The teacher librarian wears many hats in their position in a school library. Each hat offers a different set of priorities and task that fall under the umbrella of jobs. Whilst established TL instinctively know how to effortlessly wear the correct hat for the occasion, new and floundering TL often struggle to decide which role is most important. This struggle can often lead to feeling overloaded and beset with inadequacy. Teacher burnout is real, with almost 50% of new graduates not making it past five years in the classroom, it is a worry of mine. I am 3 years into this gig and quite frankly I am tired. Not just the tired that comes with being a parent with young children, or the tired that comes from a big week at work. I am talking about the immense emotional and mental load that sucks the joy right out of you. Right now, being a bus driver is looking like a great career.
Herring (2007) defined eleven facets in the role of a teacher librarian, Purcell (2010) indicates that there are five major components and Lamb (2011) has seven listed. Each of these facets comprises of a different task that a TL is responsible for. But it would be physically exhausting to even attempt to do all these roles at the same time, and if TL did try to, they would burn out very quickly. Both Lamb (2011) and Herring (2007) prioritise the needs of the clientele. This is consistent with ASLA/ALIA (2016) mandate that a school library should have teaching and learning as the main focus of their collection. Summarising ASLA (2003), Herring summarises that there are three roles out of that original eleven that need particular focus. These roles are curriculum leader, information specialist and information manager. The three roles manage different aspects of the TL role.
Lamb (2011) agrees that a TL has multiple roles with many of them evolving rapidly in the recent past. The budgetary squeeze has added pressure onto TL to adapt their roles to ensure their viability in the school context. This adaptation has redefined the role of the TL from a archivist and curator of knowledge into facilitator of knowledge in both the physical and digital worlds. This facilitation ranges from the acquisition of materials that build a school collection, text and digital, and the implicit and explicit teaching of life long skills
The importance of connections with people is highlighted in (Lamb, 2011, p.4). Whilst these connections can be both F-T-F, there is far more importance placed on electronic communication. A TL must be able to connect to the school audience, which includes its students, teachers, parents, board members and community. In doing so, the TL firmly installs the library, and its programs as a cornerstone of the school. These connections, also known as clever marketing, will promote the value of the library to its patrons and its financiers. Whereas Purcell ( 2010) defines a TL as a leader, in that they are tasked with being involved with the school hierarchy and extended community. They can see the big picture of the school community and identify what trends are occurring within the school.
Herring (2007) argues that for a TL to prove their worth to a school context, prioritising the inclusion of instructional partner is essential. In this role, TL collaborate with their colleagues to implement the pedagogical practices that benefit the student cohort (Purcell, 2010). This is because there are a multitude of studies to highlight increased educational outcomes when TL plan teaching, learning and assessment with their colleagues. This increase in outcomes is often measurable and can be used to highlight the efficacy of the library programs amidst budget cuts and cranky principals. The dynamics of a TL allows them to engage in curriculum design and create assessments that promote higher order thinking. Due to their experience and knowledge, a TL is able to create learning opportunities that are often beyond the scope of a classroom teacher.
It was odd that Purcell (2010) classified teacher as the last and theoretically least important, the role of a TL. This correlates with the view that many principals and teachers do not believe that teacher librarians are in fact teachers simply because many do not have face to face time. The modern TL is challenged to do so much more. TL need to model correct information seeking behaviour in the digital world. They also need to teach it. TL need to teach literacy skills, critical thinking skills and and at the same time model best practice to their fellow colleagues. Teaching teachers is essential to a TL as it is impossible for a librarian to closely monitor and instruct all the kids in their learning. But if the classroom teachers know the skills, then they can re-iterate the teaching and learning to their students (Purcell, 2010, p.33). TL are the model of 21st information seeking behaviour. As the information specialist, a TL is able to seek, find, use and create information with ease.
The irony is that Purcell (2010) places the role of information specialist above teaching. But libraries have evolved significantly in the past fifty years from print, microfilm, newspapers, to print, ebooks, databases and websites. The internet revolution has permanently changed how adults and children seek information. The advent of technology has speed up the rate in which this information seeking behaviour has changed. This facet of being a TL means that they have to assist students in the seeking of information across multiple modalities as well as ensure that resources within the library support the curriculum.
I honestly do not know how to prioritise the roles and which aspects of my job I should let slide. There are some days when I do not get time to even have a bite to eat as I am flat chat run off my feet, let alone plan for what aspect is more important than another. Yesterday was one of those days. Between prepping book boxes for classes; explicitly teaching information literacy and supervision during recess/lunch, I sat down for the first time at our staff meeting at 4pm. Book boxes for classes we cannot fit into the library, as we are currently fully booked out, so now we prepare resources for classes that cannot get a booking and run the lesson in their room. Most classes have a range of abilities so I had to hunt for some hi-lo texts as well as find some interactive websites and digital resources for the classroom teacher. We do make an extra effort for graduate teachers to ease them into teaching. What we don’t want is them leaving the profession. So we do try to make their lives a bit easier.
So the only thing I gave up this week was lunch. Unfortunately, that is not translating to a svelte figure but rather the scoffing of snacks between classes and the 3.45pm biscuit binge.
ALIA and ASLA (2016) Statement on Teacher Librarians in Australia. Retrieved from https://asla.org.au/resources/Documents/Website%20Documents/Policies/policy_tls_in_australia.pdf
Herring, J., (2007) Chapter 2 – Teacher librarians and the school library. LIbraries in the 21st Century, Charting Directions in Information Services. Topics in Australasian Library and Information Studies. Pp. 27-42. DOI: 10.1016/B978-1-876938-43-7.50002-8
Lamb, A. (2011). Bursting with potential: Mixing a media specialist’s palette. Techtrends : Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 55(4), 27-36
Purcell M. All Librarians Do Is Check out Books, Right? A Look at the Roles of a School Library Media Specialist. Library Media Connection. 2010;29(3):30-33
Kachel, D. (2017). The principal and the librarian: Positioning the school library program. Teacher Librarian, 45(1), 50-52.