The National Library’s intention to phase out its provision of print non-fiction books in favour of digital resources has dismayed many in the education sector and the wider public.
As part of a four-year transformation to its Services to Schools, the National Library will be replacing its current print curriculum topic service with enhanced online curriculum support and a new print-based reading engagement service, providing “quality fiction and high interest non-fiction resources” to support reading for pleasure.
Overall savings from the new Services to Schools strategy are expected to be $392,000 a year.
However, schools say that as a result of the National Library’s changes they will now be spending more to obtain books that are no longer available to them from the national loan collection.
“It is a ridiculous waste of money for hundreds of schools to be buying the same books to support the same study topics when they could all borrow them from the one central collection,” said Denise Torrey, president of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF).
“Digital resources are great for supporting pedagogy but are no replacement for books,” she said.
NZEI Te Riu Roa National President Louise Green agreed, and urged the National Library to "put this decision on ice" until it has talked to teachers.
“We support modern digital learning but it needs to be balanced. Books in classrooms are an essential tool for learning. Children still need access to reference books and they need them in classrooms."
Green said schools that are struggling with funding will be hit hardest, especially those that are not yet up to speed with fast broadband.
Torrey said rural schools in particular will suffer from the changes.
“Not all schools and students have access to reliable technology to make use of digital resources. The National Library’s shift to digital delivery penalises rural schools as many have inadequate broadband connections, if at all,” she said.
However, according to the Ministry of Education, 95 per cent of schools are expected to be connected to ultrafast broadband by term three, when the National Library’s lending services will change.
The 2012 Review of the National Library’s Services for Schools, upon which the new services are based, acknowledged the changing role of school libraries, and talked about the “new vision that is emerging for school libraries in a digital age.”
Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne supported the move to a more digital approach.
“The reality is that for children today, access to quality digital resources is far more important than
ever before, and that will only increase in the future.
“The current changes will ensure the National Library will continue to support these requests by providing the information digitally, rather than in hard copy, so that it is up-to-date and in formats the current generation of New Zealand students need.”
Thousands of New Zealanders have signed a petition organised by Action Station, requesting Minister Dunne stop the cuts to National Library lending services to schools.