By Dr Kasey Garrison (pictured above), Senior Lecturer in the Charles Sturt University School of Information Studies.
As with the ‘print is dead’ debate predicting the end of paper books due to the digital revolution, libraries face a similar argument for their survival. If everything is online anyway, what is the value of a library or the people running it?
In school libraries this can be a real issue when budgets are cut and staff are downsized, especially when it may be cheaper to hire unqualified library staff. After all, isn’t the teacher librarian (TL) just the ‘keeper of the books’? While this support for literacy and reading is still a critical role, the big point being missed here is what the school library and TL provide the school community outside of this traditional image.
In fact, the role of the TL in information literacy instruction is more important than ever because of this influx of online information. TLs help students (and teachers) learn how to access and navigate resources, how to evaluate information for accuracy and authority, and how to use information ethically and effectively.
While classroom teachers can offer some support in this area, an important difference between classroom teachers and TLs is that TLs focus on this process instead of the content which teachers need to be sure they cover in relation to the ever-growing curriculum.
Further, a qualified TL comes with experience in teaching, as a bachelor’s degree in education or teaching is required before getting the certification as a TL, usually presented as a master’s degree like Charles Sturt’s Master of Education (Teacher Librarianship) taught in the School of Information Studies.
A qualified TL and well-resourced school library are especially critical in communities where students do not have devices at home, or proper access to the internet. This divide has been made even more apparent during the COVID-19 lockdown across Australia, where many students are learning from home. TLs have been key in Australian schools to support students’ physical and virtual access to school resources, as well as helping teachers to create and resource remote learning plans.
Research supports the role of a qualified TL in raising student achievement. This infographic from the American Association of School Librarianship gives solid facts and figures about the value of school libraries and impact studies that support the connection between student achievement and a full-time qualified TL. Further research in Australia offers evidence on how school libraries promote mental health issues and student wellbeing.
Despite this research, funding for school library programs and TLs is at risk as shown by the 2019 Softlink Survey Australia, New Zealand, and Asia-Pacific School Library Survey Report. However, this report also shows growing advocacy and support for the value of the school library. These efforts sparked movements, like the ‘Students need school libraries’ group in Australia and ‘School Libraries Transform’ group in New Zealand, who have created petitions and offer a voice of advocacy for TLs and school library programs. Visit their websites to see how you can get involved and rally around this cause in your own community to ensure our young learners have the school libraries they need.
This topic will be explored further during a special show on 2MCE radio on Friday 11 September from 5.30pm to 6pm for Social Sciences Week. The show, Information & Society: Empowering Access, will feature a number of academics from the School of Information Studies discussing topics related to the value of libraries and archives, open information and information literacy in a variety of settings for diverse communities.
During the broadcast, a live Q&A will be available on the School of Information Studies’ Facebook page.