The Big Issue : Edition 582
18 THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 8–21 MAR 2019 you could trust it. Now we don’t have that gatekeeper anymore. Adults are struggling with that, too. It’s a really challenging area for everyone.” Jackie French describes this as being “cast adrift in a sea of data”. The modern-day librarian can not only wade through this tsunami of information, but also collaborate with the teachers to personalise learning for every student. Librarians know what books are being published, and which search engines are most reliable. The modern-day library should be able to suggest a podcast as much as the latest published book on a given subject. And as they provide this world of resources, librarians can also cater for varied abilities and cultural differences – not to mention foster reading for the sheer pleasure of it. IN COMPARISON TO what is going on in our schools, public libraries in Australia are thriving. Total expenditure on public libraries has increased by 17 per cent over the past five years, according to a National and State Libraries Australasia report from 2015–16. In real terms, that’s more than a billion dollars in funding for public libraries around Australia, as policy-makers recognise their vital value to communities. So why are kids’ libraries and teacher- librarians being neglected? A House of Representatives education committee report from 2011 asked that very question and found the profession has been in a “state of decline for some years and, in some states, is on the brink of extinction”. Individual school principals are now in charge of the financial management of their schools, which might mean neither the library nor the librarian is a priority for that particular school community. To put it bluntly, it isuptothe principal’s discretion, and in the face of a variety of budgetary constraints, library services are often the first to go. This is compounded by the fact teacher- librarians are an ageing population. When teacher-librarians retire, they’re often not replaced. The downsizing has also impacted school book suppliers. Australian company The Booklegger closed its print distribution business in 2017, after its sales of non-fiction books to schools fell from $1.25 million to $100,000 in six years. Its managing director Rick Sussman told Books & Publishing it was “due to a monumental decline in school library purchasing”. Crucially, the loss of libraries and librarians from our schools also means the disappearance of one of the few communal spaces available to children. Just like the public library is a democratic, socially inclusive space, the school library is a haven of sorts, available to all members of the school community. “The library is a safe place,” says Holly Godfree. “We offer that safety net and [the librarian is] a different type of adult that the children can relate to. One of the first things I noticed when I went from being a classroom teacher to being in the library is that the students interacted with me completely differently. It was a much more personal, warm kind of connection. Whatever their passions were, I was part of that link.” Jackie French is unequivocal about the library being a refuge for kids. “As an abused child myself, the library and books were an escape. Mrs Gillian Pauli, at the worst period in my life, gave me books every morning. Books are always with you. You have got the friends of two-and- a-half-thousand years of written wisdom.” Morris Gleitzman, current Australian Children’s Laureate and author of Once and Toad Rage, perhaps best sums up the impact libraries can have on our school children: “Libraries are collections of books, and also collections of people. When the two work together, kids’ lives are transformed.” by Anastasia Safioleas (@Anast), Contributing Editor The Footpath Library The Footpath Library provides a literary escape for those doing it tough. Its volunteer-run mobile library distributes new and good-quality used books to people experiencing homelessness in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. footpathlibrary.org Bawurra Foundation With a growing digital library of Indigenous stories, songs, art and languages shared by community elders and leaders, Bawurra gives students access to the rich oral history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The library is accessed via e-readers donated to school libraries in remote at-risk communities across NSW. bawurra.org Street Library There are more than 1150 registered Street Libraries popping up like birdhouses in front yards and nature strips around Australia, encouraging communities to read and share well-loved books – and spreading a little bit of literary joy. streetlibrary.org.au Human Library There’ll be no shushing at the Human Library in Perth, which is all about “reading” people, not books. Its focus is on sharing stories and having open, discussions on wide-ranging topics with knowledgable and interesting strangers. You can choose from a range of diverse titles. humanlibraryaus.org Read Along Dads Read Along Dads makes it possible for fathers in prison to bond with their kids over a bedtime story by recording them reading a book, with the recording and book then sent to the child. It also assists many of the dads with reading, as 40 per cent of prisoners have low literacy. readalongdads.org.au Good Books We take a look at those libraries with a difference, making a difference.