There is an increasing pedagogical shift towards Guided Inquiry (GI) in schools (Collins et al., 2008, p. 1). In this type of learning, children are encouraged to work at tackling questions in depth through a cycle of hypothesis, exploration and reflection. When children work in this way they benefit from support and resources beyond the classroom (Stripling, 2008, p. 2). When inquiry is central to a school’s curriculum, librarians play a pivotal role in helping children extend and make connections with their learning by working in collaboration with teachers on research projects and investigations.
The role of the teacher librarian in implementing a GI approach very much depends, I think, on the culture of learning and the curriculum in a particular school. I have worked in a fully accredited International Baccalaureate school within the Primary Years Programme (PYP) where a culture of GI was an expectation and was fully embedded into the curriculum. High standards and expectations were set and an enabling framework existed in the school to ensure this happened. Year groups and specialist staff had planning time set aside at the beginning of every ‘unit of inquiry’, and planning templates included cross-curricular links and highlighted transdisciplinary skills. Staff also met at the end of a unit to reflect and, if necessary, to adapt planning documents. Teachers guided children through the inquiry process and worked in collaboration with other specialist staff including the teacher librarian. In this context, the teacher librarian’s input was planned for and they worked collaboratively with teachers and all year groups across the whole school. Challenges can exist in schools where this approach to learning is not embraced. Indeed, Gordon (2010) highlights that difficulties can arise because inquiry learning ‘contradicts a culture of teaching that can be isolationist and individualistic’ (p. 80). While challenges may exist, Stripling (2008) believes the teacher librarians, by working in collaboration with school staff, can play an important role in ‘restructuring the curriculum so that inquiry and problem solving are integrated into all subject areas’ (p. 2).
GI has been developed from Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) model and is based on a constructivist approach to learning (Kuhlthau, & Maniotes, 2010, p. 18) (Fitzgerald, 2011). In order to implement the GI approach effectively, Kuhlthau encourages the use of open-ended questions as the starting point for a research project (Thomas, Crow, & Franklin, 2011 p. 41). This means that teachers need to model and use a range of questioning strategies in order to encourage children to formulate and ask questions. This is just one of many specific teaching skills and strategies for inquiry which are grounded in extensive research. In order to effectively integrate inquiry in schools there needs to be a solid educational understanding of the theories and models surrounding GI and for educators to see for themselves the benefits to the GI learning approach. Indeed, the advantages of a GI approach are very evident when you walk into a school and see children who are enthusiastic, productive independent learners achieving success! I have seen children who have been in a school following this approach for many years to the point where they speak the language of inquiry themselves and take full ownership of their learning.
Collins, Trevor., Gaved, Mark., Mulholland, Paul., Kerawalla, Cindy., Twiner, Alison., Scanlon, Eileen., Jones, Ann., Littleton, Karen., Conole, Grainne and Blake, Canan (2008). Supporting location-based inquiry learning across school, field and home contexts. Proceedings of the MLearn 2008 Conference, 7 – 10 Oct 2008, Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire, UK. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/12393/1/mlearn-2008-0025-collins-crc.pdf
Gordon, C. A. (2010). The culture of inquiry in school libraries. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 73-88.
Kuhlthau, C. K., & Maniotes, L.K. (2010). Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st-Century Learners. School Library Monthly, 26(5), 18.
Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: Guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan, 30(1), 26-41
Stripling, B. (2008). Inquiry-based teaching and learning – the role of the library media specialist. Retrieved from http://lgdata.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/docs/4210/910814/Inquiry_Based_Teaching___Learning_Stripling.pdf
Thomas, N. P., Crow, S. R., & Franklin, L. L. (2011). Chapter 3: The Information Search Process: Kuhlthau’s legacy. In Information literacy and information skills instruction: Applying research to practice in the 21st century school library (3rd ed., pp. 33-58). Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
ASLA’s ‘Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians’ clearly lays out the rationale and reason behind the standards document, defines terms and describes how the document is to be used. ASLA’s standards are divided into three main sections – professional knowledge, professional practice and professional commitment. There are further sub-headings in bullet points. This standards document focus is on the expectations of the teacher librarian. The AASL’s ‘Standards for the learner’s document on the other hand, as the title would suggest, places the emphasis on the learner. It describes the skills, dispositions and attitudes that should be demonstrated by a 21st century learner.
The IASL policy statement describes the function and purpose of the school library and the responsibility of the librarian within the setting. While the statement does not go into as much detail as the ASLA standards, it covers many of the same points related to the role and the professional practice of the TL. Similarly the IFLA/UNESCO’s ‘School Library Manifesto’ is a succinct document giving a broad overview of the goals and management of a school library.
All documents agree on the important role a school library can play in a child’s education. IASL policy statement describes the library as ‘a vital instrument in the education process’ the ASLA standards, when defining a TL state that they ‘support and implement the vision of their school’ and the AASL explain in their standards that school libraries ‘are essential to the development of learning skills’. They all also highlight the importance of the librarian not working in isolation but rather collaborating with staff and students to improve student learning and outcomes.
American Association of School Librarians (AASL) (2007). Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/AASL_LearningStandards.pdf
Australian School Library Association (ASLA) and Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). (2004). Library standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.aspx
IFLA/UNESCO School Library Manifesto (1999; 2006). Retrieved from http://www.ifla.org/VII/s11/pubs/manifest.htm
International Association of School Librarianship (IASL). (2003). IASL Policy Statement on School Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.iasl-online.org/about/handbook/policysl.html
Valenza (2010, para. 2) states “Well into the 21st century, it is clear that the concept of modern teacher librarian practice is not clear”. Indeed, while a number of Standards have emerged, the role of teacher librarian is interpreted in a variety of ways according to different schools and educational settings. The way in which a library is run, its policies and the role of the teacher librarian within this is often a reflection of the educational aims and objectives of the educational setting.
Purcell describes ‘media resource centres’ as “the hub of the learning community” (2010, p. 30) and Herring as “a vital part of the school” (2007, p. 27). I agree that the school library should be at the heart of every school. A major part of the responsibility of the teacher librarian is to create a warm and inviting learning environment. The physical space, layout and resources available should appeal and cater to the staff and children alike.
The teacher librarian juggles a number of different roles that are all interconnected. As an administrator, the running of an efficient library involves managing a budget, sourcing and ordering appropriate materials, running inventories, cataloging and processing books as well as managing staff and volunteers. The teacher librarian should have clearly developed policies and procedures which are communicated to staff and students to ensure the smooth running of the library.
As a teacher, the teacher librarian is responsible for promoting reading and literacy throughout the school and within the wider community including parents. This can involve the organization of book fairs, reading workshops, author visits, book weeks, competitions and making links to external literature events.
The teacher librarian must share the goal of the school as a whole. Increasingly this centres on improving student learning outcomes (Girolami, 2008, p. 12) (Purcell, 2010, p. 30) (Herring, 2007, p. 31). The efficacy of this is supported by studies which demonstrate the significant impact teacher librarians can have on students learning (Herring, 2007, p. 32). A well-developed curriculum showing clear progression is essential so that children and staff are clear on the knowledge skills and understanding that each year group are working towards and are expected to achieve. The teacher librarian will need to teach some ‘standalone’ library skills within the setting but in order to maximise the impact of learning in the library it is important for the teacher librarian to collaborate with staff to integrate instruction with the classroom curriculum.
While the role can vary in terms of role and responsibilities, what is clear is that the position is multi-faceted and is continuing to change. I feel it is the responsibility of the teacher librarian and the wider profession as a whole to be open to this change and to continually adjust goals and priorities in order to be an effective practitioner and manager.
Girolami, A. (2008). The role of the teacher librarian in learning and literacy. Incite, 29(5), 12.
Hamilton, B. J. (2011). The School Librarian as Teacher: What kind of teacher are you?. Knowledge Quest, 39(5), 34-40.
Herring, J. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In S. Ferguson (Ed.) Libraries in the twenty-first century : charting new directions in information (pp. 27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW : Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.
Lodge, D. & Pymm, B. (2007). Library managers today : the challenges. In S. Ferguson (Ed.), Libraries in the twenty-first century : charting new directions in information services (pp. 289-310). Wagga Wagga, NSW : Centre for Information Studies,Charles Sturt University.
Purcell, M. (2010). All librarians do is check out books, right? A look at the roles of a school library media specialist. Library Media Connection, 29(3), 30-33.
Valenza, J. (2010). A revised Manifesto. In Neverending Search. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2010/12/03/a-revised-manifesto/