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The Softlink Australian School Library Survey: Trends and Future Directions Presentation Part 2

Susan Gan, Customer Community Manager, Softlink Education

In this recording from an ASLA presentation in 2015, Susan discusses the history behind the Softlink Australian School Library Survey and presents a summary of the 2014 results.

Join Susan as she discusses:

  • Key objectives of school libraries (2:13)
  • Key findings of the 2014 survey (3:19)
  • The top 7 challenges for school libraries (7:19)
  • The 5 most important opportunities for school libraries (20:26)

To watch Part 1 of this presentation click here

Sharing the voice of school library staff

Open-ended questions at the end of the survey give insight in to school libraries as participants share their thoughts and ideas. As themes emerge we collate these comments and share the voice of school library staff in features such as the papers below.

Read the transcript

The Softlink Australian School Library Survey: Trends and Future Directions.

My name is Susan Gan. I’m an experienced school librarian and have worked at Softlink for over six years.

In this recording, I’m going to talk to you a little bit about the history behind the Softlink Australian School Library Survey, as well as provide a summary of the results from the 2014 Survey.

In 2010, the Australian Federal Government requested submissions to the Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians in Australian Schools.

Softlink undertook a survey of Australian school libraries to provide data, which enabled a unique and informed response to the inquiry.

Softlink has continued to survey Australian schools annually in an effort to highlight the issues facing Australian school libraries. Continuing the annual survey builds a critical reference point for understanding changes, impacts, and trends over time. The results provide a solid basis for advocacy for school libraries.

Each year the data is compiled, and a report is written and made available. All respondents receive budget and staffing analysis based on their school size.

In 2014, Softlink received 1380 responses from 1267 Australian schools. I would now like to discuss some of the findings from these results.

From the survey we can see that school libraries in general have identified the following key three objectives:

One: the need to align existing resources and practices with the Australian curriculum, with 93% of respondents indicating that this was important, or very important to them.

Two: recognition of the importance of developing a formal information literacy program, with 81% of respondents indicating that this was important, or very important to them.

Three: implementing the necessary technologies to enable eResources access via digital and mobile devices, with 76% of respondents indicating that this was important, or very important to them. Schools know that it is not just about having the eResources themselves, but also how to deliver them and on what platform or device to do so.

Key findings of the 2014 Australian School Library Survey

Key finding one: Softlink’s research continues to indicate a positive correlation between school library budgets and the NAPLAN reading literacy results.

This correlation has been consistent across the life of the School Library Survey. The results show that schools with lower library funding achieve lower than the national average reading literacy scores.

It also highlights that as funding increases, so do the NAPLAN results. Those schools that receive high library funding achieve higher than the national average reading literacy scores.

Key finding two: overall, fewer schools reported a budget decrease between 2013 and 2014, compared to the significant percentage of schools that reported a budget decrease between 2012 and 2013.

The fact that fewer schools reported a budget decrease does indicate that there has been some levelling out of school budget cuts in Australia.

Key finding three: Government, Secondary and K-12 schools received the highest percentage of budget cuts in the comparison between 2013 and 2014.

Key finding four: Softlink’s research also continues to indicate a positive correlation between library staffing and the NAPLAN reading literacy results.

As with library budgets, this correlation has been consistent across the life of the School Library Survey. Those schools with a larger allocation of library staff had higher achievement in literacy than those with fewer staff.

Key finding five: between 2013 and 2014, the majority of school libraries had no change to their staffing levels. Although, when you delve deeper into the results, you find that while the staffing levels may not have changed, in some instances, the level of qualifications for staff members filling those roles did change.

Several respondents stated that teacher librarians were moved to teaching or curriculum roles and their positions were replaced by library technicians or library aides.

For those schools that did experience a reduction in library hours. It appears that when there was a change in staff member, on occasions, the opportunity was taken by the school to make a reduction in hours.

For example, a full time TL might retire or transfer to another school and be replaced for only three to four days per week. Or a full time TL coming back from maternity leave and wanting to go part time instead of being put into a job share situation, they would find that the total library hours had been cut to fit their new part time requirements.

Key finding six: there was an increase in the take up of eBooks in schools. Even with this increase in eBooks, schools continue to find the two major challenges to be devices and the range of books available in eBook format.

In regard to devices, some schools are reluctant to take up BYOD programmes, while others are trying to loan out enough devices to make an eBook program successful.

There is also considerable frustration with publishing companies as they continue to put limitations on purchases and loans of eBooks or refuse to make some resources available in eBook format.

What are the top seven challenges for school libraries?

As part of the survey, respondents were asked what they would like to change about their library or their role. It became clear that there were a number of challenges being shared by library staff across the country.

Challenge one: managing a library that wasn’t built for the 21st century.

School Library buildings that are out of date create a challenge for new learning spaces within the library.

Library staff would like to have more interactive spaces within their libraries and are frustrated with small spaces and inflexible layouts.

Some of the schools that were fortunate to receive a new library building through the BER initiative reported that the library was either smaller than their original library, or of an impractical design as library staff weren’t allowed to be involved in the design process.

These library staff also portray concern about the lack of staffing being provided, as well as lack of funding to sufficiently resource these new facilities.

One respondent stated that employing a qualified teacher librarian, or at least an experienced teacher, is a necessity. Otherwise, parents and students are being hoodwinked into believing the fancy new library buildings mean they’re getting quality support from their library.

The ever-changing shift in technology and tech savvy students are forcing library staff to re-evaluate their current library space. Some even go as far to say that due to technology, students are seeking instant gratification, and will not spend time looking for books in neatly organised rows of shelves.

These library staff would like to have the funding to allow libraries to change both in physical setting up and the displaying of the collection to give them the chance to become learning centres for the 21st century.

Not only do library staff find the older buildings restrictive, but they also find that the restrictive nature of the older style of shelving, as well as furniture that is often in disrepair, forces the compromise on their ability to engage the students.

Despite these problems, library staff still have goals and visions for what they want to achieve within their library.

They want flexible spaces for groups to come together with a wide variety of activities, flattened classrooms and makerspaces, space for non-traditional activities, strong community spaces, study centres and social spaces, space for chess and other board games.

Challenge two: finding enough time to do it all.

Teacher librarians are increasingly being forced to take on other duties within the school, thereby reducing administration and innovation time in the library.

The duties of relief teaching in the classrooms, eLearning coordinator or head of department to name a few, are being required of teacher librarians in addition to their existing library duties.

They also report that the library aides are being seconded from the library to assist with general school administration, first aid, assets register maintenance, and even the supervision of detention at lunchtime.

While the library aide might be physically in the library, they are not always carrying out library related tasks.

A very common thread throughout the response from the 2014 Australian School Library Survey was the lack of time library staff had to carry out basic duties in their role.

More and more library staff seem to be expected to put in additional unfunded hours to complete basic tasks. Compromises have to be made.

Do you keep the library open at lunchtime to encourage students to spend time in the library and even provide a safe haven for those students with nowhere else to go? Will you close the library and take a lunch or even toilet break? Do you spend time cataloguing and covering new resources? Or do you spend the time engaging with a child and helping them find a book to read?

It would be wonderful if library staff had the time to do all of these things. But the survey results make it abundantly clear that this is not the case. Teacher librarians also report that they’re frustrated with the lack of time available to them to provide curriculum assistance to teaching stuff.

A vital part of teacher librarian’s role should be to liaise with teaching staff and to provide advice on curriculum requirements and the availability of resources to suit those requirements.

From feedback provided, this is clearly not occurring. The lack of vital support is particularly of detriment to those younger and less experienced teachers that are looking to the library for advice, as well as the students who are being impacted by this lack of support.

Challenge three: encouraging the school community to value the library.

Many staff feel that the library is undervalued by the school community. Library staff are frustrated that the school community isn’t making use of the library resources and the services available to them.

From reading the comments provided in the survey results it is immediately obvious as to those respondents that receive support from their school and those that do not.

The level of despondency and lack of morale in those that feel that their role is undervalued is immediately and painfully obvious.

The support of the principal seems to be the key defining factor as to whether the library is well funded and staffed and a valued service within the school. The following comments by respondents show the level of power exercised by the principal and the negative effect it can have on the library and its staff.

“My principal decided to cut the library staffing and use it elsewhere in the school.”

“My principal sees little use for a book library and a teacher librarian.”

“It was hardly demoralising after four years of study to be told by my new principal that my little library certificate was of no value to the school.”

And finally, “I feel as if I’ve been fighting a very lonely battle with little support.”

Other comments from respondents were far more positive because of the support they received from their principal and admin staff.

“Staffing in our library has been increased as the principal sees a great need for the library to be organised and efficient and to be well stocked for both students and staff.”

“I’m extremely lucky to have a very supportive principal who reads, and values the library.”

“The teaching staff also understand the teacher librarian’s role in the school and utilises it.”

“I have a very supportive principal, staff, and school community which has allowed me to make major changes to the physical layout of the library. And I’ve implemented cooperative team teaching across all classes.”

“I’m extremely fortunate to have a beautifully resourced library with a supportive principal who still believes in the value of books.”

“Without the incredible support of the principal, executive, and staff at this school, the library would not be what it is. The library is a central hub of learning at this school. It is regularly booked out and it is a very well utilised resource in many different ways. Our library has been recognised as outstanding in the local media.”

The following comment accurately sums up the general feelings of the respondents:

“The library’s fortunes, value, and progress is, to a great extent, dependent on the knowledge and the intellect of the principal. While as library staff, we are passionate, innovative, and expert at what we do, if our principal is a non-reader then progress is at a standstill.”

Challenge four: aligning the library with the curriculum.

Teacher librarians are frustrated by the lack of opportunities for collaborative teaching and the ability to contribute to curriculum development and delivery within their schools.

While some teacher librarians are able to have planning sessions with their teachers, and incorporate the curriculum into their library lessons, a large number of TLs are unable to do this because of lack of available time or support from the school community.

Concern has also been raised by respondents, that additional funding has not been provided by schools to purchase new Australian Curriculum resources and that library staff are expected to purchase these resources out of their already stretched library budgets.

Those without the budget to purchase these new resources are struggling to provide the appropriate materials to teaching staff from old out-of-date library resources.

Challenge five: getting people to understand what the library staff do.

Library staff continue to find it a challenge to get the school community to understand what it is that they do and to value the services they deliver.

The traditional role of the librarian doesn’t accurately represent everything the library staff do anymore. As the role and environment continue to evolve, there seems to be two major aspects of concern here.

One, where the teacher librarian is being underutilised and underappreciated by the school. Frustrated library staff reported being viewed as nothing more than someone who loans and returns books or even seen as a babysitting role during lunchtime.

The second point, which is even more of concern, is where the teacher librarian has been replaced by a library technician or aide. Yet the expectation of what should be achieved within the role remains the same.

One respondent stated

“I am a library officer, yet I’m often called up, even required, to have the knowledge and skills of a teacher librarian, such as curriculum, programming, and teaching information skills. There is a fine line between helpful and being used.”

Challenge six: accessing enough help.

Comments from the library survey show that these human resource challenges are impacting on the services that the library can provide to the school community.

Schools report that they have to rely more and more heavily on parent volunteers to carry out day to day duties, such as shelving, laminating, and processing loans and returns.

Other schools rely on student monitors, and even Work for the Dole adults, to complete some of the more basic tasks. Some staff even reported that their libraries were purely staffed by volunteers.

One respondent reported that they had continued on in their role of teacher librarian for several years even though the role was now unpaid.

Challenge seven: keeping up with the digital age.

Library staff are facing the challenge of keeping up with new technology within their resources and organisational framework. Some of the challenges faced by respondents are as follows:

  • The purchase of relevant and educationally rigorous digital resources.
  • Ensuring information is accessible and discoverable on devices the staff and students are comfortable with and, in many cases, even supply as part of BYOD policies.
  • Accurate recording of the location of resources. This aids in discoverability and success in retrieval of material and equipment.
  • Ability to use the library catalogue without having to physically attend the four walls of the physical space that is the library.

School libraries are evolving as technology and educational delivery methods change. School library staff to continue to identify opportunities to improve their library service and better engage with 21st century staff and learners.

What exciting trends are emerging that could impact the library in the near future? This is one of the questions respondents were asked in the 2014 Australian School Library Survey.

Based on feedback, Softlink identified the following five important opportunities for library staff:

Opportunity one: the digital resources shift.

The highest number of respondents said that they saw eResources as the greatest opportunity for transformation within school libraries.

Respondents highlighted the issues that needed to be addressed before the full benefits of eResources could be realised. eResources that included digital resources, digital media, digital content, and eBooks were the most common responses relating to trends which are seen by school libraries as having an impact on their future.

Some suggestions made by respondents were:

“Digital libraries and resources are becoming the norm. Understanding the impact of this on library services and teaching and learning is becoming of greater importance for the library professionals and the services they provide to their community.”

“There is an overwhelming increase in digital media and digital content now available to school libraries. Suggestions have been made that these may replace the physical entity of books in the future.”

“Certainly, digital interactive books will engage the traditional library’s physical format. Digitally formatted books with hyperlinked nonlinear text, integrated learning objects and multimodal formats, where we see embedding of animation, video, and audio, will challenge the form and function of the traditional text.”

And finally,

“Consideration of how we lend out digital resources without lending out the device to interact with them, are all issues that library staff are currently facing.”

Opportunity two: the technology curve.

The majority of respondents recognised that they could leverage off advances in technology in order to improve the delivery of their library services.

Some of the suggestions made by the respondents were: discovering, researching, plus creating and disseminating new knowledge and information is now more and more a web-based function for our school communities.

It is therefore increasingly vital that library management solutions are 100% web-based enabling 24 access for the whole school community from both school and its physical boundaries via web enabled devices.

Also, social media as a collaborative tool enables the immediate sharing of ideas. When integrated within the curriculum, social media can help support learning. It is now an expectation for our library software to be able to integrate and/or emulate these technologies using web 2 or web 3.

Opportunity three: the growth of personal portable digital devices.

A number of respondents made comments relating to portable digital devices and the potential they offer to schools.

In the 2014 Australian School Library Survey 43% of respondents said that half or more of their student population owned a personal mobile device. The number of schools with a BYOD strategy was 27%. This was an increase of 8% from the previous year.

Survey comments indicated the increased uptake of BYOD was viewed as an opportunity for libraries to offer an engaging comprehensive mobile library experience.

While the majority of respondents showed a lot of enthusiasm for BYOD programs and had the intention of implementing them in their schools, not all of these programs were being successfully implemented.

One respondent said that BYOD was only for in class use, the students were not allowed outside the classroom with their devices, and during the breaks the devices had to be locked away in secure cupboards.

Opportunity four: the evolution of the physical space.

Repurposing the physical library space also featured prominently in responses. School Library staff are recognising the opportunities presented by a shift in the way the physical library space is used and presented.

As a trend or opportunity that impacts the library, comments from respondents described innovative ways of achieving this goal in a budget friendly manner, such as getting students and parents involved in running activities, creating a hub for wider interests and hobbies, creating assets that can be used by everyone, creating virtual spaces and reading rooms.

Opportunity five: the curriculum and learning connection.

Many respondents consider the library’s relationship to school educational programs and their position as a major learning environment for students as the major factors to impact school libraries in the future.

The ability to explore guided inquiry flipped classrooms and other resource-based technologies featured prominently in the responses related to the library and learning practices.

Respondents also felt that the development of information and creative thinking skills are the responsibility of the library and offer potential for increased library use and engagement with educational practices and learning outcomes.

If you would like to have a look in more detail at the five most important opportunities for school libraries, or the top seven challenges for school libraries, these can be downloaded from the Softlink website, along with the full 2014 Australian School Library Report.

Thank you for your interest in this presentation.