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)