Literacy will continue to lag without school libraries 

Canberra, 20 January: A Productivity Commission report released today showing tens of thousands of students do not meet minimum literacy and numeracy standards has reignited calls for funding for school libraries. 

 “If we are serious about addressing literacy levels, student well-being and support for teachers we need to be serious about restoring school libraries” said Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) CEO Cathie Warburton.  

“There is clear evidence that school libraries improve student outcomes and student wellbeing, and yet across Australia we have seen a steady decline in the staffing and resourcing of school libraries, particularly in the public sector.

The National School Reform Agreement currently contains no requirements for governments to record or report on school library provision, resourcing or staffing. There are also no targets set for school libraries under the Agreement. The Agreement was extended for 12 months in December 2022 while work is being undertaken on the next agreement.

“Every school needs a school library. Libraries are not an optional extra”.

“However, without data, Australians have no way of knowing how many students currently don’t have a library at their school.”

National[1] and international[2]  evidence is clear about the positive impact of school libraries on student achievement. A 2019 South Australian study concluded that students in schools with a qualified teacher librarian can have up to two months’ learning gain when compared to students in schools where no qualified person managed the library.[3] However fewer than 50% of schools in South Australia were managed by a qualified librarian.

“We hear horror stories all the time” says ALIA CEO Cathie Warburton.

“Schools that are running a “library” on a part-time administration assistant, or where the library is locked apart from a few hours a week, or students who have no library at all.”

“There’s huge inequity at the moment. When they surveyed school libraries in South Australia, it was clear that children in wealthier metropolitan schools were more likely to have a teacher librarian running a school library.”

School libraries operate as safe spaces for young people and promote and resource mental health and wellbeing initiatives, including reading for pleasure. 

“All Australian students should be able to have a space to enjoy reading, should be able to borrow their favourite author, should be able to access the resources they need for their studies, and understand how to find the resources they need for life.”

[1] Hughes, H. (2013). School libraries and teacher-librarians: Evidence of their contribution to student literacy and learning. Curriculum and Leadership Journal, 11(12), 1-5.

Lonsdale, M. (2003). Impact of school libraries on student achievement: A review of the research (Report for the Australian School Library Association). Melbourne, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Softlink. (2016). Softlink Australian School Library Survey: A five-year review. Access, 30(2), 26-32.;dn=134081305399604;res=IELHSS

[2] Scholastic Library Publishing. (2016). School libraries work! A compendium of research supporting the effectiveness of school libraries (2016 ed.).

[3] Dix, K., Felgate, R., Ahmed, S., Carslake, T., & Sniedze-Gregory, S. (2020). School libraries in South Australia 2019 Census. Australian Council for Educational Research.