Late in 2014, the National Library announced a transformation of their Services to Schools Curriculum Service. At first, reaction following the announcement came mainly from school librarians – those whose Principal had passed along the news from National Library, or those subscribers to the NZ School Libraries listserv. In the days and weeks following the announcement, there has been much opposition voiced from all over – the SLANZA website has a good roundup of links for those who want to get up to speed.
I’m posting today with the letter I wrote to Peter Dunne on 13 February, to which I have not yet received a reply (other than an automated “we’ll get back to you” email).
Kia ora Mr Dunne
I am writing to address some of the points you made in your beehive.govt.nz release of 5 February 2015 regarding changes to the National Library’s Curriculum Service.Far from being 3 tragi-comic voices in the wilderness as you imply, Ms Ardern and Messrs Hipkins and Robertson are speaking out as a result of concerns expressed to them by parents, teachers and librarians on behalf of the many students who stand to lose from these changes.
You write that the transformation will see more schools receiving an increased number of books from the National Library. At this stage, I can’t see that as anything more than conjecture. For many secondary schools, receiving an annual loan of 200 books comprising “high-interest” fiction and some non-fiction which will be aimed primarily at Year 9 & 10 students, represents a complete change to the way their teachers and librarians have used Curriculum Services to date i.e. to request, as and when needed, subject-specific books to support the research needs of senior students in particular, as they undertake specific topics of study throughout the year. Consequently, I believe many schools will decide not to opt in to the scheme. The result of the changes will be, in my opinion, that while some schools will receive an increased number of books, at the same time many schools will receive a smaller number of books from the National Library. It is naive and overly optimistic of the National Library to think that every school will embrace these changes. I will be interested to see the actual statistics on uptake and use of the transformed service when National Library next report on these.
I am not surprised to hear that the Ministry of Education supports the changes to National Library’s Curriculum Service. I hope you – and they – are now aware that many professional organisations whose members are stakeholders in the services National Library provides to schools (particularly the School Library Association, but also the PPTA, NZEI, and the NZ Principal’s Federation) have spoken out against the changes on behalf of their members, and the students they in turn represent.
So National Library will support topic requests by providing information delivered digitally rather than in print, as it is “up-to-date and in formats the current generation of New Zealand students need”. Unfortunately, only meeting these specific requests with digital content does not in fact match the needs of many of our most vulnerable students, who do not have the wherewithal to access digital content at home and at school, as they might with print materials. I am relieved to hear that the National Library will operate targeted programmes to assist these students, presumably where their school profile suggests extra support is needed. When and how will more detailed information be made available on these targeted programmes so that those affected can begin as soon as possible to manage the change process within their school?
Further to your comments about sharing materials between schools and teachers, can you advise how much of the digital content that National Library plans to provide (through curated web links presumably) is in fact freely available via the internet and therefore accessible by teachers, librarians and students already, and how much of it will be subscription (licensed) material purchased by the National Library for the purpose of further electronic distribution to schools? This raises the question of how National Library and schools will manage the DRM implications of sharing licensed or subscription material, and furthermore what delivery mechanisms will need to be put in place for making this content readily accessible by students? How quickly will Curriculum Services be able to provide this curated digital information? Because a good deal of our students’ learning happens through what is often a quite fluid process of research and inquiry, much of the work that teachers and school librarians do to help students locate and use digital resources happens “on the spot” at the moment a student finds they have a particular information need. Curriculum Service requests are of no use to them in that case.
You have written about the “wide consultation” undertaken as part of National Library’s 2012 review of Services to Schools. Teachers and librarians who were involved in the focus group meetings listed in the review document were explicit in their recommendation that National Library continue to provide topic-specific print resources, particularly to support rural and low decile schools, and other schools whose library budget does not otherwise allow their school to provide either print or eResources sufficient to meet the information needs of their teachers and students. I was shocked and baffled to find that the interview subjects of that 2012 review did not include a single currently practicing teacher or school librarian. Reaction from school librarians and teachers since the Services to Schools Transformation announcement has been overwhelmingly critical of the decision to cease supplying specific print materials on request from National Library’s large and very valuable collection, to meet the specific needs of learners. I am certain that if those in attendance at the 2012 focus group meetings had any inkling of the likelihood of losing this valuable service, they would have vociferously expressed their disapproval at that time, as they are now.
You imply in your release that opponents of these changes must be opponents of progress. Of course this is not such a simple black-and-white issue, and Labour are not at all attempting to keep Curriculum Services out of the 21st Century as you facetiously suggest. Rather, they recognise, as do teachers, parents and school library staff, that resourcing the curriculum should mean providing information in a range of formats, and at the time it is needed. There has never been any suggestion that National Library are expected “to purchase in advance hard copy books on all possible subjects”. National Library have in fact been doing an excellent job of purchasing books to meet the specific curriculum needs of teachers and their students up until now, and providing an excellent service of distributing those books to schools. This is not to say that some improvement to distribution processes and promotion of Curriculum Service’s print resources isn’t required – as it surely will be for the digital content they plan to provide, too – especially if, as it appears, one of their aims is to increase the numbers of teachers who access the collection.
Can you confirm whether the suggested savings of $.392m p.a. associated with the transformation include consideration of any new or increased costs of providing the ‘enhanced’ service e.g. staffing allocations for skilled reference librarians who will be locating and curating digital collections on a wide range of topics, suitable for a wide range of curriculum levels, accessible in a wide range of formats? Will these costs, and subscription and/or licencing costs of digital content simply replace the cost of print materials?
I remain unconvinced that the transformation of Curriculum Services will enhance what National Library provides schools, and I look forward to hearing your reply to the questions I have raised.