What makes an effective teacher-librarian: My personal philosophy.
An effective teacher-librarian should understand that their role is among the most important of all staff members. The reason for this is that the teacher-librarian and the library in which they’re based should provide a font of knowledge used by the entire school community along every step of their educational journey. This means the teacher-librarian must be able to effectively connect and collaborate with people of many different ages, backgrounds, beliefs and viewpoints every day. They must do this not only via their personal interactions, but also via the environment they create in the school library, both as a physical and digital space.
Three major perspective altering moments from my time studying this course:
- 1. Weeding
It may sound strange, but upon commencement of this course I’d never considered that a library would remove resources in good condition from its collection. I learnt this reality fairly early on in one of my first units, ETL503 Resourcing the Curriculum. Up until this time, the term weeding was one I associated with gardening and nothing else. It was a concept I initially really struggled with. My thinking had always been that the more resources a library had the better. As I saw it, the number of resources held by a library was the primary indicator of how good that library was.
However, this kind of thinking was challenged and became a major perspective shifting moment for me. I came to see the rationale of Renate Bailharz (2007), who noted the frustration of having to sort through out of date resources while trying to find ones of true value. I had to admit, I’d felt that frustration myself while looking through library collections. I could see that these dated resources didn’t enhance the collection, they merely acted as speed bumps along the way to finding what it was I really wanted. If it was frustrating for me, how disheartening might it be for a student not as familiar with locating library resources?
I quickly came to see that library collections had to be up to date, and that the role of a librarian had a whole extra component. As well as acquiring resources, the librarian also had to weed existing ones out as well. If I could fail to have any understanding of the need to weed, what else might I have overlooked? The need for a good Collection Development Policy (CDP) provided that additional example, and an answer on how to determine exactly what to weed from a library’s collection.
Ensuring the presence and use of an effective CDP will be amongst the first things I ensure I have access to in a future teacher-librarian role. Larson (2012) tells us that weeding processes are becoming increasingly scrutinized by library users and funders. Clearly, a CDP provides a great explanatory tool in the face of such scrutiny.
Obviously the CDP has a lot to cover, and a look through the City of Yarra’s CDP demonstrates this. The link to this CDP is available here:
The City of Yarra CDP is thorough, yet the statement it contains at section 10 about weeding is simple and to the point. It makes perfect sense to me and it is hard to argue with such sound logic. The fact I’d not considered weeding in any capacity (beyond damaged resources) before studying this unit is hard for me to believe now. However, this key realisation really woke me up the fact that there may be other major aspects to the teacher-librarian role I’d failed to consider. It was certainly an early humbling moment along this study journey for me.
In a future role as a teacher-librarian I’ll be employing the use of a CDP. I may need to update an existing one or perhaps create a new one. Whatever the case, I’ll be ensuring that there is a clear and solid roadmap in place in the form of an effective CDP. I’ll be using that CDP to help ensure that any resource held meets the requirements of the community my particular library serves.
Of course, the only way to ensure that the collection remains relevant and inspiring is through regular interaction with its users. The library’s collection of resources is not a static thing, it’s a changing and evolving organism, just like its users. Therefore, library feedback and suggestion forms will be available, both in hard copy at the library, and also via the school library website. These forms will also allow students and other school library users to indicate what it is about the collection they like, and what needs improving.
Keeping track of what is being borrowed, and what is not, with the help of library borrowing software is also important. This will help provide important usage figures, and provide further information to support the feedback forms and personal interactions of the teacher-librarian.
Such a multi-pronged approach will ultimately be used to ensure that accurate knowledge is being developed and maintained in guiding the weeding program. This knowledge will be crucial to the overall success of both the weeding and resource acquiring strategy.
- 2. School Structures & Collaboration
The second key learning moment I’d like to highlight came during a podcast in the unit ETL504 Teacher Librarian as Leader. Jenny Bales (2016), my teacher in that unit, made mention of the need for a teacher-librarian to understand the school structure system, and their own place within it. She added that a teacher-librarian could only ever be a successful leader if they understood the reality of this hierarchy. Although it was merely a passing comment in the podcast, it certainly had a lasting impact on me. Probably because up until that point, I did not properly understand how to make that structure work for you, rather than against you. You cannot win when you fail to realise your place.
It got me thinking back to when I was a graduate teacher trying to get a recycling program introduced to the school I was working in at the time. I outlined this story in my March 22, 2016 blog post. However, just to recap, the principal agreed to meet me to discuss my ideas, and during that meeting I explained how the program could be implemented. I also explained the costs of doing so. The principal responded to my proposal with fairly measured enthusiasm. She said she’d give it some thought and thanked me for my work researching the matter. However, in the end my proposal was not adopted. My proposal simply fell by the wayside. As a graduate teacher I felt particularly helpless. I didn’t want to be seen as challenging the principal’s judgment in any way.
Jenny Bale’s comment about knowing your place and working within a school structure could not have been more fitting when I thought back to my proposed school recycling program. Had I been more strategic in the way I went about my proposal I would have had a far better chance of getting this program adopted. A program that offered much better environmental outcomes and some truly authentic learning opportunities and life skills for the students.
I’m not currently working as a teacher-librarian. However, I now realise that I’ll need to be much more strategic if I become one and hope to preside over a school library that is all it can be. If I want to get school library programs up and running that require the approval of the school principal, I now realise a unilateral approach isn’t generally the best way forward. It is much better to work in conjunction with other staff members. Particularly experienced teachers with a higher degree of influence within the school structure, such as assistant principals, leading teachers and so forth. As teacher-librarians we need to sell such staff members our ideas, get them on board, and create wider support. As Aguilar (2012) pointed out, you must bring on board the skills and experiences of others who value your ideas. Widely supported ideas are much more likely to be adopted than those that are not.
Further to this, I came across this short video below, titled Teacher Collaboration: Spreading Best Practices School-Wide. It explains the coming together and collaborating of two year level teachers at the same school. These two teachers had previously worked totally independently of each other. However, they achieved so much more for themselves and their students by working in partnership:
This video got me thinking that maybe implementing a program which is ultimately designed to be school-wide, like the recycling program, could at its early stages first be implemented across just one year level. So if there we’re two Year 4 classes, for example, those two teachers could come together much like the teachers in this video and get the program going together across just those two classes. A bit like a pilot program at just one year level, involving two teachers and their classes working together. Such an approach could be used to test and refine the program, build momentum and support for it, before hopefully rolling the program out more broadly across all year levels at a later time.
In making this happen, I would be looking to apply the principles of distributive leadership. This model is centred around sharing leadership roles amongst other people, and employing the individual talents of others as available to help bring about a desired outcome (Harris, 2008). This model of leadership, in particular, has opened my thinking to how a teacher-librarian can successfully bring new library programs into existence, and bring about organisational change as a whole. I’ll certainly keep the principles of this leadership model amongst my prime tools for use as an effective future teacher-librarian.
In terms of measuring the success of teacher collaboration, and ultimately it’s impacts on student learning, leading library-related professional development would be one approach I’d be looking towards. I’ll be looking to host professional development sessions, ideally in the library, for all school staff members. During such sessions my goal will be to educate staff on all matters relating to the library at that time. This may include how to effectively locate library resources, inform on possible ideas and upcoming library programs, inform on any library-related news or observations, etc.
I’ll also use these sessions to gain feedback on how others feel the library is performing, to get staff ideas and their support (or otherwise) for any proposals I might put to them. This is of course collaboration in itself, and will help to build a sense of staff-wide ownership of the library. This is important if I want staff to care and buy-in to the importance of the library. It’s also placing me in a leadership position, being the host of such sessions, while allowing me to identify and use the leadership skills of others based on what needs to be done at the time. The information I receive from staff will also allow me to gain a clearer picture on how the library-related experiences of their students is ultimately impacting upon student learning outcomes within their own classes. It’s important to tap into the knowledge and findings of the classroom teachers. This is important because while I, as the teacher-librarian, will know and work with all students, I will not get that same level of daily exposure to them that their classroom teacher will. Therefore, gaining these perspectives is critical to measuring the success of the library program.
- 3. Social Media
The final perspective altering moment I’d like to highlight relates to the changing role of libraries today. I was particularly struck by the opinion of library manager Christine Mackenzie (2007), whose views I read about in the unit INF506 Social Networking for Information Professionals. Mackenzie’s view is that the major role of libraries today it to facilitate participation amongst library users. She identified this as a clear shift on previous times, where the emphasis was more about the presentation of information.
Mackenzie has made a big statement. However, I think it sums up very well why libraries have such wide appeal these days. Libraries are community hubs. This is evidenced by the belief that 90% of people who use the NSW State Library do so for reasons other than reading or studying (Juers, 2014). Libraries aren’t just a place to borrow books, as might’ve previously been the case. Today we’re seeing libraries with large modern maker spaces, cafes attached, guest speakers appearing, where community clubs and societies come to meet, etc.
Mackenzie also made reference to the rise of Web 2.0 and more specifically, social media use, in support of her claim. Libraries are no longer just a physical space. They come into our homes via their interactive websites and their social media platforms. We, as users, can also communicate with them via this online environment. I made the statement in my January 12 2017 blog post that the best librarians will feel comfortable using Web 2.0’s most popular platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), and that they’ll understand that the key element of such platforms is participation. My readings of Mon (2015) as well as Luo, Wang and Han (2013) helped shape this view and it is one I continue to hold on to very firmly today.
Naturally, effectively using social media as a teacher-librarian also requires an effective social media strategy. With regards to social media strategy, I was personally taken by the S.M.A.R.T goals as explained by LePage (2014). The letters in this anagram stand for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. I believe that using such a simple and memorable anagram would help to ensure I kept on top of the strategy. S.M.A.R.T also offers what I consider to be a very clear and definable set of guidelines to follow. This is in terms of both setting out and maintaining an effective social media strategy. I’ll certainly be looking to specifically tailor those S.M.A.R.T goals to the library environment I find myself working in in the future.
I was also quite interested learning about the Arizona State University (ASU) library and their approach to social media. The ASU library has embraced social media to the extent of creating their own “library channel”. I’d never heard of such a thing before. This channel offers a central place on their website where icons linking to all their social media platforms can be found. Icons for Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and RSS are among these icons. You can check out the link to it below:
This is certainly in line with the thinking of O’Connell (2008) who encourages us to educate our students using the digital formats they most use themselves. I’d love to set up a social media library channel of some sort as a teacher-librarian. Of course it will not be as large as the one operated by a university. However, I feel the principles of the concept could be adopted and made to work in a school library setting. Just the use of easy to find social media icons on a school library-specific website, or page, would be greatly advantageous. Both in helping to connect with students, and in helping to portray the library in a contemporary way that is seen as relevant and interesting to students.
In ensuring my social media approach is relevant, I’ll need to employ techniques to measure the success of what I’m doing. Most likely I’ll be working as a teacher-librarian at a primary school. Primary schools are traditionally smaller than high schools. What’s more, younger primary school students will be less likely to be using social media than older ones. All this means that the number of students using social media will not be as high as what you might find in a high school. It also reduces the effectiveness of statistical usage tools, such as Google Analytics, to determine how successful a library social media strategy is amongst students. Instead, I’ll be looking to alternative approaches, such as online surveys. Students capable of using social media should also be able to complete an online survey attached to that social media site. I will keep the surveys short and basic, but the information I gain from them will help to provide some relevant feedback from the social media users, while they’re using it. The online surveys will also be open to parents, staff, and anyone else who uses the library’s social media platforms. This will further extend the breadth and depth of feedback I receive regarding the library’s social media use, how effective it is, and how it can be improved.
Developing into a professional teacher-librarian of the future
I continue to look ahead at what I will need to do to become, and to remain, a proficient teacher-librarian of the future. As I do this, what has really stood out to me is just how dynamic a field information literacy is, particularly, digital literacies. This field continues to evolve rapidly. I know that to be the best teacher-librarian I can my knowledge of digital literacies will need to be dynamic. In fact, the first ALIA/ALSA (2004) professional standard listed (standard 1.1) highlights the need to be well-informed on issues concerning information literacy theory and practice. This standard goes on to mention the need to deeply understand the place of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in learning. This means not just understanding and using digital literacy forms that I personally like, but also those used by my students.
Public libraries are certainly establishing themselves as key meeting places and community hubs. It’s important that school libraries fill the same role amongst their school communities. To achieve this, it’s important that both the school library, and the school of which it is a part, work together closely. This draws me to ALIA/ASLA’s standard 2.3, where the need for a library’s policies and procedures to meet the school’s mission is highlighted. The need to work closely with other school leaders has been a constant theme throughout my studies in this degree. Successful collaboration is clearly a key pillar in getting others to back the role and work of the library. Therefore, it also makes sense that this unity should extend to ensuring the policies and missions of the school and its library are also working together. Whether it’s developing a library social media policy, collection development policy, or any other library document, as a teacher-librarian I will need to make sure that (where appropriate) such library-specific documents support those of the school more broadly.
This leads to the final point I’d like to make. The library must never lose sight of the fact that it plays a critical role in the overall successes achieved by the school and its students. ALIA/ASLA points this out in standard 1.4, where it states that a professionally managed and resourced school library is crucial to what the school community achieves. This point is picked up in the School Libraries Matter video below, where they talk of the “librarian effect” and its direct impact on the success of a school:
It seems so obvious when presented in this video. What also stood out to me here is the moment where Superintendent of Schools, Arturo J. Cavazos, professes that the library is the school’s biggest classroom, and asks why the potential attached to this is not maximised. It’s a good question. Especially as in my experience, school libraries, and especially teacher-librarians, are undervalued. Particularly by other school staff members who don’t understand how much work goes into the role of librarian. As a teacher-librarian I can point to standards such as 1.4 for my own benefit, and that of others, as evidence that what I’m doing is in fact a crucial role.
Australian Library and Information Association / Australian School Library Association (ALIA/ASLA). (2004). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from https://www.alia.org.au/about-alia/policies-standards-and-guidelines/standards-professional-excellence-teacher-librarians
Aguilar, E. (2012, November 28). Effective teams: The key to transforming schools? Edutopia: What works in education. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-teams-transform-schools-elena-aguilar
Bales, J. (2016). Online meeting assessment 1 recording (ETL504 Online resources). Retrieved March 20, 2016, from Charles Sturt University website https://connect.csu.edu.au/p1uztvc9acw/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal
Beilharz, R. (2007). Secret library business – Part 2, Connections, 63, 10-12.
Harris, A. (2008). Distributed leadership: According to the evidence. Journal of Educational Administration, 46(2), 172-188. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1108/09578230810863253
Juers, E. (2014, February 10). What is a library without books? Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-10/juers-save-the-mitchell-library/5249574
Larson, J. (2012). CREWing children’s materials’ in CREW: a weeding manual for modern libraries. Retrieved from https://www.tsl.texas.gov/sites/default/files/public/tslac/ld/ld/pubs/crew/crewmethod12.pdf
LePage, E. (2014, October 29). How to create a social media marketing plan in 6 steps. (Blog post). Retrieved from http://blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-create-a-social-media-marketing-plan/
Luo L, Wang Y, Han L (2013) Marketing via social media: A case study. Library Hi Tech31(3), 455–466. Retrieved from http://link_resolver.unilinc.edu.au.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/unilinc/resolver_icon/csu.gif
Mon, L. (2015). Social Media and Library Services. Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au
O’Connell, J. (2008). School library 2.0: new skills, new knowledge, new futures. In P. Godwin & J. Parker (Eds.), Information literacy meets Library 2.0 (pp. 51-62). London: Facet Publishing.