TheSchoolQuarterly.com

nz information literacy archive

Click to go to TheSchoolDaily.com

Please contact the editor,
gwen@metagog.co.nz
to lodge material in the Information Literacy Archive

©The articles on this website are copyrighted by Metacog Ltd. Permission to reproduce any article in any form must be sought from Metacog Ltd.

 

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

Teacher-librarianship and missing links.

These are draft notes for a paper delivered during a series of lectures and workshops delivered during a study tour sponsored by the NSW Group of the school Libraries Section of the Australian Library and Information Association in 1989. Later versions of the notes for these talks were published in 1990 as Gwen Gawith alive! by ALIA, School Libraries Section.

Gwen Gawith

Abstract: This paper examines a number of professional terms and concepts and suggests that while they provide shape and structure, they also limit our professional thinking and growth as Teacher-Librarians. These terms may be useful for sharing understanding and knowledge, but each term, and its satellite of concepts and practices, tends to exist in isolation We seldom examine them in a wider context, and we seldom examine the underlying professional assumptions. By looking at what backgrounds these terms and practices have it becomes possible to take a fresh look at what we do, freeing up our professional thinking so that we can think up new, interesting and different approaches to doing what we do.



It would seem obvious to say that to stand up and fight for something, you have to believe in it. My belief in and commitment to teacher-librarianship is something no one has ever questioned. Yet when New Zealand's first and only teacher-librarianship course was suspended in 1988, despite the documented success of its graduates, my personal belief was not going to restore the course. Nor was the personal belief and commitment of its graduates. What we had to learn to do - fast - was to express this belief in terms that others, bureaucrats and politicians, could understand. I found this extraordinarily hard, and had to employ quite conscious mind techniques to try to look at teacher-librarianship from the outside in.

If there is any good that has come out of the New Zealand teacher-librarianship debacle for me, personally and professionally, it was precisely this - the forced opportunity to stand aside and look at teacher-librarianship from the outside in, and from every other conceivable angle!

It has been both an agony and a luxury; an agony in the sense that challenging one's own beliefs and ideals is never easy, and doing it when your career and security are in jeopardy is the toughest thing I've ever had to do. But it has also been a luxury because few of us ever have the time and opportunity to distance ourselves sufficiently from what we do every day to ask these tough 'why and wherefore?' questions.

One of the aspects of teacher-librarianship that has come to fascinate me through this period of navel gazing is the way our professional terms and concepts both shape and limit our thinking and growth. They provide a structure which is useful for sharing understanding and knowledge between Teacher-Librarians. But as we focus on these terms and their associated concepts, practices and assumptions, there is a tendency to see each as something independent and self- contained. If you imagine a number of trees on the skyline, and label each tree with a professional term:

Fiction/Reading for fun, pleasure, enjoyment/The reading habit/ Lifelong reading/ Reader guidance/ Non-fiction/ Lifelong learning/ Information skills/ library skills/ library orientation/ user education/ RBL* /CPPT**/ Information age/Information explosion/ Access to information/ IT/ Information literacy etc.

you can design your own teacher-librarianship landscape.

But if you then make a conscious mental leap and force yourself to see the shape of the sky with the shape of the trees cut out of it, you are in a better position to look at the missing links. By foregrounding some things, it is inevitable that other things get backgrounded.

Obviously the things we foreground are the essence, the backbone, of our profession. However, by concentrating for a while on the background, the foreground looks different when you look at it again.

University lecturers have always had the benefit of this by virtue of sabbatical leave. This is no substitute, but I hope it will encourage you to look, not so much at what we do, but at how we do it, so that we can free up our professional thinking and energise ourselves by thinking up different and innovative ways of doing what we do.

By telling three true (non-fiction!) stories. I hope to cut right through many of the assumptions that underlie these terms, and suggest that there are three missing links - imagination, motivation and self-esteem - which background, and potentially link, many of the things we do.

By foregrounding them I suggest three areas that look different and could be different. This does not mean that I think what we do is wrong. Far from it. I think that teacher-librarianship has come of age. We have outgrown our adolescent angst and we now have the professional maturity to look at what we do from the outside in, from the background to the foreground.

[OHT with tree graphic followed by three stories

1. The true story of Margaret Mahy and the black tip hanging fly (reproduced here)

2. The true story of Gwen, UK trained, chartered librarian, (+MA in library studies) trying to find books in a public library.

3. Gary Paulsen's account of how, as a kid from a tough background, he fell in love with reading through being given Zane Grey by a librarian.

[Stories 2 and 3 are not reproduced here].

STORY I

This dates back to 1983 and the South Pacific Reading Association Conference held in Auckland. The organisers had the inspired idea that, as the culmination of the social events, different authors would be invited to dinners at different venues to give after dinner talks on their lives and loves as readers.

Margaret Mahy was asked to join the group on the ferry, the Kestrel. on the Auckland harbour. It was an excellent meal, a balmy evening and we all awaited Margaret's usual brilliant and bizarre fare with enthusiasm. Then, out from the bowels of the boat waddled this dirty great penguin! Flippers made leaping onto a bench and holding lecture notes tricky, but undaunted, the penguin kept us spellbound for one and a half hours talking about her discovery of reading in the back yard dunny, and in particular the contribution made by handy copies of Scientific American. Its wealth of incredible true stories fuelled her imagination, her love of learning, her respect for the incongruous and the bizarre.

Allowing for the ravages of my middle aged memory, I will repeat her story of the sex life of the Black Tip Hanging Fly (apologies to Scientific American).

The BTHF had an extraordinarily demanding courting ritual. The female could, apparently, only be stimulated after a long exhausting and amazing display of athletic prowess on the part of the male. When he was sufficiently exhausted and she sufficiently titillated, all would be well. Unfortunately, in fly society no less than human, there are always the unscrupulous who prey on the hard work of others.

There were BTHF equivalents of pirate gangs lurking in the bushes, and frequently, when the poor male was so exhausted by his courting dance as so be totally incapable of defending himself, he'd be pounced on and mugged by the villains who would carry on where he'd left off. The cruelest irony was that the female BTHF by this stage was so advanced in ecstasy that she couldn't recognise the impostor for what he was!

There are many human society parallels for that animal kingdom version of Dallas but the point Margaret made, and the point I want to stress here was simply how wonderful learning is. It isn't just that truth is stranger than fiction, but that reading for Margaret triggered her imagination and a lifelong fascination with learning and the amazing reality of our world.

STORY 2 - using the public library

STORY 3 - Gary Paulsen

To me these stories say a lot about reading and learning. Above all, it says that reading and learning are intensely personal - intimately connected with ones image of self and self worth, ones self-esteem. It shows so clearly what Paulo Freire talks about when he discusses 'naming' - the 'recognition', the changing of one's world through the 'generative power of language'.

Margaret Mahy and Gary Paulsen were both clear about reading being more, much more than fun. It was about learning, about developing a self-concept as a person who read and learnt simultaneously, Margaret reading Scientific American and Gary reading Zane Grey and talking about escaping into a world of knowledge, being given his 'brain'.

Returning to the Margaret Mahy story ... Here we have a problem reader; a child who would only read non-fiction. She needs Reader Guidance or she will not develop the Reading Habit. We'll provide book displays, book talks and book lists. Maybe she'll succumb to Judy Blume rather than Trixie Belden? But she really needs the first Library Lesson - the one that tells you that non-fiction is true stories and fiction is made up, imaginary stories! HA!

Margaret was an exceptional child? Of course she was. She was able to do for herself what I think all Teacher-Librarians can and should do for the many children who will not do it for themselves. That is to try to convince all children of the wonder, the fascination, the power and enjoyment of learning.

We need to work through and with all teachers to convince students of all ages of the need to feed their imaginations. There is a vast difference between children now and when we were young. We were starved for story and needed no persuasion to read and listen. Children now are much more sophisticated and satiated with story - up to their eyeballs - as the TV/video passive receivers of highly visual high-paced plot-type what-happened-next story. Trying to persuade them that printed story is the same 'fun' is not only dishonest but unproductive. It is simply not true!

The difference is in the power of word-based story to trigger the imagination. This is what Paulo Freire calls the 'generative power of language' - his conviction that 'naming the world' becomes a model for changing the world. It is 'the power of envisagement' - being able to imagine what it would be like, what it would feel like, what would happen if the BTHF had been to karate class!

This is our future hope for a world of caring and questioning people. Paul Jennings said: "Imagination is the food of compassion. We should fear those who lack it."

My contention is that the Teacher-Librarian is in a uniquely powerful position to make this shift to a model of READING AND LEARNING TO EDUCATE THE IMAGINATION.

This is not suggesting for one minute that we should abandon any of the activities listed above. But it is suggesting that we examine our own underlying professional assumptions about them as I have done here with a re-examination of the 'simple' concept of non-fiction.

Here is one example of how shifting from a model of Reading is fun' to a model of Reading educates the imagination' can alter how you approach reading promotion.

If I want students to feed their imagination, I need to have a mental picture of what I want. I see it as a hotline between head and heart. I look for ways of showing students, getting them to see for themselves, that reading written story Is a lot more work than watching TV, but it sets up that heart to head link for which there are few substitutes.

Hence Reading Alive! This book is the most serious thing I've ever written. I hope it proves the point that serious does not necessarily mean boring and not fun. It is based on my personal commitment to seeing 'educating the Imagination' as the driving force behind reading promotion.

We simply have to show and tell students what we know - that learning is tough. that finding information. even with a computer as intermediary, is still a time-consuming human process. What you need is motivation and persistence.

Many non-librarians think that automated cataloguing means that the computer does the cataloguing. Likewise, many students seem to show the instant-gratiflcation-or-it-is-boring- so -give -it-up mode. I also suspect that at many students. when they don't find reading 'fun' and learning quick and easy think that they are dumb. that the fault is theirs - and hide it with bravado by declaring the whole thing to be BORING!

So, how do we model this conviction that learning and finding information is tough and frustrating, but also fascinating and rewarding?

One way is taking a cold hard look at our libraries. In our wave of enthusiasm for IT, RBL and CPPT is it possible that we might have lost sight of the fact that the way we lay out and signpost our libraries, systems and technologies can be an incredibly powerful hidden motivating or de-motivating force?

Let's throw out patronising and pompous terms like Library Orientation and User Education. The assumption behind both is that they are something we do to clients. The trouble with corporate planning, economies of scale and accountability is that it tempts us to think in terms of generic categories like USERS and BORROWERS and CLIENTS.

Behind Gary Paulsen's story was an individual. His view of reading and learning was inextricably bound up with Gary the child, Gary the person. It was personal, related to his self, What the librarian did for Gary was to accept him for what he was, opening doors into a world of knowledge by engaging his imagination.

She didn't classify him as a 'Reluctant Reader'. She didn't look at him and say "Poor boy, parents alcoholics; it follows he'll want to read a problem novel about a boy whose parents were alcoholic." She didn't hand him a list called 'growing pains'. She gave him the stuff of Scientific American - a wonderful escape into the world of imagination, intrigue, adventure, heroes and villains, good and evil. She didn't try to educate him as a user. She gave him access to knowledge through his imagination, and, as he says, she gave him his world.

To build self-esteem as a reader and learner, you have to be in control. You have to learn to do it yourself. It can't be done to you. One of the assumptions that I suspect we make is that CPPT motivates students.

It may do, but by virtue of the name, the focus, quite rightly, is on working with teachers to help teachers to plan to make better use of resources in their teaching. This is very necessary, but does it give students the independence and control they need to develop a self-concept of powerful, motivated, tough but rewarding learning?


 

* RBL Resource-Based learning

** CPPT Co-operative Program Planning and Teaching (American term used to describe joint teacher + teacher-librarian planning of curriculum units of work.