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.