Last year, Australian children’s authors joined many other Australian book-lovers to fight against the proposed lifting of Restrictions against Parallel Importation of books into this country. That fight was successful.
But now, there is another threat to Australian children’s books. And this is worse – because it comes from within and it is insidious.
Children’s books are gradually disappearing from the shelves of school libraries. Why? Because those libraries are in crisis. They are disappearing, along with trained Teacher-Librarians.
It has been going for over a decade. Education Departments of State and Federal Governments of both political persuasions have allowed the whittling away of resources, staffing and funding for over ten years.
Many school libraries have become Resource Centres full of computers and set up for teaching with desks, chairs and whiteboards – space that was once shelving for fiction collections.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I use computers daily for research, communication and contact. Of course there is a place for computer research and writing in school libraries, but not at the expense of losing story books.
Some school principals say books can be bought as e-books so they throw out their collections. But there are many thousands of brilliantly-written books that cannot be replaced as e-books. Children will never have the chance to thrill, enjoy and learn about life from those fictional characters.
School-librarians are trained to teach and enthuse children about books and about reading. They are the ones who read book reviews. They know when great books are published. They have the skills to enthuse children and guide them in their book choice.
I have great respect for the trials of teaching Phys Ed, and yes, I know I am generalising here – but would your school’s Phys Ed teacher be comfortable recommending a book to your 15 year-old? I know our school’s PE teacher would have run a mile – the other way. But I have heard on the education grapevine that teachers are being seconded from other areas to cover the deliberate loss of the Teacher/Librarian.
Yes, I am a children’s author and yes, I have an ulterior motive in pushing this particular barrow. I love Australian children’s books to death, and I will do anything I can to promote them to Australian children, including my own (books, that is).
We authors owe a huge gratitude to Australian school librarians and public librarians – they are like the forward troops in any battle, the foot soldiers, and maybe the engineers. They prepare the ground by encouraging and enthusing children to read. They invite children’s authors into their schools to talk to children. They use their depleting funds to buy books. They have the skills to integrate literature into every subject area, even Phys. Ed.
Authors benefit from this, by book sales and from paid school and library visits. I encourage Australian children’s authors to write to their State and Federal Government’s Member of Parliament and their Education Ministers about the ever-decreasing funds for school libraries; and to question the lack of school Teacher-Librarians.
My home town, Brisbane, will host the INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL LIBRARY CONFERENCE on 27th September – 1st October 2010. It is jointly hosted by the School Library Association of Queensland and the International Association of School Librarianship. Brisbane children’s authors will also be involved.