Archive | May 9, 2013

the information specialist’s hat



The second hat that the teacher librarian wears is that of information specialist.

According to Learning for the Future (2nd edition) (ASLA & ALIA, 2001), this means we provide

access to information resources through efficient and well-guided systems for organising, retrieving and circulating resources and training and assistance to students and staff in the effective use of these systems

In the past, that was a relatively simple assignment – fiction resources were split into two sections, either picture books or novels, and given a classification based on the author’s name; non fiction was classified and shelved according to the Dewey Decimal Classification system.  Students were taught now to use the catalog, how the Dewey system worked so they could make sense of the numbers and then expected to locate the required resources on the shelves.

But the rapid development of technology has changed the goalposts and now, instead of staff and students coming to the information, in many situations the TL takes the information to the students.  Thus, as well as having an efficient, up-to-date catalog we need to know how to create and use hotlists, databases, social media, content management systems, virtual learning environments and a host of other tools so we can provide efficient and equitable access to the resources 365/24/7.  No longer is the library confined by walls and clocks.

There is also a push to abandon the traditional arrangements of the library so they become more like bookstores – the titles arranged by genre rather than author or subject.  From time to time, this issue is discussed on the TL networks around the world, and Jan Radford has collated a range of articles hereOther changes include arrangement by reading level particularly those assigned by commercial programs, or making special collections such as those for the LGBTI students.

However, before any such change is considered, there is a range of questions that need to be asked and answered with acceptable, independent evidence.  

Given that the definition of being the information specialist is based on providing efficient and effective access to resources, then we must demonstrate that any changes will do this better than what is offered now.  So we need to consider…

    • Why is the change being considered?
    • Is this a sound reason for change?
    • Why is what is currently in place not working? What is the evidence that it is not? How can it be changed/ modified to work rather than introducing a non-standard ‘fix’?
    • Is the solution based on sound pedagogical reasons whose efficacy can be measured?
    • What reliable evidence (apart from circulation figures) exists to support the changes and demonstrates improvement to student learning outcomes?
    • How will the change support the Students’ Bill of Rights?
    • Have students had input into the proposal?
    • Will the proposed changes lead to students being more independent, effective and efficient users of the library’s resources?
    • Will the change marginalise or discriminate against any users such as identifying their below-average reading level or sexual preferences?
    • Will the change broaden or narrow the students access to choices and resources?
    • 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?
    • Will the change make it easier to achieve your mission statement and your vision statement?
    • 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?
    • Who is responsible for developing the parameters of the change and documenting the new procedures to ensure consistency across time and personnel?
    • If a change is made, what S.M.A.R.T. goals will be set to measure its impact?
    • Who will do the measuring and ensure that the conclusion is independent and unbiased?
    • If those goals show no change or a decline, will the library be willing to reverse the process? Will this be a practical proposition?
    • How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of the teacher librarian?
    • How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of other library staff?
    • If the change changes the traditional library arrangement, how is consistency across time guaranteed if personnel change because decisions are  subjective?
    • Who is responsible for developing and maintaining the criteria for placement and the Procedures Manual to ensure consistency?
    • Is the change worth the time that is invested in re-classifying every title and the money invested in new labels, staff wages etc?
    • Could that time and money be better spent?
    • Would better signage, including more shelf dividers, address the problem?
    • What role can displays play in highlighting different and unfamiliar resources to broaden access and choices?

Library 2.0 means that Librarian 2.0 keeps changing and we need to continually monitor and modify the shape and the fit of this hat.  

the curriculum leader’s hat


Every now and then there is a challenge to encapsulate the role of the TL into six or seven words, and I always respond with

curriculum leader

information specialist

 information services manager


I learned way these terms back when from Learning for the Future (2nd edition) (ASLA & ALIA, 2001) and they still hold true today.

I believe that that sums up what we do so succinctly and is timeless. Regardless of any changes such as a name change of the space, the new horizons opened by technology, new curricula or in-vogue pedagogy, those three roles remain our core business. 

For me, the hat that fits most snugly is that of curriculum leader for that is the one that puts the teacher in teacher librarian. I’ve been working with a colleague developing a new Library Development Plan, in particular aligning it to the school’s development plan, and almost every proposal came back to putting on the curriculum leader’s hat.

The nature of the role means it is the TL who has the best overview of the entire curriculum being designed and delivered in the school, sees how it all interweaves and locks together and through collaborative planning and teaching, can embed the information literacy process into it so there is connected, meaningful learning for the students. 

The rollout of the strands of the Australian National Curriculum across the country is an exciting time for TLs because not only does it give them the perfect opportunity to shine but they are the ones with the birds-eye view who can pull together the old and the new so the transition is smooth; identify the connects and disconnects so learning is cohesive and coherent; and support staff and students through the provision of the most relevant resources.

In a school I once had the privilege to teach at, the curriculum only had two strands – investigation and communication.  Everything fell under one umbrella or the other – we were either learning about something or we were sharing what we had learned.  As the TL, I held the ends of both strands.

Investigation is based on research.  Regardless of the depth required to solve the information need, the skills of research are an essential and those skills are based on information literacy -the ability to identify an information need, locate appropriate resources to solve it, then reading, evaluating and interpreting what is found to create a satisfactory solution.

If, as Mike Eisenberg says, information literacy is “the most basics of basics”, then who better than the teacher who has information literacy as their specialist subject to lead its embedding as an across-curriculum perspective? To teach the teachers as well as the students? To lay the foundations of a scaffold that will support that platform  of lifelong learning that is the stated outcome of Australian education for K-12?

Communication is based on talking, listening, reading, writing, viewing and performing so who better than the teacher who has the whole curriculum as their specialty to support the development of the essential skills? To provide leadership in curriculum planning so these are to the fore? To collaboratively plan and teach with teachers so opportunities are explored and exploited.? To provide a range of resources to make the design, delivery and assessment of the curriculum seamless?  

ICT stands for information communication technologies so who better than the information and communication specialist to be the leader in the introduction and implementation of new ways to do old things? To encourage teachers to pose problems that cannot be answered through copy-and-paste and a few mouse clicks?  To ensure that ideas, information and images are used ethically? To understand the potholes and pitfalls that exist in the online world and help staff and students navigate them safely, managing their digital footprints responsibly? 

The TL is also the person who sees every student in the school, often at least once a week, so who better to tap into that long tail of students who don’t see the library as meeting their needs and addressing their concerns? Who, with a reasonable budget, a knowledge of the collection, and the ability to search effectively and efficiently, can better respond to students needs at the point of need?

If we are to ‘future-proof’ our positions, then it is essential that we promote the teacher part of teacher librarian.