SCISConnections

Gold Coast study links school libraries and teacher librarians to literacy

Katrina Germein reads her latest book, My Dad STILL Thinks He's Funny
Katrina Germein reads her latest book, My Dad STILL Thinks He's Funny.
Photography by Medea Patyi. Used with permission

A recent study conducted by the School Library Association of Queensland (SLAQ) in partnership with QUT's Children and Youth Research Centre has created an invaluable snapshot of contemporary school libraries in Australia, and provided further evidence of the positive impacts that school libraries and teacher librarians can make to school communities and students' learning and social wellbeing.

Entitled School libraries, teacher librarians and their contribution to student literacy in Gold Coast schools (Hughes, 2013), the study responded to the recent parliamentary inquiry into School libraries and teacher librarians in Australian schools, which called for Australian research to ascertain numbers of teacher librarians in schools, identify gaps in provision and 'extrapolate the links between library programs, literacy (especially digital literacy, which is as important as regular literacy and numeracy skills), and student achievement' (House of Representatives, 2011, p. 118).

Research design

Undertaken in 2012, the study addressed two research questions:

  • What is the current nature of school library provision and staffing in Gold Coast schools?
  • How do school libraries and teacher librarians contribute to school students' literacy development in Gold Coast schools?

As the Gold Coast constitutes a relatively small, well-defined area with a representative range of schools of varying types and sizes, 97 Gold Coast schools were invited to participate. Twenty-seven principals responded to the invitation (28% of principals contacted), which included: 13 primary, 5 secondary, 7 combined P-12,1 special school P-12 and 1 senior secondary college. 59% were from government schools and 41% were from non-governments schools. Data was collected anonymously and confidentially via surveys and telephone interviews.

Limitations

Since this study was designed as a small-scale pilot study, its investigative scope and sample size were limited. As exploratory research, it did not set out to test any hypothesised relationships between learning outcomes and school libraries and the findings cannot be considered generalisable to schools outside the 27 Gold Coast schools, nor do they rule out other explanations for associations between school libraries, teacher librarians and NAPLAN scores. Notably however, the survey returned quantitative data that suggested relationships consistent with those found by other studies.

Findings of the Gold Coast study

Nature, size and staffing

The 27 Gold Coast school libraries varied in nature and size. Levels of library staffing differed markedly in terms of full-time equivalent (FTE) staff and qualifications. In particular:

  • 59% of the 27 schools had an FTE library staff greater than 1 that included a teacher librarian.
  • 78% had at least 1 part-time teacher librarian.
  • 22% had no teacher librarian.

The research indicated that non-government schools tended to have larger FTE library staffs that included a paraprofessional library technician or administrative assistant, as well as teacher-librarian.

Of the six schools without a teacher librarian:

  • two were run by library aides with no professional qualifications in teaching or librarianship.
  • three were run by a teacher (without librarianship qualification).
  • one was run by a library technician (with Certificate IV but without professional library or teaching qualification).

Student to library staff ratios:

  • The government schools had higher ratios of students to FTE library staff (i.e. fewer staff per enrolled students).
  • Library staff at non-government schools tended to rise in line with student enrolment.
  • In contrast, FTE library staff at the government schools tended to cluster between one and two irrespective of size of student enrolment.
Range of literacy and reading activities provided by Gold Coast school libraries
Range of literacy and reading activities provided by
Gold Coast school libraries

Literacy and reading activities

The libraries provided a varied and often extensive range of activities related to literacy development and reading promotion. There appeared to be a strong association between higher FTE teacher librarian and higher number of activities provided.

In contrast, there was no apparent association between total FTE library staff and the number of literacy development activities offered by the library. Seemingly, a critical mass of at least one FTE teacher librarian and support staff was required to provide a varied program of activities.

  • The association between higher FTE teacher librarian and higher number of activities was particularly distinct for government schools.
  • School libraries with a teacher librarian tended to provide a greater number of activities.
  • Significantly the six schools with no teacher librarian provided few or no activities.

NAPLAN scores

The study found that NAPLAN1 scores for reading and writing were generally higher
when (a) student to library staff ratios were lower (i.e. better) and (b) the school had
a teacher librarian. These findings are consistent with US studies that have centred on
standardised testing (summarised in Hughes, 2013).

Comparison of NAPLAN reading scores for schools with and without a teacher librarian
Comparison of NAPLAN reading scores for schools with and without a teacher librarian.
The magenta horizontal bars are the Australian national mean reading and writing scores
for 2011 for the corresponding year groups.
  • Schools with fewer students per FTE library staff tended to have higher NAPLAN scores.
  • Schools with the highest NAPLAN scores for the Year 3, Year 5, and Year 7 year groups tended to have lower students to FTE library staff ratios. (Data for Year 9 year groups was not sufficiently complete.)

The principals' views

Ninety-three per cent of the school principals considered that their school library had some influence on students' literacy development:

  • 67% considered that it had a great/very great influence.
  • 26% considered that it had a little influence.
  • one principal considered it had no influence.

Similarly, 93% of the principals indicated the need for a library to support students' literacy development in their school, while over two-thirds considered it to be essential. For example, one principal commented: 'A well-resourced library and a good teacher librarian are essential to a whole-of-school approach to literacy development'. Two principals, both in government schools, considered the library to be unnecessary. One principal, at a non-government primary school, considered that libraries 'have limited use past class 5'.

The principals were generally well-informed about the varied and changing nature of the teacher librarian's role, with an increasing focus on managing learning and literacy. Several principals recognised that for teacher librarians, literacy encompasses the use and promotion of digital information. Several commented that teacher librarians play an important role in contributing to students' literacy development, including as:

  • leaders of pedagogy, curriculum, literacy
  • collaborative literacy teachers
  • promoters of information and digital/ICT literacy
  • promoters of reading
  • peer educators
  • resource experts
  • student-focused library managers
  • learning space creators.

While the principals generally recognised that the school library can contribute to students' literacy development, they also indicated further needs must be met for it to fully achieve the school's literacy goals. These needs often related to resourcing, as one principal commented: '[it] all comes back to strategic plan and money'. Principals needed increased funding for staffing, resources, digital technologies and improved library spaces. Several indicated the need to either appoint or increase the hours of a qualified teacher librarian.

Gold Coast findings consistent with other research

The findings of the Gold Coast study were broadly consistent with those of over 20 studies conducted in the US, Canada and Britain, which provide compelling evidence of school libraries' positive impacts on student literacy, reading and learning outcomes (summarised in Hughes, 2013). Australian research about the impacts of school libraries and teacher librarians is still quite limited. Student learning through Australian school libraries (Hay, 2005, 2006) indicated that the school library and teacher librarian help students learn by providing access to a range of current resources and technology and developing information literacy. The School libraries futures project (Hay and Todd, 2010) provided extensive examples of teacher librarian activities that support information literacy and learning in New South Wales government schools. Australian school library surveys conducted annually since 2010 by Softlink (2012) show links between higher school library funding and higher than national average reading scores and a significant positive correlation between the number of school librarians employed and the NAPLAN Reading results for the school.

Implications

Findings of the Gold Coast study, along with those of many other international and Australian studies, highlight the potential of school libraries as vibrant hubs for learning, information, reading promotion, creativity, student leadership and social interaction within their communities. The parliamentary inquiry recognised the importance of school libraries and teacher librarians in light of national initiatives such as Building the Education Revolution, Digital Education Revolution and the new Australian Curriculum. Therefore, the uneven and often inadequate resourcing of school libraries around Australia raises serious questions around sustainability and equity. The consequence of not having a teacher librarian was compellingly described by one principal who noted a decline in growth of the school's NAPLAN reading scores over 4 years following discontinuation of the teacher librarian's position. The principal commented:

We lost our librarian 4 years ago and now we recognise the need for one, particularly since the negative growth in reading on NAPLAN Year 7-9 declined by 30% from 2010-12, double the percentage of negative growth for the previous cohort.

In response to the question 'What do you need to achieve literacy goals?' this principal wrote: 'Re-appointment of a teacher librarian'. Significantly, this principal's view is consistent with similar findings of a US study which concluded:

At schools where library programs lose or never had an endorsed librarian, students suffer as a result.
(Lance and Hofschire, 2012, p. 9)

Taken together, findings of all this research provide compelling evidence that school libraries and teacher librarians bring fourfold value to their school communities in terms of:

  • Educational outcomes: they can make a significant contribution to student literacy and learning outcomes. Teacher librarians who engage in collaborative curriculum development and teaching 'Support and implement the vision of their school communities through advocating and building effective library and information services and programs that contribute to the development of lifelong learners' (ASLA and ALIA, 2004).
  • Equity: they support the social interaction and wellbeing of all students. The school library is one of few places in a school open to all students, teachers and parents. In addition to providing a congenial learning environment and 'safe haven', the school library often offers a venue for extra-curricular activities, as well as school community events and meetings. For students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, it provides access to print and electronic resources that might otherwise be unavailable to them.
  • Economic value: by employing one teacher librarian, a school effectively gains two specialists who can respond to diverse learners' needs and the affordances of evolving technologies. With dual qualifications as teachers and information professionals, teacher librarians are well placed to support the Australian government's priority to raise national literacy standards and to enable the implementation of the new Australian Curriculum, especially with regard to inquiry learning and ICT competency. By taking a 'bird's-eye view' across the curriculum (Lupton, 2012) teacher librarians enable students and teachers to use the library's resources and spaces to their fullest potential.
  • School leadership: through their dual-focused role many teacher librarians develop extensive pedagogical and managerial experience of value within and beyond the school library.

Teacher librarians and ICT

The increasing emphasis on ICT competency is sometimes accompanied by an assumption that school libraries are becoming less relevant with advancing technologies and online access to seemingly boundless information. However, although technology supports literacy development it cannot offer a complete solution. For example, one of the Gold Coast principals stated the need for: 'A balanced delivery of books, ebooks, IT tools and writing. Removing all books won't fix literacy concerns'. In addition, to ensure that learning technologies are used to their fullest potential, there is an evident and continuing need for leadership of ICT literacy development and reading promotion. A professionally qualified teacher librarian, with specialist expertise in applying learning technologies, is well placed to provide this leadership.

Conclusion

The research-based evidence presented in this paper has demonstrated the significant advantage that a well-resourced school library run by a professionally qualified teacher librarian can bring to a school, in terms of student literacy and learning outcomes. These findings are particularly relevant in light of the Better Schools Plan. It is evident that school libraries can play a major part in achieving 'ambitious national targets for a high quality and high equity schooling system' to place Australia in the top five countries internationally in reading, mathematics and science by 2025. (Better Schools Plan, 2013, www.betterschools.gov.au). However, the findings also indicate that adequate and consistent resourcing is needed to ensure that school libraries and teacher librarians can assist students to achieve their full potential. This point was emphasised by the parliamentary inquiry into School libraries and teacher librarians in Australia (House of Representatives, 2011). It was echoed by Gold Coast principals, one of whom stated: 'If the government truly values school libraries they need to fund specialised staff to complete training and also designate earmarked funds for library purchasing'.

In addition to increased funding, there is an evident need for more extensive Australian research about school libraries and teacher librarians. This would support policy making and implementation of a high quality and high equity schooling system as envisaged by the Australian Government.

Endnotes

1 (a) 2011 NAPLAN scores. (b) NAPLAN score refers to the average of the NAPLAN scores achieved by the year group of individual students enrolled at the school.

Acknowledgements

The research partners express sincere thanks to the Gold Coast school principals for giving their time and thoughtful responses to this research.

The Gold Coast school libraries study is available in full at:
www.slaq.org.au/research.

References

Australian Government (2013). National plan for school improvement.www.betterschools.gov.au

ALIA and ASLA (2009). Statement on teacher librarian qualifications. www.asla.org.au/policy/teacher-librarian-qualifications.aspx

Francis, B.H., Lance, K. C., Lietzau, Z. (2010). School librarians continue to help students achieve standards. Denver, CO: Colorado State Library, Library Research Service. www.lrs.org/documents/closer_look/CO3_2010_Closer_Look_Report.pdf

Hay, L. (2005). 'Student learning through Australian school libraries: Part 1: A statistical analysis of student perceptions'. Synergy, 3(2), pp. 17-30.

Hay, L. (2006). 'Student learning through Australian school libraries: Part 2: What students define and value as school library support'. Synergy, 4(2), pp. 28-38.

Hay, L. and Todd, R.J. (2010). School libraries 21C: A school libraries futures project. NSW Department of Education and Training. www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/schoollibraries/assets/pdf/21c_report.pdf

House of Representatives. (2011). School libraries and teacher librarians in 21st century Australia. Standing Committee on Education and Employment. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=ee/schoollibraries/report.htm

Hughes, H. (2013). School libraries, teacher librarians and their contribution to student literacy in Gold Coast schools. School Library Association of Queensland - QUT. www.slaq.org.au/research

Lupton, M. (2012). Inquiry skills in the Australian curriculum. Access, 26(2), pp. 12-18

Softlink (2012). Australian school library survey 2012

Hilary Hughes

Dr Hilary Hughes is a Senior Lecturer in the Master of Education (Teacher-librarianship) program at QUT. This article was prepared in collaboration with the SLAQ Research Committee: Toni Leigh, Sally Fraser, Marj Osborne, Helen Reynolds and Chris Kahl.

Email: h.hughes@qut.edu.au 
Web: http://staff.qut.edu.au/staff/hugheshe