The Enchantment Of Language

Teacher Librarianship Course, Rebecca Hunt

Topic 2 – The Role of the Teacher Librarian – Part 1

Filed under: ETL401 — beck222 at 4:05 am on Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lyn Hay asked us in Topic 2 “Is the teacher librarian primarily a teacher, a librarian, a manager, an expert in children’s literature, a cataloguer, an information technology expert, staff developer, an information leader, a combination of these, or something quite different?” I was surprised to find that, despite the fact I’m preparing to step into a TL role, I have never properly considered what the role of a TL is. My first thoughts are that a TL reads fiction texts to be able to make informed recommendations to students, has an organised and easily accessible range of relevant and up to date resources for staff and students to aid in the delivery and reception of the curriculum, and provide a spaces for effective learning for both classes and individuals.

I looked through the Australian School Library Association website as suggested to expand my understanding of the TL role, a role that is constantly being redefined. The major foci of the role were:

  • Qualifications – both initial qualifications and ongoing professional development (as a teacher and a librarian).
  • Information  - provision and management of, student literacy in. (Required comprehensive understanding of ICTs.
  • Active role in curriculum as a teacher – knowledge of, planning, implementation of, evaluation of.
  • Having “qualified technical and clerical staff”. (Yay!)
  • TL administration – policies, procedures, database management, cataloguing, budgeting, etc.
  • Creation of “an information-rich learning environment which supports the needs of the school community.”
  • Collaboration – with teachers, students, administration.

There was a lot more depth and subtle nuances of the above, but they seemed to be the main points. I did find it interesting on the first page the seeming interchangeability of “school library” and “information services centre”. It appears to be an attempt to modernise the role of the TL and increase the perception of their importance through the use of euphemism. As secretary is to executive assistant, so teacher librarian is to information services manager. To be fair though, the second term shifts emphasis away from the notion of books to a broad range of ICTs.

I had a look at some of the other suggested role statements. I liked the School Library Association of South Australia’s because of the simple and practical way it was laid out, and the user friendly style of language. It does, however, need updating. Eg it refers to SACSA still! The International Association of School Librarianship’s role statement was interesting, but often vague and focusing on issues that are not locally relevant for me. I had a similar experience with the UNESCO School Library Manifesto. I also found some of the role descriptors too simplistic and much preferred the academic nature of ASLA’s descriptors.

The poster was fun, but I did have a few concerns. Primarily a) there’s too much writing on the poster so no one (other than the TL) is like to read it and b) it puts too much emphasis on what the TL has to do rather than see the TL as a facilitator to helping staff teach their students those skills. If too many responsibilities are put on a TL they will only be able to do a lot of things well instead of some things excellently. For example I don’t believe it is the job of the TL to teach students “TO DEVELOP A THESIS, TO TAKE A STAND”. I believe it is the subject teacher’s job, and the TL’s job to support that teacher when necessary. (Which shows that looking at these resources has helped me define my perception of the TL role.)

I watched the YouTube video titled The 21st Century Media Center Program. I did find it difficult to take seriously as the graphics and music were from the 20th century, and most of the participants were woodenly reading from scripts. I found it interesting they had introduced the term ‘media’, calling libraries School Media Centres and TLs Certified Library Media Specialists (which Lyn explained is a US term). As I teach Media Studies, I associate Media with creative media, but I understand they are trying to achieve an emphasis on non print materials. It is similar to ASLA’s “information services centre”.

Key foci in this video of the role of the TL were:

  • Collaboration, or partnerships, with teachers on classroom projects (particularly inquire based projects.
  • Helping students become effective library users and researchers.
  • Knowing available resources and passing that knowledge on to students and teachers.
  • TL needs to be adequately supported, and the library adequately funded.

Again, I did get a sense too much responsibility was being placed on the TL. For example the issue of safe use of the computer and internet. At my school cybersafety is covered by classroom teachers in the curriculum subject Information Technology, which I believe is sensible. The TL cannot be solely responsibility for the cybersafety of all students at the school unless it is a tiny school.

The Role Of The TL – A Run Down Of The Readings

Herring, 2007

Purcell, 2010

Lamb, 2011

Herring asserted school libraries must dispel the notion they are resource centres and be seen as learning centres. He stated reading for pleasure “is given unnecessary prominence in some school library mission statements.”

A teacher librarian. Can/should:

  • · “Influence student learning by working with teachers to develop learning opportunities that are challenging for students.”
  • · Collaborate “with students and other members of the learning community to analyze learning and information needs, to locate and use resources that will meet those needs.”
  • · Work “closely with individual teachers in the critical areas of designing authentic learning tasks and assessments and integrating the information and communication abilities required.”
  • · “[Embrace, exploit and share] new technologies.”
  • · “Adapt to new pedagogies in schools, to new technologies used by students at school and at home.”

Libraries should be:

  • “part of the total [school] information system in which students and staff operate, both in school and outside school.”
  • “learning centres with varied collections which challenge students intellectually and widen their horizons.”

Purcell believes libraries need to transform from warehouses for books and equipment into the hub of the school’s learning community, and that it’s the job of the TL to keep the “hub” functioning. She emphasised nonprint materials and the instructional and collaborative roles of the staff as well as the expanding role that technology plays in the location of information.

Teacher – “media specialists must instruct teachers on the best strategies for teaching students how to use information and technology in the classroom.”

Program administrator – “responsible for the acquisition, organization, storage, distribution, retrieval, maintenance, administration, and evaluation of a large quantity of materials and equipment.”

Leader – “work with parents, students, and teachers from every department and grade level to make decisions in selecting, previewing, purchasing, and utilizing any new technology and resources.”

Instructional Partner – “participates in curriculum design and assessment, helps teachers develop instructional activities, provides expertise in materials and technology, and translates curricular needs into library media program goals and objectives.”

Information Specialist –  “assists administrators, teachers, parents, students, and others to acquire and evaluate information resources in all formats.”

“School media specialists must be teachers, leaders, and advocates for reading, inquiry, and learning. Partnering with classroom teachers, they must design and implement curriculum and instruction that … requires thinking, inquiry, problem- solving and ethical behaviour.” Lamb asserted that TLs need to be innovative communicators and collaborators, as their qualifications (knowledge) is not enough.

Administration – “from writing policies and procedures to managing personnel and writing grants, the media specialist must understand the daily operations of a school library and the impact of these programs on … students.”

Learning – “The world is constantly changing and media specialists must acquire new knowledge, update their skills, and adjust their attitudes.”

Electronic Information – “know how to access, evaluate, organize, and use information … the media specialist must understand information.” In all formats!

Technology – “know how to apply technology to solve problems, acquire information, and create products.

Teaching – “know how to assess students, design instruction, and teach both children and adult learners … understand curriculum design and instructional development.”

Environments – “know how to use both physical and virtual spaces to support the needs of students and teachers.

“School media specialists must have the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions to turn this potential into reality.”

I couldn’t begin to summarise Joyce Valenza’s revised manifesto on what a 21st century TL should do. All of it is already succinctly summarised, all of it is practical, and all of it seemed impressive. As stated in an earlier blog, I felt inundated by the great volume of amazing software tools available that I’ve never heard of, but I look forward to becoming familiar with some of them. I think what was integral to Valenza’s manifesto was the state of constant change and growth the TL position is undergoing, and will undergo.

Having examined these four differing perspectives on the role of the TL, I found Lamb’s and Valenza’s resonated with me, mainly because they focus on TL as facilitator. With Lamb I particularly liked how she brought points back to student learning being the integral focus of all aspects of the TLs role. I was particularly taken by her idea of working with one teacher / one faculty at a time to develop specific resources for staff and students. With Valenza I was inspired by her infusion of dynamic energy into the role of the TL. To be as proactive as Lamb and Valenza  TLs could give up some of the program administrator tasks described by Purcell through delegation to student volunteers, efficient practise, and relying less on print materials.

100 word ‘take home message’ summary of five leaders on, “Are school librarians an endangered species?

Overwhelmingly, no. School librarians are not an endangered species. They are vital and necessary because they aid students in navigating complex information landscapes. This involves being information literacy leaders (even experts) in school communities, aiding everyone in the school community to find, evaluate and use information for learning, and making students critical users of information and ideas. To avoid becoming extinct school librarians must remain active, redefine their role as coaches and facilitators, and make sure everyone knows how essential they are to a thriving school. It is school librarians who are key to preparing students for 21st century citizenship.

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