An open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Arden on school libraries and school librarians

Posted: January 11, 2018 in Uncategorized
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Dear Prime Minster, Politicians and Members of the Ministry of Education

This is an open letter with regards schools and their libraries or lack of. While I totally applaud your decision to do away with National Standards, I beg you to consider another factor which troubles schools, particularly primary schools.

A recent announcement that our literacy levels have dropped to 32nd place is deeply concerning. While teachers do all they can to teach reading and basic comprehension, and do it well, they need support from librarians and of course parents too.

Students need to be surrounded by books, quality books and the latest new titles. Sadly, because libraries and library staff are not funded by the MOE many school BOT’s are forced to choose between funding a full-time librarian and school resources. This should not be a choice. Schools need a library and a dedicated and enthusiastic full-time librarian. Librarians know their students and their stock and most are very good at matching each to the other. To be fair, some schools choose not to have libraries based on their own priorities but for those who have no choice based on the funding from government, then this is incredibly sad.

Not all parents take their children to a public library, some are too busy, it’s too far or they don’t see it as necessary. And yes, parents do need to be part of their children’s reading development but sadly, we know the reality.

Overseas trends where school libraries have closed have seen a drop in literacy levels and the same is happening here in New Zealand. For those skeptics that say books are the past and it is all about a digital world, a gentle reminder that libraries are not just about books. So much happens in libraries these days, books, ebooks, computers, ipads, QR codes, makerspace activities, book clubs, author events, a safe haven for students and of course reading, heaps and heaps of reading. Here is the crunch though, schools without funding, without libraries and librarians will surely only add to the the dropping literacy levels.  I urge you and your members to consider that in order to raise reading levels, the New Zealand Government must help fund school libraries and their librarians. It is only ever going to be a win-win situation. Statistics also have shown that students who have a full time librarian produce better overall results than students who don’t.

Left to their own, without government funding, some schools will end up closing their library doors and that is totally unacceptable. Raising funds for their libraries, school PTA’s can sell only so many sausages.  The same selling of sausages has to help top up readers. The Ready-to-Reads and School Journals are a wonderful, first-class resource but children need far more titles than is supplied.  Immersion in books, both readers and library books is paramount. A few tatty teacher-owned books in the corner of a class is one thing but a library with thousands of books and a passionate librarian completely another. How does a six year old with a reading age of ten cope with a few books in a classroom? Or the ten year old reading at a six year old level. Is he or she supposed to go to a junior class in the hope a teacher will have something they can read? A good school librarian will know exactly which book will work. They will find the book with content that matches their chronological age with their reading age so they are not put off reading with books with babyish covers. As the old adage goes the right book for the right child.

I love watching students clamor for the latest Diary of a Wimpy kid, or David Walliams latest title. Watching groups eager to share their latest read with each other is also simply a wonderful sight. It is this that will drive up literacy levels. A love of reading comes from finding the right books and that is where a well-stocked library and librarian can help.

So, I urge you Prime Minister to look at how schools fund their libraries and please consider helping with MOE funding as every child will benefit. Schools need your help. Students need your help. Reading is the key to everything we do in life, from a simple menu, to technical  instructions, we all need to read and it starts when children are young. Please help our kids for their future. Lets drive the literacy levels back up and let’s do this together.

Comments
  1. Kaaren Hirst says:

    Well said. And as we know the research overseas backsup everything you say.

    Like

  2. Joanna Baynes says:

    Well said. A good school library and librarian is an investment in our country’s future.

    Like

  3. THANK YOU for writing this. I left behind an incredible school library and 600 students last year. I was not replaced – rather a staff member had my position added to her job description. Zero knowledge of libraries or books and does not read. Being left to teachers (who also do not read) and who do not go into bookshops. All due to the school saying that $30K was *too much* to pay for a qualified Librarian, with another degree too. A sad situation.

    Like

  4. Gareth Ward says:

    Bravo! Children learn so much more than just how to read from books. They can learn empathy, coping strategies, world understanding and be safely exposed to scenarios they may encounter. In short, books teach all manner of life skills in a way which is safe and entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pete says:

    I first started doing author school visits in 1996. Always a librarian. Always a library. Fast forward to 2017 and a school library can often be on par with a P.E shed. It temporarily hires out things for kids to use and amuse themselves with. No specialist knowledge required to monitor inventory. Stuff goes out – tick, and stuff comes back in – tick. Ultimately the decision to have libraries slowly dissolve over time rests with the community. If you ask the majority of people in my age group and income bracket whether they want tax cuts/council rate cuts or better library facilities they will unanimously vote for tax/rate cuts. I personally did note vote for tax cuts. Tax cuts means less resources for our community to use. I agree that adult usage of the local library has changed. Libraries need to carefully analyse changes in adult usage, as well as carefully monitoring the millions of dollars being spent on building improvements and enhancements and/or erecting statues. But kids usage of libraries hasn’t changed. Every person in our community has to make a decision about whether our kids need less literary resources or more literary resources than we currently have. If people vote for less literary resources I think they need to clearly explain their decision and be able to prove that their line of thinking is sound.

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  6. Pete says:

    Just to clarify – there are many schools I visit with dedicated librarians and fantastic library setups. I wish there were many more!

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    • Yes. There are still many schools with dedicated librarians but sadly the rise in schools which no longer provide this, is concerning. Even some new schools built after the earthquakes have not had libraries built. Funding issue or choice may be blurred but my wish is that ALL schools had libraries and librarians funded by the MOE and not out of any money schools have had to fund out of sausage sizzles etc. It is also mostly the librarians who bring in writers like yourself for author visits. SO yes, like yourself, I wish many more schools had libraries as a right and not a luxury. Thanks for your thoughts.

      Like

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