Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Is the Teacher Librarian an endangered species?

What a fabulous question - and one I would dearly love to pose to numerous principals, executive staff members and staff. In answering the question, one really needs to consider what they know of the role of the teacher librarian and what value they place upon that role.

The five guest speakers invited to answer that question at The American Association of School Librarians website:

Are School Librarians an Endangered Species provide interesting insight into this question.

All interviewees agreed - the Teacher Librarian is definitely not extinct and far from endangered. In today's rapidly changing educational landscape, the Teacher Librarian is a more relevant and important than ever.

Henry Jenkins points out that the role of Teacher Librarian needs to be redefined from that of curator of local collections to one where librarians are coaches who help young people navigate an evermore complex media and information landscape. He talks of librarians as online mentors in a digital landscape.

Doug Johnson discusses that the role of teacher librarian and their relevance in schools today is based on the core values or core beliefs that we as educators hold. If we believe in intellectual freedom, that all children should be good digital citizens, a commitment to teaching students to be critical users of information and ideas, that all students have the right to access a learning space where all of this is achievable, then there will continue to be teacher librarians and school libraries.

Michelle Luhtala gets right to the point. Schools that aim for instructional innovation and high standards for all learners and stand behind the goal of preparing students for 21st Century citizenship, understand that a well supported library program is integral towards meeting these goals. She discusses how rather than declining in relevance in schools, the need for Teacher Librarians is growing exponentially as the information age progresses. Luhtala also points out that educators who perceive the Teacher Librarian role as dealing primarily with print media show ignorance regarding the role of teacher librarian.

As we progress through this course, and towards achieving the qualifications for Teacher Librarianship,  forefront in our minds will be whether we will have to the opportunity to work with school executive who also share the understanding that Teacher Librarians are far from extinct and view us as critical members of the learning community.

What is your answer to this question?

How would your school executive and staff answer this question?

The Standards of Professional Excellence

In working the readings for the first unit of my Masters in Teacher Librarianship, the more I realise my idea of what it is to be a Teacher Librarian is either being challenged or affirmed. One of the most pivotal and thought provoking of these readings has been the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teaching Librarians, published by ALIA/ASLA.

I found the Standards affirming because there is a still a place for Teacher Librarians to build an environment and learning experience where the love of books and reading, the sharing of Authors and genres all come alive. I have always loved libraries - the tranquillity, to shared loved of reading, the access to resources. To know that this is still seen as an important aspect of the Teacher Librarian role is heartening.

I also found the Standards challenging because my view of what it means in reality to be a teacher librarian. My view of what it really means to be a teacher librarian has been shaped by what the teacher librarian role has been in the schools that I have worked in. I have held positions in ten schools, as well as done casual teaching in a number of others. The way the teacher librarian has functioned within those schools has been varied and often not a reflection of the standards as described by ASLA.

In only 3 of the ten schools I have worked at, was collaboration with the teacher librarian the expectation. And in saying that, 2 of those times was with the same Teacher Librarian whom I had developed a wonderful working relationship with, and was lucky enough to work with a 2nd time in another school. Working in collaboration with these Teacher Librarians was inspirational. The opportunities provided for the students, especially in utilising technology for guided inquiry was powerful. So well did one Teacher Librarian and I collaborate together, one of our units was developed into an online unit as part of an online project for our Diocese. These were teacher librarians with a wealth of knowledge, a love for their job, and what I aspired to be.

But sadly, this is not the norm.

In one school, the school librarian was not a trained teacher. She worked part-time in the office typing up the newsletter, and the rest of the time in library. The only access students had to the library was 45 mins for borrowing. The students were effectively banned from using the library any other time. The library resources were considered 'precious', 'costly' and students having access to such resources would diminish the worth of the resources there. Oblivious to this, and coming from my last employment where collaboration with the teacher librarian was a given, in my first few weeks, I happily trotted my class off to the library to do some research. I discovered students who had very limited understanding of accessing resources and was dumbfounded to receive a rap over the knuckles for using the library outside of the borrowing schedule. Pardon me?

The other 6 schools I worked in, had wonderful teacher librarians, with a wealth of knowledge, hamstrung by the role description developed by the school executive, who placed a lot of emphasis on the library as a convenient way of addressing RFF, borrowing books and little else. The teacher librarian is generally employed on a part-time basis, with little expectation of collaboration with teaching staff.

So, reading the professional standards set out by ASLA/ALIA was eyeopening. I learnt so much from reading that one document, that has challenged some of what I thought the role of the teacher librarian was, and affirmed others. And in reading through, when I think of the two wonderful teacher librarians who I worked collaboratively with, I can see how well their practice fits within the Standards.

From my experience, I believe many school executive to be unfamiliar with the standards and have a limited understanding of how diverse and complex the role of the teacher librarian has become. This filters throughout the school community, creating a mindset with teacher, students and parents, that the primary function of the teacher librarian is to provide support in the form of RFF and ensuring adequate resources are available.

So there is a challenge to be met for those of us obtaining qualifications in Teacher Librarianship to bring about dialogue and change of mindset for the role of the teacher librarian as it should be, not what  it currently is in many schools. To be an instrument of change, where the Teacher Librarian is seen as a pivotal, critical member of the learning community instead of the RFF babysitter.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

21st Century Literacies

At 18 months and 10 months old, these 'Digital Natives' (Prensky, 2001) already know how to navigate and interact with forms of 21st century literacies. They are surrounded by technologies that have become integral to our lives: computers, phones, tablets. They are growing up in a world where single function devices such as watches, have become overtaken by multimodal devices that provide a variety of information at the touch of the fingertips, in any location, at any time. 

The implications for classroom teachers, teacher librarians, schools and educational organisations in general, is vast and overwhelming. According to Prenksy's article 'Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants' (2001, pg 1) 'today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.' Students today have greater, faster access to information, use networking and will often multi-task a range of digital technologies at once.  For over a decade, educators have been playing catch-up, struggling to integrate new technologies into old classroom practices. There has been a shift, acknowledging the need to adapt traditional teaching practices where the individual users accessed content, to a new paradigm where communities create and share ideas. (Pence 2007). In an increasingly changing educational landscape, what is the role of the Teacher Librarian?

The past decade has seen a shift in the role of the teacher librarian from the holder of a repository of information, to becoming 'an integral part of the learning and teaching community' (Herring pg 27). The teacher librarian role in today's education systems is a multifaceted one with a variety of possible roles. Herring, in his book 'Teacher Librarians and the School library', refers to the ASLA document 'Learning for the Future' (ASLA 2003) and the three main roles of the teacher librarian: curriculum leader, information specialist and information services manager (pg. 31).The need to shift the focus of the library from its traditional role, to one that embraces 21st century literacies is vital. It has become necessary for teacher librarians to work collaboratively using 'a site of participatory culture, conducive to helping students create personal learning networks and environments that allow them to cultivate resources for accessing, evaluating and sharing information locally and with the world at large.' (Hamilton 2011, pg. 35) 

The Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians (ALIA/ASLA) acknowledges the diverse skills and qualifications of teacher librarians - skilled educators who combine curriculum knowledge and pedagogy with information management knowledge  and skills. Excellent teacher librarians 'comprehensively understand the role of information and communication technologies in lifelong learning.' (Standard 1.1)
'With the Internet as the defining technology for literacy and learning in the 21st century' (Drew pg.322), Teacher librarians are uniquely placed within the school environment to provide opportunities for students to develop the skills and strategies necessary to succeed in a 'globally networked, multimodal, digital age of information and communication'. (Drew pg. 321).  

The Australian Curriculum Framework does not provide specific Information and Communication Technology (ICT) content descriptors and elaborations. Rather, it has put the ICT as a general capability across the curriculum. Classroom teachers benefit then, from the collaboration with Teacher Librarians to ensure development of ICT skills across different curriculum areas, where ICT skills become embedded in classroom programs, designed around collaborative projects and jointly planned and taught by teacher librarians. Where classroom teachers are required in the Australian Curriculum to develop literacy proficiency across Language, Literature and Literacy, Teacher Librarians can focus more specifically on the skills and strategies for locating, evaluating, synthesising and communicating information, using 21st Century literacies and technologies. Through the use of online literacies such a search engines, databases, wikis, blogs, forums, social networking, smart devices, Teacher Librarians can provide learning opportunities that encourage students to become critically literate members of the global digital community. 

In an education environment, where 'future literacy demands will encompass technologies yet to be invented', the role of the Teacher Librarian has never been so important and pivotal to the teaching and learning experiences within the school environment. It is necessary that Teacher Librarians embrace the use of 21st Century literacies and how they can use them to enrich the learning experiences of the 'digital natives', equipping them with the necessary skills for interacting critically, intelligently and ethically as information literate members of a digital society in the future. 


ALIA/ASLA (2004) Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians Australian School Library Association retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.aspx

Drew, S.L. (Dec 2012/ Jan 2013) Open Up the Ceiling on the Common Core State Standards: Preparing Students for 21st Century Literacy - Now.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 56 (4), 321-330. doi: 10.1002/ JAAL. 00145

Hamilton, B.J. (2011) The School Librarian as Teacher: What Kind of Teacher are You? 

Herring, J. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In S.Ferguson (Ed.), Libraries in the twenty-first century: charting new directions in information (pp. 27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW : Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University. 

Pence, H.E. (2007) Preparing for the real web generation. Journal of Educational  Technology Systems. 35(3), 347-356

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon (MCB University Press) 9 (5)