Reflection on the role of the Teacher Librarian

It is an exciting thing to be training for a field in which there is so much activity, change and motion. There is a sense that School Librarians are becoming much more integrated into the school landscape, as teaching staff with particular skills, rather than as adjuncts, but that this process is still developing. The emphasis on using the term Teacher Librarian is illustrative of this commitment. There is a conscious movement towards keeping constantly in mind the special nature of the role, as both teacher and librarian simultaneously.

Through all the contemplation of the concept of Information Literacy throughout this course, I have become even more aware of the TL’s potential to be a cultivator of critical thinking skills, and their transfer across the full curriculum. Because IL is largely applied critical thinking, with a caboose of communication skills, the TL becomes the obvious person to teach it. As the compulsory delivery of content is absent, the TL’s role is all about facilitating students’ ability to find, evaluate and distil information for themselves. Everything in pedagogical circles now seems to be about cognitive assimilation, application and transfer. Todd’s model of an inquiry learning based, shared-knowledge community (2001, p.17) is a stimulating proposal. The integration of the full range of curriculum areas into working within a consistent set of terms, all based around constructivist principles, is his vision. The teacher librarian is expressly designated as the person best placed to achieve this with a school. The library can be created as the hub of learning, and therefore the place from which a culture of transfer radiates.  It seems the most obvious and sensible thing to locate the TL here at this conceptual centre of the school, with communication from all departments flowing to and from it, and consensus on terminology and methods arrived at through it.

Is all this work on information literacy, constructivist learning, and knowledge transfer rendered moot by a school system that actually asks for none of these things? There appears to be a split in the field of education in Australia at present, whereby teachers reflecting on their practice and pedagogical experts carrying out research and constructing conclusions about teaching and learning are wholly committed to principles of constructivism, while government policy and the functional operation of schools are mostly divorced from them, in favour of top-down information transfer and teaching to the test. I can only imagine, at this stage, the cognitive dissonance for those working as teachers, and the frustration that must generate. The NSW standards on Quality Teaching suggest adherence to constructivist learning principles, while NAPLAN results and high-level politicians push for testable outcomes-based measures.

Evidence based practice, on the other hand, is a positive step in any field. There is nothing at all wrong with being systematic in evaluating the effectiveness of performance in a job. Improvements in any discipline happen at the point where assumptions about how things should be done are challenged by measurable results from clearly defined criteria. Fitzgerald (2011), Todd (2003) and recently Goldacre (Teachers: What would evidence-based practice look like?) are all contributing to a fascinating discussion about the possible methodologies for assessing the effectiveness of teaching, including teacher librarianship. Again, the very freshness of the ideas in this field, and possibility of new directions, are what make it exciting.

The Teacher Librarian functions at the nexus of these competing demands, but may be the point at which they become, to some degree, resolvable. Facilitating a student’s ability to find and process information, after all, is to facilitate content delivery. The TL will be fostering efficiency, if given the space to guide students in their own research tasks. One thing that has been surprising to me is to find that advocacy for the role is considered an unavoidable aspect of the Teacher Librarian’s job. If any work could be assumed to be indispensible one would think it would be the corralling of knowledge into an accessible, usable form, and ensuring its distribution to those who need it. However, such an assumption is being called into question routinely, and not always as a publicity stunt. We may yet be fed to the poor. However, we remain meet food to feed upon.

References:

Donbavand, T. Feed librarians to the poor. http://www.tommydonbavand.com/2013/02/15/feed-librarians-to-the-poor

FitzGerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of guided inquiry: guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan 30(1), 26-41. Retrieved from http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au

NSW Department of Education and Training website. Professional Learning and Leadership Development: Quality Teaching. https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/areas/qt/

Todd, R. (2003). Irrefutable Evidence: How to prove you boost student achievement. School Library Journal.

Todd, R. (2001). A Sustainable Future for Teacher-Librarians: Inquiry Learning, Actions and Evidence. Orana, 37(3), 10-20

Painting of an old man atop a library ladder, with text in French.

We don’t need to swim, we navigate.

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