Where is the teacher librarian?

20 Mar

It is the tram #8 I boarded after I missed the tram #1. I walked around to the corner of St Kilda road, crossed at the lights just past the entry to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and waited at the tram stop in the middle of the road to catch a tram that would take me to my destination. I knew the tram #8  would take me to the same setdown so when it arrived I boarded. It was serendipity that on this tram, at the back in the last seat on the right, was a clown, I was drawn to her and, as most seats had someone next to them, it was fortunate that the seat opposite the clown’s aisle was empty. I made my way to this seat. There I sat opposite a clown holding a ukulele. She, strumming some chords, is softly singing a beautiful little acoustic piece quietly at the back of the tram. She stops and delves into her bag pulling out an iPod device. Switching it on to record she resumes her song, all the while at the front of the tram there is a little child wailing and this does not deter her. She finishes, I look at her and smile and ask if she always composes via improvisations ‘Yes’ she says and ‘this piece is a piece I have been working on for a while and I think I’ve got it right now so I had to record it to make sure I don’t forget it.’ She mentions that she always works this way making constant revisions of songs and using her iPod to record the developments. I inquire further about whether she notates any of her music and she elaborates that she doesn’t write it down at all. She will mention the chord progression at the opening of each recording to ensure she doesn’t forget and then will record the song in all its constant revisions. She is dressed as a clown.

I look out the back window to the rhythm of the tram and watch. As this is how I am facing, it is looking forwards for me, I notice another lady is running with all her might directly behind the tram as the tram slows to a halt. She makes it in time to board the tram.

The beautiful acoustic tune, the constant rhythmic sound of the tram and the clown have left me quite pensive. The thoughts of the week relating to my learning suddenly start to take shape in this space and I, as if from a different planet, pull out a notebook and pen and start to write.

This moment has brought to the surface much of what had been mulling around in my mind during the past week. Thinking about how we learn and moments of inspiration. This moment certainly encapsulated that. Opposite me I had someone creatively capturing ideas utilising technology while I pulled out a notebook and pen and started to capture my ideas this way. The nature of creating something from ideas, thoughts or other such inspirations and then utilising tools to reach an end product is education at its best. It is this constructivist approach to learning that much of my readings over the past couple of weeks have pointed to.

Herring (2007)[i] frames his ideas in the opening of his chapter with a focus on the shift to constructivist learning being one of the many instigators that necessitates a shift in our approaches to teaching. Kalantzis (2002)[ii] frames globalisation, convergence, increased diversity and subcultures necessitating a shift in how we define literacy and hence the need to rethink how we approach teaching as a result. Multiliteracies and the practical examples, provided by Kalantzis, focus on constructivist approaches.

Naude (1999)[iii] and Melisssas and Burgess (2004)[iv] both converge on the idea of providing scaffolds to develop information literacy and independent critical thinking as lifelong skills. These scaffolds as is evidenced in the creation of a CDROM of resources; outlined by Melissas and Burgess(2004), is a practical application that supports both students and teachers. The resource developed by two teacher librarians emphasises the importance of the teacher librarian and their role in collaborative and leadership practices in enhancing the overarching goals of schools in the development of information literacy as a life skill.

The importance of the teacher librarian as guide and facilitator in information literacy development  is further emphasised by O’Connell (1999)[v]. As students try to navigate what O’Connell terms the “Fuzzy future of hypertext and hypermedia”. O’Connell draws particular attention to confidence of use and navigation and if this is lacking in the teacher then this will be reflected in the students. Hence, the challenge for leadership in this area and the opportunity for the teacher librarian to collaborate as instructional partner in this relevant area of information literacy navigation and critical thinking. “fuzzy teaching” O’Connell purports leads to “Fuzzy learning” and hence a “Fuzzy future” for education. It is the expertise, in information literacy, of the teacher librarian that provides the link to transforming education and through collaboration the teacher librarian guides and provides the scaffolds for the process of teaching and learning.

Beyond this, my thoughts had been placed firmly on the role of the Principal and the support of the Principal for the role of the teacher librarian in the wider school community. Oberg (2006)[vi] clearly talks about the importance of the Principal in supporting and enhancing the role of the teacher librarian as leader and instructional partner pointing out “the principal is the key factor in the development of a collaborative school culture that is needed for a strong school library program”. This idea is echoed in Morris (2007)[vii] who then extends this to provide a list of what enhancements to the school program will be provided by such support.

The reality of the support and understanding of the importance of the teacher librarian is what has been stuck in my imagination all week. These thoughts and ideas lead me to a practical example. I do not want to mention the school in this blog, but I am currently volunteering in the library of a local primary school one day a week.  Mary (not her real name) is known as ‘the librarian’ at the school and works three days a week. She is not a teacher and her role does not include any teaching in the library. In fact it is the teachers who take the students to the library for one hour per week and lead the library session. The majority of the work carried out by Mary pertains to the collection management of the library resources and include selection, cataloguing, designing the library space and keeping it in order. Mary has no qualifications as a librarian and has learned everything ‘on the job’. She is quite a remarkable person and has worked at the education library of the University of Melbourne, set up a primary school library at Fitzroy, worked in public libraries in the inner city of Melbourne and is currently working at two primary school libraries within the same area. Mary has been working in libraries since the 1960’s.

Her knowledge is amazing and she willingly shares information and ideas with me; never tiring of my endless questions. She has informed me that she is planning to retire soon and when I talk to her about the course I am studying she lights up and launches into a speech about the importance of teacher librarians and how all schools need to have them to have an effective library program. She provides wonderful anecdotes about different teacher librarians she has worked with and much of what she describes clearly fit with much of what I am currently learning with regards to the role of the teacher librarian. Then why, I wonder quietly to myself, does this school not have a teacher librarian?

I have had a long association with this school and a brief context is warranted. The school is a state school and is situated in the inner city suburbs bordering the city. The demographics of this particular school are more than 80% in the higher socio-economic brackets. The overwhelming majority of parents are tertiary educated and, dare I say, quite successful in their respective fields. The culture of the school supports teachers in ongoing learning and there are numerous teachers currently undertaking either Masters or PhD programs to enhance their practice. The Principal has taught educators at tertiary level also. The students consistently outperform ‘similar’ schools in external testing and much of the teaching and learning at the school clearly fits in with constructivist approaches. Yet, the conundrum of no teacher librarian persists in my thoughts.

Mary does believe that a teacher librarian is necessary in a school program for the overall goals of the school to be successful and develop. She points to only a couple of teachers as providing a focus on developing information literacy when they come to the library with the overwhelming majority barely covering such concepts. This clearly reminds me of O’Connell’s “fuzzy teaching” leads to “Fuzzy Learning”.

I further learn that Mary shares the responsibility of weeding with Liz (not her real name), the leading literacy teacher at the school. Once a year they focus on one section and Liz, who happens to be a trained teacher librarian, carries out the bulk of the decision-making in this area.

In terms of technology, Mary does talk about the shift in the past ten years and says she is feeling the pressure but is not going to take on the new ideas as she is reaching the end of her career. The school does have a significant technology focus and has been developing the integration of technology throughout the curriculum for the last ten years. Many successful inroads have been made with examples including being part of the pilot program for smartboards, refurbishing the library and dedicating a significant part of the library space to what is called the “Mac Lab”. Classes have a “Mac Lab” lesson one hour a week and during this time students are engaged in creating and the ‘Mac Lab’ session is an extension of the classroom curriculum. In these sessions the students utilise filmmaking, podcasts, music composition and other creative tools. The instigator and responsibility for technology has been taken by the Music teacher at the school. Mary points out that she would not feel confident with such technology and certainly would not want to lead instruction in this area. It is the classroom teachers and the ICT leaders that have taken responsibility in this area.

From all that Mary has shared, I can certainly see the many examples of collaborative practices in place. However, I feel certain having a teacher librarian in the role could enhance these practices and contribute to less “fuzzy teaching” and “fuzzy learning” and clarify the future from one that is currently “fuzzy” to one that is crystal and empowered.

On that note I leave you with the following audio-visual sources and I hope they contribute to a less “Fuzzy” understanding of the ideas in this post.

All the while the rhythm of the tram continues in my mind as I hum the little tune the clown was playing… If only I asked her for an MP3 file that I could have added as the soundscape to this post… Oh well a missed opportunity in collaboration…

[i] 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.

[ii] Kalantzis, M., Cope, B. and Fehring, H. (2002). Multiliteracies: teaching and learning in the new communications environment. (PEN 133). Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teachers Association.

[iii] Naude, S. (1999). Maximising the benefits of information technology: one library’s attempt to ensure its students are on-task and information literate. In J. Henri & K. Bonanno (Eds.), The Information literate school community: best practice (pp. 285-290). Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

[iv] Melissas, S., & Burgess, L. (2004) “Turning theory into practice in the classroom”, Synergy, vol. 2, no. 2, (pp. 39-43)

[v] O’Connell, J. 1999, Leadership’s challenge: the fuzzy future, In Henri J. The Information literate school community: best practice, (pp 173-182), Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

[vi] Oberg, D., ‘Developing the respect and support of school administrators” Teacher Librarian, Feb. 2006; 33,3; CBCA Complete.

[vii] Morris, B.J., “Pricipal Support for Collaboration”, School Libraries Worldwide, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan. 2007, (pp 23-24)


Posted by on March 20, 2011 in 126 ~ The self


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3 responses to “Where is the teacher librarian?

  1. Mind Showers

    March 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I am a Teacher Librarian who is still in training. I am currently trying to plant seeds in my Principal’s mind that I need the tools to bring our small school library into the 21st century. It is the students who will benefit, as we can get out of the Fuzzies. Thank you for such great insight.
    PS. As a NSW teacher I visited your lovely city for a weekend recently and enjoyed a visit to your state library. I love the trams too.

  2. janet hauser

    April 5, 2011 at 5:46 am

    I am duly impressed, by the range and scope of your reading and thoughts, but maybe mostly of all that you pulled out a paper and a pen to record your moment of inspiration! (depsite your obvious skill with the computer and blogging!) How do you find the time to reference and imbed all these videos and readings that you are doing? Are you superwoman in disguise?

    • Puss in Books

      April 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

      No Janet, I’m just Puss in Books. Can I add that I love your sense of humour and look forward to your posts!


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