Bangladesh celebrated National Library Day on February 5, 2021. According to the British Council and the department of public libraries, the day aims to celebrate libraries nationwide to promote library culture at the grassroots level. However, there is a need to discuss National Library Day in relation to school libraries' connections to national education policy goals and its implications for student success.
According to the National Education Policy 2010, the library is included in section 20, saying that "the environment and quality of education of an educational institution is reflected through the lively use of its library. The importance of library and information centre is undeniable informal or life-long education and training, research, policymaking, planning, and acquisition of learning". However, the efforts of school librarians are poorly understood and not given proper importance in Bangladesh. Since the school librarian recruitment, there is a massive conflict and confusion surrounding their roles. The role of assistant librarian was removed from the third and fourth-class employees list in the partial amendment order issued on January 8, 2013. In this order, the assistant librarians were treated as teaching staff. On the other hand, the revised regulations of the Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board issued on December 22, 2016, stated that "librarians, assistant librarians and any staff appointed for office management or part-time teaching shall not be considered as teachers." Since then, the assistant librarians have been struggling with their position status, and they are demanding the return of their teacher status through a government order.
We have had the privilege of conducting several discussion sessions with many high school librarians, headmasters and higher secondary education officers, and learning from the existing literature published over the few years about the school library and the current role of school librarians, in Bangladesh and other countries in the world. About 15,000 assistant librarians are working in MPO registered secondary schools across the country. They run the school library as well as teach various subjects like a general teacher. In every government document, the participants claimed that assistant librarians are considered third-class employees and non-teaching staff at educational institutions. The names of the assistant librarians have been kept in the attendance register of the organisation's non-teaching staff. The assistant librarians were excluded from the school management committee's voting rights in a circular dated January 1, 2017. As a result, thousands of assistant librarians are demoralised and unable to concentrate on work properly. In these discussions, we focused on whether school librarian(s) were involved in school leadership and curriculum teams, and what were their primary responsibilities? How are they placed in terms of collaboration, accessing information, learning and teaching? What is their recruitment, salary and position status?
Based on our findings, every MPO registered educational institution in Bangladesh's private and public sectors has an assistant librarian position. Starting in 2010, the assistant librarians hired in the next few years were considered teachers and they conducted regular classes. Suddenly, the orders and regulations issued once by the Ministry of Education and another time by the Board of Education started treating assistant librarians as non-teaching staff. The assistant librarians were extremely unhappy with these orders. After that, they contacted the officials of all education administration levels and applied for their teaching status. Unfortunately, they did not get back the teacher status yet. Eventually, they resorted to the High Court to resolve the matter.
Since the establishment of the National Education Policy 2010, the position of school librarian was created in Bangladesh. As a result, the number of higher secondary level libraries in Bangladesh is the highest so far. In recent years, governments, professional bodies and organisations have shifted their attention to school libraries, which play an integral role in supporting students' educational development. Many reviews and research can be found discussing the value and role of school libraries, the links between librarians and improved student literacy, the contribution of school librarians to 21st century education, and the future of these libraries. Because of the changes in the education system, school libraries and qualified librarians are a timely topic. School libraries' importance has grown significantly in recent years in every developed nation. Several studies have shown that cooperation with a school librarian will make a difference to academic achievement and should be involved in the school's teaching, learning, and curriculum preparation. For example, recent research using South Australian schools' data revealed that having a trained teacher-librarian can lead to better student literacy performance.
In Australia, school librarians are often called teacher librarians, meeting the International Federation of Library Associations' recommendation of dual ability in the form of "recognised teaching qualifications and qualifications in librarianship". In Bangladesh, a school librarian holds recognised graduate qualifications and qualifications in librarianship. That means the school librarian has dual qualifications. Thus, the school librarian's salary scale should be equivalent to a senior teacher who is accredited the capability of a school librarian.
In our discussion, the participants from all levels agreed that school librarians also undertake various other school duties, including conducting regular timetabled library lessons and performing different teaching roles regularly.
Regarding linking the role of school librarians to curricular and learning needs, we can refer to the current circumstances in the US, the UK and Australia. School librarians create strong links between their educational programme and curricular and learning needs in these countries. However, in Bangladesh, the school librarians are deprived of school curriculum activities. They are not eligible to be a member of the school curriculum as they are not part of teaching staff. This is a big contradiction between the role of school librarians and the ability to be involved in school administration and decision-making.
One of the most significant outcomes of our discussions with secondary school librarians, headmasters and education officers is that everyone strongly believes that all school assistant librarians need to be given the status of teachers due to the nature of their roles and current responsibilities. We cannot ignore the contribution of school libraries and librarians. We demand a clear guideline and policy about school libraries and librarians in relation to teaching and learning. The teaching staff and assistant librarians should work collaboratively, like in other countries. The authorities need to ensure that school librarians attend teaching, learning, and curriculum sessions for greater student success. This is not just a problem of assistant librarians, but a national issue concerning the development of library culture from the school level. Thus, it needs a permanent and immediate solution from the government to make future National Library Days more successful.
Prodip Roy AALIA (DCP) is Library Officer and Branch Vice-President, National Tertiary Education Union, RMIT University and Rajesh Kumar Das is Assistant Professor, Noakhali Science and Technology University.