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Motion: Supporting School Libraries

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I move:

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.

I think it is safe to say that most of us would have warm memories of spending time in libraries in our youth and we remember our school libraries with fondness. Mine was a place where I read the Sydney Morning Herald of a morning in recess and International Gymnast Magazine. I certainly could not afford either of them had they not both been provided by my school library. 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.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with the School Library Association of South Australia to discuss nation-leading research that has just been conducted in our state on school libraries, as well as the absolute value of having a well-resourced school library with teacher librarians. The 'School libraries in South Australia: 2019 census' is the first report of its kind in Australia. Prior to this census, all that existed was anecdotal evidence, but this research shows what many, and in particular the School Library Association of South Australia, have feared is the case: South Australia does not have the staff it needs for our school libraries.

Prior to the census, the number of teacher librarians in South Australia was unknown. The 2019 census revealed that only 23 per cent of schools in South Australia currently have access to qualified teacher librarians, even though 94 per cent have staff providing library programs and services. Of the schools that do have a teacher librarian, most are employed under the recommended levels. Further to this, the census has shown us that smaller schools under 400 students and remote schools in disadvantaged communities are less likely to have library staff, and secondary schools with 'virtual' libraries are also less likely to have library staff and, in particular, a teacher librarian.

School curriculum tasks are now managed by other school staff rather than a qualified teacher librarian, which puts more pressure on classroom teachers. Research, referencing, information literacy skills and inquiry learning have become additional tasks for our classroom teachers, while the school's literacy and reading programs are often managed by curriculum teachers or faculty heads. This includes such things as copyright and creative commons and the ethical use of information as well.

Having qualified library staff matters. Schools with a qualified teacher librarian are more likely to have improved student literacy outcomes. Using NAPLAN 2018 data, students' reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation outcomes at years 3, 5, 7 and 9 were found to be significantly associated with the qualification level of the person who manages the school library. 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, taking into account the socio-economic status.

The difference in year 9 student literacy outcomes was particularly evident. Further, COVID-19 has highlighted the difference in performance between students who have access to a teacher librarian and those students who do not. It is recognised that the ongoing situation impacts at least a generation.

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. Furthermore, during COVID-19, schools that had teacher librarians were better able to upskill for digital learning for those staff having to deliver through that platform. Teacher librarians enhance digital and information literacy, resource the curriculum and help students to 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 opportunities to develop information, literacy and to promote resource-based learning as the methodology that facilitates this. The research is very clear: well-resourced school libraries are essential. They become a learning hub for the school, offering access to print and non-print resources, and are a gateway to resources from around the world.

They also provide ease of access to information technology. The physical environment, in this case the school library, needs to be complemented by specialists who are qualified teacher librarians. Teacher librarians teach the life skills of information literacy, visual literacy and critical literacy in a non-threatening environment. They support students in their quest for knowledge and they allow these students to develop at their own pace, and in many cases of course pursuing their own interests.

Teacher librarians, as knowledge managers, are familiar with the latest developments in IT and work with staff to promote the most effective systems and services, ensuring successful integration into the curriculum. Teacher librarians are also trained in children's literature and reading development, and they inspire young people with a love and knowledge of literature. They assist to find the right book for each child, to suit their differences in reading interests, levels and their personality. They provide the incentive and stimulation to discover new authors and books and to spark that love, not just of libraries but of literature.

Research has shown that free voluntary reading by children has the greatest impact on their acquisition of literacy skills. The School Library Association of South Australia believes that one of the best outcomes for children and students of the national inquiry into teacher education is to ensure that every school in Australia is staffed with a teacher librarian with the dual qualifications of teaching and librarianship, based on student numbers, all states having access to universities offering excellent teacher librarian courses, ensuring the supply of qualified, committed teacher librarians for all Australian schools.

One of the key difficulties for schools to have a teacher librarian is the lack of resources and funding available. There is ample evidence to support a goal of ensuring all schools have access to the professional expertise and skills that teacher librarians can offer. It is also recognised that current school funding, and lack of qualified teacher librarians in some cases, means that this is difficult to achieve. We must commit to properly resourcing schools so that all children can access the significant benefits of having a teacher librarian guide parts of their learning.

It is recognised that the negative impacts on learning outcomes and on the state economy are significant and likely to increase if schools are not supported to implement recovery strategies to offset the impacts of COVID-19 and decreasing literacy levels. The ongoing economic effect, not to mention the other impacts of under-resourced education, has the potential to impact our state over at least a generation. We cannot continue to allow under-resourcing to keep leaving many of our students behind.

The Greens have a strong commitment and background on this issue, and I think it is safe to say that we have always had a firm love of libraries and education. Earlier this year, my colleague in New South Wales, Greens MLC David Shoebridge, moved a similar motion to the one that I bring to the council today. The ACT Greens also had a strong position heading into their recent state election to make sure that every public school has a great school library and a purpose-built facility, staffed on a full-time basis by fully qualified teacher librarians and support staff. The ACT Greens further recognised that:

…each school has different needs, but all schools should have the best possible range of accessible education and training programs, including literacy and numeracy, to offer new opportunities. Libraries are essential for all school students learning and understanding of the world, and qualified librarians can be a vital support so all students have equality of access to digital technology, increase their research skills, and to be supported to be kept safe and to understand the risks and benefits of cyber platforms, including social media platforms.

Indeed, one of the most interesting parts of my discussion with the School Library Association of South Australia was the work of teacher librarians in teaching students critical thinking and analysis and research skills, particularly with regard to engaging with online news and social media. These teacher librarians are equipping students from a very young age with the skills and knowledge to combat fake news and political spin, which is an incredibly useful skill to have, even though I am not sure all people in this place might encourage that at all times.

As social media is increasingly prevalent in all our lives and is used as a vehicle for communication, the spreading of misinformation quickly and efficiently is a scourge, and the ability to be able to sort fact from fiction is becoming increasingly essential. There can be no doubt that school libraries and teacher librarians are vital to the success and future preparedness of our students, and we should be doing everything in our power to support that.

We need to support people to achieve these qualifications, both through supporting upskilling as well as making pathways to qualification as a teacher librarian clearer through university courses. We can also better support principals in particular to understand the value and importance of teacher librarians and how they can positively influence learning and quality at their schools and how they work together with classroom teachers.

To conclude, I would like to note what a 21st century school library looks like. The Australian Library and Information Association describes 10 ways that libraries power high performance schools: (1) create a modern learning environment, (2) build a digital hub, (3) improve research skills, (4) encourage reading for pleasure, (5) provide curriculum support, (6) advice on cyber safety, (7) support diversity, (8) promote participation and access, (9) coordinate special programs, and (10) build the community.

School libraries can and should be at the core of today's rapid innovation and changes as they promote and facilitate the learning of essential and evolving 21st century skills. Modern school libraries foster a love of reading and a lifelong yearn to learn. They also train teachers and students alike to develop independent searching skills and to become discerning users of resources.

With the current pace of innovation and change, students and teachers are discovering new ways to use technology to collaborate, teach and learn, and the school library is expected to and should be able to support this transformation. I hope we in this council can all get behind the idea of supporting schools to have a qualified teacher librarian and proper access to a physical library, as the benefits are clear and substantial. We love our libraries in the Greens and we hope that the rest of the council will too. With that, I commend the motion.

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