No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
Yet, within the school setting, the library is often seen as an island, apart from the main rather than a part of it.
The physical isolation imposed by the nature of the space, and the professional isolation of usually being the only TL within the school and not part of a particular team or faculty can mean that, at the very least, a moat separates the facility from the school mainstream. In the past, some TLs have been guilty of not only building the moat but also pulling up the drawbridge and it is this perception of exclusiveness and remoteness that is often only a childhod memory, that drives the modern-day perception and stereotype – a bit like that of a library being a quiet space where people are continually told to shoosh.
Thus the work we do is often invisible to other staff and students and therefore the value we add to the teaching and learning of our community is often overlooked. Just today, there is yet another discussion about the role of the teacher librarian within the school on a state listserv as a TL finds her professional knowledge and responsibilities eroded by those who don’t understand them, and sadly, responses show that there is little, if anything, official to back up what it is we must and can do. Even though, individually and collectively, teacher librarians have been promoting their role -even instigating a formal Federal Government inquiry in Australia- it appears that advocacy is a hat we will continue to wear. We wear it for ourselves, for others and for those who are yet to come.
The moat must go and it is the TL who is in the best position to remove it.
Building bridges builds influence
It is widely accepted that the library, with a qualified teacher librarian at the helm, should be the hub of teaching and learning within the school and its associated community. Building influence enables a broad base of people to understand our role and accept that it is valid, valued and valuable thus enabling us to be a leader of the teaching and learning – our core business as TEACHER librarians.
If we were to reflect and represent our current sphere of influence, would it look like this…
If a bridge is defined as a structure, real or metaphorical, which spans a gap or a barrier, then there is the implication that a bridge connects two points. One end of the connection is the library, but where could its other end be? We need to answer these questions…
Let’s look through the people lens …
We need to ask…
Who do we already have strong connections with?
Which connections could be strengthened or renewed?
Who could we reach out to, to make new connections?
How could one set of connections be used to build a new set?
Even if the TL is in the fortunate position of being in a positive, well-supported environment, there are always new connections that can be made that will help to spread the influence of the library further and cement its place as an integral, vital part of the community.
While connections are all about people, there are unique aspects about our job that we can employ to allow us to make existing connections stronger and also reach out to a wider audience to make new ones.
None of these lists is exhaustive – there are many additions that could be made. But they might offer a starting point for putting on the visionary’s hat and then identifying a specific focus for your future planning.
Begin with the end in mind by defining the need by identifying a particular area for development that relates to your situation. Put on the hat of your clients and consider how bridges could be built between their needs and the library’s services, remembering that we are one and they are many. Rather than telling people what is on offer from the library’s perspective, view the issue from the angle of “What does this group expect/require of the library in order for it to be relevant and useful to them?”
Market research using something such as the Information Needs Audit modified to meet the shape of its audience is always a valuable foundation because it provides the evidence that your practices are targeted, required and likely to be valued.
Then use an inquiry approach beginning with posing questions such as
How might we use the Australian Curriculum to lead teaching and learning in the school?
How might we use social media to reach our clientele and to offer anywhere, anytime access?
How might we collaborate with other child-centred community organisations to extend what we offer teachers, students and parents?
How might we develop a collection which meets the needs, interests and abilities of its users?
How might we develop tools that will help the user use the library, its collection and services more independently?
How might we promote the physical space of the library as a teaching and learning centre?
How might we use the expertise and experience of other members of the staff and student body to build better connections?
Using a question format and wording it so that it offers the possibility of collaborative solutions that invite a range of creative possibilities that may or may not be adopted demonstrates a willingness to work with others to explore a variety of options to negotiate and implement solutions that can be woven together to form a strong, sustained and sustainable connection. Having the ‘big-picture’ question then allows for its detailed analysis as solutions are sought, explored, and prioritised.
For example, in a recent workshop one group focusing on raising the profile and identity of the TL and knowing that the teachers in their schools were struggling with the implementation of a new required curriculum that spanned eacj key learning area, proposed, “How might we use the Australian Curriculum to lead teaching and learning in the school?” Rather than the more nebulous question of “How might we raise the profile of the teacher librarian in the school?” it was turned into a more practical and productive question that, through its solutions, would directly address clients’ needs while also working towards achieving that ultimate goal of raising the TL’s profile.
A brief brainstorming session identified that this could be addressed by
- knowing the curriculum across all strands and year levels, acknowledging that often the TL is one of just a handful in the school with this sort of overview
- delivering or facilitating professional learning to support new initiatives embedded in the curriculum such as an inquiry-based approach or the introduction of a new perspective such as a greater emphaisis on indigenous issues
- being pro-active in collaborative planning and teaching by seeking and suggesting opportunities where our specialist knowledge can enrich and enhance teaching and learning
- having an online presence which allowed anytime, anywhere access to the collection for staff and students
- building a relevant contemporary collection
Some of these were well-established concepts, others were more novel. A longer timeframe may well have elicited a greater range of ideas. Within the group, pairs then further brainstormed just one of those aspects identifying what they currently had and what they eventually wanted, and then started to build the a bridge between the two by identifying what needed to be done to achieve the goal. Having narrowed the big statement Building bridges builds influence into a specific, manageable, achievable, relevant and timely goal, these ideas then provided the practical foundation for the library’s immediate strategic planning. Apart from the direct connections that would be made during its achievement, it was clear that there would be a number of others, each of which would contribute to the influence of the library and a greater understanding of its contribution to teaching and learning.
An image search of the Internet for “bridges” brings up an amazing array of these structures built in the greatest geographical extremes and using what appear to be the flimsiest of materials, created by people who had a need to span the gap regardless of the obstacles it posed. TLs must adopt a similar can-do attitude by being open to new ideas, looking for opportunities, stretching beyond the traditional anchor points (such as English and Social Studies) and be willing to tackle the deepest of chasms or the broadest of floodplains. As we advocate for our positions which seem to be becoming more and more tenuous as new staffing models are developed, the roads to and from the library need to be broad, strong and well-populated, rather than beings seen as just a single lane only wide enough for us to push our own career barrows. Rather than a rickety, one lane bridge built to take the minimal traffic of a previous generation, there must be a network of connections leading in many directions providing the super-highway to and for 21st century education.