A brief history of school libraries and teacher librarians in Australia

I’ve been doing some reading into the history of school libraries, teacher librarians, and the different School Library Associations around Australia to better understand where I, as a teacher librarian, come from, the continual fight for school libraries and teacher librarians, the structures of these organisations and how they support teacher librarians within their states and territories. I thought I’d share my findings with you

Historically, there has been a lot of change within the teacher librarian position. From the early 1900s through to today, the role of teacher librarian has been an ever evolving and adapting role, depending on the needs and desires of education at the time. In the early 1900s, the role of the school library is not well documented but appears to be mostly concerned with the recreational needs of their clientele. Furthermore, school libraries were not necessarily recognised as part of either the department of education’s or public library’s realms of responsibility. Therefore, they existed in this inbetween space without support and little acknowledgement (Clyde, 1981).

In 1946, the Victorian Department of Education Schools was the first education department to formally acknowledge and take ownership of the school library. The other Departments of Education around Australia eventaully followed suit. While the formal acknowledgelement of school libraries was a postive thing, the lack of support and funding was still evident. Enter the various associations for school libraries around Australia!

In 1964, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) commissioned a report on the state of school libraries in Australia. This report, known as the Fenwick Report (1966) highlighted the severe lack of funding and support available to school libraries and called for financial support from the Commonwealth Goverment. This funding was eventually made available to both government and non-government schools between 1969 and 1971, with additional funding promised in 1974. Funding for this was approximately $200 million in total (Nimon, 2004).

In addition to ALIA, a number of school library associations were created during this time period, including:

  • School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV, 1960)
  • School Library Association of New South Wales (SLANSW – 1964)
  • Queensland School Library Association (QSLA, formally SLAQ – 1968)
  • Australian School Library Association (ASLA – 1969)
  • School Library Association of South Australia (SLASA – 1971)

Note: I have struggled to find official start dates for the Westeran Australia School Library Association (WASLA) and also want to acknowledge that the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) and Tasmania are all represented within ASLA as opposed to indepently – happy to be corrected if wrong! Please reach out!

These associations have since spent their time advocating for the role of teacher librarians and school libraries. They have collaborated with each other to provide a coordinated and cohesive message to departments of education, state and federal leadership. Recently, ASLA and ALIA joined with the Australian Education Union (AEU) to produce a joint statement on school libraries in Australia.

This statement is availabe via this link here. It is written in support of all schools in Australia having increased access to equitable funding to allow them to provide their students with a world class education.

It is clear that school libraries have worked tirelessly to provide for their students despite a rocking intial start. For more of my thoughts around this, you can check out my podcast episode called The problem with the history of school libraries.


Clyde, L. A. (1981). The magic casements: A survey of school library history from the eighth to the twentieth century [PhD Thesis]. James Cook University.

Nimon, M. (2004). School libraries in Australia. The Australian Library Journal, 53(1), 71–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/00049670.2004.10721614

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