Sarah Elliott’s Blog

Travel with me on my voyage of learning and discovery…

Thoughts based on Clyde

Posted by sarahelliott on February 25, 2009

What have I learned from this article?
School libraries in Australia  go back further than I would have imagined, as Clyde states there is evidence of their existence from the beginning of the C19. The beginnings of school libraries lie in Sunday schools, who provided books that were initially geared towards general education (as well as religious texts) for people of all ages, as Sunday schools took on the responsibility of teaching literacy to members of society who had missed out on a ‘normal’ education. In a short time, this changed, as they began to focus far more on religious instruction.
Libraries in ‘ordinary’ schools came first to parochial schools and then to national schools, these included fiction, non-fiction and religious resources. The need for a school library was born from the desire to offer students more than standard class readers, to instill in them the idea of reading for pleasure, associating reading with more than just the classroom. Reading was a desirable habit to develop – the emphasis being on its moral influence on children, it was seen as a means to promote the good of the community and enrich lives of citizens and to promote lifelong self-education. (p. 15)
Issues encountered were:
  • Cataloguing and the organisation of resources – often they were poorly organised and not particularly well looked after.
  • Funds – money would be raised by community effort and activity, some examples were concerts, picnics and other entertainments. (p. 14)
  • Staffing – libraries were often maintained by teachers and pupils in their spare time.
  • Location – where should the school library be located? Should the lack of a specific room limit its creation and growth?
  • Support – the use of inspectors ensured that more school libraries were established and their growth was promoted.
What struck me when reading this article was how in some cases how little has changed and how little we have moved on from the 1820s and 1830s! I am working in a school where we have encountered all of the above issues! Fortunately the issue of organisation is being more easily resolved thanks to a digital cataloguing programme! However, we are still faced with the issues of funds, location, staffing and support.
I am yet to read on and discover more about the role and the importance of school libraries in Australia in the present day. But, from my own experience, I wonder whether on a more global scale we have recognised the importance of the school library? How do we ensure that school libraries are supported? What standards do we need to have in place to promote their growth and development? What resources can we draw on to support arguments for better funds, staffing, location of a school library?
We have of course moved on from the 19th Century in as much as the library no longer contains just a few hundred books. The resources that will be found in the library are more varied than ever, the potential of the library as a resource centre is greater than ever. In the 1870s, school libraries were of great importance to small towns in the Australian bush, as they were frequently the only source of reading materials (p. 14). In the same way, in international schools, the school library may be the only large source in the community of resources in a variety of languages. The school library could and in my opinion should be the focal centre of the whole school community…  But how can this be achieved when we are faced with issues that existed nearly 200 years ago and continue to exist today?

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