For a top-shelf education, students need school libraries
This article is an edited extract from a speech by AEU member Holly Godfree when she accepted her 2019 Australian Teacher Librarian Award at the ASLA XXVII Conference and is republished with the permission of the Australian School Library Association.
I’d like to share with you twelve seminal moments over the course of my time working in school libraries.It’s my hope that some of these anecdotes might hold useful lessons to help us navigate these years of active advocacy for teacher librarians, and, ultimately, the transition we hope to see with large numbers of new teacher librarians and other qualified library staff joining our ranks in a resurgence of strong school library services for all students across Australia.
My entry into the school library from the classroom was a random twist of fate. I was not one of these people who dreamed of working in a library and planned her career trajectory. I just happened to return to part time work after having my first child at a time when the teacher librarian at my school wanted to cut back on her hours.
Moment 1: 2005
I’m walking through the stacks of that library with Daphne Taylor, the quintessential warm, welcoming and knowledgeable teacher librarian.
She’s grabbing books off the shelf and chatting relaxedly about the numerous authors and series I need to read because they’re popular with the kids.
She’s just rattling off Dewey Decimal numbers (“Let’s go over to 567 and look at the dinosaur books”), and as the pile of books in my hands starts bumping up against my chin, I have my first moment of “Whoooaa” because I am blown away by the knowledge in her head.
Mind you, this must be contrasted by a moment in the previous year when Daphne, being a good practitioner, was making a presentation about the information literacy process to our whole staff.She’s at the front of the room talking about “defining, locating, selecting, organising...” and I’m sitting in the back of the room inwardly thinking about what a waste of time this is and how it’s all so obvious what she’s saying.
(I look back on this now as a touchstone moment, by the way, because much of what we teach sounds really obvious and easy. It’s not until you actually have to do it that the challenges and frustrations rear their heads.)
That first year, Daphne says to me “You know, you could get the master’s degree to get your qualification in teacher librarianship with Charles Sturt University.”
Knowing that it’s an optional choice, I don’t give it a second thought. “Why on earth would I want to go back to uni and get another degree? Ah... no, thank you.”
Quite a few years later, I’m in a school where I’m running the whole library on my own for the first time. I’ve connected with the Canberra email network for school libraries.
I’ve started realising in my bones that there are quite a few things I don’t know that seem to be really important.I attend a local PD on Oliver, and I feel very uncomfortable when over a cup of tea in the break, the person I’m talking to asks if I’ve got my TL qualification.I say “no”, and a sort of “wall” falls over her features. She quickly moves on to talk to someone else.
A few weeks later, I ask Sue Martin if the TL community here could just have a little afternoon get together one day with teachers like me who are working in school libraries and just let us know what those ‘important things’ are because I’m not going to go back to uni, but couldn’t you just give me the quick run down about what this whole “teacher librarian” thing is all about?(Poor Sue, having to try to handle that question tactfully!)
But she was firm with me that, no, that was not going to happen because it takes many years of study to learn all the skills.
She also said that whilst a library collection might be ok for a while without trained staff, that over time gaps would appear and it would begin to corrode.It would become, she said, like the difference between a Borders bookstore and the book section in Kmart. (Now, we’ll ignore the portents of that metaphor with how things have actually played out for Borders, because at that time Borders was robust and thriving.)It took me a couple of seconds before I went “Gasp! I’m Kmart.” That was tough love.
A one-on-one meeting with my principal who says to me, “So, as the teacher librarian I’d like you to focus on teaching students about the information literacy process.”I’m nodding my head and thinking “....I have no idea what that actually means....”
Moment 5: 2011
I’ve got a school membership to ASLA and a different principal approves funding for me to attend the ASLA conference in Sydney.I hear Karen Bonanno deliver a keynote where I have the first of many “BOOM” moments I’ve had over the years where I am blown away by the brilliance of some of the people in our profession.
Moment 6: Also in 2011
The education minister in Canberra decides to close our centralised teacher resource library. Bill Book, an AEU ACT organiser, asks me to give a little speech at the protest rally. I arrive and he hands me a bull horn (even though there were only about 20 of us there).I deliver the speech. People get fired up.
Moment 7: 2011 again (2011 turned out to be a big year for me)
Public educators go on strike.Because my bullhorn speech went so well, the AEU office asks if I’ll give one to the 3000 or so members who are on strike that day.As part of that speech, I say something about teacher librarians and the crowd goes wild.The school library community here is electrified. We’re so pumped that our colleagues care about school library services.
Bill Book meets with AEU TL members and tells us we need a goal to work towards.We brainstorm some things before he says, “what if we aim to have a teacher librarian in every school.”We all burst into a sort of wild-eyed laughter because it’s so audacious of an idea. (This goal has evolved to also now include qualified library support staff because we must articulate how essential it is to have a team of staff in the library to provide the full range of services).
Moment 9: 2012
I start my master’s in teacher librarianship at CSU.Every week that I study, my growth, my skills, my capacity and my level of service to my school community increases exponentially.
I’m struggling with an assignment for my educational research subject at CSU, and I make an appointment with one of the CSU librarians.It’s distance education, so she logs into my computer with me and we spend an hour going through databases together refining search terms.She helps me assess each article to see if it’s going to hit the mark for what I need. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and absolutely in awe of what she’s just done.
I’m nearly done with my study when I move to a school where I am in a (fully qualified) team of four (two part time TLs, 1 full time library technician and 1 part time library assistant).For the first time, I only do collaborative work with students and teachers.Our team is given freedom, flexibility and trust, and we create fantastic programs for students and teachers and become busier and busier every year.This move was life changing for me personally and professionally. I was an eagle trapped in a little box who was then set free to soar.
Moment 12: 2016
I’m on a plane flying to Adelaide for the annual face-to-face meeting of the members of the school library coalition admin group, and the lady sitting next to me says “So, what are you doing in Adelaide?”“I’m saving school libraries” I say. She’s shocked. “What’s wrong with school libraries?” she asks. At the end of the conversation, the penny drops for me. Most people have no idea that there is even any problem at all.Their child brings home the occasional book to read, and they assume that all is well in that school library.Two years later, we launch our campaign.
It’s been a pretty awesome journey so far.
Holly is currently a teacher librarian at Lake Tuggeranong College, a member of the AEU ACT Branch Executive and coordinator of the Students Need School Libraries campaign.
The campaign's mission is to ensure student access to high quality school library services.Their vision to is ensure that every student has access to a dynamic, well-resourced school library run by qualified library staff.
To find out more about the campaign and how you can get involved, visit studentsneedschoollibraries.org.au.
This article is republished from a recent edition of ACT Educator magazine, with the permission of the Australian School Library Association.