I noticed last week that a work colleague posted a link to a fabulous article written by Sally Dring “Don’t overlook your school librarian, they’re the unsung heroes of literacy”.
When I read this article a couple of years ago, I was delighted to read Sally’s reply to my RT: “it needs saying!”.
Dring’s post highlighted the many valuable attributes and skills that teacher librarians bring to schools:
- With dual qualifications in both teaching and library management, teacher librarians are skilled in being able to see the big picture from the perspective of both students and teachers across a range of subjects and year levels.
- An expertise of teacher librarians is teaching ‘information literacy’. Learning how best to locate information online and then learning how to judge its value and relevance to the topic at hand is a skill that can best be taught by teacher librarians.
- Teacher librarians are able to support teachers across the school by providing valuable links to resources relevant to curriculum being taught. Teaming with teachers to locate new resources when curriculum content changes as well as providing resource lists for students and teachers is a valuable skill held by teacher librarians.
- By encouraging students to shun plagiarism and instead demonstrate learned note taking skills, teacher librarians assist students to become independent researchers.
- By utilizing and valuing the skills teacher librarians have at their finger tips – how to approach and start a research assignment and how to locate and assess relevant digital and hard copy resources – school teachers can act as role models to the students in their classes on how to best use the skills of teacher librarians.
- The core ‘business’ of teacher librarians is reading and literacy. Locating the right book at the right time for an individual child or teacher is a skill which should be highly valued and utilized by all members of the school community.
Dring concludes her well stated thoughts by imploring school communities to make the most of a valuable asset so often overlooked:
But many school librarians are seen purely as minders of a spare IT suite or as date label stampers. They are enormously, depressingly, frustratingly underused.
So don’t forget to seek out your school librarian. You will be amazed at how much support they can give you and how much time they can save you. And they really do want to be taken notice of.
It strikes me as sad that nearly two years after first reading Dring’s article in The Guardian, the same issues are still being discussed in the literature.
Just recently, I read another great article, this time by Aussie writer, Kay Oddone, who in her take on The importance of school libraries in the Google Age notes the positive attributes of teacher librarians and implores readers to user her arguments as a “catalyst for discussion” to bring about change.
As I consider the arguments presented by these two writers and being cognizant of the two year gap between their publication, I’m left wondering whether anything much has changed in the intervening years. And if nothing much has changed in the intervening years, perhaps the question that needs to be asked is ‘Why?’
Why is the role of teacher librarians still not valued in our school communities?
It is one thing for teacher librarians to bemoan the fact that they are not valued by their school community or its administration. To ask why though is, quite frankly, confronting! After all, no one wants to admit failure. Yet, to bring about change, we need to be able to objectively assess what it is we are doing, look at it from all sides and angels and figure out a different path.
I can already hear the wail coming from a large body of teacher librarians reading this!
- It’s not easy!
- We’ve tried before!
- There’s not enough time!
- It’s impossible to change school culture!
What we need to be able to do is to brainstorm different ways to approach issues of concern. By looking at just some of the statements mentioned by Dring in her article, ideas tumble to mind.
- Highlight the ‘teacher’ in teacher librarian: Don’t assume that teaching staff and students know that you have dual qualifications in teaching and librarianship. Repeatedly and excessively refer to yourself and those on your team as teacher librarians highlighting what you can do to assist them. If the school community doesn’t know about our skill set, how can we expect them to utilize our skills?!
- Run assignment ‘help’ sessions: Be proactive: volunteer to run an ‘introductory’ session for a new topic or assignment which may include where to start an assignment, how to find resources or how to best organize information located. Don’t fall into the trap of volunteering to run such sessions for the one subject or the one teacher or the just the one year level as that leads to the possibility of ‘routine’ overshadowing the wide range of skills that can be offered by teacher librarians. By ‘sprinkling’ the volunteering offer among different subjects, teachers and year levels a ‘buzz’ can be created and a ‘need’ for the skills on offer can be generated. When demand can’t be met, other voices may well take their request to admin for you!
- Collaborate with teachers: By asking teachers to assist in the location and evaluation of new resources, a ‘team effort’ between teachers and teacher librarians will be initiated while increasing awareness of all the valuable resources available, so invite teachers to help locate new resources: new hard copy books, new eBooks and new online resources. Creating joint ‘ownership’ of resources is an important and valuable way to increase their use!
- Run library skills workshops: Run imaginative and fun workshops for students outside of class time on basics such as using the library website, where to find information, how to use databases, the dangers of plagiarism and note taking. Creating a presence for the library in the eyes of the student body will underline that teacher librarians are able to do lots more than just fix the photocopier!
- Promote library resources: Share and publicize lists of resources available through the school library. Make access to these resources easy to find and easy to use. Share these with both staff and students.
- Be heard in staff or faculty meetings: Teachers are busy and struggle to find time to do everything, so reach out to them. Request a short time allocation at full staff meetings or ask faculty heads for 10 minutes of a faculty meeting and share skills that can be offered as well as how/where resources can be located on the school intranet or library webpage. Don’t try to share ‘everything’ at once. Aim for a series of show and tell sessions or a few sessions a term/semester.
- Hold workshops for teachers: Help new and old staff overcome their hesitation to utilize library staff and resources by running orientation sessions sharing the location of resources in both the library and on the library website. Hold these at the start of the year or during the year over a recess or lunch break. Food and coffee/hot chocolate are valuable enticements!
- Create ‘foot soldiers’: Always have at the back of your mind the aim to create ‘foot soldiers’ to further the library cause. Once teachers know how much assistance teacher librarians can provide in the delivery and support of curriculum content, the more they will act as role models on how best students in their classes can use both library resources and the skills of teacher librarians. And if, as I suspect some of you are saying – ‘tried this and it didn’t change anything’ – try again by targeting different more influential teachers in the school. Remember to always target those teachers who are most likely to tell others on staff what a fantastic support you have been to them!!
- Promote reading culture in the library: Never forget that all library staff are the school’s resident experts on reading and literacy. Promote this regularly in every possible way with all teaching staff and all year levels: hold book events, create challenges, flyers, posters, websites, competitions and circulate reading lists online and in hard copy. Being innovative, staying fresh and keeping the library collection vibrant are as important as never giving up – even when programs laboured over don’t succeed the way it had been hoped!
- Create a visible presence for the library and its staff: And finally ….. create a visible and ongoing presence for the library and all library staff. Publicity is a key to success. Once a program has been initiated and put in place, be sure to ‘sell it’ by telling the whole school community what was initiated, who was involved and what was achieved. Publicity should come in every form imaginable: newsletters, library and school blog posts, social media, wall displays and student presentations. No amount of publicity is too much!
Sticking with a negative attitude is most certainly not going to change anything. Taking a step back to look at a situation with fresh eyes is demanding, exhausting and very time consuming. Could the effort be worth it? Is an improved role for teacher librarians and school libraries guaranteed by the effort expended? Quite simply – no it’s not. But if we don’t try to turn the situation around in our schools, yet another two years may go by in which teacher librarians continue to be underutilized and undervalued.
UPDATE: This post has subsequently been edited and re-published in Connections: Issue #99 2016 under the title: It’s time: Let’s improve schools’ perceptions of teacher librarians (13th October, 2016)
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