When I was a child, not so many years ago, our local library was in the School of Arts building. I remember dust motes dancing on a slant of sun that struggled through high, grimy windows. I remember the glorious fusty, musty smell of hundreds and hundreds of books, all for ME!
I learnt love of reading from a librarian. I learnt that books can open worlds and dreams are found on pages. Without being consciously aware of it at age five, I also learnt that Australia was a lucky country where learning, though free, was valued highly by its people. And that learning and dreaming were freely available in a library.
When I became a primary teacher, I met school teacher-librarians. To me, they were the glue that held the school together. The librarian had an overview of all the educational programs in the school, so she could transmit the big picture. She also knew the title of the book that Kenny Jinks had borrowed last week, and could suggest new reading delights to him. Small picture stuff was her forte too, which was so important for the Kennys of our world.
A school library is the heart of a school, just the way a local library is the heart and hub of a neighbourhood. We don't need technicians to care for that heart, we need properly trained specialists: teacher-librarians. They have the expertise to teach information skills, and to tie that to every subject and grade. They have a passion for children's literature which they transmit to generations of kids. Above all, they have the desire and commitment to teach kids to love reading. When kids really love to read, that spills over to become a love of learning.
I don't want Australia to become The Unlucky Country. I don't want our kids to go to schools where the libraries are run by staff who are trained to look after machines. It just doesn't make sense to me that we have national goals for literacy, yet budgets are slashed and library programs underfunded. How can that possibly work?
It's not too late. If all of us who care about libraries, learning and the love of reading write to those who make the decisions, we CAN make a difference. I urge you to join me in making a difference to kids' lives.