As a teacher turned librarian, this subject was a mere formality, an update to prepare myself for return to the workforce. I predicted ETL401 as a simple focus on technologies and perhaps an analysis of information seeking behaviours of students – easy marks! Needless to say, the first iceberg graphic required for analysis (Combes, 2013a) quickly jolted my shallow predictions and so began the unravelling of my current perceptions and a reinvention of my professional identity.
Online learning journal (OLJ) entries show that I was ill informed and driven by stereotypes when considering the role of teacher librarian (TL) (OLJ, May 5, 2013). Previous experience had lead me to understand TLs as introverted, isolated (Fourie, 2004) and without a teaching component. Despite collaboration being considered excellent TL practice (Herring, 2007; Eisenberg, 2008; Kuhlthau & Maniotes, 2010; Lamb & Johnson, 2012), I was not familiar with the concept. Anxiety grew – the thought of collaborating with some of my previous colleagues seemed impossible. More than comfortable with their professional arrangement (OLJ, April 25, 2013), the thought that a TL could support classroom teachers in the design of innovative curriculum that embedded information literacy (Combes, 2012) seemed preposterous.
I will be honest, I cried. For me, doom was on the horizon – I was holding tight to tweed skirts, and working in isolation – and I liked covering books! (Luthman, 2007). However, as my reading widened, it became obvious that I was drawing from a narrow range of past experiences and making inaccurate judgements about the modern role of the TL (Hartzell, 2002).
The role of TL – a slippery concept.
I found it difficult to pin point the role of a TL. I grappled with the concept of professional identity (Doskatch, 2003) which had been clear when I was purely a classroom teacher. Not currently employed within a school library, I spoke with various school librarians to gain authentic insight (OLJ, March 11, 2013) and discovered that each had a unique role depending on context although I was able to glean some common aspects. It was obvious that the role of TL is complex and at base level involves teaching generic skills across the curriculum as well as information literacy and literacy skills development (Coatney, 2008).
The unpredictable nature of the TL role does not seem so daunting if a written policy is established to guide practice and provide a clear framework. As well as articulating job role and the place of the library within the school (Combes, 2008), policies help provide consistent services (Sanders, 2004) and provide a focus for developing goals that align with the school’s mission (Combes, 2008).
Identifying and confronting fears
The concept of collaboration was a foreign concept to me. My past employers were very traditional in approach and my colleagues viewed inquiry based learning as a chance for discipline issues to arise (OLJ, April 25, 2013). With regard to teaching practice, there had been no change of method for many years and any suggestion of doing so was resisted. Sanders (2004, p.16), encourages professionals to recognise why such resistance might occur. Regarding my previous situations, teachers may have felt their status, expertise (Sanders, 2004) or autonomy was threatened (Hartzell, 2003) and thus were not welcoming of any assistance or support from the TL.
Accessing Hartzell (2003) was a pivotal point concerning my professional development. This author presented strategies that empower the TL when dealing with resistant characters. For example, techniques for communicating effectively would hopefully reduce resistance to change. In such environments, it will take time and commitment to reshape perceptions however with Hartzell’s plan of attack, I feel well equipped to cope with organisational politics (which I had previously avoided) and able to contribute to the school by working smarter, not harder.
The principal – key to success
Staff can hardly be expected to embrace change if the principal himself does not value or see the contribution of the TL. Time again, the literature stresses the support of the principal as imperative to the success of any library program (Oberg, 1995; Hartzell, 2003; Haycock 2007; McGuinness, 2011) and without the support of this powerful sponsor the value of a qualified TL will be overlooked during budget and staff allocation (Hartzell, 2003). Sadly, TLs suffer from ‘occupational invisibility’ (Hartzell, 2003, p.7) therefore it is imperative that people perceive the TL as making a significant contribution to the accomplishment of the School’s goals and student learning outcomes (Combes, 2012).
I had stated that I did not believe that TLs were an endangered species (OLJ, March 12, 2013) although on reflection, I would now flip my answer. Drawing on previous experience, some TLs do not market themselves effectively and resulting in principals hiring librarians or aides rather than qualified TLs as a cost cutting decision (Combes, 2013b). Although a TL may contribute significantly to the core business of a school, they will not be treated as an equal partner in curriculum design and teaching of students (Combes, 2013b) unless key players are aware of their effort, value and contribution.
This subject has been a difficult journey. Deconstructing stereotypes and confronting my behaviour of avoiding certain characters in the workplace was challenging. Even so, I have drawn on the literature to inform my role and practice as TL and establish a palette of techniques that I may keep for future reference.
Coatney, S. (2008). Library media specialist – Not a good job for the faint of heart. Teacher Librarian, 35(3), 57.
Combes, B. (2008). Challenges for teacher librarianship in the 21st century: Part 2 – Time and workload. Schools Catalogue information service: Connections, 67. Retrieved from http://www2.curriculum.edu.au/scis/connections/issue_67/challenges_for_teacher_librari““`anship_pt_2.html
Combes, B. (2012). Practical curriculum opportunities and the library catalogue. In Schools Catalogue Information Service: Connections, 82. Retrieved from http://www2.curriculum.edu.au/scis/connections/issue_82_2012/articles/practical_curriculum_opportunities.html
Combes, B. (2013a). The internet and the WWW. [iceberg web graphic]. Retrieved from http://interact.csu.edu.au/portal/site/ETL401_201330_W_D/page/06ace263-10c7-4bcf-00da-c0e3cdbc4c48
Combes, B. (2013b, April 4). Pulling it all together [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from http://forums.csu.edu.au/perl/forums.pl?task=frameset&forum_id=ETL401_201330_W_D_Sub14_forum&message_id=6317903
Doskatch, I. (2003). Perceptions and perplexities of the faculty librarian partnership: an Australian perspective. Reference Services Review, 31(2), 111-121.
Eisenberg, M.B. (2008). Information literacy: Skills for the information age. DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology, 28(2), 39-47.
Fourie, I. (2004). Librarians and the claiming of new roles: how can we try to make a difference? Aslib Proceedings, 56(1), 62-74.
Hartzell, G. (2002). The principal’s perceptions and teacher-librarians. School Libraries Worldwide. 8(1), 92-110.
Hartzell, G.N. (2003). Building influence for the school librarian: Tenet, targets and tactics. (2nd ed.). Worthington, Ohio: Linworth Publishing.
Haycock, K. (2007). Collaboration: Critical success factors for student learning. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 25-35.
Herring, J. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In S. Ferguson (Ed.). Libraries in the twenty-first century: Charting new directions in information. (pp. 27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.
Kuhlthau, C.K. & Maniotes, L.K. (2010). Building guided inquiry teams for 21st-century learners. School Library Monthly, XXVI(5), 18-21.
Lamb, A. & Johnson, L. (2012). Overview: The school library media specialist. In Eduscapes. Retrieved from http://www.eduscapes.com/sms/overview/specialist.html
Lancaster, R. (2013, April 25). Implementing guided inquiry. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.thatlibrarianiswearingthecoolestglasses.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/implementing-guided-inquiry/
Lancaster, R. (2013, April 25). Collaboration: The accepted norm? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://thatlibrarianiswearingthecoolestglasses.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/collaboration-the-accepted-norm/
Lancaster, R. (2013, March 11). The role of teacher librarian: Professional statements. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://thatlibrarianiswearingthecoolestglasses.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/the-role-of-teacher-librarian-professional-statements/
Lancaster, R. (2013, March 12). Topic 2: The school librarian, an endangered species?. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://thatlibrarianiswearingthecoolestglasses.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/199/
Luthman, A. (2007). Librarians, professionalism and image: Stereotype and reality. Library Review, 56(9), 773-780.
McGuinness, C. (2011). Becoming confident teachers: A guide for academic librarians. Oxford: Chandas Publishing.
Oberg, D. (2007). Taking the library out of the library into the school. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(2), i-ii.
Sanders, R. (2004). Australian library supervision and management (2nd ed.). Wagga Wagga: Charles Sturt University Centre for Information Studies.