds.
Mitchell & Weldon (2016) agree upon the need to work together to collect, code and curate the evidence. They state:
“A key recommendation must be to work at connecting up workforce and other statistics collections across the library sector, recognising that school libraries have a foot in both the library and education sectors. It is time for school libraries to be counted in the library ecosystem” (2016, p.10).
They suggest a national clearinghouse for school library research coordinating a list of research questions and research sites, and acting as a dissemination point for research related to school libraries (Mitchell & Weldon, 2016, p.11). They furthermore acknowledge ALIA has a place to play in ensuring school libraries are part of the research agenda, ensuring that it is aligned to national and local priorities. A report by the Productivity Commission National Education Evidence Base, Report no. 80, published 9 December 2016 states
“The Australian, state and territory governments must take a shared and co-operative approach to developing a high-quality and relevant Australian education evidence base” and
“Monitoring outcomes, performance benchmarking and competition between schools alone are insufficient to achieve gains in education outcomes. They must be complemented by the use of data and evidence to identify, and then apply, the most effective programs, policies and education practices”.
See all the key points (2016, page 2). Surely school librarians have a place at that table!
To finish, Lonsdale in 2003 remarked
“…it would be useful to have an accurate snapshot of what is currently happening around the country in regard to school library staffing. It makes sense to know how grim the reality is before setting out to confront and transform this reality.” (2003, p.30).
That snapshot is still needed. The reality is still pretty grim in 2017.
The school library is essential to every long-term strategy for literacy, education, information provision and economic, social and cultural development. As the responsibility of local, regional and national authorities, it must be supported by specific legislation and policies. School Libraries must have adequate and sustained funding for trained staff, materials, technologies and facilities. They must be free of charge.
Australian Capitol Territory Government. School libraries – The Heart of 21st Century Learning. https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/916301/School-Libraries-21st-Century.pdf Excellent list of resources on the impact of the school librarian within this document.
Australia Parliament House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment & Rishworth, A. (2011). School libraries and teacher librarians in 21st century Australia. Canberra : Standing Committee on Education and Employment, http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/ee/schoollibraries/report.htm
Australian School Library Association – http://www.asla.org.au/research.aspx
Bailey, N. (11 November 2017). Advocacy is not enough we need power. Informative Flights [Blog]. https://informativeflights.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/advocacy-is-not-enough-we-need-power/
Commonwealth of Australia (9 December 2016 ). Productivity Commission 2016, National Education Evidence Base, Report no. 80, Canberra. http://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/education-evidence/report/education-evidence-overview.pdf
Hay, L. & Todd, R. (2010). A school libraries futures project: School libraries 21C. Retrieved from http://www. curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/schoollibraries/assets/pdf/21c_report.pdf
Lance, K.C. (1994). The impact of school library media centers on academic achievement, SLMQ, (22:3 Spring 1994). http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/edchoice/SLMQ_ImpactofSchoolLibraryMediaCentersonAcademicAchievement_InfoPower.pdf.
Lance, K.C. & Linda Hofschire, L. (1 September 2011). Something to shout about: New research shows that more librarians means higher reading scores. School Library Journal. http://www.slj.com/2011/09/industry-news/something-to-shout-about-new-research-shows-that-more-librarians-means-higher-reading-scores/#
Lonsdale, M. (2003). Impact of school libraries on student achievement: a review of the research report for the Australian School Library Association, Australian Council for Educational Research. http://www.asla.org.au/site/defaultsite/filesystem/documents/research.pdf
Mitchell, P. (24 May 2016). Teachers in school libraries – What does the data tell us? Teacher [online periodical], Australian Council for Educational Research. https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/teachers-in-school-libraries-what-does-the-data-tell-us
Mitchell, P. & Weldon, P.R. (2016) – The school library workforce in Australia, Australian Library and Information Association ALIA National 2016 Conference, Adelaide , Australian Council for Educational Research, https://read.alia.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/the_school_library_workforce_in_australia.pdf
Parker, K. & Funk, C. (10 October 2017). Women are more concerned than men about gender discrimination in tech industry, Pew Research Center
Ryan, P. (17 November 2017), Women paid $26,527 less than men per year — but gender pay gap narrowing
Smith, D.G. & Johnson, W.B. (13 October 2017). Lots of men are gender-equality allies in private. Why not in public? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/10/lots-of-men-are-gender-equality-allies-in-private-why-not-in-public
Softlink (2015) Australian and New Zealand School Library Survey 2015 https://www.softlinkint.com/assets/img/banners/2015_Softlink_ANZ_School_Library_Survey_Report.pdf
Weisburg, H.K. (2017). Leadership is not optional – it’s a job requirement. Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) Term 2, Issue 101, pp 1-2
Weisburg, H.K. (18 September 2017), On libraries: Leaders keep growing, [blogpost]
Weldon, Paul R. (2016). What the staff in Australia’s schools surveys tell us about teachers working in school libraries, Australian Council for Educational Research. https://research.acer.edu.au/tll_misc/25