It is probable that Australian school libraries date almost from the establishment of the first schools, although books were a scarce commodity for many years in the new colony of New South Wales. School librarianship in the nineteenth century is documented by Clyde (1983) .
Clyde’s article outlines the organisation and aims of a variety of libraries in nineteenth century Australia. Libraries ran the gambit of those which were well funded and supported to those who relied on the patronage of a few and ad-hoc part-time work of perhaps the local teacher. By 1935 a report detailing the state of Australian school libraries, called the Munn-Pitt Report, was “highly critical of the services which those libraries offered.” (page 11) Despite there being evidence of school libraries in Australia from as early as the 1810s as part of private academies and also as a strong part of Sunday schools, there was little consistency or clear guidelines for the profession.
[See below James Herring’s summary of the historical progress in Australia.]
Generally, the trends evident in the late nineteenth century continued until the 1930s, with no major developments until the Munn-Pitt Report of 1935 prompted professional librarians and educators to take another look at their school libraries. Meanwhile, throughout this period, many secondary schools built rooms or separate buildings for their libraries. Many of these later proved to be inadequate. Modern school libraries, with qualified staffing and enhanced resource provision took off in the 1970s and 1980s, and the development of resource-based learning in schools from the 1980s onwards, played a major role in the development of school libraries. The 1990s saw the spread of the internet, especially the development of the web, and this allowed school libraries to move to being partly virtual libraries in the 21st century.
What doesn’t seem to have changed much as an issue for school libraries is FUNDING. Although one of the palpable changes from the Munn-Pitt report is the housing of libraries become a focus and the advent of purpose built libraries became the norm rather than the exception.
One of the main aims of libraries in the 19th century was encouraging children to develop “the reading habit”. Despite being in the 21st century, there still pervades the collective psyche the enduring appeal of the morally beneficial “reading habit” which continued from the 19th century throughout the 20th century right up to today. Many 21st century schools have implemented wide reading programs such as DEAR (drop everything and read) and many parents lament that their children and teenagers just don’t read enough. Perhaps this value-laden judgement of the formative benefits of reading “good literature” is perpetuated by those who fear the loss of knowledge, especially of “the classics”, and a common frame of reference that will be lost through the dominance of technology through gaming and social-networking sites.
The other main point from Clyde’s article is that there was not a huge emphasis in the 19th century on the academic library but rather a reading/recreational library.