School library collections survey 2013

Schools libraries are facing significant and rapid changes. A huge number of digital resources are becoming available, mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous and the process of rolling out the Australian Curriculum has begun. So what does the future hold for school library collections? SCIS recently conducted an online survey of 300 Australian school library staff to find out. The survey aimed to explore current issues and trends in school libraries to help inform future services. Respondents were asked about the pressing issues they are facing, what resources they currently provide and how they are being managed. Opinions were also sought on potential new services.

Budget and staffing shortages

Unsurprisingly some of the strongest concerns in the survey results were the lack of adequate funding for resources and the lack of time and qualified personnel available to provide a high standard of service. A fifth of respondents said an inadequate budget was the single biggest issue currently facing their library, while 15% reported staffing shortages as their most pressing issue. Small schools, government schools and primary schools were all more likely to cite budget and staffing shortages as a major issue.

Promoting the library's resources

Many respondents reported that their library collections were being underused by both students and teachers. In fact, almost a fifth of respondents said underuse was the single biggest issue facing their collection. Why might this be? Some respondents were concerned that students and/or teachers do not possess the necessary skills to find what they need. While others pointed to the need for promotion and improved understanding about what school libraries can offer. Numerous library staff said that the school library is being bypassed in favour of internet searching. Or as one teacher librarian described it, 'blind Google bashing is favoured over a sensible check of the OPAC'. The increasing expectation of anywhere/anytime access to information and the desire for 'one-stop-shop' searching may also be a contributing factor. A number of schools reported that their library resources were not accessible from outside the school, and in some cases the OPAC could only be accessed from inside the library itself. Indeed two-thirds of schools reported that their library management system not being integrated with other school technology systems was one of their most pressing access issues.

Graph showing access issues of most concern to librarians
Access issues of most concern to librarians

Resourcing the curriculum

Another major theme throughout the survey was concern about ensuring library resources support the Australian Curriculum. Ensuring resources were current and reflected the curriculum was the third biggest issue after budget constraints and underuse of resources. Over half of the schools also said that difficulty finding age- and curriculum-appropriate resources was a substantial access issue. In addition, a quarter of respondents highlighted professional learning in resourcing the curriculum as a major need. This mirrors the findings of Softlink's 2013 Australian School Library Survey in which 'aligning Australian Curriculum (ACARA) with existing resources/practices' was one of the top three most important goals for school libraries for the coming year (p. 22).

Respondents in the SCIS survey were also asked to rate the usefulness of potential new SCIS services. There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the prospect of linking resources to the Australian Curriculum, with 78% of respondents reporting this would be of 'high value' and a further 16% willing to pay extra for such a service. Similarly, schools responded positively to the possibility of age and/or year level information being added to SCIS records, with 65% saying they would value this highly, with a further 4% willing to pay for such a service.

Prior to the introduction of a national curriculum in Australia, adding curriculum-specific or year level information to SCIS records was not considered feasible or practical, but perhaps is now a more realistic possibility.

Managing digital resources

One concern that came through strongly was the challenge of managing the growing number of digital resources. A minority of schools seemed to have the situation well in hand, but these tended to be independent schools or larger secondary or K-12 schools. Others, particularly smaller schools and primary schools may be left behind. Over a third of respondents said that e-resources not being managed or used effectively was one of their three most concerning resourcing issues. Twelve per cent of respondents reported that the challenge of managing digital resources was the single biggest issue their library currently faced.

One of the barriers that came through was the lack of staff expertise in managing these resources. Some library staff just wanted to know where to start. As one librarian said, 'We are at the very beginning of using e-resources. Information and PD are lacking'.

Softlink's 2013 Australian School Library Survey also reported that there is a strong demand for professional development around managing digital resources. According to that survey the most desired topics for 2013 included:

  • ebooks/digital resources or eLearning
  • iPads/tablets/mobile devices or BYOD
  • library management systems
  • copyright, many of these relating specifically to copyright for electronic/digital content (p. 23).

What resources are schools using?

Unsurprisingly the majority of schools still report providing access to 'traditional' library resources such as books, magazines and DVDs. But digital resources are increasingly common. More than half of the respondents reported that their schools now provide access to audiobooks, subscription databases and websites. More than 40% also reported providing apps, digital video and ebooks.

It appears that secondary and combined primary/secondary schools are further ahead when it comes to providing digital resources to their school communities. Subscription databases and digital magazines are much more common in secondary and combined primary/secondary schools than in primary schools, as are ebooks and digital video. Subscription database use in secondary and combined schools was surprisingly high (over 70% for both). It is unclear to what extent the difference between primary and secondary uptake is due to factors within the school such as budget and staffing constraints or outside the school such as a lack of content in these formats appropriate to primary school aged students.

One area where the trend is reversed is with apps, which are more prevalent in primary and combined schools than in secondary schools. Perhaps this is due to the availability of free and low-priced apps directed at this age group.

The range of digital resources provided also differed between school sectors. For example, 28% of government schools reported offering ebooks, compared to 62% of independent schools and 62% of Catholic schools. Similarly, only 38% of government schools in the study provide access to subscription databases compared to 75% of independent schools and 65% of Catholic schools.

Graph showing types of resources provided by schools

% of schools providing resources in particular formats

Are digital resources being made accessible through library catalogues?

Schools varied widely in the number and types of digital resources they make accessible via their OPAC. Around a third of schools said students and staff have comprehensive access to a range of digital resources directly from their library catalogue. Fewer than 30% said they provide OPAC access to a small range of digital resources, while 37% reported that no digital resources are accessible via their OPAC. This figure jumps to 56% in primary schools and 69% in small schools (<300 students). This is likely to reflect lower numbers of digital resources purchased by these types of schools in the first place, as well as their lower staffing levels and more limited budgets. Based on respondents' comments, some library staff also appear to be unaware that SCIS provides catalogue records for many digital resources including apps, ebooks, audiobooks, websites, digital video, and learning objects. This may be something SCIS needs to promote more heavily in the future.

Graph showing curriculum resource issues of most concern to librarians
Curriculum resourcing issues of most concern to librarians

About this survey

The School Library Survey was conducted online during November 2013. It was promoted in the Term 4 2013 issue of Connections and via social media on the SCIS Blog and Twitter account. Survey invitations were also sent via email to SCIS subscribers in ACT, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. For the purposes of this article the first 300 responses were analysed. SCIS recognises the work of Clare Kennedy, Master of Information Management student at RMIT who undertook the significant work of analysing these survey results, and compiled this article.


Softlink 2013 Australian School Library Survey,

88. Clare-Kennedy

Clare Kennedy

Clare is an experienced primary teacher who also holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Psychology from the University of Melbourne, and is currently completing the Master of Information Management course at RMIT. She completed a profesional placement with the SCIS team in November 2013.