As I reflect on my studies at Charles Sturt University (CSU) and their subsequent impact on my practice as a teacher librarian, three themes emerge: the role of a teacher librarian, resourcing the curriculum and digital citizenship. In this blog post, my final portfolio, I will explore these three themes, explaining how the things I have learnt throughout my time at CSU have impacted my practice and giving evidence of the impact of these changes on my colleagues and their practice. It has been an incredibly positive and valuable reflective experience talking with my colleagues and hearing them discuss the impact of the changes I have made and am making to the way I do my work. This exercise has definitely strengthened my beliefs in the value of collaboration in the workplace!
Theme 1: The role of a teacher librarian
In 2014, at the very beginning of my first subject at CSU, I vividly remember devouring the early readings that outlined the role and value of the school library and teacher librarian. The role was so much bigger than I had realised, as I reflected in one of my earliest blog posts, and I found myself realising that many of these roles were things I was already doing as a teacher, not realising they were identified as roles of a teacher librarian. By the end of the subject, I had become fully engaged in exploring the many possible roles I can take on as a teacher librarian. While I don’t see that particular journey as complete (in fact, I hope it never is complete), there are several roles that have been the focus of the development of my practice since I started at CSU in ETL401 Introduction to Teacher Librarianship.
Teacher librarian as administrator
One role that is perhaps a traditional area of responsibility for a teacher librarian is administration of the library. Although this is not a revolutionary idea, it is vital that both the development of the collection and the systems of the library run smoothly to ensure all library patrons are able to locate, use and borrow items with ease (IFLA School Libraries Standing Committee, Oberg & Schultz-Jones, 2015, p. 27).
One of the most important aspects of library administration is management of the collection to ensure it meets the needs of students and staff. Part of this is routine weeding of the collection, a task I felt confident to begin after reading some of the literature on this topic. As I continued to read on this subject, however, I began to feel uncertain about my confident weeding decisions, as reflected in one of my blog reflections. Having now completed an extensive weeding of the entire library collection, both I and others can see the value of what was initially a controversial process. Continual weeding ensures that there is adequate space on the shelves, users can find materials more easily, the collection remains appealing and gaps in the collection can be easily identified (Larson, 2012, pp. 15-16).
In the audio clip below, one of our school’s library technicians talks about the ongoing benefits of the weeding that we undertook together.
Another aspect of library administration that became a focus for me during my studies was the library management system. Our school was selected as one of the first batch of NSW public schools to migrate from the DOS-based Oasis library management system, to a far more modern library management system: Oliver. Anyone who has managed the migration to a new library management system will know the hours of preparation that go into getting ready for the migration and the follow-up management that is required as staff and patrons get used to using the new system. Our migration was thankfully smooth and the new library management system is much more user-friendly for both library staff and patrons.
In the audio clip below, the Administration Manager of my school discusses my role in the management of the migration to Oliver and its impact on the school.
Teacher librarian as instructional partner
There is a persistent idea that the library and, by extension, teacher librarian are separate from the rest of the business of the school – an adjunct to the core work of the school. The concept of teacher librarian as instructional partner sits in stark contrast to the idea of separation, as the term “instructional partner” implies a sense of collaboration (Purcell, 2010, p. 32). One of the main struggles in establishing this role is that many teachers do not see it as a role of the teacher librarian, so making teachers aware of this potential to collaborate is an ongoing priority.
In my context, progress in establishing this role has been slow-going, but one area in which I have had some success is Gifted and Talented education, due to my role as Gifted and Talented coordinator this year. This year, I developed a Guided Inquiry teaching guide based on the work of Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari (2012). The intention of the guide is to assist teachers in implementing curriculum-based Guided Inquiry tasks and units for Gifted and Talented students, and supporting students throughout their inquiry. It is my hope that this will extend to all students in the future.
In the audio clip below, a stage coordinator at my school discusses the impact of the Guided Inquiry teaching guide on his thinking and planning. As you will hear, he is using the guide to frame his thinking about how to incorporate more inquiry learning across his stage as he plans for the upcoming year.
Teacher librarian as curriculum leader
Curriculum knowledge is defined by the Australian School Library Association (ASLA) as a standard of professional excellence for teacher librarians (2004, standard 1.3). Beyond this, teacher librarians should be involved in leadership in this area through participation in curriculum planning and promotion of information literacy throughout the school (ASLA, 2005, p. 61).
Prior roles I held within the school required me to have a high level of curriculum knowledge across all primary stages, so this role of a teacher librarian has been a natural progression for me. Along with several other teachers who have been at the school for a long time, I am someone other teachers consult regularly about curriculum matters. This is not necessarily because I am the teacher librarian, but I am happy to use these interactions to promote library resources and direct teachers to materials they were not previously aware of or did not know the location of.
The impact of these interactions vary from teacher to teacher, but they are always positive collaborations. In the audio clip below, a teacher and stage coordinator from my school talks about the impact of some of our past curriculum discussions.
Theme 2: Resourcing the curriculum
One of the most important aspects of any library is its collection. The purpose of a school library collection is to provide resources that support delivery of the school’s curriculum (ASLA, 2009). This means that items in the collection should be selected specifically for the school community the library serves from the many available resources (Mitchell, 2011, p. 12). In order to understand the school community, Bishop (2007, p. 23) suggests a combination of formal and informal data collection.
This has been a challenging area for me and change has been slow. Having said that, I reflected on my blog that I have come to view any progress, no matter how small, a step in the right direction – I do not have to be instantly perfect! So while there are many things that I would like to do more of – formal data collection being one – I am happy with the progress I have made.
I decided last year that I would select an area of the library that needed enrichment – the Anzac collection – and focus on adding value to that part of the collection. This was an interesting topic to choose, as the Anzac story is a key focus across all stages, so the resources need to cover an incredibly diverse range of users, and the collection needed to have a variety of non-fiction and fiction titles that are housed in their respective library sections. This decision came about as I pulled books from shelves all around the library for an Anzac display and realised that there were not enough titles to meet needs across the school community. I subsequently added a number of fiction picture books to the collection for younger readers and a selection of both fiction and non-fiction titles for older readers.
In the audio clip below, a Stage 1 teacher talks about the impact of the addition of more Anzac titles for younger readers.
An aspect specific to my school’s community is the remoteness of our students. I work in a distance education primary school, so our students are not on site. Some are travelling around Australia with their families, others are living overseas temporarily, some cannot attend mainstream school for medical or behavioural reasons, while others are with us due to tight performance or sporting schedules at elite levels. This presents unique challenges for student access to the collection as students cannot simply walk into the library and collect a book they need or want. As such, over many years a system of teachers borrowing books on behalf of their students has come about, sometimes with requests from students, but more often than not without. The rapidly changing needs of students in a digital age are certainly difficult to meet in such a system.
For this reason, I introduced eBooks to our library collection this year. Witten, Bainbridge and Nichols note that a digital library collection needs parameters (2010, p. 8). As such, I curated a small collection of eBooks to purchase and set out to find the best provider for the job. This turned out to be an incredibly complex process that involved a lot of negotiation with various providers to ensure they understood our circumstances. Following the decision to go with a particular provider, further problems arose with selection. Particular titles we wanted for units within our school curriculum were only available if we chose 50 separate titles from the same publisher – a condition of the publisher, of course! Selecting these 50 titles from a disorganised Excel spreadsheet was certainly not what I thought this process would look like! Other publishers have 2-year expiry dates set on their titles. It seems that publishers do not particularly encourage libraries lending out their eBook titles! Despite this, we rolled out an eBook program to a small cohort of students early in the year, who found it a valuable resource. We then rolled it out to all students from Years 2-6.
Responses from teachers have been mixed, with some expressing anger at the constraints placed on titles by publishers. Others have actively promoted eBooks to their students, who have enjoyed having instant access to a diverse library of digital titles. For our students, being able to select their own books and have access to them instantly, both for school work and leisure reading, is an exciting step toward a student-centred library experience.
In the audio clip below, an executive staff member talks about the impact of eBooks for our distance education students.
Theme 3 – Digital citizenship
Digital citizenship is a relatively new area for teacher librarians to teach, but its roots are firmly in information management, which is why it is such a good fit for the library. In a recent blog post, I reflected on what it means to be a good digital citizen and likened it to the concept of belonging. Citizens of a country belong to the group of people who are citizens of that country, and there are certain behaviours and thought patterns that make someone a good citizen rather than a bad citizen.
One aspect of being a good digital citizen is ensuring that any works you cite are properly attributed to their author. In recent years, the creative commons movement has spread around the world, and more and more people are choosing to publish their ideas and works under creative commons licences. Using materials published under these conditions allows educators to firstly have access to excellent materials, but secondly to model best practice digital citizen behaviour to students.
In my own work, I have had the opportunity to promote creative commons and public domain images through materials I create for the school. A recent example of this is a set of writing task prompt cards I created for Stage 1 students based around the Archibald Prize, an art exhibition held annually at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). A previous incarnation of this writing task saw images from the AGNSW website reproduced without permission on the prompt pages. When I modified the tasks and prompt pages, I made sure to use only creative commons and public domain images on the pages, with links to the images of paintings I wanted students to view.
In the image below, you can see the writing task sheet based on the artwork by Phillip Barnes of Anna Meares. Instead of breaking copyright by using the image from the AGNSW website, a web address and QR code have been used to link to the image instead, and two Creative Commons images have been used with appropriate attributions to the creators next to each image. A link to Anna Meares’s website has also been included at the bottom of the page.
In the image below, you can see the writing task sheet based on the artwork by Marc Etherington of Del Kathryn Barton and her dog Magic Dog. As before, a web address and QR code have been used to link to the image instead of reproducing it without permission, and a public domain image of a similar-looking dog to Magic Dog has been used on the page to add visual interest for students.
In the image below, you can see a work sample from a Year 1 student, shared with permission. The student’s work demonstrates reference to the linked artwork, showing that the link was a suitable substitution for reproducing the artwork image without permission.
In the audio clip below, a Stage 1 teacher talks about the impact of the use of creative commons and public domain images in the writing tasks.
As the Stage 1 teacher mentions in the audio recording, creating prompt pages using public domain and creative commons images has shown other teachers what is possible. In this way, I have shown leadership through demonstrating best practice and allowing others to see how doing so does not impact on the delivery of the lesson.
Beyond the use of creative commons and public domain images, many other aspects of copyright affect what can and cannot be done in schools. Finding information about the licences and exceptions that govern the way public schools interact with copyrighted materials is an often confusing information-seeking journey. Even navigating the official copyright information websites suggested to schools, such as the Smart Copying website, is a difficult business. Distance education schools such as the school in which I work often have quite specific uses for copyright materials that do not apply to mainstream schools. As such, many teachers are put off by the time-consuming and confusing nature of such a task. For this reason, I have spent much time trawling these websites and making enquiries to find a way forward for our school. An interesting intersection of the teacher librarian’s role in digital citizenship and providing information services has naturally occurred as a result.
In the audio clip below, a teacher who writes curriculum materials for the school talks about the impact of the advice I have provided and followed up for her regarding copyright.
The process of seeking feedback from my colleagues has been incredibly useful in helping me reflect on the progress I have made as a teacher librarian. Rather than focusing on what I am yet to do and where I want to be, I have been forced to consider the excellent progress I have made so far. I have very much appreciated the opportunity to provide library services to my school community. I have enjoyed the challenges of working in a distance education setting and always appreciate the warm feedback I receive from my colleagues and students throughout the school. While there is so much more I want to achieve within the library, I am excited to see that the impact of my studies on my own thinking has filtered down to impact positively on the teachers at my school. I look forward to continuing to serve my school community as a teacher librarian, and as I look to the future I see much collaborative learning and teaching on the horizon. Onward and upward!
Australian School Library Association (2009). Statement on school library resource provision. Retrieved from: http://www.asla.org.au/Policy/School-library-resource-provision.aspx
Australian School Library Association (2005). Learning for the future: Developing information services in schools (2nd ed.). Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Curriculum Corporation.
Australian School Library Association (2004). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from: http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.aspx
Bishop, K. (2007). The collection program in schools: Concepts, practices and information sources (4th ed.). Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.
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.
IFLA School Libraries Standing Committee, Oberg, D. & Schultz-Jones, B. (2015). IFLA school library guidelines (2nd ed.). Retrieved from: http://www.ifla.org/publications/node/9512
Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A.K. (2012) Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC.
Larson, J. (2012). CREW: A weeding manual for modern libraries. Retrieved from: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/sites/default/files/public/tslac/ld/ld/pubs/crew/crewmethod12.pdf
Mitchell, P. (2011). Resourcing 21st century online Australian Curriculum: The role of school libraries. FYI: The Journal for the School Information Professional, 15(2), 10-15.
Purcell, M. (2010). All librarians do is check out books right? A look at the roles of the school library media specialist. Library Media Connection, 29(3), 30-33.
Witten, I. H., Bainbridge, D., & Nichols, D. M. (2010). How to build a digital library. Burlington, MA.: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Image source: Primate by Pixel-mixer. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/primate-ape-thinking-mimic-view-1019101/