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Marion Hobbs School Library Association Speech

Embargoed against delivery Friday May 12, 6pm


Good evening everyone I'm delighted to be here tonight to launch the association. School libraries and all they represent are very dear to me.

In many countries a national body representing school libraries has been well established for many years. The absence of such a body in New Zealand has been a particular weakness in the support infrastructure for school libraries here.

A number of groups have worked in the past to support school libraries, but there has never been a single unified national forum that was able to represent the interests of all those who are working in this field.

This evening, a long-held wish becomes an actual reality, with the launch of a national school library association. Thanks are due to a great many people.

In 1999 the Auckland School Library Association, which has operated very actively at a local level for many years, set up a special committee with the aim of planning towards a national organisation. Chaired by Jill Stotter, the group members - Liz Probert, Jan Foote, Maureen Trebilcock, Pauline McGowan, and Elizabeth Jones - have invested their own time and energy into realising this vision.

At about the same time, the LIANZA special interest group concerned with children, young people and schools sent a report to LIANZA recommending that the special interest group be disbanded and its energies redirected to supporting and contributing to the establishment of a national school library association.

Work also took place in the National Library. In many ways, the absence of a national association has meant that the National Library services have provided the only nationally available support and guidance to school libraries. School Services staff have been involved both locally and nationally with this initiative and look forward to a continuing role in the new association.

A steering committee for the School Library Association has now been established, comprising teacher librarians, school library staff, and National Library School Services staff, with representation from ASLA, LIANZA, the School Library Network, and the Centre for Information Studies at Auckland College of Education. Andrea Thompson, Alison Pearson, Jenny Millar, Pamela Hulston, Janet McFadden and Glenda Fortune have joined forces with their Auckland colleagues to chart the initial direction of SLANZA.

The launch of this association is a milestone to be celebrated in the history of New Zealand school libraries. It marks a recognition that school libraries are uniquely important in New Zealand's information infrastructure, and important to our capacity as a nation to learn and grow.

The association has among its objectives the support of teaching and learning. It intends to provide a national voice for school libraries throughout New Zealand. Its agenda is likely to include something very much like the topic of this weekend's seminar - "the School Library with influence - strategies for advocacy, power, and proactivity".

This seminar is being delivered by Dr Gary Hartzell, and is being co-hosted by SLANZA and the National Library. A warm welcome is extended to him. The launching of SLANZA juxtaposed alongside this seminar demonstrates the quiet, effective way librarians plan.

Implicit in the title of Dr Hartzell's seminar is the uncomfortable truth that many of our school libraries do not have influence. SLANZA is under no illusions about the job that is ahead of it. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the special needs of school libraries have not always been provided for, and the special opportunities that school libraries offer have not always been taken full advantage of.

International research provides further evidence of the value that good school libraries confer on students. A recent study from Colorado demonstrated that student scores on standardised tests were ten to eighteen per cent higher at schools with outstanding library programs and staff.

The capacity for libraries to assist with the development of learning skills has been demonstrated many times over. Examples where schools are exploiting the full potential of their libraries are still the exception rather than the norm. There are huge opportunities still to be taken.

One area where it is becoming absolutely critical that these opportunities are taken advantage of, is in the field of information literacy. There is a growing recognition that the capacity to access, critically evaluate, and effectively use information from a variety of sources is a critical skill for all members of society, and that the school library has an important role in ensuring that young New Zealanders have this ability.

One of the challenges for SLANZA, as well as for the library community, will be to extend the scope of this discussion outside the confines of their respective professional arenas. That may seem a depressing message, having only just established this beachhead, but SLANZA's work is going to have to be undertaken on multiple fronts.

One of those fronts is within the teaching profession, and the education sector generally, where there is now the opportunity to press for the interests of the school library specialists.
This is a difficult job. We need to share best practice. The school librarian was often not a specialist and more concerned about order in the library. Only the studious and quiet were welcome. Or the school library was predominantly used only by English departments and that is changing. Preaching/lobbying is not the only way to widen library usage: curriculum positioning in the school, hours open, link (Internet) to computer labs.

The opportunities to engage with the library and information sector are also much stronger as a result of tonight. But the potential is also there for issues like information literacy to be recognised as directly relevant to such fundamental goals as social inclusion, employment, cultural identity and physical and mental health and well-being.

There is certainly a role for the school library in helping to ensure that young New Zealanders do have the skills to differentiate between different information sources, to recognise the differences between the types of information that are available to them, and to find the information resources that they need to build the personal skill sets - including a confident sense of identity - that will equip them for life.

Information skills are life-long skills. The burgeoning field of e-government presents another set of challenges. The vision of e-government in New Zealand is for New Zealanders to be able to gain access to government information and services, and participate in our democracy, using the Internet, telephones and other technologies as they emerge.

E-government presents New Zealand with some tremendous opportunities to move forward in the 21st century with higher quality, cost-effective, government services and a better relationship between New Zealanders and their government.

The planned development of e-government will improve the ability of all people to participate in our democracy. But, left to develop by itself, it has the potential to create new divisions in society between those who have the skills and tools to use the new technologies to participate in our democracy and those who do not. The Government is not prepared to allow this to happen.

Amidst all the enthusiasm for the e-world and all its permutations, there is a growing voice drawing attention to the gap between the vision, and the reality. For a privileged few, the vision is the reality, or very nearly so. Internet-capable mobile phones are with us now, and it is easy to imagine that before too long we may all be walking around with an Internet connection in our back pocket.

But of course, this audience is not a representative sample of the New Zealand population. We do not all have mobile phones - many households do not have a telephone connection at all. And many households most certainly do not have a computer.

The so-called digital divide is real, and getting deeper. Government has recognised this, and intends to address it. It has assigned responsibility for co-ordinating steps to reduce the gap between the information haves and have-nots, to the Department of Labour.
There is clearly another opportunity here for school libraries, and for SLANZA. For example, we often overlook the fact that knowledge transfer is a two-way street, and that young people can be teachers as well as learners. Young people are probably among the most technologically-able members of the community - perhaps there is an opportunity for older people to be learning from them ! A school library can become a community library - with younger people able to pass on their skills to parents at weekends etc.

Responding to these challenges, and to these opportunities, will require a collaborative approach. In this environment, libraries, and school libraries, cannot be passive bystanders. They need to seek and gain influence. They must build partnerships. They must be proactive and responsive. They need to demonstrate value, and relevance, and a willingness to engage with all comers. They need to be jugglers and magicians - keeping all their roles and functions in the air, and pulling from their hats services and products that delight, amaze and confound. I am very pleased to pull SLANZA out of the hat tonight, and I'm sure that its work will delight, amaze and confound, for many years to come.


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