Do school libraries really make a difference?

Article published in InCite, Volume 32, Issue 5, May 2011, p. 5.

By Karen Bonanno

During the House of Representatives Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians in Australian Schools, the principals and personnel from the State and Federal Departments of Education were asked if they were aware of the research. The definitive answer was, no.

I find this staggering, especially when it is these decision makers who espouse either the ‘Google it’ approach or ‘everything is available online’ so we don’t need school libraries. Obviously they do not practice what they preach, as a simple search – “school libraries make a difference” – results in over 16,000 hits and, with a filter for Australia only, brings this down to approximately 2,500 hits.

The international and national research provides strong evidence that school libraries do make a difference to the educational outcomes of students. Decision makers need to take the initiative to engage in an evidence-based approach to consider the question; do school libraries make a difference?

School libraries make a difference to literacy results
One of the main findings from the 1996 national school English literacy survey was “students in schools where teachers make greater use of the school library with their classes tend to have higher levels of literacy achievement” (Masters & Forster 1997). School libraries continue to support the literacy learning with specific connection to the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and corresponding teaching and learning activities to develop these skills.School libraries ensure all students have access to a wide range of reading material and encourage student to love reading. Research has shown that school libraries and teacher librarians are related to better reading achievement (Krashen 2008).

School libraries make a difference to inquiry based learning
An inquiry learning approach is evident in the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum for English, mathematics, science and history. School libraries provide students with access to a variety of rich information sources and teacher librarians engage students in the inquiry process to develop their knowledge and understanding of the world within which they live. The joint ASLA & ALIA Statement on Guided Inquiry and the Curriculum (2009) addresses the full extent of what it means to learn in a 21st century environment and the crucial need to develop essential skills to not only survive, but thrive.  Guided Inquiry ‘”is grounded in sound research findings and built on solid professional practice” (Kuhlthau, et. al 2007, p.3).

School libraries make a difference to the development of ICT capabilities
School libraries advocate for and practice the integration of information literacy across the curriculum.  Even though the Australian Curriculum does not explicitly refer to information literacy, the ‘general capability’ of information and communication technology (ICT) competence (ACARA) endorses the strong positioning of school libraries and teacher librarians as curriculum leaders in this field.

Students develop ICT competence when they learn to:

  • Investigate with ICT: using ICT to plan and refine information searches; to locate and access different types of data and information and to verify the integrity of data when investigating questions, topics or problems
  • Create with ICT: using ICT to generate ideas, plans, processes and products to create solutions to challenges or learning area tasks
  • Communicate with ICT: using ICT to communicate ideas and information with others adhering to social protocols appropriate to the communicative context (purpose, audience and technology)
  • Operate ICT: applying technical knowledge and skills to use ICT efficiently and to manage data and information when and as needed
  • Apply appropriate social and ethical protocols and practices to operate and manage ICT.  (ACARA)

The profession has the opportunity to pursue the potential scope for and extension of information literacy in this general capability which embraces digital global citizenship.  

School libraries make a difference to information and learning
With over 3,000 new and refurbished school libraries built under the Building the Education Revolution (BER) Primary Schools for the 21st Century, some principals are reconsidering their staffing mix to address their vision of a curriculum and technology leader.  The emergence of the iCentre as a “central facility within the school where information, technology, learning and teaching needs are supported by qualified information and learning technology specialists” (Hay 2010) provides an opportunity to re-engineer school libraries within the context of 21st century learning.  The ‘one-stop-shop’ brings together the facilities, technology, resources, curriculum and human personnel to create the ‘third space’ (Kuhlthau, et. al 2009, pp. 31-32).

School libraries make a difference to staff professional learning
During the Inquiry examples of informal professional learning being delivered by the teacher librarian during a teaching session with the students and the teacher in the library were presented.  Pre-service teacher training has not included courses related to information literacy or digital media literacy.  

School libraries make a difference to student enrolment
To end on a wildcard, I would propose the statement that, under the BER, school libraries are education real estate.  In the majority of cases I’m sure the parents are taken to the ‘new’ school library as part of the tour when considering a suitable school for their child.

ACARA n.d., The Australian Curriculum: General Capabilities, viewed 5April 2011,

ASLA & ALIA 2009, Statement on Guided Inquiry and the Curriculum, viewed 5 April 2011,

Hay, L 2010, ‘Shift happens. It’s time to rethink, rebuild and rebrand’, in ACCESS, Australian School Library Association, Volume 24, Issue 4, 2010, pp. 5-10.

Krashen, S 2008, ‘The case for libraries and librarians, viewed 5 April 2011,

Kuhlthau CC, Maniotes, LK & Caspari, AK 2009, Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century, Libraries Unlimited, Westport, Connecticut.

Masters, G & Forster, M 1997, Mapping Literacy Achievement: Results of the 1996 National School English Literacy Survey, Commonwealth of Australia, viewed 5 April 2011,

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