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2000 Niki Kallenberger: Infocus- Linking people and information

1998 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy at grassroots.

1992 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy through IT: Teacher development project.

1991 Gwen Gawith: Information skills and school libraries.

1990 Gwen Gawith: Teacher-Librarianship and NZ: A short and personal account.

1990 Gwen Gawith: Teacher-librarianship and missing links.

1986 Gwen Gawith: School libraries: Bridges or barriers.

1986 Gwen Gawith: Teacher-librarianship: New Zealand's quantum leap.

1986 Gwen Gawith: A future information generation or a professional squabble?

 

information literacy:
school libraries and teacher-librarians

SCHOOL LIBRARIES: BRIDGES OR BARRIERS?

Paper delivered at IFLA Conference, Tokyo 1986

Gwen Gawith

Are school libraries today bridges or barriers? Are they services or places? How we define the role of the professional who shapes the school library determines whether the school library is a bridge or a barrier to a better information future.

Recent IFLA research makes the point that we have little room for complacency and suggests that some of our "recurrent problems" may reflect our failure to define the role of the professional in the school library. I quote:

There was disagreement about the fundamentals of 'Who is the school librarian?' School libraries have different meanings in different countries; school librarians serve different purposes in different areas and the Standing Committee had to face the question 'How could we help the future development of this profession and rid it of some of the recurrent and fastidious problems?'...

We offer these guidelines in the hope that we can help to produce a professional definition for the school librarian, a profession whose position and role is considered to be extremely important, almost crucial, in today's education but often neglected in practice. We find that all over the world school librarians are losing their jobs. We find schools 'making investments in books but there is low priority in manpower. One of the reasons for this is that the school librarian does not have a clear definition of what he should be doing and how, and perhaps most of all, why he should be doing it (1)

Other recent comments reflect the same ambivalence. Canada's Ken Haycock asks:

In times such as these, what are the means by which the profession of teacher-librarianship can be strengthened and even enhanced. The term teacher-librarian is used purposely here, for the signs are clear that there is relatively little danger to the continued existence of school libraries; the issue today is the continued existence of school librarians.

We have been successful in building facilities and collecting and organising materials, but we have been less successful in developing an awareness and understanding of the role of the school librarian as a professional teacher, as an equal partner in the educational enterprise, and in developing strong support for that position.

He sees the first barrier as the term 'School Librarian' itself:

To develop the necessary programs to implement this stated aim requires a strong and close partnership with colleagues. Thus, we would do well to establish common bonds and eliminate unnecessary barriers. Let's start by eliminating unnecessary library jargon from our vocabulary. I, personally, feel that it may have been a mistake to have used the term "school library" and "school librarian."

The school resource centre serves quite a different function from other types of libraries, because of an emphasis on teaching young people to process and use information. Even the subtle move to the term "teacher-librarian" designates the school librarian more clearly as a teacher and member of the teaching staff. Most school librarians are not professional librarians at all; we are teachers, professional teachers, and should be proud of it (2).

On the other side of the globe, Glen Pullen, puts this teaching emphasis in the Tasmanian context just as strongly:

The first constant is that, whatever our tasks, however complex our responsibilities whatever broad emphasis we or others have placed on our work, we have always stressed our role as teacher Though some nave failed to see beyond our resource management functions and have caricatured us as obsessive cataloguers or indolent book-stampers, we have in fact been teachers of Learning and teachers of Literature (3).

Meanwhile in Britain the Assistant-Librarian attacked the definition of the School Librarian as "a teacher whose subject is learning itself" in the Library and Information Services Council (LISC) report School Libraries: The foundations of the curriculum as their "latest effusion" (4). The LISC Report (5) clearly advocates dual qualifications for the school library professional, and

In the L.A. report to the Transbinary Group the need for highly trained professionals in an age of complex information was highlighted. The L.A. made clear its position on school librarians. Opportunities should be provided to enable the long term objective of dual qualifications for school librarians to be feasible. The report also called for greater efforts in marketing the skills of librarians and a creative partnership between those who teach librarianship and those who practise it (6).

Nevertheless, there is still ambivalence in the ranks of British librarians. The following letter exemplifies this curious insistence that, despite the acknowledgement of the central curriculum role, a teaching qualification is not necessary, just some teaching ability:

The librarian in school has a central curriculum role and a responsibility towards information and learning skills. While a teaching qualification is not necessary to fulfil this role, a thorough understanding of education and some teaching ability clearly is (7).

While it is a debatable point whether there is any way to acquire a thorough understanding of education' except by teaching, one is also tempted to remind librarians of their reaction to the early information scientists' claim that they did not need a thorough knowledge of librarianship, only some ability to organise information!

After the incisive definition of the school librarian as "a teacher whose subject is learning itself," which is probably the most succinct and appropriate comment on record in 1985, the 'LISC report' then adopts a compromising stance by suggesting that if dual qualifications cannot be achieved, the SECOND choice is to give the posts to chartered librarians.

Some would call this a compromise. It is even more ironic when the whole purpose of the library is recognised as central to the curriculum issues:

Unless there is a curriculum need there is no point in considering resources or organisation. We believe that the educational system needs to focus on the central curriculum issues and that these will demonstrate the need for libraries. Then, but only then, can criteria for resourcing and models for staffing and organisation be developed with conviction (8).

To sum up, Sigrun Hannesdottir in the first quote referred to "some of the recurrent and fastidious problems" of school librarianship. My research into school librarianship over the last five years suggests to me that this lack of a clear definition of the role of the professional in the school library is the most insidious of the recurrent problems.

It is interesting to contrast Ken Haycock's statement that "the school resource centre serves quite a different function from other types of libraries because of an emphasis on teaching young people to process and use information" (9) with a recent comment by a New Zealand librarian:

Librarians are trained to run libraries, be they public, university or special, big or small, adults' or children's. Why is it that I can run a law library, a government apartment library, a trade union library or a parliamentary library without special additional training but I would apparently be a menace to the unformed mind in a school library? (10).

My contention is that this sort of confusion reflects a view of the school library as a room, a suite of rooms, an organised collection of books or resources to be run, rather than an integral part of the school's educational programmes, serving, as Haycock suggests, a different function from other libraries.

Changing the focus from which we define the role of the information professional in the school from the management of the school library to the provision of information-based learning support services to the school population has implications for how we educate professionals, teachers and librarians, for this role. Haycock again sums up the crucial link of clear role definition to quality of professional education:

The overriding issue in school librarianship is to ensure that the role of the teacher-librarian is both understood and supported by not only teacher-librarians but teachers, administrators and decision-makers. This necessitates a clearly defined and well-respected program for education for school librarianship in the country. Such is not the case at the present time (11).

I believe that the school library is a service, not a place, and if it is to be a bridge, not a barrier, to a better information future the education of the professional staffing must emphasise this educational function of the library as a service in the school.

When I was given the task in January this year, of developing New Zealand's first specialist course in teacher-librarianship, it was the most exciting opportunity to put this philosophy into practice, i.e. that the role of the teacher-librarian is primarily a teaching one, the school library constituting an education and information service provided by a highly skilled and experienced teacher with specialist training in those areas of librarianship relative to their school-based role.

Briefly, 2O schools (10 primary, 10 secondary) were selected to have the newly appointed full-time teacher librarians. Teachers were invited to apply for these senior positions in schools all over New Zealand, urban and rural. The completion of the course was a condition of their appointment. During 1986 they have been seconded on full salary to do the course.

For three months of the year, March, June and November they attend block courses at Wellington Teachers College- the course I am developing. For the remainder of the year they are back in their home schools doing course-related work. Some of this work is school-based. Some is designed to get the teachers to explore local sources of information - libraries, institutions and people. In 1987 they will be back in their schools as full-time teacher-librarians.

The course is structured to reflect the fact that the teacher-librarian's position will be a senior educational one in the school with the brief for across-school resource development and use. This presupposes that the management of the school library and buying resources is included in the role, but the emphasis, in fact, is firmly on looking at curriculum and syllabus: how the resources provided in the school, and the way students are taught (by the classroom teacher and the TL) to use these resources, support the kind of student learning implicit in the curriculum and syllabus.

Everything is looked at from the point of view of learning and the learner.

• Do the resources, the systems, the curriculum-based integrated information skill teaching, support the learner's needs and competencies?

• Can the TL work alongside the classroom teacher in much the same way as the Reading Resource teacher to ensure that the "information across the curriculum" concept reinforces the right of every teacher to be a teacher of information in the same way that every teacher is a teacher of reading and language?

• Can we emphasise information handling skills and de-emphasise so-called library skills taught as a programme quite apart from the curriculum.

• Can we help students to see the school library as only one source of information; that other libraries, people, the media, stories, organisations, government departments, even the humble phone book are all sources of information complementary to what the school library offers?

• Can we help them to understand that familiarity with, and confidence in using this information networK, is what will empower them as adults to move flexibly in the society they are inheriting from us?

• Can we encourage them to see computers, not as toys, but as information storage and retrieval tools; one of a range of information technologies like teletext, videotex, interactive videodiscs, facsimile transfer, retrieval from 'home-made' or overseas databases, bibliographic databases like NZBN, ABN, WLN, OCLC or BLAISE?

• Can we show teachers as well as students that all these technologies are not science fiction of the future, but the tools used for teaching and learning, NOW?

• Can we educate successful experienced professionals to assume this specialist role for spearheading information developments in our schools? Can a librarian with no teaching qualifications or experience assume this developmental educational role?

My answer is that the educational horse must be placed firmly in front of the library-as-room cart. Professional librarians will be needed and valued in schools when, and only when, skilled, experienced teachers who are specialists in information and information skills, work alongside classroom teachers to ensure that 'information across the curriculum' is a concept translated into students who are independent, motivated learners and information handlers.

Ann Irving states the case convincingly in the introduction to her book:

Making a case for developing study and information skills across the curriculum seems at once easy and difficult. It is easy because of the obvious connections between information technology, the information society, and the education of young people. It is difficult because this innovation cannot await the usual ten or twenty years of thought and discussion before it is introduced into the curriculum, The information society has arrived quickly, and preparing young people for.it must be done quickly - we need tomorrow's education today. The teacher's task is enormous, for unlike previous social changes, the impact of an information society is pervasive...

The case for highlighting information and study skills in the school curriculum has a long history, but can be argued more cogently within the framework of social change already outlined. For a variety of reasons, people in the information society will need to handle information either as senders or recipients. If engaged in the creation of information people need to acquire, analyse, select, reject, package and communicate it. If engaged in the receiving of information, people need to acquire, analyse, select, reject, and use it. Everyone, at some time or other, will be engaged In both activities.

Education currently consists of information-related activities - for what is education if it is not about the transmission of information between teacher and learner, in both directions, In order to gain knowledge, skills and attitudes? Why this book seems necessary is because knowledge has been seen as more important than skills and attitudes, and obscured the fundamental issue of the skills needed to acquire it.

The case presented is for developing the cognitive and manual skills needed to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes deemed necessary by educators. There is no call for 'new' subjects to be introduced, nor is there a demand for 'new' skills. Rather, the request is for new thinking and new strategies for teaching and learning, all of which can be incorporated into the existing teaching of all teachers; for shift rather than a change with any activity preceded by sound thought on personal and educational aims and objectives. Without this, the activity might sadly become mechanistic - sadly because pupils deserve to be treated as human beings, not educational operatives (12).

If we ask why."all over the world school librarians are losing their jobs" (13) we are forced to consider the possibility that there has been-too much emphasis on the library as a place; too much emphasis on the professional as a librarian, and too little emphasis on the library as an educational service with the professional as an educator specialising in the field of information use.

The need today is for the learning resource teacher to be a highly skilled teacher, able to function on the school team as a professional with competencies from teacher education and classroom experience as well as competencies from school librarianship and media services. The library has moved from being a subject and merely a place to a service and a concept, a learning resource centre for teachers and students.

Expectations for learning resource teachers are very high. It is expected that a learning resource teacher will be in the forefront of curriculum and professional development services, will be familiar with the full range of instructional strategies and learning styles, will be able to organise time, personnel and materials to maximise utilisation of each and will be active in professional concerns within the school and the district (14).

School libraries cannot be discussed in isolation from the society of which they are a part, the information society. The British Library Association's 'Futures Report' claims that "technological developments, together with social and cultural changes have affected patterns of demand for information."

The complexities of everyday life and of the industrial and commercial environment and their implications for education have stimulated a rapid growth in information and advisory services, many of which are established outside traditional library institutions. Library and information work is moving away from its traditional base and the range of skills required to provide services is greater than ever before.

Librarians cannot operate in isolation; they must work closely with a wider community of information personnel (15).

The 'LISC report' (16) states:

We are convinced that school libraries and school library services have a vital role to play in the process of teaching children to learn. We are disturbed by evidence that this role is not recognised everywhere and by evidence of both underuse and lack of library resources in schools. We believe that the nation will pay a heavy penalty for many years to come if it continues to neglect the self-evident contribution which school libraries could make in producing citizens who are self reliant, well adjusted and, above all, able to make use of information.

Put this way, it is clear to see that there is no country anywhere in the world which can afford to do without school libraries if they are given recognition, and staffing, reflecting their central educational role. If they are seen as organised collections of resources managed by a professional manager of resources - clearly this is the view of many New Zealand librarians at the moment who are incensed that it is senior teachers who have been given the opportunity to do the course - and given the evidence that all over the world school librarians are losing their jobs, we are forced to ask the most elementary question of all: "Why is it exactly that we need professionally staffed libraries in schools"

My answer takes the form of the work twenty seconded senior, successful, experienced, articulate, intelligent and committed teachers are tackling with me this year. What is being challenged is not their ability to organise and retrieve information. It is their ability to work alongside every teacher in their home schools to ensure that every teacher, is a catalyst whereby every student becomes independent and confident in using information.

New Zealand has been a rich country. It is no longer so. The wealth of a country, as Australia's Barry Jones and Britain's Tom Stonier have pointed out, can no longer be measured in terms of natural resources like trees and sheep. Our beautiful, isolated, economically poor little island MUST turn its mind to producing citizens whose heritage will be the skills and strategies to use information effectively.

Information, as the above mentioned writers have argued so convincingly, is the new international currency of power. New Zealand as the "Pavlova Paradise" is a myth. We are a country with a past that reaches back far beyond white settlers into a people who had the information about how they could live in this violent beautiful volcanic land buried deep in their cultural tradition and heritage of story. But what are we doing now? Trying to recall a forgotten past or encouraging New Zealanders to use the information around them - in print, in their stories, in their own multicultural richness - to shape a future in the information world today.

My view of the role of the school library is certainly alienating me from many of my New Zealand library colleagues who are firmly wedded to the concept of school library management and user education as a euphemism for library lessons. Twenty is a small number to pioneer a different information future for our children. If New Zealand librarians, - my colleagues, nave their way, there will only ever be twenty.

Where is your view leading you - to see the school library as a bridge to a better information future, or as a barrier - information rich and information poor

References

1. HANNESDOTTIR, Sigrun Klara, 'The school librarian.in an information society: an outline of competency requirements.' In The school librarian in an information society: proceedings of the seminar held by the School Libraries Section during the IFLA general conference, Nairobi, 1984, edited by Ann Irving. Loughborough : IFLA, Section on School Libraries, 1985

2. HAYCOCK, Ken : 'Teacher-Librarians - continuing to build.' Canadian Library Journal 42(1) February 1985 pp. 27-33.

3. PULLEN, Glen C. 'Role... out the barrel: the modern teacher-librarian' Ed. Lib : newsletter of the Library Services Branch Education Department of Tasmania 12(1) June 1985 pp. 2-3.

4. Editorial Assistant Librarian January 1985 p.l.

5. School Libraries : the foundations of the curriculum. Report of the Library and Information Services Council Working Party on School Library Services. London : HMSO, 1984 [LISC Report]

6. SLG News No.12 Autumn 1985 p.3.

7. Letter from Anne Jones, Senior Librarian, Crofton School in Library Association Record 88(1) January 1986 p.13.

8. LISC Report' op cit 6.6

9. HAYCOCK, Ken. op cit

10. Editorial Library Life No. 91 April 7, 1986 p.6

11. HAYCOCK, Ken 'Ten issues in school librarianship' . In Kids and Libraries :selections from Emergency Librarian. Vancouver: Dyad Services, 1984 p.37

12. IRVING, Ann Study and information skills across the curriculum. London : Heinemann Educational.

3. HANNESDOTTIR, Sigrun Klara. op. cit.

14. HAYCOCK, Ken 'What is a school librarian? : Towards defining professionalism' in Kids and Libraries : selection from Emergency Librarian Vancouver : Dyad Services, 1984 pp 18-22

15. The Library Association Futures Working Party Futures : the final report of the Futures Working Party. [October 1985] London : The Library Association, 1985 p.2.

16. 'LISC Report' op. cit.