Open letter to the National Library of New Zealand from the National Executive of SLANZA
The members of the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa National Executive wish to express their concern at the changes to the services National Library will be offering to schools in 2015. These changes and the timing of the announcement - which came just as schools prepared to close for the summer, their budgets for 2015 already submitted, and with end of year commitments to support students learning and reading over the summer to fulfil - leave school librarians across New Zealand disheartened and confused.
The changes to Curriculum Services will have a negative impact on teaching and learning in many New Zealand schools. For many years students and staff working on research and inquiry topics, from primary through to secondary, have been able to request books on specific topics to support that learning. This is a service which many teachers and librarians have relied on and used regularly. These topic-specific - and sometimes title-specific - requests have enabled teachers and librarians to provide timely access to a range and quantity of print materials that many schools would otherwise be unable to match. Given that many assignments require both print and electronic resources, we believe the lack of access to print resources via Curriculum Services will seriously disadvantage some students.
Although schools will be able to borrow high interest non-fiction books from NLCS as part of their 'reading engagement' loan, it is not (yet) clear to what extent - if at all - these NL-selected “high interest” titles will address the need for print materials to support the subject- or topic-specific research and inquiry learning that students are engaged in.
SLANZA has concerns about equity of access to quality materials, bearing in mind the enormous range of funding/support for school libraries by school boards across the country. NLCS loans provided a bastion of support for school libraries which otherwise struggle to provide resources for staff and students because of various constraints - funding primarily, but also difficulties sourcing materials that may need to be more focused, or individualised (as can often happen with student-led inquiry and research projects).
While adequately funded and staffed school libraries will already have print collections purchased specifically to match the school’s range of students and student interests, both fiction and non-fiction, it is those schools who have limited funding who will find the new system does not meet their needs. School boards are renowned for cutting library budgets and this new system will disadvantage students in those schools even more than before.
SLANZA believes that improving student reading engagement is an important goal, and we acknowledge that under the transformed NLCS, the ‘reading engagement loan’ as a supplement to a school’s existing collection is a way of distributing the collection already held by NLCS towards reaching that goal, but for schools with excellent collections there is unlikely to be uptake, and for others it may be too difficult to manage. The ‘reading engagement loan’ brings with it increased administrative work in managing that loan, which although providing an opportunity for school librarians to use their collection management expertise, brings with it associated problems. As Services to Schools has recognised in the past, many school library staff are employed part-time and with limited library management skills. This will be challenging for them.
National Library are expecting that students will be able to use websites curated by their staff as well as resources on Pond as a replacement for the topic specific print resources that they previously provided. These are already available via librarians and teachers working with students to help teach information and inquiry skills in many schools, and it is considered by SLANZA that teaching students the skills to find useful websites for their inquiry and using information literacy skills has never been more vital. However this new online initiative does not take into consideration those schools that have limited access to computers and poor Internet connections.
The School Library Association of New Zealand is very disappointed that no schools or school librarians have been consulted at any point as this proposal was being developed. At no time was the proposal brought to the SLANZA National Executive prior to the sign off by the Department of Internal Affairs. At no time were school librarians or principals informed of these changes so that they might be able to budget for the changes in 2015. Given the close relationship which has developed over many years between the National Library Services to Schools and SLANZA, this has been a very disappointing turn of events. While we understand that there must be cost cutting, this particular service seems to have had ongoing support from schools according to the DIA Annual Report, (see page 65) and it’s demise will not save the DIA significant funds, according to Minister Dunne, only $392,000. While we have become used to the fact that services will be offered online, the changes to curriculum services have come as a shock to our members, particularly when the loss of such a well supported service will result in such a minimal cost saving.
We know that the change has been signed off by both the Department of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Education and that therefore there is nothing which can be done to reverse this decision, however we feel obligated to register our objection on behalf SLANZA members, whose feedback to us speaks of outrage at the lack of consultation and concerns that the changes will disadvantage learners, teachers and school library staff. As a stakeholder in the National Library we feel that the goals of the Stakeholder Engagement Framework have not been fulfilled.
SLANZA’s National Executive members look forward to meeting with staff from Services to Schools in March. While SLANZA will continue to support its members as they work through the ramifications of the NLCS changes in the coming months, we also firmly believe that improved consultation and communication between NL S2S and the major stakeholders affected by this service transformation (namely school library staff, teaching staff and SLANZA) is imperative. We look forward to clearer communication from the National Library staff and management, and hope that there will be full and clear responses to our concerns.
The National Executive
The School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa