The Invisible Librarian: Why Doesn't Literacy Mention Libraries?

By Phillips, Georgia; Paatsch, Leonie | Practically Primary, October 2011 | Go to article overview

The Invisible Librarian: Why Doesn't Literacy Mention Libraries?


Phillips, Georgia, Paatsch, Leonie, Practically Primary


It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations, something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.

Katherine Patterson, 1989

As teacher librarian and Reading Power blogger, Anne Weaver stated, 'Even though all teachers today would teach reading in some ways, teacher-librarians particularly recognise the importance of sustained reading, and developing the reading habit for enjoyment, not just subject purposes Sustained reading 'is particularly important given the increasing use by students of technologies such as texting [that] often operate against skills in grammar, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary' (Weaver, 2010, p. 4).

Teacher librarians are the school specialists trained in developing collections to suit your unique school curriculum, trained as both teachers and as information specialists. They support quality teaching of literacy by selecting appropriate and attractive sources in all formats, including fiction, short stories, narrative non-fiction, poetry, e-books, graphic novels, magazines and e-zines, newspapers, blogs, wikis and writing of all sorts to engage our students in reading and learning from print and digital formats.

Teacher librarian skills, knowledge and services form an essential part of the whole school learning and teaching program. The research has shown that well-stocked libraries with qualified teacher librarians make a significant difference to learning and literacy. Yet, as Gary Hartzell argues (cited in Kuhlthau, Caspari & Maniotes, 2007) the materials and ideas of the teacher librarian are absorbed into the lessons of the teacher and the projects of the student. Their contributions become invisible.

Literacy and libraries

Fifteen years ago, results of the National School English Literacy Survey, Mapping Literacy Achievement, found 'extensive use of the school library was associated with a difference of as many as 27 points to students' literacy achievements when compared with non-use of the library' (Masters & Forster, 1997, p. 207). Also, it stated, 'students in schools where teachers make greater use of the school library with their classes tend to have higher levels of literacy achievement' (p. 21). Londsdale (2003) cited over 60 studies across 35 countries that confirm this. They include studies in the US that show reading test scores rise with the development of school library programs. Increased library staffing is linked to higher reading performance for all grade levels (Lance et al., 2005).

In Australia, Lyn Hay has researched student perceptions of their school libraries in supporting their learning and their general reading interests. 'Over 60% of students indicated that the library has been most helpful or quite helpful in assisting them find stories to read' (Hay, 2005, p. 26). Hay concludes, 'Australian students acknowledge and value the support provided by the school library when their school library responds, engages, extends and empowers their lives as learners in this digital age' (Hay, 2006, p. 38).

Despite this research, few literacy articles, policies or curricula in Australia mention school libraries. Teacher librarians have become virtually invisible in the literature and guidelines on literacy. Their work, absorbed into successful resource-based teaching and project-based learning is invisible.

The importance of books

While we have no statistics for Australia, we know that over a quarter of UK homes are without books (Clark & Poulton, 2011). Without books in the home, school libraries and public libraries become even more important. 'Children with no books of their own are less likely to be sending emails, reading websites or engaging with their peers through the written word on social networking sites. …

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