SLANZA! School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa

By Penny Moore PhD

SLANZA! A vision of an eastern European football team? A toast to be followed by glasses dashed into the fireplace? Well, neither of those, but certainly a reason for celebration. And celebrate we did! About 150 people from a wide range of organisations gathered at the National Library in Wellington on 12 May for the launch of the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa.

As Christopher Blake, chief executive of the National Library of New Zealand, said in his speech, the idea is not new, but 'It's high time school libraries were represented by a unified national body'.

Jill Stotler, president of the Auckland School Library Association and first president of SLANZA, revealed that enjoyment of a cheeky Australian chardonnay in Geelong had been the catalyst for action. Optimistically, a group of like-minded professionals set out to create this new organisation centred on school libraries and their staff. The road was not easy, as representational, financial and organisational issues all had to be addressed. In her speech, Jill Stotler challenged everyone present to work on ways of increasing Maori, Pacific Island and male representation in the organisation at regional and national levels. The aim is 'to make SLANZA truly inclusive and representative of our national school library community.'

Jill said 'A major purpose for SLANZA will be to give school libraries a profile and a voice, not only within their own school community, but out into the wider community'. This is reflected in the vision 'to strengthen and promote the role of school libraries to enable all school communities to become information literate'. She pointed out that all the Essential Learning areas of the National Curriculum have their subject associations, but that the Essential Skills underpinning these have not, until now, been as well supported. SLANZA is taking the professional role of providing informed comment to ensure Essential Skills (which actually add up to information literacy) are 'being taught within genuine learning contexts right up the learning spiral and across all areas of the curriculum.'

Of course, an undertaking as broad as creation of a nationwide organisation cannot be achieved without support. Jill Stotler acknowledged the extensive support provided by the National Library of New Zealand, Auckland College of Education, Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa and the abundant energies of those on the steering committee of SLANZA.

That level of support is clearly set to continue. In his speech, Christopher Blake noted that the National Library has information literacy as a major factor in its strategic development and that it has been providing advice and curriculum information services direct to schools for decades. The National Library is in a strong position to work in partnership with SLANZA in a variety of ways. (Indeed, the National Library made this support very public by hosting the launch and a full-day seminar by Dr Gary Hartzell.)

Christopher Blake commented too on the fact that in New Zealand 'most school libraries are staffed by teachers part-time, with support staff at varying levels of training to assist them'. Despite this history of school library staffing, he said we had made progress in a number of ways. For example, 'it is significant and encouraging that many classroom teachers are participating in various information skills courses and some schools have created specialist positions in recognition of the growing and critical consequence of the school library to student learning'.

The SLANZA launch would not have been complete without the presence of the Minister for the National Library, the Honourable Marian Hobbs, whose opening speech, delivered with considerable passion, was met with a standing ovation.

Marian Hobbs celebrated the effort of all those inv9lved in creating SLANZA, naming organisations and individuals whose work would otherwise be hidden. She said that '[The launch] of this association 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'.

She went on '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 .... 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.'

Ms Hobbs highlighted the need for SLANZA, and the library community, to work on multiple fronts beyond the confines of their respective professional arenas, for example within the teaching profession and education sector. She sounded a warning that where skills and tools are lacking, new information technologies are likely to be divisive: 'The digital divide is real and getting deeper ... There is clearly another opportunity here for school libraries and for SLANZA'.

Her speech ended with a strong call for a collaborative approach to the challenges ahead. 'In this environment, libraries and school I ibraries, cannot be passive bystanders. They need to seek and gain influence. They must build partnerships.'

This need for collaboration and influence building was taken up by Dr Gary Hartzell both during his speech and his seminar the following day. On a lighter note, he reminded us of two meanings of the word 'celebration': the social expression of joy and the solemnising of events. How apt! The SLANZA launch was grounds for optimism and joy, but it also raised the profile of those who work in school libraries and the issues they face in a formal manner. No longer are school libraries in New Zealand represented by an anonymous, amorphous spread of people working diligently in the background. Now they are identifiable, have a common vision and a voice that can make a difference in education. SLANZA may be a young organisation, but it has great future.

Contact SLANZA at Email: <[email protected]>.

This article has been written by Penny Moore PhD, who is an educational researcher in Wellington, New Zealand .

Penny Moore PhD

Educational Researcher

New Zealand