I would like to begin my “Reflective Portfolio” by going back to where my love of books and reading and enjoyment of the library started. As a young child growing up on the fringes of the Australian outback I did not have the opportunity for much of a formal education . However I was an avid reader and my love of books was the catalyst for me becoming a lifelong learner. The highlight of the fortnightly trip into town for supplies included a visit to the small local library and it was here my love of the library was born. I can still feel the anticipation of walking up the stairs of the small weatherboard building that housed this treasure trove of adventure filled stories. When I was engrossed in the adventures of the “Famous Five” or “Secret Seven” I was transported to a world far beyond the harsh terrain of the outback landscape. Fast forward to present day and I see the same wonder on the faces of the children at my school when they are engrossed in their “quiet reading” time as part of their weekly library lesson. This is one of the aspects that I love most about being involved in a library.
When I was finally able to realise my dream and begin my Masters of Teacher Librarianship, my journey really did start at the start. I openly admit I did not fully understand the scope and scale of the Teacher Librarian (TL) role at the beginning of my studies. Every aspect of this course has been a revelation in its own right however due to the word and time constraints of this paper, and it being a “Personal Reflection”, I will discuss three main areas that have had a particular impact on my learning journey, both educationally and personally. These areas are: the importance of collaboration; resourcing the curriculum and library collection; and social networking technologies.
Collaboration is the key
During my first weeks of study, in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the role of a TL, I called one of the local large school libraries and made an appointment to meet with the head librarian. I asked her what she perceived as her main roles as a TL. Her immediate response was, “Collaborating with the teachers and resourcing the curriculum”. I was surprised at this. Whilst I had envisaged the role as involving a little more than “checking out books” (Purcell, 2010) I hadn’t thought a TL would be so involved in the curriculum of the school. To hear this was very exciting, imagine being able to contribute to the learning programs of the school as well as become a librarian! I also didn’t fully understand the importance of communicating and collaborating with the teachers. Since then I have come to realise that a successful relationship between TLs and teachers results in their enthusiasm being passed down to the students. (Lamb, 2011).
Another landmark discovery was during the first subject of my studies, ETL401, when I was introduced to the twelve “Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians” (ASLA/ALIA, 2004). Upon first reading this, I felt somewhat overwhelmed. How could one person ever possibly meet all this criteria? However as my studies progressed I began to understand that these standards are not seen in isolation of each other, but rather an intertwining and overlapping set of guidelines to strive for within our work environment. Discovering Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) and her Guided Inquiry (GI) heralded another particularly significant concept early on in my learning journey. This wonderful model, developed over several decades of studying student’s thoughts, actions and feelings addresses these key areas; i.e., the student’s feelings, thoughts and actions. I refer to this and strive to apply it during my work, not only with young students but also with the adults I teach in an “Adult Literacy Program”. The adult students I teach come from all walks of life, and it has proven to me how important it is not to prejudge people, or assume that because they have low literacy skills they come from a low socio-economic background or could not be bothered to apply themselves at school. Two of my students in particular are people in their sixties who have been very successful in their business lives, however due to their family situations as children were never able to attend school for any length of time. They developed strategies during their life to cover up the fact that they have poor literacy skills. One of these gentlemen told me in our initial interview he “just wanted to be able to read a book” now he is retired.
Kuhlthau (2010) tells us there are five kinds of learning incorporated in the Inquiry process i.e., curriculum content, information literacy, learning how to learn, literacy competence, social skills, and in order to ensure they are receiving a program that is designed to meet their individual needs I believe it is necessary to address all of these. During these early stages of getting to know my students, through a relaxed informal environment I make a point of finding out their literacy competence, social skills, and what they hope to achieve from our time together. This ensures I am able to develop a program that is at a suitable learning level for them. Each week when we meet I ask my student how they found the tasks I set for them to complete and make any necessary changes from there. The response I have received to this has been very positive, and they genuinely seem to appreciate and benefit from having their lessons tailored to suit them individually.
In a society where less than half the adult population can read and write to an acceptable level, this approach is instrumental in helping to ensure lessons are prepared and presented in a manner which encourages learning, promotes empathy with the students and ensures they also maintain their dignity. Studying this model also reinforced to me once again the importance of collaboration and communication between the TL and teaching staff to ensure a successful outcome for all (Kuhlthau,2010).
Whist progressing along my study path, I came to understand how vital it is for the TL to foster and maintain a good relationship with their school principal. This was reinforced to me in a real life scenario upon my study visit to All Saints School. Having a principal that values teacher librarians and supports the library has seen their school library grow from a small room that encompassed the entire school to the junior and middle and senior schools now having their own separate libraries. A new library for the middle and senior school is currently being built. Having viewed the plans for it, I can envisage it will be a magnificent learning hub. This could only be achieved through the financial support of the principal. According to the SCIS Report (2013) obtaining a satisfactory budget for the school library is one of the single biggest issues the TL can face. Rosenfield & Loertscher (2007) advocate the three key ways to gain principal support are to build professional credibility, communicate effectively and work to advance school goals. I have seen this in evidence at this school and the obvious close working relationship between the Head of Information Literacy and the principal is working proof of what successful communication and collaboration can achieve (Walter & Weisburg, 2011). I am currently employed as a casual library assistant, and we recently had a new TL employed to become head of the library. I have already noticed some areas where her efforts to work more closely with the principal have benefitted the school. By communicating with him and keeping him abreast of her plans for the library she has gained approval to increase the amount of teaching hours in the library, and also received financial support to upgrade the carpet and shelving in the senior library. It is all going towards lifting the profile of the library within the school. This has been a very educational scenario for me. By including the principal in the day to day operation, rather than distancing the library from the rest of the school, it has shown me what can be achieved in even a short space of time once the principal is on board.
This leads me on to the subject of building and maintaining the library collection.
Resourcing the curriculum and the library collection
Being able to play a productive and central role in the school programs by way of resourcing the curriculum is one of the main contributions a TL can make to their school. In Valenza’s “Librarian’s Manifesto” (2011), some form of resourcing the curriculum appears in a large number of her points. It is also an ideal opportunity for the TL to establish themselves as a key member of staff and assist with guiding the teaching staff and students in a 21st century digital environment (Stripling, 2010).
In order to successfully resource and meet the curriculum requirements of the school, the school library must have an adequate and comprehensive collection. In ETL503, we covered the subject of building a library collection, for this purpose. This was very educational to me personally, at it took us from the very beginning of planning the collection to meet the standards, procedures and practices set by the Australian Curriculum and teaching and learning programs (DETA, 2013). I also learned that the collection should meet the specific educational needs and curriculum of the school and support the school’s literacy programs. I revisited this subject with an experienced TL, seeking her practical experience in this. Our discussions reinforced to me what I had been studying in ETL503.
When researching the high priority task of establishing a collection policy for a library collection, I was interested to read that Johnson (2009) advocates that, in order to be effective, a collection policy needs to be written to consider the needs of the school community and meet the school’s values and mission statement. This is an issue that has become apparent to me since working at a Christian College. The TL must ensure that the library collection at all times reflects the school’s ethos and goals (Walter & Weisburg, 2011), as the student’s parents and carers rely on the library staff to ensure the material their children are exposed to is appropriate. Whilst ensuring the library collection meets all this criteria, the interpersonal role of the TL it can never be underrated. It is all well and good for the students and teachers to have all these resources at their fingertips, however a passionate personable library staff member who is willing to put the time into assisting students find their way around the collection remains paramount.
However, no matter how comprehensive the library collection is, the importance of collaboration between the TL and teachers is still needed to ensure students are encouraged to immerse themselves thus leading to a proven success rate of students learning levels and ensuring better grades (Lamb, 2011). In these changing times, it is also important for the TL to stay abreast of technological changes and apply this knowledge to their collection. The library collection needs to not only meet the school curriculum and learning outcomes of the school but must also include a range of digital and print resources delivered in a variety of ways to meet the constantly changing user needs (O’Connell, 2011). As both a teacher aide and library assistant at my school, I have found I am in a useful position to observe what is happening in both the classrooms and the library. At times I have been able to convey back to the librarian feedback from the teachers, regarding whether a particular resource is working within the classroom or if they feel is not achieving the desired outcomes. I have then had the opportunity to work with the librarian and help select and deliver an alternative resource. This has led to a positive outcome for both, as due to time constraints it can sometimes be difficult for the teachers to get away from their classrooms and it assists the librarian by having a staff member who is in both areas.
Social networking technologies
I love the learning opportunities we have today in our exciting technological advanced world, however I am the first to admit, I do suffer from a slight case of “technology anxiety”. During research, I found a “Librarian’s 2.0 Manifesto” by Laura Cohen (2006) which really captured my thinking and provided a blueprint for what a Librarian 2.0 should aspire to. In particular, the phrase, “I will not fear Google or related services, but rather will take advantage of these services to benefit users while also providing excellent library services that users need” struck a chord. This manifesto can be viewed via the following link:
Partridge (2011) coined the term, “Librarians 2.0”, and stresses that the biggest attribute a successful TL or any information professional in a Web 2.0 world can possess is a willingness to change their mindset and embrace this new world. I made a vow to myself to ensure I did this and chose INF506 as an elective in an effort to further my knowledge of social networking technologies. Once I got over my initial trepidation, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about a range of social networking technologies within the context of the library.
Learning about Web 2.0 was particularly educational. It was a term I had heard bandied about, but didn’t fully understand. Put into a context of six key areas (Anderson, 2007) of blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, multimedia sites such as YouTube, podcasts and RSS, I discovered I had actually been using some of them without realising it! I love how the exciting world of Web 2.0 takes us from the static pages to interactive platform. I am old enough to remember the excitement when the “World Wide Web” was first introduced, and how it was often dismissed by some who felt it was just a passing fad. How wrong they were! Today, students blogging, sharing information on Facebook and twitter and using the internet and the Web 2.0 interactive platform is as much part of their regular routine as cleaning their teeth! When I studied part of my undergraduate degree many years ago by distance education, our learning materials consisted of booklets via the post and handwritten or typed assignments sent through the mail. This time around, the whole world of forums, podcasts blackboard sites and discussion sites and communicating with lecturers via email has opened up a whole new study world. It is a wonderful experience, to be able to hear and “see” the lecturers as you would on campus. Social networking has also opened up a whole new way of finding resources for both assignments and lesson planning for me. It is wonderful to have an entire “world wide web” of information at your fingertips. I find I use forums, blogs and Facebook pages in particular to communicate and interact with other people who have the same work or study interests.
The closed Facebook group we shared in INF506 was a wonderful support base, offering the opportunity to communicate with a group who had the same goals, and sharing their same concerns and triumphs with them. This also opened up the world of online identities. I found it particularly interesting, that in a world where almost all teenage students have an online identity of some kind, most of them are quite unconcerned and blasé about the security aspect of this ( Raynes-Goldie 2010) It is reassuring to see that security measures and a safe online environment is of paramount concern to most educational institutions. As Herring (2011) points out, it is extremely important that teachers and TLs need to evaluate websites and information first to ensure it is suitable for library and children. I found Kathy Schrock’s “5 W’s of website evaluation” (2009) an invaluable guide to refer to for this task. Again the collaborative efforts of TLs and teachers (Kuntz, 2003) come into play here.
In addition to the topics covered in INF506, there were other “technological learning curves” for me as well. At the commencement of our studies, one of the first tasks we were required to do was set up a Blog. This was the first of many challenges for me and I must admit I felt a huge sense of accomplishment afterward. This blog can be viewed at the following URL: http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/susanne/
This was followed by another new concept; creating a Pathfinder during studying ETL501. The whole concept of creating and using pathfinders in the classroom was completely new to me. When undertaking the construction of my pathfinder, I approached a Year Two teacher who was in the process of teaching narrative writing based on fairy tales to her class. I created my pathfinder with an audience of seven to eight year olds in mind, using appropriate language suitable for this age group. I aligned my learning material with the ACARA (2013) General Capabilities of literacy, creative and critical thinking and ICTs. The teacher I collaborated with was very receptive to trialling the pathfinder with her class, and I was present during the lessons to offer instruction to the students. They all found it to be a useful tool to assist becoming competent at accessing information from a range of digital resources available to them. At the end of term the students then collaborated as a class to create their own pieces of narrative writing from the ideas they gained from these resources.
The feedback from the class was very positive. They particularly enjoyed using their computers to carry out their research from their classroom, and also it helped shorten the process of searching for resources. The teacher was very positive about the role it played and how the use of the pathfinder helped simplify what can often be a lengthy and frustrating process for students when attempting to locate resources. Once again, regardless of what format the lesson may take, the key issue of collaboration (Kuntz, 2003) between us ensured the students’ needs were met.
This is reinforced by Lamb and Johnston (2006-2012) who demonstrate that some of the most effective pathfinders are developed as a collaborative effort with TLs and teachers. My pathfinder can be found at the following URL:
The world of the library and its staff is constantly changing due to the expectations of the library’s users and the systems they expect to have access to. Today’s library users are techno savvy digitally aware citizens. However let us not lose sight of the fact that whilst our students of this digital age may be familiar with the technology from an early age, they still need help understanding how to use this information and apply it (Lamb, 2011). I have come to the realisation during my studies that we are not only librarians but information professionals as well.
Whilst our studies have ranged across a wide spectrum of topics, now near the completion of my course it has all come together to emphasise to me how central our role is to the good of the school and its students. Students who are exposed to a comprehensive library program benefit greatly and their achievements exceed those who have limited access to their school library, (Walter & Weisburg, 2007). One of our ongoing challenges is to demonstrate that it will be to the student’s detriment if they are deprived of what they learn in the school library under the directions of a skilled TL.
I have also come to understand that the job of a TL is a challenging, exciting and multi-faceted role. We wear many hats and libraries of the 21st century will continue to evolve to become hubs of digital learning. However I still strongly believe that books transcend time and have the capacity to stay with us for the rest of our lives. I was recently asked by a teacher to recommend some “wholesome” books for her Year Three class. I pointed out an old favourite; Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” series. As the students filed out the door to return to their classroom after their “quiet” reading time, one of the boys, proudly carrying his copy of the “Adventures of the Famous Five” under his arm, called out to me, “Great pick, Mrs Cole!”, and gave me a thumbs up. I felt a warm glow, knowing that amongst all the new technology, collaborating and communicating sometimes the simple pleasure of assisting a child to find a book that they will truly enjoy and in turn will encourage their love of reading is still an integral part of what we, as TLs will continue to do.
I would like to end my reflective portfolio with one of my favourite quotes from Dr Seuss “The more that you read the more things you will know. The more that you learn the more places you will go”…
Anderson, P. (2007) What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for Education, JISC Technology and Standards Watch, from http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140702233839/http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/techwatch/tsw0701b.pdf
Australian Curriculum Assessment & Reporting Authority (ACARA) (2013) General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/GeneralCapabilities/Overview/general-capabilities-in-the-australian-curriculum
Australian School Library Association (ASLA) and Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). (2004). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians.
Cohen, L. (2006). A Librarian’s 2.0 Manifesto. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZblrRs3fkSU
Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETA) (2013) Curriculum into the classroom (C2C). Retrieved from http://deta.qld.goc.au/induction/ed/teachers/my-teaching-space/my-curricuum/planning-assessment.html
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Lamb, A. (2011). Bursting with potential: Mixing a media specialist’s palette.Techtrends: Linking research & practice to improve learning, 55(4), 27-36.
O’Connell, J. (2011). Learning without frontiers: School libraries and meta-literacy in action. Paper presented at the ASLA XXII Conference, St. Ignatius’ College, Sydney. Retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/publications/access/access-commentaries/school-libraries-and-meta-literacy.aspx
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Seuss, Dr. (1978) I can read with my eyes shut. Random House:USA
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Walter, V. & Weisberg, H. (2011) Being indispensable: A school librarian’s guide to becoming an invaluable leader. ALA Editions:Chicago