School Libraries just as important as ever

IN this modern era of fake news and alternative facts, school libraries are more important than they have ever been. Well-resourced and utilised, they are a vital part of preparing students for the future by facilitat¬ing a range of skills, including the ability to find information quickly and identify trustworthy sources.

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In the media: Australian Teacher Magazine, Careers March 2021, BY GRANT QUARRY

IN this modern era of fake news and alternative facts, school libraries are more important than they have ever been.

Well-resourced and utilised, they are a vital part of preparing students for the future by facilitat­ing a range of skills, including the ability to find information quickly and identify trustworthy sources.

With alarming drops in teach­er-librarian numbers in recent years, many principals have seen libraries as a first port of call for cost-cutting measures, howev­er, encouragingly, some govern­ments are looking to address a chronic shortage – the ACT Govern1nent, for example, is investing $890,000 for 10 Master of Teacher Librarianship schol­arships per year to 2025, to sup­port teachers to becon1e qualified teacher librarians.

Innovation and adaptability are key to the survival of school libraries, and in one state, excel­lence was acknowledged at the 2020 School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV) awards pre­sented during their virtual con­ference on Friday, November 27.

Proudly presented with the ‘Innovators Awards’, Bridget Forster a teacher-librarian at Strathcona Girls’ Grammar School in Melbourne’s inner eastern suburbs, initiated a superb project that challenged students to develop an entirely new skill in just ten weeks with the help of a mentor.

“The project came about after I researched how libraries cater to gifted students as part of my Masters;’ Forster says. “Students used their own net­works and approached organ­isations and guilds to find an expert in their chosen field to mentor them.

“Experts included a master carver who worked on the resto­ration of Windsor Castle, the CEO of an app design company and a number of professional artists and musicians.
“Students researched the best way to learn and develop their skill; for son1e this was via an online course … and for others it was by consulting online forums or reading articles and books.

To complement their prac­tical skill acquisition, students researched and produced a report on the history of their topic, and the challenge culmi­nated in a Digital Showcase, in which students proudly present­ed their work and process to the Year 8 Cohort.”

Luke Feailierston, learning leader and resource centre manager t Trinity College Colac, was awarded a Reseai·ch Fellowship for his efforts to improve literacy skills through the development of a reading program.

“We set up tl1e Trinity College Reading Passport initiative because we noticed that our students in Years 7 and 8 were not engaging with books as much as they had been during their primary school years,” Featherston says.

”The initiative sees 270 of our Year 7 and 8 students reading books at home for enjoyment.

“After each book is read, stu­dents complete a short activ­ity in OneNote and show it to the Resource Centre staff to get a sticker placed on their physi­cal bookmark. 

“We’ve noticed son1e early suc­cess with tile progran1, witl1 n1ore students actively coming into the Resource Centre during tile breaks to read ai1d discuss books and con1pared to tl1e same ti:n1e last year, we’ve noticed a 67 per cent increase in borrowing rates.”

School Leaders Award- winner Peter Hottlihan, prin­cipal of Catholic private school De La Salle College in the it1ner Melbourne suburb of Malvern, was honotued for his ‘outstanding and ongoing support of tl1e rein­vigoration of school library servic­es at his school’.

“We did a review of tile servic­es tile library \Vas offering and mapped out a vision to improve operations, skills bei11g taught, staff roles, but n1ost important­ly initiated a new program need­ed to boost readit1g, especially in Years 5-9;’ Houlihan says.

‘We appointed a new teacher­librariai1 in 2019 with the back­grotn1d1 skills and experience to deliver this:’
He says the results were clear ai1d pleasing.
“[We’ve seen a rise in] the level of interest and greatly improved borrowing rates/ data for Years 5-8 in particular.

“We’ve also seen increased engagemeut in and enjoyment of designated \Weekly and fort­nightly library lessons and ses­sions where English classes were booked in for our reading pro­gram but also others, including Humanities, RTE and Science, for research skills, referencing and so on:•
Libraries by necessity have had to update and modernize to remain relevant. 

At schools like Forster’s Strathcona Girls’ Grammar, this has meant includ­ing numerous small break-out rooms and bootl1s for student collaboration, fashioning a performance space that forms an indoor/outdoor stage for events and student performances and purchasing a variety of comforta­ble, movable furniture that allows users to easily transform the space for a variety of purposes.

Forster is bullishly confident that school libraries will thrive well into the future.
“School libraries are integral to a 21st century education;’ she says.

“With the rise of misinfor­mation across the internet and social networks, libraries play a key role I’m giving students the skills to critically evaluate sources.

“We’re equipping students to be discerning consumers of information and that entails not only being able to identi­fy fake news and the like, but also knowing where to go to find reliable, authoritative sources of inforn1ation.
Forster says it’s an exciting time for school libraries.

“We’ve adapted to the chang­ing technologies used in educa­tion and are able to use them to bring a greater range of resources to students than they had access to in the past:’