nz information literacy archive
TEACHER-LIBRARIANSHIP: NEW ZEALAND'S QUANTUM LEAP
This paper was published in the International Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship 2 (1), 1987, pp. 22 - 32
Training for professional staffing of New Zealand school libraries has been recommended in reports (1) and is generally seen as necessary and desirable, but in the light of economic recession, and despite vigorous lobbying, seemed likely to remain wishful thinking for the foreseeable future. Instead, a small network of school library advisers working from twelve School Library Service Centres, under the umbrella of the National Library of New Zealand, had provided advice and courses as time and distance allowed. Many teachers completed correspondence units on school libraries and children's literature under the Advanced Studies for Teachers Unit scheme; teachers' colleges provided somewhat patchy coverage of the school library and one college offered a part-time certificate in school library management. On the whole, however, the use made of school libraries (often attractive and well stocked) did not reflect teacher and student understanding that this was the school's most valuable single resource. With some notable exceptions the weekly exchange of books by students was alive and well, but little else. Then, in 1985, the Minister of Education obtained funding on a 'now or never' basis for the establishment, in 1986, of twenty positions for full-time teacher-librarians. Ten primary and ten secondary schools in various parts of New Zealand were selected for these posts, which were advertised as senior teacher positions. These were conditional on successful completion of a (yet to be established) year- long course. This course was to comprise three month-long blocks of tuition at Wellington Teachers' College. There would be school-based course work, with the lecturer itinerant between schools during the Inter-block periods, working with the teacher-librarian appointees and setting up regional contacts and courses. Schools were chosen in clusters, with access to a regional School Library Service Centre anticipating that School Library Service resources and expertise, particularly that of the library advisers, would provide support for teachers between the blocks of study at Wellington. When starting to plan the course, after five years of sporadic part-time research in the area of school libraries, what Hannesdottir calls its 'recurrent and fastidious problems (2) soon emerged. However, New Zealand's late start in professional training would mean that it could, and should, be possible to benefit from the growing-pains of countries like Britain, America, Canada and Australia. It seemed that the identification of the problems would be a better foundation for the course than the approach which one suspected lay behind many of the course outlines examined, that is, looking primarily at librarianship with some educational theory, with information technology added as a supplement. By working backwards from a role model of what the full- time teacher-librarian was required to achieve in the school, bearing in mind problems that have been identified at the school/practice level, the theoretical content and teaching methodology should emerge. Starting with theoretical content and methodology was seen as an invitation to perpetuate solutions which might later have proved to be unrelated to problems of practice.
WHAT WERE THE RECURRENT AND FASTIDIOUS PROBLEMS?
1. Who is the professional in the school library -teacher, librarian, or teacher-librarian with dual qualifications? Much of the often acrimonious debate in the professional press centres on this question. Reading back to the start of The School Lihrarian and its predecessors and through every issue of the Library Association Record, the recurrence of the debate can be charted. It runs at roughly five year intervals along these lines: Argument: School Libraries are a disgrace. They should be properly staffed with librarians who understand about books and management of resources. Response: Librarians often only understand about books and management. Trained teachers are needed because they understand about the curriculum and syllabus and pupil needs. Counter: Any librarian who has ever worked with teachers will tell you how little teachers know about libraries and how little they read. Recent correspondence in New Zealand on this subject follows this track, flying in the face of American, Canadian and Australian precedent. It is remarkably similar to the information scientist debate in Britain some twenty years ago. Are information scientists real librarians? No, they cannot be because they do not go to library school and get a library qualification. Do they actually need one? Well, if they want to be librarians and join our Association, yes, they do. But do they need to be librarians to do a specialist job which relates to information in very different ways from traditional librarianship? Over the years the terminology has changed. The essence of the debate has remained at a superficial level which fails to address the question of what model of librarianship informs the professional role model?
2. The problem of status closely relates to the question 'who is the school library professional?' Librarians in schools have to work against entrenched stereotypes to establish their status. Many fail (3). It is a sad, but realistic, appraisal of the educational world that teachers have status in a teachers' world which is often narrow and reluctant to admit imaginative and experienced professionals from other areas. The bald fact is that most teachers seem to believe that only teachers can teach, and if you want to enter their world (for what else is a school if not their world?) as a non-teacher, you are going to have to earn the status that is automatically conferred on most teachers. This is not impossible. Many already do it, and more should. Further, in New Zealand, status seems suspiciously synonymous with length of service and the ability to hang in, shut up and contribute to the status quo rather than question it. Since status and seniority are related, is it realistic to accept the professional in the school library being a relatively junior staff member? How do the products of the Western Australian dual qualification, a three year undergraduate qualification in both teaching and librarianship, cope with collaborative planning and resource-based learning programmes alongside graduate subject teachers with fifteen years' classroom experience? Except in rare cases where personality prevails, the library appears to become their classroom, a book-lined classroom. Should personality determine success, or should it be inherent in school librarians holding senior positions in schools and having the experience, confidence and competence required of this status? How, in New Zealand's all-graduate secondary system can anyone with less than a degree and a postgraduate diploma claim equal status?
3. Failure to define the role of the teacher-librarian, again, closely relates to the two previous questions: 'teacher or librarian - with what status?' There was disagreement about the fundamentals of 'Who is the school librarian?'... 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. (4). 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 edu~ational enterprise, and in developing strong support for that position . . . teacher-librarian themselves are terribly confused about their role . . .(5). Though some have 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 (6). A teacher whose subject is learning itself (7). There are other problems: lack of finance; lack of space; lack of support staff; lack of teacher interest and awareness; lack of resources reflecting a multicultural Antipodean society; lack of commitment to teaching information skills and using information technology at teachers' colleges; lack of continuing education and INSET time and opportunity. Doubling or quadrupling existing resources would achieve little in New Zealand if the foregoing questions 'who is the professional in the school library, with what status, and fulfilling precisely what role, and why' remain unaddressed. These are not discrete questions; they are elements of the same problem, which springs from our failure to look at the underlying model of librarianship, If the school library is seen as an organised room of books, or suite of resource rooms one can agree with the following sentiment: 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 department 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? (8). Any professionals today who see a basic professional qualification as sufficient for a lifetime have surely answered their own question, but it does serve to highlight the alternative perspective.
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. In turn, these translate into five units of integrated study and school-based practice:
Each of the five units runs throughout the year. In the month blocks (March, June, November) one day a week is devoted to each of the units. Reflecting the view highlighted by Hannesdottir (11) that "the school librarian does not have a clear idea of what he should be doing and how, and perhaps most of all, why he should be doing it" the first block and inter-block assignments emphasise WHY, the second block and inter-block emphasise WHAT, the third block HOW. The teachers find this disconcerting. They would, clearly, prefer to concentrate on what and how, and once confident that they could do the job, any remaining time could be devoted to why. Is this an indictment of New Zealand teachers, or a global reason underlying the reluctance to address the three pernicious 'recurrent and fastidious problems'? The pressure cooker' nature of the three month-long theoretical blocks is pedagogically questionable, except as an educational catalyst. While each block has a different philosophical emphasis it also emphasises different areas. For instance, Unit 2 The !ibrary and the curriculum in an age of information emphasises resource based learning in block 1 and information technology in Block 2. In practice, this means that one day a week for four weeks the following are included: - online and bibliographic databases, with practical demonstrations. NZBN (the New Zealand Bibliographic Network) demonstrated as a gateway to other databases like INFOS (New Zealand statistics) and DSIR (Scientific and Industrial Research) - videotex, with hands on experience. - Prestel education index - a hands-on evaluation of a home-grown school library circulation system. - discussion about teleconferencing, videodiscs, including interactive, telefacsimile, optical fibre transmission and satellite technology in the light of their implications for school information services. And this was only one of five units! It is shattering for the teachers, and a credit to their maturity, commitment and professionalism that they are all 'hanging on and hanging in', despite exhaustion and over-load, and producing work which seems, at this stage, to indicate that the end isjustifying the savage means. In line with the process learning philosophy of the course, aspects ike management and marketing are not taught as subjects but as philosophical and theoretical approaches underpinning the way the eacher-librarian's role is realised. For example, when considering creating a market for information and satisfying information use by staff and students, the following methods contribute to the process: - effective communication; - time management; - feedback and promotion strategies; - effective resource management based on surveying user need and preferences; - effective techniques for working through and with students, teachers, clerical helpers, student librarians and parents. This approach is the essence of the course and an illustration of how marketing and management underpin the functions of teacher-librarianship. This process approach both excites and frustrates the teacher- ibrarian appointees. As successful products of the 'exam system' they support the concept of process learning in theory, but often in practice it is suspected that they would love to 'do' marketing or management, write essays, sit an exam and pass or fail. The system of evaluation for the course is largely based on collaborative evaluation of: 'What did you want to achieve? Why? Did you succeed? If not, why not? Unrealistically ambitious? Inadequately planned? Insufficient co-operative planning with your colleagues? Unrealisti c assessment of student competencies? Implications for future approaches? There is no pass or fail, but rather the invitation to consider 'Was it good enough? Did it achieve what you wanted it to achieve?' Where are we now? The March and June Wellington-based blocks have been completed. The first twenty-five inter-block assignments, designed to provide the opportunity to apply the block theory at school level, have proved that integrating theory and practice in this way requires extremely confident, competent and committed teachers, but it works. It has been a demanding year, but, even in the secondary schools, who are traditionally conservative, subject departmentalised and slow to move from chalk 'n talk, collaborative planning and resource-based learning are being implemented. Even in two months this has been so successful that there is no question of the wisdom of selecting senior teachers with a background of effective classroom teaching, and usually years of part-time responsibility for the school library. The course is intended to equip a senior teacher not just with the skills to manage a school library, but to assume a leadership role in the educational life of the school by working alongside classroom curriculum. The New Zealand teacher-librarian's position will be pre-eminently a teaching one, with teaching (collaborative, class and individualised) taking at least 75% of the teacher-librarian's time, library management some 25%. Obviously half a day per week for library management is unrealistic, especially in primary schools which do not have the advantage of secondary schools' full-time library assistants, but any other ratio would have begged the question 'management cart before educational horse: where do our priorities lie?' The fact that the course is not a qualification in librarianship, but a specialist course in education, emphasises the recognition of the need for senior educators in the area of information and information use. If they are successful there may, in time, be resources and libraries of sufficient significance to warrant full-time management. Meanwhile ... Recent 1986 budget confirmation of the course's continuation, increased staffing in 1987, and a commitment to evaluation of the course in terms of educational impact in the school, promises an interesting future. The population of New Zealand is small, three million people. There is a single Education Department, and one National Library with a regional network. Educational innovation can take root with remarkable speed, and good communications can ensure cohesion and consistency in policy implementation while allowing for the diverse needs of rural, urban and multicultural communities. The course will, it is hoped, grow and spread to other teachers' colleges and in time senior experienced professionals from other areas - librarianship, the media, computing, communications will work alongside senior teachers as the schools, information professionals. However, in the formative stages, it seems appropriate to start with senior teachers to pioneer a sadly neglected educational role in New Zealand's schools. The cohesion and co-operation in the first group of teachers is tremendous. Primary and secondary teachers appear to be benefiting enormously from the opportunity to work together. The work is identical for both, reflecting the view that the role of the teacher-librarian is a constant one between schools and at all levels. What varies is how it is realised in each school. This is where the maturity and experience of senior teachers is reflected most clearly. Given the theory and the en bloc opportunity to discuss the problems and potential solutions they return to their schools to try, analyse, try again, evaluate. One of the teacher-librarian appointees should have the last word. She said,"It's a year I will never forget as long as I live, if I live long enough to remember it."
1. For example: Fenwick, S.I. (1975). Library services for children in New Zealand schools and public libraries. Report to the New Zealand Library Association. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research and New Zealand Library Association. Also: (1978). Report of the working party on school libraries. Wellington: Department of Education.
2. Hannesdottir, S.K. (1985). The school librarian in an information society. In A. Irving, (Ed.) The school librarian in on information society: Proceedings of the seminar held by the School Libraries Section during the IFLA general conference, Nairobi, 1984. Loughborough: IFLA School Libraries Section.
3. For example: Brown, E. (1986). Letter. Library Association Record, 88 (1), January, 13.
4. Hannesdottir, S.K. op. cit., 2.
5. Haycock, K. (1985). Teacher librarians: Continuing to build. Canadian Library Journal, 42(1),February, 27.
6. Pullen, G.C. (1985). Role . . . out the barrel: the modern teacher librarian. Ed. Lib: newsletter of the Library Services Branch, Education Department of Tasmania 12 (1), June, 2-4.
7. Library and Information Services Council Working Party on School Library Services (LISC). (1984). School libraries: the foundations of the curriculum. London: HMSO,
8. (1986). Editorial. Library Life, 91 April 7, 6
9. Haycock, K. (1984). What is a school librarian? Towards defining professionalism. In K. Haycock and C. Haycock (Eds.). Kids and libraries: Selection from Emergency Librarian. Vancouver: Dyad Services, 18-22.
10. LISC op. cit. 11. Hannescottir, S.K. op. cit.
At the time of writing Gwen Gawith was Senior Lecturer in Teacher-Librarianship, Wellington Teachers College, Wellington, New Zealand