Libraries save Aussie kids from 'elitism'

Author Ursula Dubosarsky has been announced as the new Australian Children's Laureate.
Author Ursula Dubosarsky has been announced as the new Australian Children's Laureate.

Australian children should visit a library on a weekly basis and new schools built without traditional libraries could turn reading into an elitist art, Ursula Dubosarsky says.

The author was announced as the new Australian Children's Laureate at the National Library in Canberra on Tuesday.

The author of more than 60 books for children and young adults says her new role fills her with both excitement and nerves.

"I feel very lucky and excited. But I also feel quite daunted. Like most writers I live quite a retiring life, sitting at home writing my books. This is a much more public role but it's a big new adventure."

The Children's Laureate is appointed every two years to promote the importance of reading and creativity in children's lives. The laureate speaks extensively with child education specialists, government ministers and librarians across the country.

The theme for Dubosarsky's two-year term is Read For Your Life.

"We accept that we want our children to be good readers but the average reading ability in children beyond primary school age is declining ... and once children get to high school, many stop reading.

"One practical thing that I can do is encourage children to join a local library and visit on a weekly basis."

Dubosarsky is concerned by reports two new schools, one in Sydney and the other in Brisbane, will not have dedicated libraries.

A new, high-rise school in Sydney's Parramatta, Arthur Phillip High School, has no central library. Instead, it will have i-Hubs for each year level on different floors, with digital resources and some hard copy books, according to the NSW Department of Education.

Brisbane's new Fortitude Valley State Secondary College, meanwhile, aims to be paperless.

Librarians have condemned the decisions as limiting for students, and say the lack of a traditional library will have a negative impact on school culture.

Dubosarsky agrees it's a "strange direction" for the schools to take.

"Libraries are much more than research and information centres, they are palaces of fiction. The vast majority of items borrowed from Australian libraries every year are fiction," she said.

"There's great symbolic value in a school having a dedicated space for reading - it tells children that it's important."

Dubosarsky is concerned reading could become an elitist art if children don't have regular access to good libraries.

"We all want our children to be confident, sophisticated readers ... [but] there will only be an elite few who are good readers and the rest of us will just be able to read a little bit," she said.

"To raise a generation of readers you need access to lots of books. Every book you read makes you a better reader."

Previous Australian Children's Laureates include Alison Lester, Boori Monty Pryor, Jackie French, Leigh Hobbs and outgoing laureate Morris Gleitzman.

Australian Associated Press