Clare Forrest has just come out of two days of negotiating training for the school librarian pay equity claim. The process is collaborative and non-confrontational because the union negotiators train together with the Ministry of Education. She says she enjoys the training.
“It’s about both sides winning. We have to look at the issues and come up with a solution.”
Clare is hopeful that the pay equity settlement will solve some of those issues, and that librarians will be recognized for the skills they have.
“As a female-dominated sector, we’ve been undervalued and underpaid ever since we’ve been around. At the School Library Association of NZ Aotearoa, we found a submission that they’d written about pay equity 20 years ago and it still holds true today.”
She would also like to see more certainty around their employment.
“It’s a very nervous time for school librarians when your principal leaves because you do not know if the new principal is going to support you or not. It comes down to the board and the principal whether you’ve got a job. Career-wise it makes for a lot of uncertainty. You can solve that problem by funding school libraries and librarians centrally.”
Clare points out that that literacy levels are dropping in New Zealand and says that every school having a library and librarian could help with that.
“Our job is to be a reading engagement expert. Teachers are about teaching children how to read, and we’re about making sure they do and that they love it. We’re experts at finding the right resources and making sure we get them into the hands of akonga.”
“For instance, we’ve got these fantastic books that are aimed at dyslexic students. They’re written by the same authors who write all the other novels, and they look good. We mix them up with all the other books because there are times when people don’t want to be singled out as different. How students choose a book is important. You need all of them to be able to see themselves as readers and know they can succeed.”
One of the big changes in libraries over the last 15 years has been the growth in the graphic novel and comics collection.
“They are the most popular reads in our school. We’ve worked hard at ensuring that our staff and parents understand that reading a graphic novel is complex reading.”
Being a union member is something Clare has always done, whatever job she’s been in – whether that be as a science technician, a nurse or a school librarian, the job she’s been in for the last fifteen years at Rāroa Normal Intermediate School.
“I know it’s us members who are the union. We need to do the mahi if things are going to change, hence signing up to help do the pay equity work. It just felt like an important thing to do for women, and for me personally – it feels like It’s an important part of changing history.”