While teacher librarians and school library services continue to adapt to the needs of their students and school community in response to student learning needs, the future is not always rosy. We have been given comprehensive evidence that in Australia there is indeed a crisis in school librarianship, and that we need to be talking about it.
This was the topic of my short presentation for ALIA BIennial Sydney 2012, which only touched broadly on the actual content of the paper submitted.
If we recognise that there are many forces at play within schools that impact on provision of library and information services, then we have some idea as to why school libraries are caught up in that potential crisis of budgeting as schools continue to adapt to 21st century learning needs. It is when competing constraints are in operation that school librarianship inevitably comes under scrutiny, resulting in adaptations and changes that can have long-term implications.
6.6 It is indisputable that the value of teacher librarians’ work has been eroded over the years and undervalued by many in the community, be it by colleagues, principals, parents or those in the wider school community.
Perhaps one of the most disheartening conversations that have emerged in recent times has been in relation to the leadership and staffing of a school library. Many have noted the shift that can take place in a school where teacher librarianship is sufficiently undervalued, so that teaching staff are appointed to “run‟ a school library, with little or no qualifications in the field appropriate to the nature of the services that a school and its students deserves. Conversely, staff may be appointed who may have a library qualification, but who are not teachers.
6.7 The profession has unfortunately been subject to the many competing priorities that school principals find themselves contending with in an environment in which education budgets are ever stretched.
School Libraries and Teacher Librarians in 21st Century Australia
The Australian Government Inquiry into school libraries and teacher librarianship provided us with a substantial review that indicates the vital need to continue the conversation about what a teacher librarian is, does, and can do into the future. (Inquiry Report, 6.17). This conversation (i.e. research activities and professional development opportunities) will ensure that individuals, groups and organizations will be better placed to continue advocacy on behalf of the profession.
A good place to gain an overview of the influences in this conversation is in the Learning in a Changing World (2010) series, which addresses how the learning environment and the services to support it are evolving. The series presents the core areas for teacher librarians and school leaders to consider for 21st century learning: the digital world, virtual worlds, curriculum integration, resourcing, and the physical environment. This series highlights key themes that contribute to the ongoing conversation:
1. Successful learning for 21st century students is shaped by the digital environments within society and in our schools
a. Learning involves connecting, communicating and collaborating in multimodal environments
b. Rate of technology change is accelerating as it a teacher‟s responsibility to facilitating learning in current and emerging digital environments
c. Resources are being managed with better technology tools and refined digital integration
d. Curriculum innovation depends on integration with digital and multimodal approaches to learning
2. The scholarship of teaching is influenced and shaped by digital environments
a. Models of learning are being developed that accommodate multimodal learning environments
b. Mobile devices and virtual environments are essential components of learning
c. Learning theories are responding to creative, cognitive and meta-cognitive engagement with literacy and information needs that have emerged as a result of digital environments.
d. Curriculum innovation depends on adopting a teaching and learning approach that is flexible, student-centered, and incorporates a range of tools and devices for digital connectivity
3. School libraries need to respond to a 21st century information ecology
a. Literacy and research frameworks need to be developed to respond to the unique developments in digital environments
b. Action-based research needs to drive the decision-making cycle
c. Guided enquiry is an essential tool for curriculum integration
d. The school library is a virtual and physical learning commons for whole-school library services
4. The teacher librarian must be a curriculum leader with responsibility for supporting whole school learning frameworks that meet challenges that the digital context has created
a. The teacher librarian leads information provision in their schools, with an increasingly strong focus on digital resources and environments
b. The teacher librarian designs the learning environment of the library to respond to the pedagogic and technologic changes in learning and teaching taking place
c. School libraries are hubs of professional development and collaborative action
d. The teacher librarian leads the ethical and responsible use of resources underpinned by the mix-and-match environment of creativity, literacy and knowledge activities that digital environments have fostered.
Working the crisis!
Teacher librarians are already acknowledged as being creative and wholly competent in the traditional literacy and information literacy aspects of their role as well as in all dimensions of the technology/mobile enhanced learning environment. Despite this, the challenges facing schooling and schools today continues to promote or erode the “status‟ of the teacher librarian and the school library depending on a variety of critical circumstances.
The full paper presented at ALIA2012 Biennial Conference is available here.