United we stand – or do we?

When it comes to school libraries in the 21st century, there are many challenges that need to be addressed by teacher librarians and school administration teams. There is abundant research evidence that good school librarians and good libraries make a difference – a radical difference in the learning  lives of our students.

But the evidence is of little value unless school librarians and/or teacher librarians  also work together to empower their own learning and forge new pathways for integrating into the learning needs of students.

Sadly, in Australia, I would suggest that teacher librarians are their own worst enemies. We do not present a united voice – rather the tensions that abound between various teacher librarian groups who choose  NOT to work together with a national voice is to me particularly alarming. No matter how good your local group or state group is – it is the national voice that influences government and other national organizations. What has your local or state group done to promote the national needs of teacher librarians? Are they supporting the work of ASLA national –  actively, courageously, generously, and relentlessly?  Our own national organization has done so much to ensure the past, present and future of school libraries across the nation.

So how could you not be excited by the upcoming opportunity in October in sunny Sydney? If you have not as yet registered to attend the XXII national bi-biennial conference of the Australian  School Library Association  please do not miss this chance to collaborate with your peers from Australia. Registrations close this week!

It is more important than ever to put regional and sectional interests behind us. Just this week our own national listserv is replete with stories yet again of school principals who are removing teacher librarians from their school library. Others, secure in their own jobs, forget to take a national view on preserving and promoting the profession. It’s not enough to attend local events. It’s not enough to take out membership of a regional or state group – if in doing so you are cut off from national action and do not lend your voice to national collaboration.

I want to personally thank  ASLA national for providing us with national publications, national standards, national events, and for taking national responsibility for our profession.  Let’s never forget – there is no other school library organization that  can do this for us!

Think local and act national – this is the only way to ensure the future of good school libraries across our nation.

Come to the conference!

6 thoughts on “United we stand – or do we?

  1. I am compelled to speak up for the front-line teacher-librarians. They are NOT responsible they are in the situation they currently find themselves so it is time to STOP suggesting they are, even in part. It has been convincingly shown that all of the ripple-effect patronage, self-advocacy on site and evidence-based campaigning that has been asked of TLs in the past several years (decades even) just has not worked! TLs have taken this advice in good faith and have been doing this until it has become a matter of course and, other than individually, it has gotten them nowhere. As well, we all know of TLs who were brilliant at this ‘self-promotion’ style of advocacy and all it has taken was a change of principals or a change of schools for it all to fall down like the proverbial house of cards.
    Besides, no other element of the profession has been asked to self-promote in this way. It is undignified and unhelpful. And if you wish to diminish the morale of an already demoralized profession, keep telling them to do what they have been doing for the past 20 years and it will get them somewhere – sooner or later.
    The problem is with the employing authorities and by implication the principals and their deputies. Systemic decision makers have not, to their shame, kept up with the research that shows conclusively that – and how – teacher-librarians add value to student learning in schools (and let’s stop talking about ‘good schools and good libraries’ – another demoralizing term – because, given the right kind of support, all TLs can make a difference to student learning. Most systemic organisations no longer have a curriculum resources advisory section in their organizational structure any more. Because of these deficits there is no policy and because there is no policy principals are no longer informed.
    TL advocacy has to recognise the barrier that principals as a group will rarely do anything unless it is an imperative of their employing authority. Putting that another way, they won’t do it unless they are told to do it. Why else do we have leaders in principals’ associations who see the TL light but don’t seem to be able to get their colleagues to see it? I dread the day that Gillard’s view of school autonomy becomes a reality, and not only for TLs. Schools are top-down bureaucracies so bottom-up advocacy for the benefit of the whole profession simply won’t work!
    Teacher Unions must also take their share of the blame here. How many of them have an explicit policy on working conditions for TLs which is based on the best practice that research has revealed? If they do have such a policy, how many of them audit that it is being applied in schools? How many of their executive officers and regional organizers are even aware of research into the added value of TLs to student learning? You can consider these questions rhetorical if you wish. To answer just one: Audit? What audit? Teacher Unions have and are letting their TL members down badly.
    So what are some suggestions to advocate the role? Become a Union activist and lobby your Union. Get your branches to pass relevant motions and make regional and state executives sit up and take notice. Use the evidence of value-added learning that the research has revealed. Follow up on the motion/s: check on how far they have progressed. Unions have as much bureaucratic inertia as education authorities but it is easier to be a Union pest than an employer pest!
    Lobby principals if you have a receptive one but don’t waste your time or energy otherwise. Remember they are more likely to listen to the p// of their authorities than yours. But remember also that you are entitled to write letters to principal associations and other educational associations for that matter. Refer to resource-based learning as a pedagogical ideology (learning how to learn), not just a teaching strategy. The more letters the better because this may give strength to our supporters in those associations that there is a looming problem which they will have to deal with too.
    It is my firm belief however that the best pathway to advocacy of the role of the teacher-librarian in learning is through the parents of our present and future students. If parents are told that their children will be missing out on educational opportunities, they will sit up and take notice. Are you a member of a parents’ group? Talk about the importance of reading and managing information and how a TL benefits this learning at school. Are you a member of a social book club or sports club? Offer to speak at church groups. Do your children go to another school? Lobby through the P&C/P&F association. Contact local and regional parents’ association councils to express your concerns. Get them to write the letters to politicians; politicians see such groups as having a different vested interest. Contact early childhood groups and associations: consider writing a short article for their magazines or newsletters. Always stress what students will miss out on if the school does not have a TL in a library. Get ideas from the Hub’s My School Library site http://myschoollibrary.wordpress.com.
    While TLs have every right to do these things individually, they should also be asking their professional associations and networks to do the same. The best thing that any of these organisations could be doing right at this moment is informing parents what learning opportunities their children will miss out on if they do not have the benefits of a SCHOOL LIBRARY in the charge of a dedicated (both meanings) TEACHER-LIBRARIAN.
    And stop this squabbling about who initiated the recent federal enquiry! It was Sharon Bird who convinced Julia Gillard of its need. Whoever had her ear at the time did a good job!

    Kerry Neary
    Ret TL Qld

  2. David I appreciate your comments and viewpoint, as I know you have worked closely with teachers and teacher lirbarians for many years now and value the work we do. I definitley agree that ASLA needs to LEAD and BE national, and hope that more teachers and teacher librarians hear your call. I hope people read your comments and use them to further their thoughts on future action. Thanks.

  3. Your contention that ASLA should represent and advocate for ALL school libraries around Australia whilst working with state and local organisations to present a united voice on all things school library related is true. But there seems to be disconnect between this notion and reality. On a personal level in my 10 years of supplying products to schools and school libraries I’m struggling to recall the proactive actions from ASLA to drive the agenda for Teacher Librarians and school libraries forward.

    The parliamentary enquiry into school libraries last year is a great example of ASLA responding to action and not initiating it. From my reading of the situation members of The Hub were relentless in lobbying parliamentarians to get this enquiry off the ground and then not allowing it to die during the change of government. Obviously ASLA were integral in presenting to the committee during public sessions and then formulating an official response, but I see this as a responsive approach not a proactive approach.

    The main question that keeps coming to the front of my mind is – How do you make ASLA stronger and a more proactive organisation?

    Is it running a national conference where 300-500 people will attend over a weekend? Where the vast majority of the audience are members of the TL profession. Or where most people in school libraries can’t get school financial support from their schools to attend?

    The other things that I wonder about with regards to ASLA are:

    – How many members of the national and state principal associations are in attendance at the ASLA National Conference to see firsthand the work of TL’s?
    – How many sessions did ASLA or ASLA identified representatives present at the last Australian Primary Principals Association conference? Thus showcasing how important the work of TL’s are to a quality education.
    – How many articles did ASLA have included in the journals of the Secondary Principals Associations across Australia in 2010? So that people making staffing decisions see the work that ‘can be’ achieved if they keep professionals in their libraries.
    – Has ASLA taken a leadership role in uniting the state and local organisations by providing them a free PROMINENT, VISABLE and PROFESSIOJAL booth at the National Conference? Thus extending an olive branch to heal old wounds.

    These are the things that show advocacy and rally the troops for the urgent action which is needed for students in schools with poorly resourced school libraries.

    ASLA isn’t a trade union, it’s an industry association, so that means it shouldn’t be advocating for employment arrangements, but must be driving a national agenda of quality school libraries for students. If that agenda means that ASLA then provides evidence and resources to show that a quality school library includes a TL, then that’s great and I’m all for it. But the starting point is to provide the resources and evidence to existing members of the community regardless of their financial status with the organisation, showing that good school libraries are essential to a good education.

    This message then needs to be spread beyond the school library community to the bureaucrats that write policy, the politicians that approve the policy, the regional directors that interpret the policy and finally the principals that implement the policies. None of these people are reading ASLA journals or attending the conferences, they are reading other journals and attending other conferences.

    Unfortunately the bottom line is that to get this message to more people requires more money! That level of funding is almost impossible to obtain from $150-$350 annual membership fees. Especially in an environment when school libraries are losing their budgets and the number of TL’s are declining rapidly. Returning to my earlier comment about responsiveness vs pro-activeness here’s a simple example, the companies that I’ve represented over the past 10 years have had a trade booths at the National ASLA conference in the past, until this very day I did not know that a company could become a member of ASLA, I’ve never been asked to become a member, I’ve never been contacted to explain the benefits of becoming a member nor have I ever been asked to contribute to a fighting fund for a specific campaign.

    Right at this moment in time ASLA doesn’t even have a National President, well not identified on the website at least. So without a national figurehead, who do the media contact seeking opinion, who attends the APPA and ASPA conferences to lobby their national executive on the benefits of good school libraries. Does the organisations lobbying and advocacy stall whilst the National Executive find the right person?

    If ASLA want to be the national advocate, they need to LEAD and BE the national advocate, otherwise another organisation will take their place or they will die of irrelevance.

    David Linke

    • Hi David and others,

      Thanks for the comments about what ASLA should or could be doing and I agree with your main contention ie ASLA should lead and be the national advocate, which in fact is what ASLA does. Perhaps you are not aware of what ASLA has done so I’ll just cover a few areas:

      * The Parliamentary inquiry into School Libraries – ASLA had also been lobbying the commonwealth on a range of issues about school libraries for a long time prior to the announcement of this Inquiry. In fact it was a conversation between a member of the Hub and a member of the ASLA Board where the idea of a national review was suggested by the Board member. So it was a synergy of many groups that put pressure on the government to call this Inquiry, but it was the continual dialogue between ASLA and the secretariat for the education minister that got the Inquiry back on track after the change of ministers. It was ASLA’s continual presence and face to face meetings in Canberra, phone calls etc that found a positive list of recommendations in the final report. The Inquiry members and secretariat had continual communication with ASLA during this whole period – for without this, the entire action would have gone off the rails.

      * -Members of ASLA have provided access to TL conference to Principals – but this is not the best place for advocacy – it is at Principal conferences as you suggest where ASLA has provided speakers etc – I know because I have presented for this very reason.

      * Members of ASLA have also published in journals other than TL ones. We can always improve on this, so perhaps you could write an article from EdAlliance’s perspective to show the value of school libraries and Tls?

      * ASLA has never provided free booth space to other member associations at national conferences – so your reference to heal old wounds is confusing. ASLA has always welcomed member associations in allowing them to display items of interest to the profession at the ASLA secretariat.

      * Membership changes – Yes other organizations can become members of ASLA but this has only changed this year with a change in constitution. Perhaps this is an area ASLA should target especially as you mention campaigns funded by other than member funds.

      Like you I believe that ASLA should be the leader in the profession – and it is a profession not an industry association. However I believe that ASLA has been doing this perhaps not shouting our actions to others but definitely in the areas outside the immediate school library – where it is most important. For example, ASLA is currently doing a project for AITSL – which is at the level of Principals and above – and where our recognition of the value of TLs and school libraries can be best seen.

      Ultimately any profession is only as good as the members who are active in it – we are all volunteers but believe passionately in what we do and the value we provide for student learning.

      As Treasurer of ASLA, I’d love to talk with you about funding opportunities! 🙂

      June Wall

  4. Pingback: United we stand – or do we? | | School Library Advocacy | Scoop.it

  5. I keynoted the conference in Perth in 2009 and found it to be one of the most rewarding conference experiences I have ever had. I stayed long into the afternoon chatting with people and listening to their stories. I would urge everyone in school libraries to attend this one!

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