Australian innovation could open new chapter for school librarians

26th March 2010 at 00:00
'Teaching' role would involve working across all curriculum areas and helping pupils become independent researchers

An overhaul of the school librarian's role that would see them become part of the teaching process is under consideration.

The idea of "teacher librarians" - which comes from Australia - is being examined as part of a review by the School Library Commission.

The role, which involves librarians also being trained in pedagogy and classroom techniques, entails them working across all curriculum areas and collaborating with teachers to help students become independent researchers.

Making librarians' role in children's learning more explicit could be one way of improving their status among unconvinced headteachers, campaigners have argued.

Alan Gibbons, children's author and organiser of the Campaign for the Book, has called for school libraries to be made statutory.

"The outcome of a school library should be about raising standards, pupils' well-being, literature and learning in general; the fact that the library is not just an adjunct to the English department," he said.

"Status is a big issue, some schools have the gold standard of librarian who is really at head of department level, who is not just seen as a book issuer who can be easily disposed of. Teacher librarians are not about becoming a teacher, but about elements of teaching and pedagogy entering their job. If they are doing a lot of that sort of thing, the tendency for heads not to understand their role disappears."

Sue Shaper, of Broxbourne School, Herts, is a chartered librarian with a masters degree in education. She is researching the state of school libraries for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professions.

"There is a really wide spectrum, from people with a professional librarian qualification and masters degrees to someone working 15 hours a week without even O-Levels," she said. "Students across the country are not getting an equal offer. Even since we started the research in December, the picture has changed as far as schools making librarians redundant. There is a threat from the credit crunch.

"I think there is ignorance as to what a librarian's role can be; the basic thing is that a room of books without a librarian is just a room of books."

The commission was set up by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and the National Literacy Trust. It is being chaired by Baroness Morris, former secretary of state for education.

No worries? A dual role Down Under

Australia's education minister Julia Gillard has just announced an inquiry into the future of school libraries and teacher librarians in the country.

A committee of politicians will review and report on issues including the potential of libraries and librarians to improve education and factors influencing recruitment.

During the 1980s, teacher colleges and universities in Australia developed specialist courses to train people as teachers and librarians.

The role involves working across all curriculum areas and in collaboration with teachers to help students become independent researchers.

However, following cutbacks in the 1990s, a survey in 2001 found some libraries were staffed by people who had qualified only as teachers, or had no training.

The current inquiry comes after campaign group The Hub, begun by teacher librarians, claimed that libraries were facing a crisis - and that the situation in most government schools was dire.

It called for "adequate and equitable" funding across all states and territories.

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