At the beginning of my journey of Masters in Education I had a very limited understanding of modern libraries – their form, their function and their future. I was, excuse the pun, ‘an open book’. As I progressed slowly and steadily through the course, learning occurred and significant changes in understanding, thinking and behaviours were made.
During my course, a position at my school became available – to teach information literacy and work in the library. Suddenly I was thrust into the real world of a Teacher Librarian and started putting into practise what I was learning. It was exciting to apply new knowledge as I went, but the pitfall was that I suddenly knew, with great clarity, how steep the learning curve would be. I would have to become part metaphorical mountain goat to climb that mountain of know-how and can-do.
At first I was hesitant in even describing my role as the official ‘Teacher Librarian’ but my confidence grew through the course and now take the title with pride. My learning continues apace (does it ever really stop?) but I now have more of a clue and a network of people to tap into if my knowledge or experience is lacking.
In this reflective portfolio, I will focus on the three major themes which altered my understanding of what a TL does. Key areas of learning were: Information literacy (metaliteracy), the role of the TL leading a 21st century library, and the application of ICT.
The critical importance of a dynamic, accessible and centrally situated library in a school environment underpins my career. I also believe a qualified teacher librarian can enhance all aspects of school life, from academic to social.
As a visual learner I have to admit that I first imagined my journey to end with the library as a destination – a wonderfully resourced room or hub. Now I view the library as a hallway – a place of transition, with many doors of possibility into which everyone needs to pass to get to where they are going, no matter what that their journey or interest might be.
Through the subject ‘Teacher librarian as leader’ I understood how the curriculum savvy, connected and clever TL could influence those in more influential positions to see sense and use resources more effectively. It wasn’t until ETL 401 however I found my teaching passion – Information Literacy, Multiple Literacy, Transliteracy and I became a convert. It made critical sense to me after years of teaching in various roles that vital to all understanding was an ability to be literate – across all formats and forms. Information literacy goes beyond the classroom to affect all aspects of education and how we function across society. In the discipline neutral library, we are perfectly poised to guide students to become empowered, critically reflective, skillful thinkers and adroit researchers, who use information ethically (Hamilton, B. 2009 p. 34). As a TL I could enable and foster this diverse literacy by tapping into the innate enthusiasm of my students to communicate effectively, consciously direct their own learning and master their information rich environment. The aim is to move beyond skills to a shift in attitudes and behaviours, so they are subsumed into the way a student operates.
Howard Rheingold’s article regarding metaliteracy, springs to mind easily. Many articles meld into the background but it was reading about how librarians facilitate the flow of information and ideas rather than disseminating them, that lit the spark (Rheingold 2012 p. 52). It wasn’t about the ‘what’ (well maybe a little) it was about the ‘how’ – how do you get the information you want, quickly, smartly, across all platforms – so that it can be used effectively and meet your information needs? My role was transitioning from seeing the library and librarian as nouns to verbs!
This was the role I had been placed into at my school. I was asked to teach students to find information, effectively use it, cite it, sift and sort it, scan and skim it, value it and cognitively understand the process of information research. Defining information literacy was and is illuminating in its possibilities – digital literacy, transliteracy, plain literacy. Barbara Stripling (Stripling 2010 p.1) was particularly convincing in her incorporation of ‘all formats’; James Herring similarly uses terms such as ‘exploit’, ‘adapt’ and ‘reflect’ (Herring 2011 p. 63) when discussing how students should be taught to navigate through the information overload. Joyce Valenza, one smart lady, was leading the charge in her article Manifesto for 21st Century Teacher Librarians (Valenza 2011) when she articulated how TL’s empower students to ‘triangulate’ across a myriad of media formats to best suit their lines of inquiry and evaluate as they go.
Joyce Valenza’s call to arms was wonderful.
No TL could not be moved to cheering when watching this! And I was moved, motivated and empowered to make such a difference in my role. I mentioned in my blog that my new view of TL’s had been ‘shaken’ (Blaich (a) 2013) by all the wonderful possibilities of what a TL could now do.
Initially I was scheduled to a set timetable in the junior school. It soon became obvious that ‘just-in-time’ (Valenza, J. 2011 para 20) learning needed a flexible TL – so with some negotiation my timetable was put up on a Google doc and teachers booked in or out at their own points of need. Rigid timetabling was removed and I could devote a day to a class who required quality and quantity time in the library, support in the classroom, contribute to planning meetings or attend excursions. Similarly my role changed to taking whole classes to taking anyone at any time, depending on requests from teachers, resource needs or space constraints. I became the travelling TL – going where and when I was needed, doing what people required and resourcing where I could. I was not seen as only being in the library.
I consulted with a colleague and we started drawing together a scope and sequence of transliteracy and corresponding ICT skills to audit K – 6’s requirements. We roamed across all the curriculum documentation we could find to select what fitted our learning outcomes and blended it together – learning as we went how mercurial the transliteracy landscape was. ISTE Nets, ACARA, IB PYP, 21st Century Fluency, Common sense media, Common Core, Key Stages etc were used. A basic document was created and yet it was and is still, lacking! It is still a work in progress as I hone the skills, attitudes and outcomes to fit in with the PYP curriculum, year level and IT knowledge/ skill base.
Carol Khulthau has to be mentioned as a highlight of my course. I wrote in my blog that I was ‘smitten’ with her theories (Blaich (b) 2013). The ‘Information Search Processing Model’ (Kulthau 2007) has been enlightening, especially when teaching in an all-girls school. The mapping of the emotional journey or affective side of information searching is incredibly valuable.
To communicate the different iterative stages is one thing, but to highlight the emotional highs and lows of the process also empowers and normalises the anxieties many of the students in the upper grades feel when embarking on extended research projects. I have encouraged students to journal their emotional journey concurrently with their bibliographies, notes and data collection. At the end of a project they are able to review how it went by examining their academic/emotional journey. Cognitively they are engaged in their own learning patterns and behaviours and hopefully improving their overall performance.
Enabling students to engage in higher order thinking via transliteracy is important. Synthesising disparate resources to create new ideas whilst showing the lineage of their thinking through notes and referencing is vital.
Herring defines information literacy as a ‘practise’ (Herring 2011 p.63) rather than a set of skills. In 2013 I wrote “teacher librarians are at the centre of equipping students with the essential skills, tools, understanding and etiquette, to adeptly navigate their way through this ever-expanding labyrinth of information.” (Blaich (a) 2013)
Since writing this, I have since realised that transliteracy is not and cannot be the sole domain of the TL. In my practise I have embarked on effective, informed and sustained teaching partnerships. I aim to facilitate students’ technological aptitude and boost essential research know-how in regularly planning and communicating with classroom teachers, so all students can seamlessly practise transliteracy. It is vital to meet their real needs, students and teachers both, in their academic, wider lives or “third space” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspiari 2007 p. 25).
How a TL leads a library to change its ‘spots’
When I first was appointed to the position of the TL at my school I was aware that senior management wasn’t thrilled with the concept of libraries in their traditional manifestation. They had recently closed the senior library and were about to reimagine the space. I saw this as an opportunity to help the process and inform senior management about how libraries are being reimagined and in many ways going back to the future: Tod Colegrove – Libraries of the future.
My colleagues in the junior libraries and I compiled a presentation about what libraries could be, what was currently being done, and I backed it up with empirical data from my course, which showed the academic and social benefits for a reimagined, connected, well-staffed and vibrant space.
It was met with mixed results. A library was built – with lots of beautiful furniture and state of the art technology. In the senior school however there was no qualified TL employed, or a head of library. It was a beautiful showroom with a library technician, alone – who does an admirable job but it could be so much more.
As I come to the end of this course I am now reflecting on the changing role of the library in a school and how to best communicate to management the vital importance of maintaining the most significant resource a library has – staff. Qualified TL’s who are connected, informed and progressive, can make a massive academic impact in a school. I want a “spumante-flavoured school library program” (Loetscher 2007 p.65) where the librarian has the ear of the administrators and transforms learning experience through technology, information literacy, just in time resources, collaboration and documented academic outcomes.
I hastily add that there are two thriving junior school libraries at two different campuses with TL’s and library technicians. These libraries are viewed with great respect and are used continually by all members of the school community at one time or another during a school week. The library staff as key resources are utilised well and support the patrons in all aspects of their school life.
As a TL we are advocates for our roles in the school (Gaiman 2013). We need to be integral to the academic successes and social melange of a school. Traditional TL roles, some of which are still current and relevant, need to accommodate the diverse changes across education and communicating to the administrators is vital (Oberg, 2007 p.397).
Even though the senior library could be more, in my library over the last couple of years we have embarked on change. A maker space, open access at lunch, before and after school is only the beginning. All students, parents and staff are welcome to use the space – simultaneously. Computer technology in the form of coding, green screen and webcasting has begun in the ‘back office’ area, which is being slowly transformed into a studio of sorts.
Our catalogue has changed from a stagnant school only access via one computer to an online 24/7 access catalogue. We are embracing online research tools via subscription such as Britannica online, Pebble Go and Storybox online – and they are being used. Our next adventure is to embark on ebooks – to find a provider with DRM which suits our needs, has relevant content and is easy to access – the budget is another thing altogether! Partnerships with other schools to create a consortium for the provision of ‘just in time’ online resources via Ebscohost – demand driven acquisitions is being considered as is transferring all newspaper resources to an online provider – so they can be used the way our students want to use them.
‘Little Bits’ technology and Sphero kits are being used at lunchtime coding clubs. High profile events are scheduled in the library space and I meet regularly with curriculum coordinators and teaching staff to input course ideas, resource suggestions and help to document the curriculum. Feedback is provided to staff on how students perform during and after sessions and I discuss student outcomes, so I can adapt my teaching/library practise. The ‘spumante flavoured’ intent is there and the journey has begun.
The power of connection
In ETL 503 I learnt something that will impact my career as an effective TL – you need to be connected, or perhaps wired in to the network of information and resources around you. This is what we strive for with our students – that they are connected to resources, ideas, suggestions and communities. TL’s thrive on the many and varied connections that the new digital age and central collaborative position in the school allows.
As a learner of the TL craft I started to look into the immense reserves (Blaich (d) 2014) of a wider collegiate TL body and resources that could be found in my local area, state and around the world. I was not disappointed. The collegiate bodies are amazing resources to tap into – Oztlnet and SLAV are the two key organisations which highlight, refer and impart ideas, discoveries and share knowledge freely. As a solitary TL at my campus, sometimes it feels a little daunting to be the person patrons come to for ideas about innovative teaching, new technologies, books for pleasure and research, learning developments and of course metaliteracy. Having a wider community of TL’s to ask and be inspired by is marvellous and essential. Sometimes a problem shared is indeed a problem halved, especially when you have the best brains in the business on the task.
Watching others in similar roles seek guidance through online forums is also inspiring – it reinforces the notion that as a profession we have an amazing reserves of knowledge and current practises (Shenton, 2014)ready to be shared.
In ETL 503 learning that a variety of selection aids is an amazing weapon in the armoury of a good TL was essential. There are so many to choose from and there are of course the favourites I go to in order to become aware of new trends in publishing, titles and education resources. I am particularly enamoured of Magpie, School Library Journal as subscriptions; www.goodreads.com , www.insideadog.com and www.amightygirl.com are also brilliant sources for inspiration – each one for different reasons. I also discovered through online forums how Pinterest, Symbaloo and Diigo are also used to both curate and share content.
Keeping a keen eye on the myriad of book awards around the planet also pays dividends. Smarties, Newberry, CBCA and Caldecott to name a few. Tracking what the ‘experts’ think of different texts is valuable as they are the ones who have such a vested interest in finding the best, investing in the growth of literacy in all its kaleidoscopic forms.
One of the key discoveries is to ‘walk the talk’. We need to embrace, embody and live the standard of intellectual risk taking that we expect of our students. It is never easy stepping out of a comfort zone (Blaich (e) 2013) and into the unknown but it is necessary if one wishes to progress or inspire others to do so. As a TL you constantly encounter pressure to master a new technology, implement a new practise or source and provide a new resource. Adaptive change and mastery of the new is, I think, the bread and butter of the TL’s world. We are working in an area of constant change where we must “revisit, reframe, and reimagine” (Lamb 2011 p.27) not just knowledge per se but the space in which we work, the collection we present, and the methods we communicate with.
It was enlightening to read all the papers detailing the seismic changes occurring in the world of libraries and then applying those shifts into my own environment. Being directed to the wider TL horizon was in fact the most enlightening of moments – to draw on the breadth and depth of knowledge and practise out there. The success of a TL is attributable to connections and tapping into the TL intelligentsia in the world.
The connections I am making through various online tools and websites is also a skill and practise I am instilling into the upper grades at my school. There is a significant value in discovering and communicating with your peers – whether they are sitting next to you in class or on the other side of the world. We compulsorily place a ‘one to the world’ device into the hands of our students and it is amazing to see them take it and launch into a literal world of discovery. Looking at websites like www.goodreads.com enables them to source titles which might interest them and inspire further reading and discovery. The ‘long tail’ just-in-time resource (Yates, 2011 p.43) which I learnt about during this course is alive and well at school. Each student is empowered to find a mirror to their passion and are able to curate their own content.
Adapting one’s purview of what the school’s ‘collection’ enables a TL to resource students in ways I had not previously considered until completing ETL 503. Joyce Valenza (Valenza, 2011) and Stephen Yates (Yates, 2011) both direct TL’s to expand the view of what can be considered a TL’s collection. Spurred on by this idea it was inspiring to then make the connection to another TL in a similar all girls’ school in Melbourne and see that they implemented this idea. This school has put direct links to all local libraries and federated searches into their catalogue to utilize the resources in other collections. They have also establishing consortia with other schools to host resources, which was an area new to me but well established to other TL’s and libraries. It is through broadening one’s perspective (Shenton 2014 p.157) and making connections with other TL’s that new possibilities can become a reality.
Collection development policy is also an area of a particularly acute learning curve during my studies. I commenced my position as TL in my school and rapidly discovered there was no collection development policy and hadn’t been for a long time. I was thrust into the role of creating one! Again I used my wider network to beg and borrow from my wider TL resource bank, but it was and still is, a grounding document indispensable to the working of our library. By connecting, learning and applying my knowledge I discovered that it is by doing that we learn most (Blaich (f) 2013). I understood that without a clear guide (Debowski, 2001), procedure and ‘map’, our collection was in danger of losing focus and becoming open to individual preferences of staff within and outside of the library.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had so many wonderful learning experiences in this course. I relish my role as a TL and do not take it for granted. In libraries there are changes afoot, technologically, socially, educationally and organisationally but I intend to use my excellent grounding in Teacher Librarianship to not only embrace developments but be at the cusp of change. Indeed, as my confidence grows, I would like to be the instigator of the quite library revolution in my school. Today the library, tomorrow, the world …in my ‘nexus library’ – accessing, enjoying, researching, collaborating, making, laughing and learning.
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