One of the reasons I enrolled in a Masters of education (Teacher Librarian) is because I love books, especially children’s books. I want to share that love with everyone because the simple act of reading has the power to change us so very much.
While thinking about my personal philosophy I thought back to the interview for my current teacher librarian position. Prior to the interview my deputy principal told me I needed to finish on a WOW moment; a statement that shows my passion and will give others goose bumps. I wrote a page and a half to convey how I feel about libraries, books and the power of reading. I have honed it down to a succinct personal philosophy.
Through reading we learn about ourselves, our community and our world and as a teacher librarian I facilitate that learning. Information gives us power. Stories connect us together. Reading provides an escape. By providing an open, safe and welcoming space; students and teachers can be inspired to explore, create, harness and enjoy words. Literacy opens the world and it is my role to support teachers, learners and readers, to cater for the needs of my community while providing a rich, warm and inviting environment where curiosity, collaboration and creativity is encouraged.
What’s It All About?
I started this course thinking it would all be about my first love – books. Once immersed I realised how much I had to learn; how libraries have changed and how vitally important a good teacher librarian (TL) is. In an ever-changing world, information is now currency and being able to harness the power of the written word is a skill needed to succeed.
While I always knew that libraries were important, I never realised how much so until undertaking this course. ETL 401 introduced me to the realities of being a teacher librarian. I learnt about Information Literacy and Inquiry Learning and I learnt that teacher librarians can have a positive influence on learning. I learnt that student achievement is directly impacted by having a well- resourced and appropriately staffed school library and that developing a primary school library collection requires focusing on the needs of the wider school community (Bonnano, K. 2015). Completing this course covered a number of topics I expected such as cataloguing and literature, but others like digital citizenship and TL as leader were unexpected, eye opening and exciting.
It was good to see common elements ran through subjects such as technology and literature; it built up my knowledge in manageable chunks, linked the subjects together and highlighted their importance in a library setting. Coming into this course all I really thought about was story books and while I still think fiction is vitally important in a library, I now see the role of the TL as more than just the bringer of books.
For the love of books
Providing quality texts and texts students want opens up worlds to those that read them. Through the stories we read or listen to we can explore the world and ourselves in a safe space. We also learn so much, sometimes without even realising it.
Barone (2011) tells us how reading is more than just a skill. It is about making connections – emotional and intellectual. Making connections makes students want to read more. By cultivating a diverse library collection that reflects the community it serves, a TL can provide books that students can connect to and learn from; books students can see themselves in.
When I started my TL journey, I was working with a very experienced TL who had developed an amazing collection and really understood the power of a good book. Every book in the library was chosen or approved of, by her (an earlier fire meant the collection started with her). She had developed her collection based on the community it served. However, I did not understand that this collection was more than just books that were good to read. ETL 402 Literature across the curriculum opened my eyes to what stories can be.
ETL402 was my dream subject – a whole course on children’s books – and my first blog post for this subject reflects my excitement. As I progressed through the course, I learnt so much; about how books have changed, how they can hook readers into new topics and how books are still evolving. The TL I was first working with knew the power of a good story to pique interest and lay the basis for understanding and she could grab a text off a shelf that would suit your needs with only moments’ notice. Her knowledge of the library collection and what it offered was amazing and I wanted to be her.
Fast forward to my new position. I moved to new school with an old library. The space and collection were small and dated, and the collection filled with texts that were, it seemed, purchased because they were cheap, not quality. I was constantly looking for books I loved and couldn’t find them. I went from feeling excited to have my own library, to despairing about its state.
But I buckled up and went to work. I revisited my blog, reading posts like Why Read? (Cornwell, 2018) and some course notes to arm myself with the facts as to why I needed to update and diversify the collection. I know that reading stories is how we help ‘poor’ readers become good readers (Haven, 2007). ETL402 taught the importance of literary learning; learning about world though texts and how this can spark interest in topics. I know that students come to us with their own experiences (Pearl Tree Education, 2012, May 12) and by reading relatable stories we can provide a scaffold for introducing new topics and a chance for students to connect their own understandings and experiences with a wider world.
I knew my library held potential and I slowly discovered that mixed in with some of the questionable books were a few hidden treasures that needed to be shared. I started with the basics, making the library environment warm, inviting and open. I moved books and shelves; I made books as accessible as possible.
I embraced the knowledge I learnt in ETL402 and started exploring texts we did not have. I was able to justify my actions in my library to my supervisor when I wanted to buy a wider range of books. I wanted to give my students back the gift of reading (Hipple, 1996). I wanted to have a library full of books that they wanted to read and were ‘good’ for them. I had so many ideas and tried to do them all at once – so of course I failed and got sick.
So, this year I have learnt, you need to take one step at a time. You need to plan and be willing to adapt based on what happens (like the library being painted, or the roof being done, or shelves breaking and of course COVID!). So now I am working on a couple of foci, rather than fifty.
I am incorporating collaborative reading activities and celebrations in my library lessons to support reading (Marcoux, E.B & Loertscher, D.V. 2009). I am working on diversity in my collection; embracing multicultural literature so I can balance stereotypes and let my non-Australian students see themselves in texts (National Louis University, 2012). I am giving my students time to read, explore and talk about books and I am giving them choice – to choose and enjoy the books they want. I am giving them the choice to be a reader.
As someone who has spent a good chunk of the last 20 years in an office, I know that technology has come a long way. I used various programs to do my job. I also bought both my kid’s laptops when their school went BYOD (bring your own device) and saw their computer labs at school. However, this did little to prepare me for what technology could do in education, nor how a TL could embrace this technology.
Modern libraries are more than books. Technology is a big part of a library from using a library management system to find books, to using the internet for research and printers to print in 3-D. The first school library I worked in had 18 computers for student use, and while initially they sat empty during library lesson’s; I then started ETL523 Digital Citizenship.
ETL523 Digital Citizenship was amazing! Teachers and students now have all this power and access to vast quantities of information in the palm of their hands (Brueck, J. 2014). However, as Spiderman (and Voltaire) said ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’. As my students are in a world that has never not had computers or the internet, I would have thought they could navigate it easily. I soon learned the falseness of the term digital native (BarkHo, G., 2016).
With ETL523 I learned the importance of teaching digital and media literacy. I learnt how creating spaces that encourage creativity and collaboration are important (Hamilton, B. 2010), how the TL is an important resource for harnessing the power of technology in teaching and learning (Bonanno, K. 2011) and how that just because our students are online, some constantly, doesn’t mean they fully understand how the web actually works (Coombe, B. , 2009). I now know that as a TL I need to teach my students how to use this amazing technology wisely and well. And I learnt that when I do that, the sky is limit.
ETL523 introduced me to the term digital citizens and showed me the importance of making our students good online citizens. Digital forms of communication are so widely available, but they do come with their own unique rules. If we want students to participate in this community, we need to teach them these sophisticated skills, so they are safe and act appropriately while online (Waters, J.K, 2012). Just like we teach our children to drive a car, we need to teach them how to navigate the web.
I started implementing some of the skills and tools I learnt about. At my previous school my Stage 3 students were introduced to Padlet and Thinglink and the tools they used in the library became resources they accessed in the classroom. They used these tools to gather and share information and were excited to collaborate across classes. The teachers were so impressed they started using these tools as well!
One of the criteria for my current job was around implementing digital technology in the library, so I was excited to see what I could do at a school that was encouraging of digital use. However, the reality was a little different. The library I inherited had three old, slow desktop computers and 4 old, small, slow laptops (and nowhere to plug them in). Students used them during lunchtimes to play games and that was it.
I slowly started adding technology into my library lessons last year, only to discover my students’ skills with technology are very limited. I put into the ‘too hard’ basket to be tackled again properly this year. So, this year I had plans, I had an order and then I had a global pandemic to deal with. Using technology at school was replaced with teaching using technology to students learning remotely. My carefully laid out plans went out the window.
Joyce Valenza (2010) talks about how we can take the library outside the physical space it resides in and because of COVID-19 something I knew about in theory, became priority. I had to bring the library to my students online. I developed library pages for the school learning hub (website). I posted information online about the Premiers Reading Challenge and information for parents about reading at home. I added some games and resource sites for teachers. I connected with my students over the internet.
Now that we are back to school, my library website has unfortunately been pushed to one side. Normal day to day school is in full swing, but we are still feeling the effects of missing school, so we are playing catch-up. Investing time to get technology embedded into my lessons is something that I need to work on moving forward.
Completing this final subject has also made me reflect back on using technology to make my job easier. I revisited my blog posts Digital Curation and Social media and educational networking (Cornwell, 2018) to get me thinking – where do I go from here? This is something worth spending time on and coming up with a plan for the future.
Creating a collection
Starting my TL journey, I realise how very green and ignorant I was about the role of a TL. I used libraries, I loved libraries, but I didn’t really understand the complexity what went into them. Completing ETL402 gave me an insight, insight that was built upon by completing ETL503 Resourcing the curriculum.
ETL503 opened up the world of collection development for me. A library is not just a building that holds haphazardly thrown together books, but it is a growing organism that serves a particular mission (Koren, J., 2007). It needs to be nurtured and planned, it needs to be thought out and constantly evaluated; and it needs tending. The library collection needs to be based on community need (Valenza, J., 2010); so therefore, the TL needs to know her community, the staff she is working with and the educational priorities and outcomes of the school.
When I began at my present school, I found my collection lacking. Lots of wonderful books that were loved in my previous library were missing and I couldn’t understand it. I purchased some well-loved titles and shared them with the appropriate students. Some were embraced, some are now just dust collectors. I learnt a valuable lesson. Book choice is not about what I want.
I went back to Hughes-Hassell and Mancall (2005) and reminded myself that the needs of my learning community should be behind selection. I revisited 500 Hats by Barbara Braxton and reread her Sample Collection Policy. I revisited my Selecting Resources blog (Cornwell, 2018) and pulled out the flowchart to use and update. And I talked and I looked. Talked to the students about what they liked to read, to the staff about what they were studying in class, to other more experienced TL’s. I looked at what we had in the library, what we could have and how we could get it.
I started creating wish lists for books, I started a suggestions box, I reviewed school-based scope and sequence. I reviewed borrowing historys’. I got to work learning my clients’ needs and wants and I started thinking about budget. I did not want to be passive, but proactive (Debowski, 2001). I was going to be well informed when I asked for money to spend (and I got what I asked for).
So now I had a plan to improve on what was there. I had money to spend and a willingness to spend it. I set to work assessing what we had so I could plan for what we needed. Our current fiction and non-fiction collection fills our current space so I need to do a deep weed. The age of the bulk of our collection is old and while mindful of the fact that we need fiction classics to support the English syllabus, we also need good quality non-fiction for modelling good writing (Mosle, 2012); we need space for new resources. But weeding is hard.
I understand the need for weeding. Outdated materials are generally of poor quality and reflect the information of when they were written, but also readers don’t pick them up (LaGarde, 2013). The adage “Don’t judge a book by is cover” is of course, true, but often not the case. My students scorn anything that is old and tatty looking. But removing books that represent a significant investment, can be (and was) met with resistance.
My principal and a couple of other executives were unwilling to “throw away books”. ‘Put them in classroom libraries’ was implored, but if it is not good enough to be in the library should it be sent to the classroom just to ‘bulk up’ the books there? Of course not, weeded books are removed for a reason.
I realised I need to educate staff and executive in why weeding has to occur. I have started with my supervisor. I printed out the lyrics to “Weed It” and talked to her about the importance of continually updating a collection. I told her that while the library can store the archives, the collection itself is not an archive (McKenzie, 2013) and I got her on my side.
Moving forward I want to present to the staff the importance of weeding, and to get them involved. I want to write a comprehensive set of library policies and procedures, including a collection development procedure so it is documented what has to be done and why. I want to provide all the community a chance to have a say in their library, so it holds what they require; I want the library to be cherished and tended by all.
Where to next?
Due to a medical issue I am nearing the end of my school year. Only a couple of weeks and school 2020 will be complete for me, so it is timely that I am completing this assignment while reflecting on what I did (and often what I didn’t) do this year and what I want to do next.
Becoming a full-time TL in 2019 has set me on a wild ride. Two years in I realise that while I have learnt a lot through university and working, I still have more to learn. I have a solid foundation of practitioner theory, I have hands-on experience and having had a few failures; I learnt a few lessons along the way. I need to look to the future and plan what comes next and I need to set realistic goals that I can actually achieve.
The Australian Library and Information Association (ASLA) Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians provides TL with a framework for professional knowledge, practice and commitment. I have these in my program and am using them this year to make goals for what I want to achieve next year:
Standard 1: Professional knowledge
Standard 1.1 for excellent teacher librarians is to “understand the principles of lifelong learning” and while I am very much look forward to completing university, I know that to stay effective I need to keep learning. I plan to continue to look out for and complete relevant professional development, I want to expand and work on my professional learning network (PLN) through my use of social media and I plan on continuing to keep in touch with my fellow students so we can share experiences and learn from each other.
Standard 2: Professional practice
Standard 2.4 for excellent teacher librarians is to “evaluate student learning and library programs and services to inform professional practice”. Following on from my goal to make better use of PLNs for my own learning, I want to ensure that my program next year embraces technology fully. This year with all that happened using technology in the library was put in the “too hard” basket. Next year I plan to take it out, dust it off and fully commit to expanding my students use of technology. I also want to use the technology I have access to promote the library and the resources it provides.
Standard 2: Professional commitment
Standard 3.3 for excellent teacher librarians is to “demonstrate leadership within school and professional communities”. Now that I am established in my school role, I want to do more than just be part of school planning teams. I want to demonstrate my skills and abilities by actively seeking collaborative opportunities. I want to be part of leading groups focused on improving student outcomes in literacy and technology use. I want to share my skills with my colleagues to improve their professional practice and I want to work with other TLs in my network to promote the importance of school libraries and qualified TL’s to the wider community.
The last 3 and a half years have been a huge learning curve for me. My head is brimming with knowledge that I am excited to get to put into practice. My Masters journey may be at an end, but my love and passion for what I do is just beginning.