Part C – Critical Synthesis about the role of the teacher librarian.

I enrolled in the ME.d. (TL) with limited ideas about what teacher librarianship involves. I knew I wanted to be engaged in literacy teaching in a new way — after ten years as a High School English teacher, it was time to renew my practice.

Before applying for the course I spoke to teacher librarians at the school where I work. There is a large team at the school as the student population is about 2200. They had some tasks in common, but each seemed to have something that they were particularly responsible for: author visits and events; the student literature club; learning technologies; databases and referencing; acquisitions; cataloguing; pathfinders and wikis; journal and periodical subscriptions; coordinating and rosters. What’s more, each one is ‘tagged’ to certain departments and student year levels. From these conversations I got a glimpse of the complexity of the role — and yet it was only a glimpse. Since then, I have learned a great deal about the different aspects of a teacher librarian’s professional repertoire. However, I am completing the ETL401 module aware that the knowledge I have gained is largely theoretical.

As I have journeyed through the ETL401 course I have deepened my understanding of the dimensions and possibilities of the teacher librarian role. I have grown more intrigued by the ways in which the role and the school library program are rapidly evolving in response to changes in technology. The transformation of my understanding has happened on several fronts: the instructional role of the TL; the place of learning technologies in a library program; the power of collaboration with teaching staff; and information literacy. I bring with me into MEd.TL studies a passion for literacy, and almost all my blog posts have been concerned with this topic in some way and what it means in the face of rapid change. I have been challenged to rethink what I mean by the term ‘literacy’ and arrive at a new synthesis for what it entails in the twenty first century. As a corollary to this, I have begun to view learning technologies more broadly now that I have begun to think about how they can be used to foster information literacy.

Early in my learning journal blog, in ETL401 Topic 2: Part 1: the Role of the Teacher Librarian, I discussed my insight into how little classroom teachers are aware of the instructional, information specialist and collaborative aspects of the teacher librarian role. Teacher librarians are an untapped resource. I identified obstacles to collaboration in my workplace setting – lack of understanding of the teacher librarian role; lack of shared planning time; and a view of the library and its offerings in terms of resources rather than in terms of learning and collaboration. In response to our readings of Haycock (2007) and Oberg (2006) I posted a comment on the Topic 2 Forum about the limited understanding among classroom staff of what teacher librarians have to offer. It was becoming clear to me, as I elaborated in a second forum posting on this topic, that a hidden aspect of the teacher librarian’s brief, is to promote and publicise the collaborative learning that the school library program can facilitate. This thinking has informed my resolve to be a teacher librarian who is able to communicate the collaborative aspects of my role to colleagues and to build working relationships across the library/classroom divide.

Further to this point, one of the things that struck me as I read Buffy Hamilton’s article, “What kind of teacher are you?”, and her blog posts on The Unquiet Library is that teacher librarians need to be proactive in seeking collaborative working relationships with classroom teachers. She has prompted my thinking and re-thinking about what is possible in a teacher librarianship role. She has inspired me to think about how I can integrate ICTs into the classroom in ways that engage students and support their learning. I have found myself exploring the software she writes about, and, although I struggle to make it work for me, I have a new purpose in educating myself about learning tools that could help my students. I have realised that technology has to be part of my professional ‘kit’ as a TL. Work such as Hamilton’s and that of Joyce Valenza in her video “What teacher librarians make” and her “Manifesto for 21st century school librarians” shows a vision of teacher librarianship that is vigorous and responsive to the new information landscape. They offer an idea of teacher librarianship that is far from the retiring and staid popular stereotype, but is engaged and involved in the learning community of the school. Reading is still at the forefront of what they do – but they integrate it with where students are using text, which is often online.

However, what is also clear is that in order to be able to create this kind of professional life, a teacher librarian needs administrators who are supportive of this renewed vision of the school library program. In my post on the forum for this topic, I discussed the need to target potential allies in the school executive, and get them excited about the prospects of an integrated application of technology, pedagogy and resources to improve student learning through the school library program. When students and administrators think information problems are solved by one large commercial search engine, teacher librarians have an enormous (but essential) task ahead of them making a case for what they offer. Reading Hartzell’s book Building influence for the school librarian (2003) was a valuable instruction manual on strategies to employ when advocating for the school library program. I noticed in my broader reading that an ongoing thread of librarian discussion is about evidence that qualified librarians increase student achievement and the necessity for restating this to decision-makers time and again. Moreover, the readings on Evidence Based Practice were salutary reminders that, as with classroom teachers, teacher librarians need to be able to document their impact on student learning.

Therefore, in my Reflection after Assignment 1, I examined how the subtext of so much of the course seemed to be that the teacher librarian’s role is surprisingly political. I had not thought of that before, but the theme touched on time and again was how teacher librarians have to promote their programs and the contribution they make to student achievement. It seems that libraries are constantly having to justify their existence. Later in the course I had a discussion with one the teacher librarians at my workplace that confirmed this suspicion. So I added “promoter”, “networker”, “marketer”, “evidence collector” and “strategic collaborator” to my list of attributes of the teacher librarian role.

Throughout the course I have been concerned with literacy and where it fits in this new ‘post-literate’ world. In ETL401 Topic 2: Part 1: the Role of the Teacher Librarian I noted that the qualifications required by the ALIA/ASLA to practice as a teacher librarian closely meshed with the Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. These qualities and standards revolve around the provision of both physical and “intellectual access” (Kuhlthau, 2004, p. xv). This means that for students to become information literate, they need more than just access to information – they need educators who can make it accessible, meaningful and part of the students’ learning. Ultimately, information literacy is not just about being able to recognise the need for information or even find it, but to be able to evaluate the credibility and relevance of sources, and apply new understandings. It involves skills in reading, comprehension and using technology – but it also needs to “transcend the format” (Bush). It requires the ability to synthesise information and create new ideas and outcomes from it. This came up in our study of the fascinating concept of transliteracy, and I blogged about these ideas in Reflections on definitions of information literacy part 1 and Musings on Transliteracy. Information literacy at its zenith is the creation of a personal mental construct of how we learn from information. Teacher librarians need to model this by becoming their own knowledge manager and a reflective practitioner.

Therefore, part of the role of the teacher librarian is to have a mental construct of what information literacy is to guide her practice. This definition will always be evolving as we encounter new information and technologies. However, the teacher librarian needs this to construct a sense of what outcomes she is working towards. Hence in a posting to the ETL401 forum, I offered a conclusion that information literacy was the theory and collaborative teaching and guided inquiry was the practice. Information literacy is a core, guiding construct for reflective practice.

Finally, my understanding of the teacher librarian role has been affected by current debates on whether or not school librarians should ‘leave the library’ and rebadge themselves in order to be effective. While concepts such as ‘the new model’ focussing on integrating learning technologies have some merit, in my view it risks abstracting just one strand of teacher librarian practice away from a holistic view of the profession. Rather, I see the teacher librarian as an “information activist” who extends her practice beyond the walls of the library, but who also fosters a sense of a special place for learning in the school. The discussion around the creation of “learning commons” has appealed to me and encapsulates a professional practice that is both situated and mobile. Most importantly, this idea of a learning commons with a qualified and collaborative teacher librarian at the helm provides opportunities for students to learn and to access information in context. Teaching librarians have an important role in facilitating access to literacy for people of diverse backgrounds and abilities – an important role for school and public library programs in fostering democracy.

References:

Australian Library and Information Association/Australian School Library Association (ALIA/ASLA) (2004) Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians.

Retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.htm

Barak, Lauren. (2012). Full-time school librarians linked to higher student reading scores. School Library Journal, March 6. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/893803-312/full-time_school_librarians_linked_to.html.csp#.T2lfZsRZdDQ.netvibes

Braun, L. (2012). Next year’s model? Digital Shift (School Library Journal). April. Retrieved from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/04/k-12/next-years-model/

Bush, G. Information transliteracy in the 21st century classroom. (Video). National Louis University. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=n1JjcmGJb2A

Clark, I. (2010). We still need libraries in the digital age. The Guardian, 13 July.

Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/13/internet-age-still-need-libraries

Hamilton, B. J. (2011). The school librarian as teacher: What kind of teacher are you? Knowledge Quest, 39(5), 34-40. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/869883192?accountid=10344

http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/869883192/fulltextPDF?accountid=10344

Hamilton, B. (n.d.) The Unquiet Library (blog). http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com/

Hartzell, G. (2003). Building influence for the school librarian: Tenets, targets, & tactics. (2nd ed.). Worthington, Ohio: Linworth Publishing.

Haycock, K. (2007). Collaboration: Critical success factors for student learning. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 25 – 35. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/217750011/136DEEF8C6246D89F49/16?accountid=10344

Johnson, D. (2002). The seven most critical challenges facing our profession. Teacher Librarian, 29(5), 21. Retrieved from http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/seven-most-critical-challenges-that-face-our-profession.html

Kuhlthau, C. (2004). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services. Westport, Connecticut, Libraries Unlimited.

Loertscher, D. (2008). Flip this library: School libraries need a revolution. School Library Journal, 54(11). Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6610496.html

Miller, R. (2012). Undercover librarian: Tech coordinator Sarah Ludwig. School Library Journal, April. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/893870312/undercover_librarian_tech_coordinator_sarah.html.csp

Oberg, D. (2006). Developing the respect and support of school administrators. Teacher Librarian, 33(3), 13 – 18. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/224879111?accountid=10344

Todd, R. (2003). Irrefutable evidence: How to prove you boost student achievement. School Library Journal, 04/01/2003. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA287119.html

Transliteracy (n.d.). Retrieved from http://transliteracy.wikispaces.com/1+-+Introduction

Valenza, J. (2011). What librarians make. Or, why should I be more than a librarian? (video). Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/17247140

Valenza, J. (2010). Manifesto for 21st century school librarians. Voya. Retrieved from http://www.voya.com/2010/09/15/tag-team-tech-october-2010/

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