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the reader support hat

 

 

Ask any teacher librarian what their core business is and somewhere in a relatively short list will be a phrase relating to enabling and supporting students to be effective, efficient, independent readers.  Whether that be preschool, primary, secondary or tertiary and referring to reading for pleasure or reading for research, the development of reading is at the heart of what we believe and at the heart of what is expected by our communities.

If there were a magic bullet to enable everyone to achieve the goal, then it would have been discovered by now and the continual arguments about phonics versus whole language would be silent; politicians would be basking in the glory of having a 100% literate community and publishers would be providing resources that meet the criteria. The teacher librarian’s role would be easy – just provide the resources to meet the students’ interests.  Needs or abilities would not be a concern.

But the simple truth is that, like everything, there is no one way.  We are individuals and the way our brains are wired and the way we learn to read are as individual as our DNA and our fingerprints.  So why then, does learning to read and then developing and honing the skill have to be such a competition?  While the “finishing line” is reasonably clear, why do we demand that all cross the line at the same time?  Instead of paving the way for a smooth and safe journey, why do we pepper it with obstacles to climb over or manoeuvre around?

As the new school years looms in Australia and New Zealand – back-to-school advertising starts the day after Christmas – and mid-year assessments and reports are gearing up in northern hemisphere schools, there seems to be a rise in the need to be able to show that students have improved (or will improve) as the result of programs and practices and that the only way to demonstrate this is through quantitative data and comparison with other students. 

Thus schools, teachers and ultimately TLs are looking for ways to measure this improvement whether it be through schemes that require students to have gained a certain number of points by responding to their reading; demonstrating that they have read a certain number of books or for a certain number of minutes; or moved through certain, arbitrary levels of achievement as though reading is a road with clearly defined bus stops on the way; or some other method that brings in an element of competition with other students.  (And don’t be fooled – kindergarten kids know about good, better, best.)

The educational buzzword of the moment is “accountability” and my recent experience back in a primary school showed that teachers are spending more time teaching to a test so they can collect data than they do celebrating the joy of learning – the cry of “there’s no fun anymore” was common amongst experienced teachers like myself; less-experienced teachers were bemoaning that the job they did and they job they believed they should be doing were poles apart; and students were learning that school was all about jumping through hoops and being tested to prove you could jump as high as the next person.  That it was all a huge competition that you had to win to succeed and if you didn’t you may as well tattoo ‘failure’ on your forehead.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that we need to monitor students’ progress but in a way that enables us to support their individual development by providing support or extension where it is appropriate.  In regards to reading, back in the 70s when I began my initial teacher education in New Zealand, Dr Marie Clay was examining the reading behaviours of the very young and amongst a lot of other ground-breaking stuff, introduced the concept of running records which meant the teacher noted the child’s strategies as they read aloud and was able to make decisions about what support the child needed to become more independent. a running record enable the teacher to see what strategies the child had already internalised so these were not taught over and over unnecessarily, with the instructional focus falling on those strategies that needed refining.  It was about improving teaching not measuring learning.

In her book, Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller found that by Year 6 the majority of students viewed reading as a means to an academic end, not a source of pleasure in and of itself.  Given that the five-year-old goes to school with the firm belief that they will be reading by the end of the first day what is it that we, as their educators do, that changes them in six or seven short years? What have we done to kill the joy of the printed word and the things it can teach us and the places it can take us?

So what role does the teacher librarian have in ensuring that that core business of assisting students to be independent readers, able to access, understand, interpret and manipulate text? Recent conversations on and in professional forums suggest that there are two camps when it comes to wearing the reader support hat,

The first camp comprises those who believe that their role is to be guided by teaching staff who see the library’s role as purely an adjunct to their teaching programs and support mandates that students should only borrow books that are at their reading level; that they should be able to read everything they borrow; that books must be of a certain type, format or length; that they should support a particular topic or focus within the classroom. They believe that students should choose from a pre-selected range, particularly restricting younger ones to picture books or those with plenty of photos, regardless of whether the child might share their choice with a parent or sibling and often agree to label or shelve the books, supposedly to make choice easier but in effect proclaiming the child’s ability or lack of it to peers. This is despite the mounting evidence that reading levels are inaccurate, vary according to the measure used for the exact piece of text, and the means for establishing a child’s reading level are also problematic.

Three Myths about Reading Levels ..and why you shouldn’t fall for them

Reading is an interactive process, so the difficulty or ease with which a particular reader can read a particular text depends in part on his or her prior knowledge related to the text and motivation for reading it.  

In other words, a student’s reading choices are not independent, free, interest-driven and satisfying the need of the moment.

The second camp comprises those who believe in free voluntary choice so that students can be in control of their own reading journey and be empowered by and positive about having that control. They can shape their own reading journey; learn what they like and dislike; learn how to discard what doesn’t appeal for whatever reason; acknowledge that they will find some books easy and others more difficult (as happens in real life depending on our experience with the topic); explore a whole variety of worlds, characters, situations and opinions so their horizons are broadened in ways that only reading can do; challenge themselves to take new paths and detours; be challenged and perhaps changed by what they encounter and thus become better informed; become independent, critical, discriminating readers reflecting the real-world experience rather than some artificial domain. They can choose to extend themselves to read more challenging materials about unfamiliar topics or they can seek comfort in something that offers them support in a time of need. They can walk out with the thickest book in the library because that bolsters their self-esteem and image amongst their peers and regardless of whether it can or will be read, keeps a positive message about the joy and wonder of reading flowing.

Perhaps it is time to re-visit our core beliefs about what teaching and learning are and how those beliefs feed our programs and practices and how our programs and practices reflect those beliefs, while also examining our vision statement and what we believe a best-practice, top-shelf library looks like.  As well as being the reader leader  we must also be the reader support.

Are we in a school where there has very much a one-size-fits-all  philosophy where students read class novels as a whole and move forward in a lock-step fashion?

Are we in a school where students are expected to read only within their “level” and where our collections are shelved according to those levels?

Are we in a school where reading is measured in the number of books read, minutes spent reading or points gained and rewards are offered on the basis of that?

Are we in a school where reading is seen as an academic competition where only the best will ever succeed because success is only measured by an academic score?

Are we in a school where the TL’s role is seen as the reading instructor rather than the reading facilitator, the “sage on the stage” instead of the “guide on the side”, to quote Jamie McKenzie

If we are, what are we as TLs who supposedly have the big picture in the frame, doing to change the environment so that the running track becomes more level and every child has the chance to cross the finish line at their own pace?

Have we reflected on our professional beliefs and practices and articulated what we believe the school library’s role in supporting literacy to be?

Are we in a school that values individual difference and the importance of literacy?

Have we read Donalyn Miller’s books, or Readicide by Kelly Gallagher or the writing of Stephen Krashen so that our personal professional learning and understanding is up to date?

Are we aware of the research about the value of independent reading and the school’s role in this such as the Kids & Family Reading Report AND are we sharing this with our colleagues, executive and parents?

Are we encouraging students to set their own personal goals relating to reading so their journey becomes their own, one which they are in charge of and for which they can make their own decisions? Are we rewarding them in a way they feel is appropriate when they achieve their goal?

Are we supporting them through open-ended challenges such as Dr Booklove’s Reading Challenges, Joy Millam’s Challenge or that from Naomi Bates?

If students are required to respond formally to some of the titles they have read, are we offering a variety of ways that they can do this?

Do our circulation policies and practices support children’s choosing and choices as well as frequent, regular access to a wide range of resources?

Are we sensitive to and supportive of the needs of our clients, including those in different family structures, those for whom English is not their first language, those who are exploring their gender orientation, those who have learning difficulties generally and so on?

Are we sharing information about learning to read with the parent community as well as suggestions for the sorts of books they could investigate for their children?

If, through that reflection we find there is a mis-match between our personal beliefs and our professional environment then we need to ask ourselves hard questions about our choices of staying, challenging and changing or finding ourselves a position more in tune with those beliefs.

But in the meantime, with the current climate of testing and assessment and accountability and so on, which is only likely to increase sadly because of the associated high-stakes outcomes like funding, I don’t know how we can get the powers-that-be to rethink what they are doing and what they require of us, if we are required to do a formal assessment on what we cover in the library on the literature side of things, perhaps this may be a strategy that can be adopted and adapted as necessary.  

I believe that if we are to encourage students to be lifelong readers, we have a responsibility to engage the kids in the love of story, the magic of words, the rhythms of the language and so on that we can and be as inventive as possible in our assessment tasks so they are hands-on, developmentally appropriate demonstrations of what students have learned.  Not just endless worksheets and book reviews.

One way of managing the data collection is to identify the outcomes you need to address and choose a range of stories that will enable you to do this.  Share these stories over a number of sessions but instead of trying to assess every student on every story, just target a few for each session.

Have in mind those students and monitor their participation in the discussions and if they are not participating (perhaps they are swamped by those more vocal) then ask them a question directly that will help you mentally assess their capability.  If possible, make notes about the target students at the end of the session so you don’t forget what you learned. 

If you have a collection of stories then you can introduce the concepts you are focusing on cumulatively with each one by saying something like, “Remember when we read… we thought about how being in a thunderstorm made us feel.  Well, our story today is set in the dead of night so I want you to think about how that might make you feel. And how it might change the way the characters in the story think and feel and act.”  If you start your assessments with the kids you know will pick the concepts up quickly, this cumulative, spiral reinforcement will give those not-so-confident students time to build up their own mindset so when they become your target group for the session they have been set for success.  And in the meantime you’ve helped them all engage more with the story, increased their understanding of the sorts of techniques authors and illustrators use and kept them engage with story and reading as a whole.

Use your curriculum and talk with the teachers to identify those things that you will focus on during your time with the students so they are then free to focus on other elements. This not only creates a partnership between you but explicitly demonstrates how you can assist them in lessening their workload. It is unlikely that the PTB will pull back from what the curriculum currently demands – it’s as though those who write the curricula are in competition with each other to see who can get their students doing things faster, regardless of any developmental considerations or long-term interest in keeping them reading –  because that will be seen as dumbing down the curriculum and they won’t wear that.

There are so many ways we as teacher librarians can support our students’ reading so that it becomes a choice rather than a competition and we need to be their loudest voice so that each of them has the right to be a winner in whatever way that looks for them.

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the sorting hat

hat_sortingThis is not the hat that will decide whether you’re assigned to Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin or Gryffindor.  

It is much more contentious than that.

This is the hat you put on when you decide how you are going to arrange your collection – alphabet or genre – and, currently, one of the hottest topics on discussion lists I belong to. Any question about changing the arrangement from the more traditional author-alphabet base to one based on the perceived genre elicits hot and fierce debate as proponents and opponents put their perspective.

The common arguments are…

  • students find it easier to find the sort of book they want in a collection sorted by genre 
  • collections arranged alphabetically keep all the titles by the same author together
  • if students only select from a preferred genre their reading choices are narrowed
  • students prefer the bookshop look of the library because it is more modern
  • if students learn the traditional method of the first three letters of the author’s name they will be able to transfer those skills to locating titles other libraries
  • one title might fit a number of genres so how will its placement be determined

In my opinion the decision is easy and is based on the belief that

The collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users and to meet those needs it must be accessible

Therefore, as the teacher librarian we must know our readers and what their needs are. What might be appropriate for the users in one school library might not work for the users in the school in the neighbouring suburb because each school population is unique.  

Even if we currently classify fiction in alphabetical order by using the first three letters of the author’s name, we have modified Dewey’s original arrangement (because he assigned specific numbers between 800-899 to literature) so that users can find what they want more easily.  Then, to make it even easier, we might shelve all the episodes of a particular series together or pull all the fairytales into one smaller collection. We separate based on format – picture book, novel, information book, DVD – and intended target audience such as junior fiction and senior fiction. In the non fiction collection all the biographies might be shelved in one spot rather than in their specific subject of expertise as Dewey mandates or the puzzle books might have their own space so they are easier to find and shelve. Already we are ‘tampering’ with tradition and accepted practice because we want to make the resources more accessible to those who are using them.  

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

So why is the decision to arrange the collection according to genre so controversial?

Firstly, the term ‘genre’ must be clarified because there is a tendency to interchange the word ‘genre’ with ‘text-type’ leading to confusion between format, purpose and content.  Genre itself just means ‘a type or a category’ and it is generally applied to literature, music and the arts.  Within literature it refers to prose, poetry, drama or non fiction, each with its own style, structure, subject matter, and the use of figurative language.  

However, in education realms it is also often used to describe the author’s purpose – to persuade, inform, entertain or reflect. And these categories have been broken up even further …

 

An overview of some of the more common school genres

An overview of some of the more common school genres

Rose (2006) cited in Derewianka, 2015

However, in terms of the arrangement of the collection we are referring to another ‘definition’ of genre – those divisions of fiction based on theme, plot, characters and setting.  It refers to categories such as adventure, romance, fantasy, historical and contemporary fiction although there is a much larger list of possibilities and the sort of arrangement that is proposed has become known as ‘genrefying’.

If we return to the the underlying premise that the collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users, then it stands to reason that as a priority we need to identify what those are, particularly in relation to their preferred way of selecting their reading resources for leisure and pleasure. We need to ask questions to identify if genre is their first and primary criterion for selecting a new read and the sorts of stories they like to read.  (Thinking Reading  provides a starting point to survey your readers on a number of issues to enable informed collection development.) My experience and research has shown that, generally, primary age students do NOT use genre as their search criteria. While they may like mystery or adventure or whatever books, their choices are made based on

  • peer or teacher recommendation
  • series
  • popular movie, television or game tie-in
  • author
  • cover
  • blurb
  • serendipity

But my experience is not your experience and all sorts of factors come into play such as

  • the age and maturity of the students
  • their proficiency with English (or the predominant language of your collection)
  • the focus of the curriculum
  • their access to reading materials beyond the school
  • their understanding of the concept of ‘genre’

So it is essential that you delve into the reading habits of those who will be reading to understand what will suit them best.

Should you discover that a collection organised by genre is what is best for your clients, then there are still a number of other questions that need to be asked and answered by the stakeholders before making such a significant change because not only is it a huge job absorbing human, financial and time resources it must also be sustained and sustainable. Those questions include…

  1. Why is the change being considered?
  2. Is this a sound reason for change?
  3. Is the change based on identified user needs or preferences?
  4. Why is what is currently in place not working? What is the evidence that it is not? How can it be changed or modified to work rather than introducing a non-standard ‘fix’?
  5. Is the solution based on sound pedagogical reasons whose efficacy can be measured?
  6. How do the proposals fit mandated curriculum requirements? 
  7. Can the proposed change be defended based on user need, sound pedagogy, curriculum requirements AND established best practice?
  8. What reliable evidence (apart from circulation figures) exists to support the changes and demonstrates increased engagement and improvement to student learning outcomes?
  9. Will the proposed changes lead to students being more independent, effective and efficient users of the library’s resources?
  10. Will the changes impact on the students understanding of how other libraries are arranged and their ability to work independently within those?
  11. Have students had input into the proposal?
  12. How will the change support the Students’ Bill of Rights?
  13. Will the change marginalise or discriminate against any users such as identifying their below-average reading level or sexual preferences?
  14. Will the change broaden or narrow the students access to choices and resources?
  15. Is it based on school-library best practice? Are there successful models (measured through action research and benchmarks and published in reliable authoritative literature) that demonstrate that this is a sustainable, effective and efficient model to emulate?
  16. Will the change make it easier to achieve your mission statement and your vision statement?
  17. How do the changes fit within your library policy, which, presumably, has been ratified by the school’s executive and council? Will the change in procedure require a change in policy?
  18. Who is responsible for developing the parameters of the change and documenting the new procedures to ensure consistency across time and personnel?
  19. If a change is made, what S.M.A.R.T. goals will be set to measure its impact?
  20. When will the impact of the change be assessed and what evidence of success or otherwise will be acceptable to the stakeholders?
  21. Who will do the measuring and ensure that the conclusion is independent and unbiased?
  22. If those goals show no change or a decline, will the library be willing to reverse the process? Will this be a practical proposition?
  23. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of the teacher librarian?
  24. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of other library staff? 
  25. If the change changes the traditional library arrangement, how is consistency across time guaranteed if personnel change because decisions are  subjective?
  26. Who is responsible for developing and maintaining the criteria for placement and the Procedures Manual to ensure consistency?
  27. Is the change worth the time that is invested in re-classifying every title and the money invested in new labels, staff wages etc?
  28. Could that time and money be better spent?
  29. Would better signage, including more shelf dividers, address the problem?
  30. What role can displays play in highlighting different and unfamiliar resources to broaden access and choices?

Documenting the answers to these questions (and others that will probably arise along the way) not only demonstrates your professionalism and the depth of consideration that has gone into the decision but also provides you with a solid foundation of evidence on which to defend that decision should it be challenged.

Having invested the resources in making the change, a new range of issues arises particularly in relation to how you teach staff and students how to use the new arrangement effectively, efficiently and independently.

  • Do they understand the concept of ‘genre’ in this context and the sorts of criteria that distinguish one from another?
  • How will you teach these?  Will teaching the characteristics of each genre become your predominant teaching focus to the exclusion of other curriculum priorities such as information literacy?
  • What will be the genres that you choose and how will these be decided?
  • Are the genre labels appropriate for the users? For example ‘romance’ might not appeal in an all-boys school but ‘relationships’ could encompass the concept.
  • How will the genres themselves be arranged – alphabetical order, popularity, size of the particular collection?
  • Will individual titles within each genre then be organised in alphabetical order of author or is there another way?
  • How will you deal with titles that span two or more genres?
  • How will the genre of each title be identified both on the book and in the catalog?

The arrangement of the resources in your library has to be based on so much more than the outcomes a retailer might be wanting to achieve.  The school library is not a bookshop on steroids and the sorting hat must be one that is put on with extreme care and consideration.  Of all the hats we wear, this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all.

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the tricky topics hat

 

hat_tricky_topics

 

 

 

In a recent edition of the School Library Journal there was an article entitled,  King & King – and teacher who read it -under fire in North Carolina in which a teacher read a book to his class and now finds his job in jeopardy. 

The book in question is from 2003 and is about a prince who marries another prince and was read to a Year 2 class in response to an issue where a child of same-sex parents was being bullied.It also fit into a unit of work being undertaken focusing on fractured fairytales. The outcome has been outrage and now all books that are not in the library’s collection which are going to be read to a class by any teacher need to be submitted to the principal and parents for prior consent.  

King & King - Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland

King & King – Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland

 

The final page

The final page

 

If you are unfamiliar with the story, there is a (biased) synopsis including pictures here.  It’s not the first time it has caused controversy.

Curious about how Australian parents, principals and peers would respond to the issue of such tricky topics being included in the collection and shared in the classroom, I posed the question on Facebook to both personal and professional forums. I asked parents how they would respond to their young children being ‘exposed’ to stories about non-traditional families, specifically same-sex and whether they would require advance notice; principals about whether they would require to know in advance  if such a story were going to be shared; and teacher librarians about their inclusion and handling of such resources in their collection. 

The results were very interesting.

  • Parents were almost unanimous in their responses that they would have no problem with such a focus because they had had such discussions in their families already, their children knew and mixed with such families and that they are just part of the fabric of society.  One parent would like a heads-up so that she was prepared for any questions her child might have, but being in a non-traditional solo parent structure herself, she saw the value of celebrating such diversity.
  • The principal who responded also want a heads-up so she could field any parental response but would definitely support the sharing of such literature because she trusts the TL’s professionalism and knowledge.
  • Teacher librarians were divided – some felt that to read it without prior approval from parents would be “outrageous and create uproar”; another said we were not censors and if a story was worth sharing it should be shared; and others said such family structures and other issues are part of life and to not share them marginalises those who are “different” even further  and questioned whether studies of families and communities without acknowledging all structures would be valid.  Given the hot topic of marriage equality in Australia, there were those who felt TLs had a duty to help older students be informed about the issues and that literature was a non-personal way of doing this.

Inspired by the diversity of opinions among the teacher librarian fraternity, I then posed the similar questions to three TL online networks, one state, one national and one international.  

Should we be required, as teacher librarians developing the collection and as teachers sharing stories with students, to inform our principals and parent body in advance that we are intending to do share stories that may be controversial?

While we are happy to share stories about children with physical disabilities, mental health issues, particular illnesses and different cultural, social and religious backgrounds as we try to promote the message that these things should not define the person or their worth, why are we so divided about stories which feature different family structures, sexual orientation or assisted reproduction? 

Without even going into the specifics of the opinions, the results were interesting.  There were three responses from the state list, three from the national list and a volume from the international list. This pretty much reflected my expectations based on experience of asking similar “deep questions” – for whatever reasons, local TLs do not respond to challenging issues that are put before them so that there can be discussion and debate and corporate growth of knowledge.  However, if someone asks a relatively simple question that can be answered with a search of Google there will be a flood of responses, as there will be if someone is flamed or the profession is threatened, so “lack of time” cannot be the reason more meaty issues are left hanging. 

The responses from the local list focused on the need for a Collection Policy and a Challenged Material policy and the statistics relating to the prevalence of LGBTI issues in our community – “1 in 2,000 births in Australia have  “sex disorder” or are intersex – (unsure due to non reporting) and about 11% of Australian gay men and 33% of lesbians have children and around 10% of Australian population identifies as gay and lesbian.” The other three who responded supported the “mirrors and windows” view of the collection – resources should mirror the lives of the students and give them windows into new and diverse worlds, and that such titles supported inclusivity of students. However there was concern about the age of the children involved because they don’t ‘understand’ the issues while another argued they don’t need to ‘understand’, that young children do not see things through the adult lenses that we apply and all they are seeing and hearing is a story about families with which they are already familiar.

The discussion on the international list was very robust and a range of issues was raised. Here are some quotes taken from responses that formed the core of the person’s argument  …

  • “Kids are living this way. Just as kids deal with child abuse, parents getting killed by the other parent, rape, incest, drugs and such- these days kids deal with transgenders and gay parents. People, teachers, principals and librarians need to be on board.”
  • “However, I also recognize that some people do have an issue with homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and that makes it a controversial topic. But shouldn’t this be a part of education? Learning about things that are different than what we experience? Making us think about our values and behavior, in order to develop critical thinking skills and, hopefully, kindness towards all? “
  • “[Such] are all particularly controversial because they question some of every society’s most deeply-held convictions about some of the most fundamental questions we can ask: about bodies and their constituent parts; how people relate in and to their and other bodies; how people are attracted to other people, and to whom they are attracted; etc”
  • “The teachers are not the parents.  I, as the parent, may want handle it differently than a teacher would and I would like to know how the topic is being introduced to my child.” “Addressing sexual preferences with young students is felt by many (and I include myself here) as usurping parental, religious and cultural roles”  (Usurping the parent’s role was a common thread.)
  • “I have worked with enough feminist and pro-LGBTQI teachers who, on these two topics, trended toward calling all those who disagreed with them as mysogonistic [sic} and ironically bigoted…continuing to expose students to these concerns may seem to desensitize them so that they begin to sympathize with protagonists, identify with certain foci, but what it actually does is offend if it’s not aligned with the student’s personal lifestyle choices.”  (Teachers pushing personal agendas rather than using texts in relation to the curriculum was also suggested several times as was the marginalisation of students who did not share the teacher’s viewpoint)
  • “Normalizing behaviors does not make it right. Religion does not give room for changing views as needed based on society’s expectations.” (The religious element was raised and debated back and forth.)
  • “This was a teachable moment, and he seized the moment appropriately.” (Another common thread.)
  • “When we talk of Mummy and Daddy, are we also talking about their bedroom habits? No, so why do we seem to focus on this whenever the issue of same sex parents is raised? Sex, is the underlying issue that causes people to question books such as King and King, but the book itself has no sexual content.”
  •  “I will read civil rights and anti-racist and feminist and anti-ableism books with gusto, but I have to be more cautious than my straight colleagues about queer matters [for fear of losing my job]”.
  • “I feel that to purposefully shield students (especially if they’re middle- or high-schoolers), to close them off from any resources from which they can learn about it, is to do them a disservice.”
  • “… I must also be sensitive to the needs of my student community, many of whom are LBGT, even if this hasn’t become part of their verbal identity yet at age six and seven. Many more have parents who are LBGT. Even more than that know people in their lives who are LBGT. It can be a very scary thing to live in a community in which the books and media around you show no mirrors or windows. We really do owe it to our children to show them that life is different in different places.”
  • “Refusing to have materials on specific topics in the library collection and/or purposefully choosing not to read aloud those materials is, itself, teaching. It is teaching children that these are not acceptable topics to discuss. It is teaching children that these are topics that must be kept hidden away. It teaches that the viewpoint of the materials offered and read aloud are the truth and the only acceptable opinions. I think it is a huge disservice to ourselves, our students, and our communities when we assume that not directly teaching these topics means that we are not teaching them. We are teaching by omission.”
  • “Straight romantic relationships are seen constantly in children’s literature, not to mention other forms of media. Stories of families coping with divorce, death, and abuse are also part of kids lit and aren’t censored. Stories with single parents, grandparents raising children, adoptive families, etc.; all of these scenarios fall outside of the so-called “traditional” family unit and should be represented in our libraries and our classrooms. A story showing a same-sex relationship is no different. It is representation of the world today.”
  • “Remember, LGBT students can and do come from “traditional” families where they are the only ones in their family (immediate and often extended family too) who are LGBT. This is not the case for most other minority students. Most African American students, for example, grow up in African American families where their family members know exactly what it is like to be African American and the types of challenges they uniquely face. For LGBT students whose family are straight, cisgendered folks, their family does not know and understand what the LGBT student faces. In worst case scenarios, that family might even abuse them or disown them for being LGBT. It is therefore up to us to be a safe place for these students. To create that safe place in our libraries and our schools and to provide representation and understanding that they may not receive at home.”
  • “How can change be effected if we do not present students with alternatives to the status quo?  How much of the acceptance and integration and celebration of minorities would have been achieved if “brave” teachers had not introduced the writings of ground-breaking authors to students? “

Clearly this is a divisive and tricky subject within our profession so then I posed the question about how such resources were treated within the collection so that there was acknowledgement of and sensitivity towards all the stakeholders.  Many teachers get students to select the books for the class library and the children do not discriminate; even within a section such as ‘Junior Fiction’ there is a diverse range of age and maturity so how to cater for this; if a child self-selects a book that a parent reads to them without prior knowledge of its content, so should there be some sort of warning label (which then makes them more than they are, gives them a mystique they should not have, suggests that the topic is taboo, and may marginalise those who choose to borrow them perhaps even making them a target.) Or should they just be placed in the collection and we hope for the best? Is it better to beg forgiveness later than ask permission first?  Do we need permission?  Should we need to ask for forgiveness?

The only response has been that this should be covered in the Collection Policy that has been ratified by the school executive, but how should it be worded if the Collection Policy is being written or reviewed? If the school executive is to approve the policy then it needs to be in alignment with the school’s policy (and many schools may not even have such a document) and offer guidance that they are comfortable with.  

The Australian School Library Association’s Bill of Rights mandates

To place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of materials of the highest quality in order to assure a comprehensive collection appropriate to the users of the library.

Collection development cannot be driven by the personal prejudices rather than professional practice whether those prejudices are more liberal or more conservative than the school’s ethos. Therefore I have asked my school executive to discuss how they wish to proceed so they are comfortable with supporting the library’s policy and procedures and are willing to defend them if necessary. I’ve drafted the wording of this section of the collection policy as a starting point for them and I’ve also shared this Pinterest board of resources so they are familiar with the sorts of titles that would be included in the library’s collection because currently there are none. I’ve offered to take it to a staff meeting for discussion and suggested that there may need to be input from the Student Representative Council.  

Censorship is not part of the teacher librarian’s toolkit but sensitivity should be.  Despite the range of opinions about this subject, there is agreement that it cannot dwell in the too-hard basket.  What would you do?

In May 2016 United States president Barack Obama officially proclaimed June 2016 as Gay Pride Month.  If the provision of resources that support our right to our own gender identity and sexuality and explain it to others is all that we can do to support those so continually discriminated against, then that must be better than putting our heads in the sand.  A Mighty Girl has released an annotated list of  their favorite books featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) characters. It should provide a start to a collection that promotes inclusion while celebrating diversity.

This article from School Library Journal is worth reading and considering in light of your circumstances and professional practice. Unnatural Selection: More Librarians Are Self-Censoring

You might also like to consider the issues raised in The Censor’s Hat.

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the accountant’s hat

hat_accountant

 

 

 

Of all the hats the teacher librarian has to wear, for many the accountant’s hat may be the most ill-fitting because the management of money matters, particularly the preparation, submission and disbursement of a budget, requires expertise beyond that of our teaching qualifications. And yet it is an essential part of what we do.

From messages to TL networks, it would appear there are three types of budgets…

  • those that are based on the administration’s careful consideration of a properly prepared budget submitted by the TL
  • those that are based on an amount allocated by the administration (often the school’s business manager) with no consultation with the TL with the expectation that the TL will provide all services within that amount
  • those that are non-existent requiring the TL to go to external sources such a parent bodies, book fairs, grants and sponsorship and so on to raise the required funds

Whatever the situation, even it is neither required or considered, it is important that the TL prepare and submit a comprehensive budget each year because

  • it demonstrates our professionalism particularly as the library’s budget is more likely to be bigger and more diverse than those of any other faculty
  • it provides the purse-string holders with evidence of a careful consideration of needs, prioritises these and what is required to fulfil those needs
  • it advocates and educates the purse-string holders about the needs of the library to meet the community’s demands and expectations
  • it focuses our priorities even if there is little or no money to cover them
  • it can be used to show staff that a fair and equitable use has been made of allocated money based on identified and agreed prirorities
  • if necessary, it can be produced to demonstrate to the parent body how funds they have provided have been used within the school

 funding

It is important to understand where the money is coming from because there can be a range of sources and rules regarding how they can be accessed and used…

  • an allocation from the school’s central budget
  • a library fund into which school fees are paid so they become tax deductible
  • philanthropic donations
  • parent body fundraising
  • book fairs and other in-house sources
  • sponsorship

If there is a district or state mandated formula that must be adhered to, know what it is so you have a minimum figure on which to base projections.

Know if your school-based allocation is reduced by the amount you expect to fundraise or get from external sources. 

Make yourself familiar with any regulations regarding money from external sources, such as cash commissions from a book fair, because some education jurisdictions mandate that any money that comes into the school after a certain date must go into consolidated revenue and not spent till the following year.  Even fines for overdue books or the payment for a lost or damaged book can be affected.

Know which services such as subscriptions to library management software, cataloguing services, ebook platforms. databases and so on are paid for by a central authority.

Cover these issues in your Collection Policy.

preparation

There are many factors to consider when preparing a budget

  1. Start early.
  2. Prepare it in alignment with the school’s preferred procedures and timeframe. If there are standards or formulae mandated by your educational authority or local or state government then make yourself aware of these and quote them in your submission because the purse-string holders may not be aware of them.  
  3. If you are uncertain about the number of resources or dollars that should be allocated per student, seek advice from colleagues in similar school situations so you can provide the evidence on which your estimations are based.
  4. There must be a clear understanding of what it is to cover – that which is to be covered by the library and that which is to be covered by the budgets of other departments, faculties, and committees. The origin of funds for such areas as teacher reference, readers, class sets, textbooks, ICT hardware, maintenance and subscriptions must be made clear. Those things acquired by the library from the library’s budget, excluding consumables, can be subject to formal audit and thus must be accounted for in a regular stocktake. 
  5. Know what is already paid for by central funding so it is neither included in your budget or deducted from it. For example in New South Wales government schools subscriptions for the maintenance of the library management system and access to the Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) are covered by the NSW DEC. 
  6. Know who your educational authority’s approved/must-use suppliers are so it is their prices that are quoted. Know the rules for purchasing from these suppliers and when you may go beyond them to source what you need. Indicate preferred suppliers in your submission so that the purse-string holders are aware of the necessity to purchase from them.  If quotes are required for particular services or items, attach these to the submission as an appendix.
  7. Ensure your submission is based on facts and figures not wishful thinking.
  8. Use your Collection Policy and strategic plan to identify agreed priorities for acquisition and ensure these are costed and included. The evidence supporting these priorities should be contained in the Policy and the strategic plan, but if necessary provide a brief explanation as an appendix. Draw explicit links between the purchase of items and the support of teaching and learning. The 2014 Softlink Australian School Library Survey report  demonstrates “a positive correlation between annual school library budgets and NAPLAN Reading Literacy results.”
  9. Share those identified and agreed priorities with staff and seek suggestions for purchases from year-level groups and faculties in the form of a wishlist to fulfil them.  If possible, meet at least one request from each submission but if it is not possible meet with the group to explain why. Look to negotiate a compromise – perhaps costs could be shared or a purchase made the following year as a priority.  Engaging staff in budget preparation not only gives them some ownership of and input into the process but helps to educate and advocate, staving off complaints and behind-the-hand comments.
  10. Seek out those teachers with students with particular special needs and discuss the resources, formats and facilities that their students need that the library can provide. so that there is not a one-size fits all collection or environment.  For example, you may have to budget to get lower shelving for wheelchair-bound students or special signage for the visually impaired. Make the library fit the client, not the other way round.
  11. If there is a large, expensive purchase to be made, consider asking the parent body to make this the focus of their fundraising for the year.  These bodies like to see tangible results of their efforts such as an interactive whiteboard or a set of e-readers.
  12. If there is pressure to abandon the print collection in favour of digital, attach the research into the development of traditional literacy skills using traditional formats being a prerequisite for effective and efficient online reading, interrogation and interpretation making the maintenance of a print collection which appeals to and engages readers an essential. Also identify the need to provide a range of resources in a variety of formats to meet individual teaching and learning styles.
  13. Be specific.  Identify where the money will go and calculate what you need for each based on an actual costing or an estimate based on the current year’s expenditure. A clear breakdown of expenditure is more likely to attract some money than just an application for a lump sum.
  14. Distinguish between those expenditures which are recurring and are required for the smooth operation of the library; those that are capital expenditure likely to be made very rarely; and those that are considered consumables
  15. Create and adhere to policies relating to online purchasing; the outsourcing of collection development; free versus paid acquisitions; replacement of lost or damaged resources; selection criteria for suppliers and other budget-related matters. 
  16. Be prepared with evidence to support a claim for a paid commercially-available service rather than a free one such as extra features, greater security and privacy of information, lack of advertising, lack of inappropriate links, validity of content and so forth.
  17. Consider these areas
    • acquisitions
      • purchases of new print, digital and audio-visual resources
      • replacement/renewal of existing resources such as dictionaries or atlases; outdated non fiction; damaged or lost items
      • subscriptions to databases, journals, online resources to support teaching and learning
      • interlibrary loan charges
    • subscriptions
      • recurrent expenditure to manage the library such as a cataloguing service, library management software, video streaming facility
    • hardware
      • items such as an interactive whiteboard, tablets, laptops, cameras and so forth to be used by students
      • maintenance of these including printer cartridges and lease payments
      • scanners, OPAC and circulation computers
      • security systems
      • insurance
      • furniture and shelving
      • personal items, such as a tablet, that are required to do your job as TL effectively
    • consumables
      • stationery relating to the processing of resources
      • stationery relating to the smooth operation of the library such as signage
      • stationery for staff and student use 
      • printing and photocopying costs
      • batteries, printer cartridges, recordable CDs and DVDs
    • promotion
      • author visits and other literary functions such as Book Week
      • catering
      • awards and prizes
      • purchase of items for displays
      • Makerspace resources
      • board games, jigsaws etc
    • professional learning
      • costs of registration, attendance, accommodation and travel for required/desired professional learning
      • costs of cover by a casual during TL absence
      • costs of subscriptions to professional organisations
      • costs of subscriptions to professional journals
    • salaries
      • salaries of casual relief and admin staff to be covered during mandatory stocktake including time for collection appraisal and evaluation and the identification of future development needs
    • miscellaneous
      • compliance with workplace health and safety issues
      • professional assistance in packing, moving and unpacking resources if library is to be painted or recarpeted
  18. Use the figures from previous years as a platform for improvement and gather and include statistics to show the increase in prices to support the required amounts.
  19. Know what you are purchasing by reading the Terms and Conditions of subscription services, particularly in the case of ebook platforms, database access and so forth.  Know the questions to ask the supplier and ask them.
  20. If you are seeking funding for hardware such as e-readers ensure that the terms and conditions of purchase or warranties covers school-based use.  Some paperwork only applies if the device is for personal use.  If there are extra costs to cover multiple uses then these need to be factored into your submission.
  21. While the budget needs to relate directly to supporting teaching and learning, include a contingency fund to take advantage of unexpected opportunities or student-driven trends.
  22. Collect statistics relating to the use of the collection (where it is feasible, break this down into sections such as print, online, ebook, audio, visual, fiction and non fiction) and the library’s spaces as evidence of demand as well as the money being used effectively to support teaching and learning.
  23. Seek advice from the principal, the business manager or colleagues so you can prepare the most informed submission possible backed by knowledge and evidence. This shows professional practice rather than inadequacy.
  24. Be realistic and consider the school’s annual budget and commitments.  Be willing to negotiate rather than being greedy.

disbursement

Know who has authority to access and disburse funds from the library’s budget or who may give authority for this to be done. Establish policy and procedures that ensure that the TL has the ultimate authority so that acquisitions meet the priorities and selection criteria of the Collection Policy.

Ensure that any procedures relating to disbursement are in alignment with school and education authority procedures. However, it may be necessary to negotiate some adaptations so that purchases and payments can be made to allow for unforeseen circumstances such as an unexpected fad among students such as the Harry Potter phenomenon, a too-good-to-miss sale or an unscheduled author visit to the district.

Establish the need to be able to buy online and if necessary seek special dispensation for those purchases that can only be paid for with an online payment.

Establish the procedures and authority required to make on-the-spot purchases to take advantage of bargains and special offers if personal funds are used and reimbursement is sought.

documentation

Each school may well have its own pro forma on which budget submissions must be made and therefore this must be followed. However, it is worthwhile establishing a spreadsheet for in-house use which may contain greater detail than that which is submitted formally. While I must stress that I am NOT an accountant and have no formal book-keeping education I found the following headings worked for me.  Apart from showing that I had carefully costed items and estimated usage, it gave me a way to keep track of continued expenditure as well as providing the basis for the budget for the following year.  (It also provided a record of rising prices as evidence for required increases.)

CATEGORY DATE PURCHASE
ORDER
SUPPLIER/
SOURCE
QUANTITY/
DURATION
COST
PER ITEM
ORDER
TOTAL
CUMULATIVE
TOTAL

For statistical and evidential purposes, it may be worth keeping a more detailed record of acquisitions using these headings…

RESOURCE FORMAT SUPPLIER COST FICTION PRIMARY GENRE NON FICTION PRIMARY KLA/
FACULTY

New South Wales teacher librarian Carolyn Mock has written a procedures manual that contains models of a number of forms and what could be included on them that would be useful in the preparation of a budget.  She is willing for people to adapt her work but asks she be credited as the original author. The Library Supplies checklist is very useful.

Keep purchase orders, invoices and other documentation in alignment with school procedures and requirements. If payments are made through the school’s business manager request monthly updates of the overall budget and set aside administrative time to reconcile these.

Keep documentation for the mandated time period and refer to it in future budget preparation to inform you of expenditure, trends, what needs to be acquired and which faculties are receiving boosts and which may need a collection appraisal and attention.

Regardless of how well the hat fits, as the information service manager in the school we have a responsibility to put it on and wear it as well as we can.

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