School Librarians

In Parliament, Motions

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. T.A. Franks:

That this council—

1. Recognises that school libraries are at the heart of teaching and learning in schools and that they are also places where a love of reading can be sparked and nurtured, often with the guidance of the school teacher librarian.

2. Recognises that:

(a) connected learning spaces serve an important role in schools and they should be complemented by physical libraries where students can browse, study, read and receive assistance from a qualified teacher librarian; and

(b) investment in school libraries helps students achieve educational goals, develop a love of reading, advance digital literacy skills, provide access to diverse ideas and improve cultural and social awareness.

3. Affirms its love for libraries and that it wants public school students to have libraries they can love too.

4. Calls on the government to ensure every public school student in South Australia has access to a quality school library and a qualified teacher librarian.

(Continued from 3 March 2021.)

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (23:18): The Labor opposition supports the motion as moved by the Hon. Ms Franks and thanks her for bringing this important motion to the council’s attention. The motion mentions that libraries are at the heart of teaching and learning in our schools. This is an important phrase that the opposition certainly agrees with. Libraries, and by extension librarians, play a very important role in our public schools.

Being from the regions myself, I know that in the South-East there are several schools that do not have librarians, and therefore students do not get the benefit and wisdom that librarians can offer to our students. I hope all members in this place remember with some joy the experience of discovering literature and the feeling of becoming lost in stories.

The impact of librarians cannot be understated. I had the privilege of having Mrs Pam O’Connor as a librarian at Tenison College when I was at high school. She had a profound effect on many within our school. Mrs O’Connor was a well-known historian, author, humanitarian, volunteer and Catholic leader in the Mount Gambier community, in addition to her role as librarian. She started at Tenison College in 1974 and provided 16 years of service as a librarian before moving into a classroom support role.

Pam and her husband, Brian, also supported the college in many ways. I remember Brian O’Connor. We used to have something called mini-course week at Tenison College and different people within the community would run courses every morning for the week or every afternoon and one of the ones that I chose was learning card games. I recall that Mr O’Connor was involved in teaching us canasta, and I seem to remember poker also, but I am not sure if that is actually something that I am embellishing in my memory. But it was certainly enlightening. However, I digress.

Pam was a significant leader in the school and I think her role as librarian was a really central part to the way that she involved everyone within the school and was such a respected person. She was part of the inaugural Tenison College board which oversaw, with the Marist Brothers, the conceptualisation and implementation of the very first co-educational Catholic secondary school for the region. In fact, she was recognised in 2015 in the Australia Day Honours, with a national accolade of Member of the Order of Australia. She is just one example.

The Hon. Ms Franks mentioned the School Libraries in South Australia 2019 Census which was commissioned by the School Library Association of South Australia and conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). I know the member for Wright, the shadow minister for education in the other place, has met with the School Library Association of South Australia to discuss the report, and I acknowledge that the association has been proactive in putting forward the findings of the report to emphasise the importance of school libraries and librarians.

The Hon. Ms Franks quite eloquently provided in her words a summary of the findings of the census report which was nation-leading research and the first of its kind in Australia. One area I did want to touch on is the move towards digital delivery of learning and how libraries, as we know them, can and must continue to coexist with digital delivery. There has been a big push to equip schools with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) labs. The former minister for education, the member for Port Adelaide, in her time funded the STEM works program, investing $250 million into creating STEM labs rights across our state.

This has changed in a positive way the outcomes for students, and will continue to do so, no doubt, for generations to come. But sometimes—and the census report mentions this—the library was first-place to either lose a little bit of room or lose its entire space and be moved somewhere else in the school in a smaller fashion to accommodate that growing demand for STEM. It is a matter of planning and costs but I think we need to place a greater value on our libraries and ensure that they are not expendable as the first pick when it comes to rearranging educational space in our schools. We need to ensure that, as policymakers, we emphasise the importance of libraries and librarians, and this motion and the work from the association is doing that.

Secondly, I want to mention what is almost the digital by default move in society, and the impact that has potentially on libraries as we know them. There is of course a switch to digital products—iPads, laptops and Kindles and so on for reading purposes—and while I use some of these platforms myself, nothing beats a physical book to flick through the pages, staying up way too late just to read one more chapter. It will be a sad day when we have only a digital library in our schools and no longer have books, although it might mean that I get to bed a little bit earlier.

As I said earlier, we need to ensure a balance between technology and the benefits of books. That balance needs to be maintained. I think a lot of schools without adequate resources struggle to transform traditional libraries from just rows of books into how libraries should be when delivering a 21st century curriculum. When a library is not staffed by a qualified librarian and has either an SSO, part-time teachers or volunteers or, indeed, a combination of all three, it can struggle to provide the best library experience.

That is no reflection at all, of course, on those staff and those volunteers but librarians possess specialist qualifications, as much as a science or tech teacher has specialised training. I understand again it comes down to a question of resources and priorities. Again, this is no way a reflection on any school or how they manage their school but, generally speaking, our society does not value the resource of libraries or librarians as much as perhaps previous generations did.

Librarians, after all, do not just offer advice to students on books or help to get a reference or look something up. They play a critical role in challenging students, helping them develop their skills, particularly critical and creative thinking. I am sure many members here in this place and the other place attend either their own children’s schools or other local schools during Book Week and see the happy faces of children engaging with literature.

Some may say librarians are indeed the most passionate of educators. They have that love of literature and the joy that they get from passing this on to their students. As members of parliament we are often privileged to see this when we visit schools across this state. I know the member for Wright and in fact all members on this side are cognisant of this, and we are very thankful for the discussions we have had with the association and the ongoing discussions that we are continuing to have.

I do think this report and the continued advocacy from the association is highlighting the work of qualified librarians in our schools and that is positively affecting the view in the community. Finally, I will finish by again thanking the honourable member for bringing this motion to the council and to the School Library Association of South Australia we also thank you for your advocacy. Thank you to your members, our librarians, who continue to play a critical role in developing our state’s youngest minds. I commend this motion to the council.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (23:26): I rise to indicate the support of SA-Best for this motion and echo the sentiments of the Hon. Tammy Franks and indeed the Hon. Clare Scriven. Mrs Hunt was my school’s librarian. I remember her well and I remember her fondly. I can still picture my favourite book on the shelves of Plympton Primary School’s library and borrowing and reborrowing the same book week after week.

I do not know why I did not ask my parents to buy it for me but I think half the fun was actually going to the library, borrowing that book and getting my card stamped. I suspect that is because I also remember being absolutely obsessed with that cataloguing system and getting that card stamped, and the erasers and the lead pencils that were used when you needed to fill out those little cards.

The Hon. C.M. Scriven: What was the book? What was the book over and over?

The Hon. C. BONAROS: This is the interesting part about this story. I can picture the front cover of the book very vividly. I cannot remember its title. I always do wonder what the title of that book was. It was a big book, I know that much. I have very fond memories of my library. I remember Book Week and dressing up as a witch and being gifted my very first poetry book by our head librarian.

A well-resourced library should be a prerequisite for every South Australian school. There is no question that they play an integral role, a vital role, in the development of a student’s literacy and overall achievement. For the little ones, library day brings with it the chance to swap for a new book or two. They foster a positive reading culture and lifelong love of reading. For older students, libraries are a vital tool for developing research skills. I do not have such fond memories of my university library, mainly because that always entailed lots of hard work that I tried to avoid and the nightmare of assignments and exams.

For some kids, a library is also a safe place. It is a place to go when they have no-one to play with perhaps or need some quiet time when they have nowhere else to go. My little boy spends much of his playtime, as it turns out, accompanying one of his best mates to the library and that is his mate’s safe place in our school. It is minus the hustle and bustle and loud and screaming noises of the schoolyard that makes an otherwise difficult lunchtime enjoyable for this little boy. I am really pleased to know that my little boy accompanies his little mate to the library during those times when things get a bit rowdy for his little friend.

I understand that while about 96 per cent of South Australian schools have a library on site, the quality and qualifications of staffing varies considerably. Again, I am grateful for our school’s recent upgrade to its library, because I know how vital it is to our kids’ learning.

The School Libraries in South Australia 2019 Census, conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research and commissioned by the School Library Association of South Australia, shows us that there is a direct correlation between schools with a qualified teacher librarian and the literacy outcomes of the students. This is particularly concerning when you consider that whilst 94 per cent of South Australian school libraries are managed by someone, only 23 per cent are managed by a qualified teacher librarian and 20 per cent by a library-qualified SSO or ESO.

Trained librarians are highly skilled in assisting students develop research skills and in improving reading engagement. The data clearly shows that students at schools without qualified staff are at a distinct disadvantage, and NAPLAN data qualifies these findings. Small, remote schools with under 400 students are less likely to have a staffed library, as are special schools and schools with lower budgets.

Community libraries are also extraordinarily important. They have certainly moved with the times, and a library of today is unrecognisable in terms of the services available and the access they provide those who visit, as well as the tools they provide to individuals that would otherwise be out of the reach of those who visit them regularly.

SA-Best joins the Greens in calling on the government to ensure that the role of librarians not only does not become redundant but also that the benefits of a qualified librarian can be enjoyed by every single school and therefore every single student. Those students can go on to make fond memories, as we have shared in this place tonight and just as we all enjoy here at Parliament House.

I could not let a motion on libraries go by without speaking about our very own Dr John Weste. While far from a librarian—in fact, we do not have any librarians—Dr Weste has transformed the library of Parliament House into a very unique place to visit. It is peppered not only with our history but with many interesting stories, hidden facts and gems. It is certainly one of my favourite places in this building.

Librarians are much more than keepers of books, and there is a lot to be said for what they can offer our children. The importance of having trained librarians in our schools cannot be overstated or underestimated. With those words I commend the Hon. Tammy Franks for introducing this motion and echo the sentiments of this motion.

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (23:33): I rise today to speak in support of this motion, and in so doing I thank the Hon. Tammy Franks for bringing this motion to the chamber. I will be quick.

There can be no doubt that teacher librarians have an incredibly important role to play within schools as well as playing a significant positive role on a child’s learning and wellbeing. Last sitting week I spoke with the School Library Association of South Australia. Their passion was palpable, and they were committed to providing what they class as an essential service, educating students and giving them the ability to research and access information. It was inspiring.

Unfortunately, they were not meeting with me to share the good stories. They met with me to share the harsh realities teacher librarians are facing and the education system as a whole. The School libraries in South Australia 2019 Census found that only one-quarter of South Australian school libraries are managed by a qualified teacher librarian. We know that qualified teacher librarians support students, enhance digital and information literacy, resourcing the curriculum and help students become critical and creative thinkers.

As it stands, it is at the school principal’s discretion as to whether a teacher librarian is hired for the school. COVID-19 has highlighted many issues within our education system, school libraries included. The difference in performance between students who had a teacher librarian was significantly better than students who did not. Students in schools with a qualified teacher librarian had up to two months’ learning gain compared to students in schools with no staff member managing the library.

Considering this, it is hard to think about children who have never had access to a teacher librarian. The stories they shared reminded me how essential it is that we have trained librarians within schools. Having grown up relying on the school’s and public library to assist my studies, I know the importance of having qualified teacher librarians. Like many in our state, I did not have many books at home, so the library became an integral part of my life. Without them, I would not have been able to complete my studies, nor would I have learnt skills that I use in every aspect of life.

My story is not too dissimilar to many around the state. Books come at a price and they are a luxury to many people. Having well-resourced libraries with teacher librarians provides a fairer and more even playing field for everyone. As the Hon. Tammy Franks has outlined in her speech, the biggest barrier for schools to hire a teacher librarian is funding. Every student deserves every opportunity to reach their full potential, but they cannot do that if the tools are not provided.

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (23:36): I have enjoyed listening to the range of positive contributions on libraries by a range of members, both the benefits to themselves and to others. For my part, some of my early career achievements were based in my school library. I was a proud library monitor. I held an audiovisual licence. I was certainly a mean operator of an overhead projector. I will need to spend more time reflecting on the Hon. Connie Bonaros’s observation that libraries are a safe place for people with no friends.

In 2011, the then Labor government introduced the Student Centred Funding Model. Under this model, principals were given increased autonomy in shaping staffing configurations. It seems that opposition members have short memories. The formula to allocate staffing for a teacher librarian according to student numbers was no longer specified. Some principals made the decision to no longer employ a teacher librarian.

As a result, schools started to experiment with different ways to operate libraries and provide services to students, including the use of school support officers to support basic operations and provide advice to students on research. The government accepts that principals have the responsibility to allocate staff to meet students’ learning needs and to encourage them to be aware of the benefits of teacher librarians and the benefits that may bring to their students.

The government recognises and applauds the contribution that teacher librarians make. They have a broad range of valuable professional skills, which contribute to student learning growth and assist classroom teachers to access appropriate resources to plan lessons, to adopt appropriate pedagogies, to implement the Australian curriculum in ways which engage students.

We encourage schools to act to provide the best learning resources and opportunities for their students and utilise the flexibility they have to deploy staff in a way which best meets the needs of their students. In recognition of the value of autonomy, as recognised by the former Labor government, I move the amendment standing in my name:

Leave out paragraph 4 and insert new paragraph as follows:

4. Noting that, since 2011, public school principals have had autonomy over staffing configurations in their schools, encourages public school principals to give due consideration to the findings of the School libraries in South Australia 2019 Census report and its findings regarding the benefits in student literacy outcomes which flow from high-quality library services.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (23:40): Thank you to those members who did speak on this motion today, and it is a very late hour of today. I think it is safe to say that most of us would have warm memories of spending time in libraries in our youth, and in particular we remember our school libraries fondly. School libraries are at the heart of teaching and learning in schools and are places where a love of reading can be sparked and nurtured, often with the guidance of the school’s teacher librarian.

Having qualified library staff matters. Schools with a qualified teacher librarian are more likely to have improved student literacy outcomes. Students in schools with a top qualified teacher librarian had up to two months’ learning gain compared with students in schools with no staff member managing the library, taking into account the effect of the socio-economic status with regard to that NAPLAN data and the COVID impact, as the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos covered.

It is well recognised that the ongoing situation will impact at least a generation. Students in schools with a qualified teacher librarian had up to two months’ learning gain compared with those students with no staff there managing the library during COVID-19. Schools with teacher librarians of course were better able to upskill their staff for digital learning. Teacher librarians enhance digital and information literacy, resource the curriculum and help students become critical, creative and collaborative thinkers.

Teacher librarians have a fundamental and powerful contribution to make in preparing students to face the challenges of the future. They have a leadership role in the school to ensure that students are given the opportunities to develop information literacy and to promote resource-based learning as the methodology that facilitates this. But since I moved this motion, I note that the future is looking bleaker.

Indeed, I am told by those I have consulted with regard to this motion that at least seven schools in this past term alone have decided they will not have a teacher librarian next year. I am told of a school library that is in an area where the students are already having critically low literacy rates, that there are 1,000 books for 1,350 students. The recommendation is 15 to 20 books per student. That school does not even have enough for one book per student, yet that school is already up against it. Those children are being let down by our lack of leadership.

Well-resourced school libraries are essential. They become a learning hub for the school. They offer access to print and non-print resources and a gateway to resources from around the world. They also provide ease of access to information technology. The School Library Association of SA believes that one of the best outcomes for children and students of the National Inquiry into Teacher Education is to ensure every school in Australia is staffed with a teacher librarian with the dual qualifications of teaching and librarianship, based on student numbers, and that all states have access to universities offering excellent teacher librarian courses, ensuring the supply of qualified and committed teacher librarians for all Australian schools and, of course, all South Australian schools.

That is why I have put this motion before the parliament. I will leave the chamber with this: it is important, now more than ever, to ensure that all students—no matter where they live, no matter where they go to school—have access to a teacher librarian. I will be opposing the Liberal amendment to this motion. I think it is an indication that the Marshall government have shown no leadership on this matter. They are not willing to take action.

They have, in their contribution, blamed the Labor opposition for moves they made in terms of funding models when they were in government, without addressing the recommendations before us, without addressing the importance of having trained teacher librarians in each and every school and without accepting and embracing and taking on the challenge of the issue at hand. With that, I commend the motion.

Amendment negatived; motion carried.