All students deserve access to a qualified teacher-librarian

“I once felt like a valued and important specialist. Now I feel invisible, ignored, excluded and undervalued,” a Federation member and teacher-librarian said when responding to the school libraries survey conducted by the union earlier this year.

It sums up in two sentences what the NSW Government’s Local Schools, Local Decisions policy “reforms” have inflicted on a very large number of our members who perform this vital dual-qualified specialist role.

The end result? Thousands of NSW public school students are missing out on the educational benefits that the specialist teaching position provides.

Concerns about the way in which the specialist position was being undermined by Local Schools, Local Decisions were raised at Federation’s Annual Conference in 2019. Conference called for the re-establishment of Federation’s Teacher-Librarian Special Interest Group and for a survey of schools on the role of the teacher-librarian to be conducted.

Since then, the Teacher-Librarian Special Interest Group has been re-established and a survey was conducted between March until June this year.

It was abundantly clear from the survey that many of our public school libraries in NSW are seriously under-resourced and not keeping pace with the burgeoning numbers of student enrolments in the public school system.

“The physical space is very small for the student numbers we have at our campus”, one member said.

And another: “At the moment, I am being moved to a space 1/8 the size of the library I have now. It is the size of a normal classroom for a school of over 800 students.”

An alarming 40 per cent of the teacher-librarians who responded to the survey said their timetable included a teaching load away from the library, despite the fact that every school is allocated a teacher-librarian entitlement separate from and in addition to the staffing entitlement for the rest of the school.

The act of taking the teacher-librarian away from their library role is to diminish the value of the school library and to undermine the school’s ability to fulfil its obligations under the Department’s own library policy.

It’s not just the face-to-face teaching of those other subjects that undermines the ability of the teacher-librarian to undertake their library work. It is also the lesson preparation, programming and assessing and reporting that accompanies that teaching.

The survey results also show a widespread lack of understanding in our schools about the role of teacher-librarians and their industrial rights, including their right to a break, to release from face-to-face teaching and administration time.

In some positive news, the survey showed that, on the whole, the Department is fulfilling its obligation to fill vacancies with permanent qualified teacher-librarians as soon as possible. They have also taken steps to ensure a future workforce in this area by offering retraining scholarships to current teachers.

But the Department’s approach lacks cohesion. It makes little sense that the Department would, on the one hand, pay teachers to retrain as teacher-librarians and on the other hand allow schools to deskill that person by directing them onto non-library activities and robbing the students at their school of the full educational benefit of their dual qualifications.