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.
School Libraries and Teacher Librarians in 21st Century Australia
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.
Image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by robinsoncaruso
- 100 Best Blogs for School Librarians (onlinecollege.org)
- Is there value in Teacher-Librarians? (dougpete.wordpress.com)
- A New Kind of Librarian (cherylbecker.wordpress.com)
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Funding cuts by nsw will turn the concept of librarian into a historical artefact. Our librarian is a valued member of the school. We want to increase literacy levels but it is pretty hard when our decisions don’t reflect this.
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Why does it need to be a certified librarian? Why not a teacher? Teachers get a curriculum and teach it. Isn’t that enough?
All the past research that shows students’ performance improved if they had qualified TLs and well-resourced libraries, is that research all based on national tests e.g similar to NAPLAN? Excuse my ignorance, but please answer? Those tests…. What were they testing, was there any controversy over the value of those tests and their results?
Do you think many Steiner schools are disadvantaged by not having well funded library programmes?
This ‘push’ for mobile devices, what about this other side of the story?:
This mantra the TL profession, departments of Ed and the wifi/mobile Industry have that “Mobile devices and virtual environments are essential components of learning”, surely it’s the connectivity and access to information that is key, not the fact that the kids are swimming in electrosmog (which is detrimental to concentration and is causing fatigue and other health problems, recently confirmed by Russia which did tests on students)?
This post is not intended to be abusive, these are genuine questions and comments.
I love your blog.
The research on learning outcome improvements is comprehensive, and well worth reading. School libraries do make a difference. Libraries by themselves are of course not a panacea, and unfortunately there are plenty of bad school libraries too. I have not been following the wifi issue at all, but the real change is 3G and 4G that will transform learning whether we want it too or not. What we need nevertheless is the knowledge power of a good TL and school library both virtual and physical – the kids deserve no less. Cheers 🙂
Thanks Judy, I will have to read the research on the learning outcome improvements. The ‘knowledge power of a good TL’…..yes, extremely important. The equation ‘good TL + well funded school library = improved learning outcomes’ ….is this correct? Guided Inquiry is bound to make a difference.
As for the wifi issue, the librarians of the National Library of France voted a few years ago to get rid of wifi due to wifi’s detrimental effect on health. They have cable/fibre optic (this speed is as fast as light) and their library is set up so that people can plug in and still access information. But the Industry does not even manufacture iPads with a connection for a cord, so if someone wants to use an iPad, they can only use it as a mobile device at all times, with no choice to connect by cable. More info on this topic can be found by doing searches on: Dr. Devra Davis (and her book ‘Disconnect’), Dr. Magda Havas at http://www.magdahavas.com, emfacts.com (read his thesis online), and this university level book is excellent: http://www.amazon.com/Waves-Fields-Wireless-Communications-Electricity/dp/3838355946
I find it frustrating that wifi is mandatory in high schools, that every classroom has a wifi mast that is on all day every day and there is no switch available to turn it off. The students are not using laptops or mobile devices all day and yet they are exposed to electromagnetic radiation all day, every day (and so are the teachers). No one even uses a metre to measure the levels, it is not monitored at all. Who cares about the children’s health? Electromagnetic radiation was classified as a 2B possible carcinogen by IARC of the WHO last year. The Australian media downplayed it. This topic is a Pandora’s box. I would be willing to use wifi/solely mobile devices for genuine educational activities if there were choices available/compromises and I could know the levels students are exposed to but exposure was justified for certain activities. I think TLs need to inform themselves on this topic at least. Of course we cannot openly discuss it, otherwise we (and teachers) will lose our jobs. But traditionally it was TLs’ responsibility to stand up for the disadvantaged of society and provide a safe environment and access to information. Electromagnetic radiation exposure is accumulative, with some people becoming hyperelectosensitive over time and unable to continue using electrical devices or be around wifi. Sweden officially recognises this condition. Who stands up for these people in Australia? No one. Thanks again for your reply. I do not expect a reply from you this time. I hope some people might read this and try to inform themselves. At the end of the day, it is parents who must get together and push for changes. TLs would lose their jobs if they commented publicly on this issue.
Another very good resource on the topic of mobile/wireless devices and health, created by neurosurgeons, one being Dr. Sarah Starkey, is http://www.wifiinschools.org.uk/
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When horse and buggy was under threat by atuomobiles, one solution might have been to build a better horse. Likewise, many may suppose that if the teacher librarian were to build a better website, competition with Google might subside. Embracing what you have written, try creating a Virtual Learning Commons. There is a free template to do so at: https://sites.google.com/site/templatevlc Try downloading the template and creating a participatory culture in the school that fulfills the points listed in this excellent post. Perhaps we can compete.
Thanks David. Couldn’t agree more – and in fact the need to ‘move forward’, to grab your buggy analogy, was the main thrust of the full paper. Thank you also for sharing the template.
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Re where “teaching staff are appointed to ‘run’ a school library, with little or no qualifications in the field”: We do need to be cautious not to dismiss the achievements of untrained TLs. I was at a school which lost its teacher librarian. Following a whole term of rotating casuals – all untrained but all new to the school, and attempting to hold the position – the next year saw no trained TL wanting to transfer in. I ended up volunteering to be an untrained TL, moving from five years of classroom teaching (and one valuable year as the RFF teacher). After only a few days in the TL job, I knew it was where I was destined to stay. The next year, I did a fulltime retraining course to make sure I couldn’t be dislodged. While the training made me a much better TL – and the learning is ongoing, of course, the teaching component of teacher librarianship is embedded in syllabuses, “Information skills in the school”, explicit teaching and the Quality Teaching framework. There are definitely some effective untrained TLs out there. Without the encouragement, faith and support of a desperate, acting principal, all those years ago, I may never have considered the career move that has brought me so much satisfaction.
Hi Ian, you certainly provide a perfect example of a happy outcome from the actions of a pro-active Principal and the back-up of a system-sponsored re-training program. This unfortunately is not the happy outcome where this action is undertaken for negative reasons, such as ‘parking’ someone to fill the spot. It’s in these problem areas that the library actually gets closed down – all for the lack of a qualified and pro-active teacher librarian.
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