A Biblioteca Escolar: desafios e oportunidades no contexto da
As bibliotecas escolares no contexto da mudança
A biblioteca escolar tem passado por transformações assinaláveis resultantes da
evolução do paradigma tecnológico e das implicações profundas no acesso, uso e
comunicação da Informação. Neste contexto, passaram de espaços organizados com
recursos destinados ao acesso da informação e ao lazer a espaços de trabalho e de
construção do conhecimento.
Há evidência irrefutável atestada por diferentes estudos internacionais, de que a
biblioteca escolar contribui para o sucesso educativo dos estudantes e para o
desenvolvimento das literacias imprescindíveis na nossa sociedade.
Linhas de força definidoras da biblioteca escolar actual
Ross Todd conseguiu, de forma sintética, objectivar as transformações por que passa a
biblioteca escolar actualmente:
•Knowledge space, not information place
•Connections, not collections
•Actions, not positions
•Evidence, not advocacy
Com possibillidade de acesso em qualquer lugar e sem qualquer mediação, mas com
necessidades evidentes de rever o portfólio de competências exigíveis ao uso da informação, à
construção do conhecimento e à construção da cidadania, a biblioteca escolar vê redefinidos
contextos de trabalho e de prestação de serviços e ganha um papel preponderante na
formação para as literacias e para o acompanhamento curricular e das aprendizagens dos
As bibliotecas escolares passam, neste contexto, a ter um papel:
• Informacional: Disponibilizam recursos de informação, apoiam a infra-estrutura tecnológica,
contribuindo para o seu uso e integração nas práticas lectivas;
• Transformativo: Formam para as diferentes literacias, contribuindo de forma colaborativa e
articulada com os outros docentes para o desenvolvimento de competências que suportam as
aprendizagens e a construção do conhecimento.
• Formativo: Transformam-se de espaços de disponibilização de recursos em espaços de
aprendizagem, de construção do conhecimento. (Bogel, 2006)
Noutro artigo da CILIP, New guidelines, new challenges in schools, a forma como a mudança
induz novas práticas está também patente. Os organogramas revelam a mudança de enfoque
que deve presidir às nossas práticas. Esse enfoque varia entre a valorização dos processos de
gestão e uma mudança de papel que coloca a biblioteca escolar no centro das aprendizagens e
da construção do conhecimento.
Evidenciam também o impacto que o paradigma digital tem na biblioteca escolar, nas práticas
e na forma como gerimos e processamos a informação. Neste paradigma, conteúdos,
administração/ gestão, ambientes virtuais de aprendizagem e currículo são partes de um todo
que a biblioteca escolar tem forçosamente que integrar.
Estes organogramas podem servir-nos de exemplo à perspectivação da mudança que o
Plano Tecnológico da Educação trará às nossas bibliotecas. Capacidade de antecipação
e de alterar práticas e modelos de trabalho serão fundamentais. A organização da
informação digital para estar pronta a usar no quadro interactivo, a criação de
ambientes virtuais de aprendizagem, a ligação ao currículo serão factores críticos de
sobrevivência para as BEs.
Que bibliotecas escolares temos?
Embora em Portugal exista um quase vazio de dados em termos de avaliação e
conhecimento da realidade das nossas bibliotecas diversos estudos internacionais,
realizados em países com um percurso maior nesta área, vieram demonstrar a
importância das práticas de avaliação.
A Literatura Internacional na área das bibliotecas escolares evidencia, de forma clara, o
impacto das bibliotecas na aprendizagem e no sucesso educativo dos alunos em
regiões e em contextos diversos. Estes estudos realizaram-se em diferentes estados da
América, mas também no Canadá, Reino Unido ou na Austrália, países onde as
bibliotecas têm um percurso mais consolidado. A American Assotiation of School
Libraries conduz um inquérito anual, a nível nacional - “School Libraries Count!”- com o
objectivo de recolher informação acerca da situação das bibliotecas escolares e das
Em todos estes estudos, há o reconhecimento de que a biblioteca escolar é usada
enquanto espaço apetrechado com um conjunto significativo de recursos e de
equipamentos (as condições externas, as condições físicas e a qualidade da colecção
são fundamentais) e, como espaço formativo e de aprendizagem, intrinsecamente
relacionado com a escola e com o processo de ensino/ aprendizagem. A Literacia da
Informação tem, nestes estudos, um papel muito importante.
Estes estudos identificam, também, áreas chave, determinantes na construção de uma
biblioteca escolar de qualidade:
- Integração na escola e no processo de ensino/ aprendizagem
-Integração institucional e programática, de acordo com os objectivos
educacionais e programáticos da escola;
-Desenvolvimento de competências de leitura e de um programa de Literacia
da Informação, integrado no desenvolvimento curricular;
-Articulação com departamentos, professores e alunos na planificação e
desenvolvimento de actividades educativas e de aprendizagem.
- Condições de Acesso. Qualidade da Colecção
- Organização e equipamento de acordo com os standards definidos, facultando
condições de acesso e de trabalho individual ou em grupo;
- Disponibilização de um conjunto de recursos de informação, em diferentes
ambientes e suportes, actualizada e em extensão e qualidade adequadas às
necessidades dos utilizadores.
- Gestão da BE
- Afectação de um professor bibliotecário qualificado e de uma equipa que
assegure as rotinas inerentes à gestão, que articule e trabalhe com a escola,
professores e alunos;
- Liderança do professor bibliotecário e da equipa;
- Desenvolvimento de estratégias de gestão e de integração da BE na escola e no
- Desenvolvimento de estratégias de gestão baseadas na recolha sistemática de
evidências – evidence based practice
Avaliação - Gestão - Mudança
Avaliação, gestão e mudança são conceitos que apontam para diferentes dimensões
implicadas nos processos, práticas e impactos das nossas acções enquanto
profissionais. Quando gerimos um serviço, gerimos expectativas, definimos políticas,
planeamos e projectamos, por norma com um horizonte temporal em perspectiva.
Estas expectativas, projecções e acções estão forçosamente ligadas a um objecto, uma
realidade concreta (no nosso caso, a biblioteca escolar) na qual incide a nossa acção.
Esse objecto/ realidade sobre a qual actuamos, é atravessado por uma série de
factores internos capazes de condicionar a resposta àquilo que perspectivamos ou
acções que realizamos.
Existem, também, factores externos com proximidade e forças diferenciadas que
temos que ter em conta quando pensamos um serviço ou perspectivamos a sua
gestão. Do ambiente externo (próximo) fazem parte entidades tão diversas como a
escola, o órgão directivo, outros stakeholders... Fazem ainda parte, por exemplo, os
órgãos decisores (macroestrutura) que definem políticas, como o Ministério da
Educação/ Gabinete RBE.
A avaliação é um elemento fundamental no processo de gestão porque nos permite:
- Aferir a eficácia dos serviços que prestamos, identificando sucessos e insucessos –
gaps que condicionam a qualidade e eficiência do serviço.
- Aferir o impacto que temos nas atitudes, comportamento e competências dos nossos
Em suma, procuramos, através do processo de avaliação, trazer à luz a diferença que
fazemos na escola que servimos. Fazer entender essa diferença é fundamental. É
importante fazer compreender àqueles que têm poder decisor que somos
imprescindíveis; É fundamental fazer ver por que é que investir em mais recursos de
informação ou realizar outros investimentos, como, por exemplo em recursos
humanos, não representa uma perda ou um investimento sem retorno.
É também importantíssimo fazer entender aos professores (alguns fechados à
colaboração com a biblioteca), aos pais e aos alunos que a biblioteca cumpre
objectivos semelhantes àqueles em que toda a restante escola se empenha e que
algum do sucesso obtido tem a sua participação.
Interrogar a biblioteca escolar – What Works?
A comparação com standards pré-definidos permite-nos aferir as expectativas
existentes relativamente a determinado domínio e os resultados obtidos (ou o que a
nossa experiência empírica nos mostra).
A grande mudança reside no facto de desenvolvermos uma actividade sistemática de
recolha de informação que nos permita ajuizar e decidir de forma fundamentada o
rumo a dar à nossa acção.
Tais práticas implicam:
- Gerir para o sucesso educativo; para a melhoria das aprendizagens e do trabalho
escolar; criar mais-valias comportamentais, formativas e de aprendizagem junto dos
- Gerir no sentido da optimização dos processos que produzam resultados e impacto
na qualidade da BE e dos serviços que prestamos.
Ser prospectivo, estar atento e ter uma postura de investigação e de aprendizagem
contínua são factores críticos à efectivação de uma boa gestão e à prestação de
serviços de qualidade.
The 2001 IASL Conference
Auckland, New Zealand, 9-12 July
ASPECTS FOR DISCUSSION:
From Ross Todd:
I would like the focus of discussion to be on approaches to evidence-based practice.
Participants should share:
Examples of initiatives that provide evidence of the power of the educative role of the
school librarian: describe the initiative, how you collected some evidence, what you
This does not have to relate to technology -- but initiatives where impact, benefit can be
demonstrated: it might centre on reading, literacy, information literacy, information
technology, communication, perceptions of seld as learners, improved test scores.
KEYNOTE PAPER: VIRTUAL CONFERENCE SESSION
Transitions for preferred futures of school libraries:
Knowledge space, not information place
Connections, not collections
Actions, not positions
Evidence, not advocacy
DR ROSS TODD
The fusion of learning, libraries and literacies is creating dynamic, if not confronting
challenges for teacher-librarians, teachers and administrators, particularly when set
against the backdrop of learning and information environments that are complex and
fluid, connective and interactive, and ones no longer constrained by time and space. It
is both an opportunity to evaluate and chart impacts and achievements, as well as an
invitation to examining new ways of looking and thinking, being and doing. This
presentation will argue that action and evidence-based, learning-centered practice,
rather than position and advocacy, are key mindsets for the profession if it is to achieve
its preferred future, particularly in the context of the development of digital collections
and services. It will elucidate a shared-learning framework as the fundamental building
block for the articulation of roles, selection of resources, the nature of the instructional
program, and for evaluating the power of the library in achieving the school’s learning
Two statements from different times and contexts form the heart of my address. Winnie
the Pooh has been attributed with saying: “There has been an alarming increase in the
number of things I know nothing about”. The German philosopher Goethe, once said:
“Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute. What you can do, or dream you can, begin
it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Only engage and then the mind grows
heated. Begin and then the work will be completed”. In a time of intense educational
change and profound growth in accessible information, both somewhat driven by
networked information technology, the challenge for teacher-librarians to chart a
preferred future for the information environments of schools is both complex and
potentially confronting. It is time to acknowledge our past, reflect on our achievements,
and chart a course for the future.
I have begun writing this address in one of the world’s magnificent libraries, the Library
of Congress, in Washington D.C. The scale and grandeur of the physical place and the
enormity of its collection are difficult to comprehend. The collection includes more than
28 million catalogued books and other print materials in 460 languages, and has the
largest rare book collection in North America, as well as the world’s largest collection
of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings. Marble, gilt, brass
inlay, vaulted ceilings, mosaics honoring the professions, magnificent paintings
depicting the creation and diffusion of knowledge and the role of literature and learning,
sculptures featuring life and thought and honoring those who over centuries have made
distinguished contributions – all these make it visually an awesome and inspiring place.
I am working in the domed Reading Room of the Thomas Jefferson Wing, barely able
A mural by Edwin Blashfield depicting the great epochs of civilization adorns the apex
of this enormous and embellished dome. In the cupola of the dome is another painting
by Edwin Blashfield, and it is this that captures my attention. Here is painted a female
figure, visible only to those in the Reading Room below, representing Human
Understanding. Human Understanding. And atop this dome, on the outside of the
building, is the “Torch of Learning”. It is my view that at the pinnacle, the c entre, the
heart of a library is the development of human understanding. My central claim in this
paper is that the school library in the 21st Century is about constructing sense and new
knowledge, and building an information infrastructure and information resources to
enable this. This is the idea of the library as a knowledge space, not information place.
In order to achieve that, I believe we need to focus on three things: connections, not
collections; actions, not positions; and evidence, not advocacy.
FROM INFORMATION TO KNOWLEDGE
The information environment of the 21st century is complex and fluid, connective and
interactive, diverse, ambiguous and unpredictable, and one no longer constrained by
physical collections, time, place and national boundaries. The e-environment, at a time
when social commentary focuses on “the dot.com age”, “the dot.con age”, “the
dot.come-and-gone age” is increasingly giving attention to the development of “the
knowledge society”, “the clever country”. This does not happen by chance. Not does it
happen by having magnificent information collections, inspiring physical environments,
or advanced information technology networks. These are important, there is no question
about that, but I do not believe that these are the hallmarks of the school library of the
21st Century. Giving information is not the same as giving knowledge, and turning
information into knowledge is potentially the most complex, challenging and rewarding
task of all educators.
In order for school libraries to play a key role in the information age school, I believe
there needs to be a fundamental shift from thinking about the movement and
management of information resources through structures and networks, and from
information skills and information literacy, to a key focus on knowledge construction
and human understanding, implemented through a constructivist, inquiry-based
framework. The notion of human understanding is the essence of the word
“information”: inform.ere informo, informare, informavi, informatus = inward forming.
School libraries are aboutproviding the best information opportunities for people to
make the most of their lives as sense-making, constructive, independent people. They
know how to connect with, interact with and utilize their information rich world to
enable them to understand their world around them, to think through issues and to make
decisions to sustain and enrich their own lives. Information is the heartbeat of
meaningful learning in schools. But it is not the hallmark of the 21st century school.
The hallmark of a school library in the 21st century is not its collections, its systems, its
technology, its staffing, its buildings, BUT its actions and evidences that show that it
makes a real difference to student learning, that it contributes in tangible and significant
ways to the development of human understanding, meaning making and constructing
knowledge. The school library is about empowerment, connectivity, engagement,
interactivity, and its outcome is knowledge construction. This must be at the centre of
our philosophy, the mandate for our role, and the driver of all our day-by-day teaching
and learning actions. Information is not power. It is human understanding and
knowledge that is power, and information is how you get it. Professor Kuhlthau's
address earlier this week argued that inquiry-based learning provides both a
philosophical and action-centred constructivist framework for building an appropriate
learning environment in an information-rich school, one that has construction of
meaning and understanding as its outcome, where students are engaged in "an active
personal process" fitting information in with what one already knows and extending this
knowledge to create new perspectives (Kuhlthau, 1993:4). This is the significant context
for my paper today.
Writing in the preface to Effective libraries in international schools (Markuson, 1999), I
make this statement: "Preparing our students today for tomorrow's unknown world,
being able to predict an uncertain future, and moving into it with confidence, takes
courgae and conviction. Indeed the best way to predict the future is to work towards
creating it, and creating it begins today, not tomorrow. This means that although we
respect and are informed by our past, we also have the courage and determination to
think and act divergently" (1999, 9). I like this quote, from an unknown source: "If we
always see as we've always seen, we'll always be as we've always, and we'll always do
as we've always done." So what is the problem? I am going to stick my neck out here. I
am not convinced that empowerment for knowledge construction and the development
of human understanding is the central concern of teacher-librarians today. Over my 25
year period of engagement with the profession, as a practicing teacher-librarian,
educator and researcher, I have sat in numerous meetings, forums and conferences, and
listened to the concerns and challenges of teacher-librarians around the world I still
remain unconvinced that action and evidence-based, learning-centred practice focusing
on engagement with information for human understanding and knowledge construction,
are key mindsets for the profession -- philosophically and in practice. Certainly they are
reflected in the rhetoric about roles and responsibilities, in other words, espoused
values. But I would argue that the central public concerns of teacher-librarians continue
to be expressed in terms of collections, position and advocacy, and I believe that this is
the major limiting factor of the profession today. I strongly believe that our mindset
needs to shift to evidence-based, learning centred practice that has as its heart the
central concepts of knowledge construction and human understanding. This should be
the locus of our concern and the fundamental challenge that drives us, and the rest will
look after itself.
PERCEPTIONS OF CHALLENGES
Let me give some simple evidence for this. Recently I sent out a message to two
Australian electronic lists for teacher-librarians: OZTL_NET and InfoSpec. (a
discussion list for the Parramatta Diocese school libraries staff). I requested teacher-
librarians to email me and tell me what they thought were the most important challenges
facing them at this time. This could be broad or narrow -- on the educative role, on
technology, on the status of their position, on their image value; on anything they think
important. I asked them to list these in priority order, from the most important or highest
priority. It was not intended to be a formal study, and the results I mention here need to
be perceived in that context -- however, they show some interesting patterns. I received
74 written replies. I did provide some prompts, as stated above, based on my own
hunches, and these were taken up, and others identified as well. I undertook a content
analysis of those replies, first by identifying individual statements of challenge. 249
individual statements of challenge were provided. Some of these were expressed
broadly, which enabled me to establish 11 categories for grouping these challenges;
others were expressed quite specifically, which serve to illustrate the breadth and depth
of each category.
Key Challenges Facing Teacher-Librarians
Number of % of Total
Impact of information technology on library
and role of teacher-librarian
Perceived lack of understanding of the nature
and dimensions of the role
Perceived lack of value, importance and
Negative perceptions of the image of
teacher-librarian by others
Perceived lack of support for the role of
Not able to do the job I want to do as
Perceived low status 17 6.84
Student learning -- processes and outcomes 15 6.902
Advocacy of position and role 12 4.82
Funding 10 4.03
Professional development 7 2.81
Other 11 4.42
TOTAL 249 100%
The most significant challenges were in terms of information technology, and
challenges related to other's perceptions of the image and role of the teacher-librarian,
the lack of understanding by others of the role, and dealing with less-than-desired
perceptions of the importance and value of the contributions made by them. The bullet
points below each category are some of the individual statements made by teacher-
librarians, to illustrate the dynamics, breadth and depth of the challenges.
Impact of information technology on library and role of librarian
• Another issue is the problem of responsibility for technology. As more
equipment is being placed in the library -- networked printers, scanners, colour
photocopiers, ID cards -- more pressure / expectations are being placed on the
TL to maintain / service the needs of the equipment and the users.
• Taking on more and more tasks like web master, network password
administrator, PD organiser for staff, mentor to "reluctant" staff, computer
technician, with no extra staff provided nor time allowance to cope with the
load. The pace just keeps hotting up; some days the descent into chaos is
• In the use of technology, many teachers lack the skills to assist students, so they
are relying more on the TL to be involved with their classes, which leaves less
time for management tasks.
• TLs are hampered by technology in every sense of the word; They receive the
cast noff machines from the Administration areas; There is little or no
technological support; the latest software does not work with older machines;
The technology is forever changing; the students think they know about
technology -- but they do not know how to research.
• Information technology drains the library budget (is money going to computers
etc instead of the library).
Perceived lack of support for the role
• We see lots of excellent school-based staff getting very frustrated because the
job they do isn't supported or appreciated.
• The energy of the battle is not worth the little support we gain.
• We seem to have to spend a lot of time fighting for any support we get.
• Support seems to be given grudgingly, often to shut me up.
• If I become too strident over library needs, I get into all sorts of strife if I don't
get strident, the library gets nothing or leftovers, after years of asking.
Perceived lack of value and importance and appreciation
• Not perceived by peers as being relevant (in part die to the increasing problem
of being sidelined by the IT agenda in a school). Why do we need a library
(TLs) when we're "connected" to the world.
• Lack of official value -- school annual reports can be written with no library or
T-L but happily report on the multi-purpose shelter & the bus as facilities.
• Showing my value and being valued as a teacher librarian -- a special role in the
school -- so as not to be replaced by a librarian.
• Encouraging classroom teachers to see me as a valuable resource in their
classrooms as well as in the library.
• Recognition for cooperative work done with teachers with an adequate time
allocation for this.
Perceived lack of understanding of the nature and dimensions of the role
• Perpetual misunderstandings of one's role (not a new one).
• Principals in general do not have an understanding of the importance of the
library to teaching and learning.
• The boss consults the computer class teacher on what equipment should go into
the library and since this teacher rarely even uses the library, his vision and mine
• Having administration and colleagues understanding the role of the t/l in the 21st
• If our colleagues in the profession could see how valuable we could be in a more
collaborative role beyond "give me all you have on transport" and storytelling to
the littlies then things might change.
• From where I sit one of my biggest concerns is the apparent lack of
understanding by administrators and teachers, of the place that the library and a
good teacher librarian can play in the learning process. This is especially evident
with the advent of the Internet with the tendency in many schools to think that
online information can replace the book stock and trained library staff.
• The administration of schools only seem to know that the library is a problem
when something has gone wrong or a parent complains.
Perceived low status of position
• The challenge is to get enough status to get the money to ring the changes that
move us forward whatever the current sticking point may be.
• Top of my priorities at the moment is the perception of the status of TLs in
Australian schools, and specifically, of course in my own school.
• I have less status than I have ever had in this school. I am fearful that if I studied
for a PhD, as I have wanted to, that I would find myself cleaning the toilets.
• Trained TLs are being replaced by other, untrained teachers who sometimes do
quite extraordinary things to collections such as abandoning the Dewey system
for home-made ones.
• Status as an educator -- I'm an assistant principal/TL and still have to fight for
time, resourcing and status of the library. It is convenient to have me in this dual
role, so I can be on call whenever there is a more urgent need for me to wear my
AP hat -- which if allowed, would be 90% of the time. I have 3 days TL and 2
Negative perceptions of the image of School Librarian by others
• Tag of librarian -- still has the image of somewhat old fashioned keeper of the
books and daggy.
• Librarians have a negative image, and no matter what you do, it doesn't seem to
• TLs are often seen as second grade in a school, with nothing to offer but control
of the shelves with a stern face.
• The image of the librarian -- attitudes of the old days still persist as strong as
• No matter what I do or say, I am still tarnished with the past image of the
• Encouraging good quality training courses for new TLs with an emphasis on
education, not just library management.
• The need to convince all stakeholders (politicians, society, academics, teachers,
parents and students) that Information Literacy is an essential responsibility of
schooling. If it is established that if graduates can access and efficiently use
information, and be critical thinkers, data can become knowledge, and
knowledge can be transformed into wisdom, I think most of our challenges will
be diminished somewhat.
• I think it is a worry that there do not seem to be any courses on offer in Victoria
to train teacher librarians.
• Information skills are an important part of our work and many tertiary
institutions are realising the importance of conducting classes for their students,
perhaps there should be more consultation between the two sectors.
Student learning -- processes and outcomes
• TLs are frustrated by the lack of technical skills amongst the students and staff.
Users rush in waving a disk and want material printed out yesterday. They have
used Word 2000 on Mac and we have windows 95 etc etc.
• Teacher librarians do not contribute to the debate on the place of information
technology and and its effects on curriculum, and teaching and learning, and as a
consequence the implications for the role of the teacher librarian and the
resource centre then they run the very serious risk of being sidelined.
• Encouraging teachers to see the ICT Competencies, especially the Info Lit
component, should be across the curriculum, not just considered in the IT
• Incorporating ICT resources into the library collection in a way that doesn't
downgrade more traditional resources i.e. persuading students that the Internet
isn't the only place to go for research. Maintaining the value of print resources.
• Need to explore electronic aspects to info process -- not the locating and
selecting, but the cut and paste organisation aspects, (my own area not explored,
still give the kids paper and pencil).
• Curriculum development for composite classes.
• Student assessment.
• Funds -- probably linked to above -- some libraries are starved of fundsto make
them the vibrant places they should be.
• Maintaining our library budget and library staffing ratios in tight times and in
tough competition with other needy areas of the school, or new "must have or
we'll look bad" school trends in the region.
• Funding and resources: once the need for information literacy is established, the
challenge to provide adequate resources in the way of staffing, hardware,
technology and technology support, information sources, and funds for ongoing
research and development, will be on the way to being met.
• Chronic under-funding is another major problem.
• Libraries are considered a waste of funds.
Not able to do the job I want to do
• Find TIME, TIME, Time. Find enough time to do all that I want to do.
• I spend more time than I think I should need to on: student management (first
year at this school so still not known by students); student discipline (we are in a
difficult demographic area); paperwork related to purchasing, getting signatures
and faxing (must be a better way); too many meetings (at school and network
level -- usually valuable but too many); house-keeping as in shelving, and
training and selling cards for the photocopier!!
• Time management... to do less better. Finding the time to teach AND monitor
authority files & the nitty-gritty that makes the database effective.
• Would like more time available: for planning and implementing a meaningful
research skills plan for students; for teaching teachers about the value of our
college intranet and how it can make teaching and learning a more positive
• Time -- to do own professional development, present it to colleagues, discussion
for co-operative, read latest literature on shelf, be available to students outside
"lesson" time, to debrief with peers!
• Education of the staff on the need for integrated, systematic Information Skills
classes across the curriculum.
• Remaining at the forefront of new information technology as it pertains to
information management and teaching.
• Change and the ability to keep up (espcially when you are the only one in the
library); keeping up with and gaining in-service training.
• Continuous training and development; once the pivotal role of Information
Literacy and the fact that school/university libraries are in a prime position to
enahnce and develop it, is established, hopefully the provision of quality, free,
ongoing training will also become less of a struggle, for those working in the
field and undergraduates.
• Learning new skills myself and implementing ideas for literature programs:
frustration at students' poor research skills; read more of the latest adolescent
fiction; teach myself how to use PowerPoint, etc.
These are important challenges, ones not just local to Australia, and ones that need to be
addressed. Many of these challenges have been expressed for decades. These were the
issues I thought about when I did my training in teacher-librarianship in the early 1980s.
Yes, even technology, as we grappled with the integration of the audio-visual
technologies into learning. What is particularly interesting is that challenges related to
the processes and outcomes of student learning received lower priority. There may be a
number of reasons for this: these challenges are well under control for the majority of
teacher-librarians, or they don't exist or don't matter, or it is perceived that solutions to
the other challenges need to be in place before the real work of student learning can be
accomplished. Maybe there is something in the old proverb: "Energy goes where the
attention flows". We tend to send our energy where our attention is. The attention we
are giving and needing to the challenges expressed above may not bring about the
desired effect. It is my view that we cannot wait around, hoping that someone out there
will rescue us from this concerns. We need to shift our thinking to what we espouse as
the real purposes of our roles, and demonstrate its power on the lives of the students we
deal with. We need to move beyond the public relations approach, and focus on an
evidence-based practice approach.
I spoke at the 4th National Information Literacy Conference in Adelaide, Australia, in
December 1999, and made the comment that information literacy is often seen by others
as "a clarion call by committed protagonists to improve literacy and learning outcomes"
(Todd, 2000: 29), rather than as an action-centred process where tangible outcomes
could be demonstrated. I cited Foster who claimed that information literacy is "an
exercise in public relations" and "an effort to deny the ancillary status of librarianship
by inventing a social malady with which librarians as 'information professionals' are
uniquely qualified to deal" (Foster, 1993, 346), and Miller who observed: "the word
'literacy' carries with it the connotations of illiteracy, and the continuing implication that
librarians are dealing with clients on a basic or even remedial level" (Miller, 1992).
Foster's and Miller's remarks are undeserved and many people were angered by my
However, the advocacy, role, status, image and position messages are the messages that
school executives, system administrators, school library educators, and school library
professional associations have been hearing for decades. Why haven't they been heard
to the extent that the teacher-librarian's position today is the most exalted, cherished and
sought-after position in the school? I believe that one key element in this answer is that
these are all self-centred and ego-driven dimensions. People -- administrators,
classroom teachers and parents -- sometimes do not see the links between what you do
on a day-to-day basis and how that enables the learning outcomes of the students. I am
going to be blunt here. I hope I am wrong. But you will not be heard until your day-to-
day practice is evidence-based; a practice that is directed towards demonstrating the real
tangible power of your contribution to the school's learning goals -- goals that while
expressed in many different ways, have at their heart concepts of knowledge
construction and human understanding. The evidence of your direct, tangible
contribution to improving learning in your school should be the substance of your
message, the substance of your public concern, the substance of your negotiations.
In my short survey, one teacher-librarian commented:
"I teach with some wonderful, dedicated teachers, and we use scads of ingenuity in
finding the resources we need, and teaching our students. This is still the best job in the
world, either teaching on its own, or being a teacher librarian, and there is great
satisfaction to be had from finding a needed, elusive fact, or introducing a child to a
book that brings them back for 'more of the same, please'. But there is so much more we
I would suggest that the answer to the concluding remark, "But there is so much more
we could do" needs to foocus on evidence-based practice. We might argue that there is a
great deal of evidence out there that highlights the empowering role of the school
library. Yet even with this evidence, it is sometimes difficult to convince school
executive of the nature, scope and importance of this role. Why? I think there is a
simple answer to this. The evidence is not local, immediately derived from the day-to-
day teaching and learning going on in a specific school. Principals, teachers, parents,
want to hear local success, local improvement; they want to know how their students in
particular are benefiting, not how others are doing. Yesterday (June 14th), the US
Senate approved the first major overhaul of the country's education policy in 35 years.
The Bill calls for annual testing of students in reading and methematics, and requires
each school to demonstrate progress in eliminating academic achievement gaps. Failing
schools will receive aid to improve, but will face the loss of funds and other penalties if
they fail to make adequate progress. If a school does not make enough progress after
two years, it must allow students to transfer to other public schools. Schools with a
continuing record of failing may also be required to replace staff or restructure.
However we might react to this approach, it clearly shows that local outcomes will
matter; local improvements will be monitored, watched, listened to, and it highlights the
importance of teacher-librarians being engaged in evidence-based practice that shows
that their role in the learning goals of the school makes a difference. Oberg (2001)
makes this timely comment: "Many people, including educators, are suspicious of
research and researchers. Research conducted closer to home is more likely to be
considered and perhaps to be viewed as trustworthy".
Another teacher-librarian provided this longer reply to my challenges request:
"Information technology has provided the means for teacher librarians to present
themselves to the world in a way clearly valued to the world. We employ our
information management skills to manage information and knowledge across a whole
spectrum of formats. We are at the forefront of taking information technology from a
frightening spectre to place it within the context of education in a controlled and
meaningful way. We look at the curriculum needs, and work with teachers to plan their
courses and lessons, than set about finding the best information in whatever format,
including websites, and applying the most suitable information technology -- from
simple pathfinders on a website to highly complex webquests. We then teach teachers
and their classes how to use it. Schools and teachers are convinced that we know what
we are doing because we use every opportunity to be involved in curriculum planning
and to sell our skills to the school community: on councils, meetings, in-service,
assemblies, workshops. We use our websites to best effect for the school and to present
our knowledge and information management to the school and the broader community.
We monitor education and librarianship email discussion lists and channel relevant
emails to our colleagues. We publish good news about our libraries in every venue
possible. We send our library staff to as many professional development sessions as
There are some worthwhile initiatives here. The fundamental question needs to be
asked: what difference did this make to student learning? The focus here is on "doing",
and undoubtedly, some fine doing. What did this do in terms of students "being" and
"becoming"? For students, teachers and parents, what was the "experience"? What were
the differences, defined and expressed in ways that say: "hey, we want more of this!".
This is evidence-based practice.
Evidence-based practice focuses on two things. Firstly, it is the conscientious, explicit
and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the performance of
your role. It is about using research evidence, coupled with your own professionsl
expertise and reasoning to implement learning interventions that are effective. Without
current best evidence, practice runs the risk of not only being out of date, but detracts
from the real purpose, to the detriment of learners. Secondly, evidence-based practice is
about ensuring that your daily efforst put some focus on effectiveness evaluation that
gathers meaningful and systematic evidence on dimensions of teaching and learning that
matter to the school and its support community, evidences that clearly convey that
learning outcomes are continuing to improve. Some may claim that evidence-based
practice is impossible to practice, given the seemingly limited time for keeping abreast,
let alone implementing strategies, or that it is only possible to be done by those in ivory
towers. My view is that evidence-based practice is fundamental to future survival.
Unless teacher-librarians engage in carefully planned evidence-based practice, I see the
continuing erosion of the role. It is about action, not position; it is about evidence, not
advocacy, and at the heart of this is inquiry-based learning for knowledge construction.
THE RESEARCH EVIDENCE
There is a considerable body of evidence already existing that provides direction in
terms of where the evidence-based focus of a school might lie. This research evidence is
well documented in substantive reviews undertaken over a number of years, for
example, by Didier (1984), Haycock (1992, 1994), Loertscher and Woolls (1999),
Oberg (2001), as well as many individual and large-scale research studies, such as
Kuhlthau's research on inquiry-based learning and the Information Search Process
(1993, 1994, 1999), and the Colorado Studies by Lance and colleagues (1992, 1999,
2000, 2001). It is imperative that teacher-librarians continue to engage actively with this
literature, and use it as a way of determining how each individual school might establish
its library program, identify learning needs, and chart its own evidence.
As I examine this literature, I see at least 8 important generalizations about the
relationship of school libraries to learning, each underpinned by specific research-based
evidence. These are:
• A shared educational philosophy centering on inquiry learning provides an
appropriate and common climate for engaging teacher-librarians and school staff
in collaborative, integrated learning opportunities. A "shared philosophy of
learning" (Kuhlthau, 1993) underpins a shared vision for the learning outcomes,
and a commitment to a shared collaborative process.
• A process approach focusing on the systematic and explicit development of
students' abilities to connect with, and utilize information to contruct personal
understanding results in improved performance in terms of personal mastery of
• The systematic and explicit development of students' abilities to connect with,
interact with, snd utilize information to construct personal understanding results
in more positive attitudes to learning, increased active engagement in the
learning environment, and more positive perceptions of themselves as active,
constructive learners. Kuhlthau has in particular studied attitudes and feelings of
certainty and confidence in the search process, and demonstrates how feelings of
uncertainty and poor self-concept can change positively through engagement in
active inquiry-centered learning.
• The development of student competence is most effective when it is integrated
into flexibly delivered classroom instruction at the point of need.
• Active reading programs foster higher levels of reading, comprehension,
vocabulary development and language skills.
• There are benefits to students when school and public libraries communicate and
co-operate more effectively. Evidence suggests that students who are active
school library users are more likely to have more positive attitudes to public
libraries and using those libraries.
• Successful school library programs are ones that set clear expectations and
manageable objectives, establish realistic time lines, and gather meaningful and
systematic feedback from students and teachers on the impacts of the programs.
• School leaders tend to be more supportive when they can see the library actively
engaged in the teaching and learning process, and when they can articulate
specific impacts of this engagement. Such evidence to them demonstrates
people-centered, learning-cerntered empowerment.
We should be greatly encouraged by such findings, but it is not good enough to simply
tout these findings particularly in the context of shoring up image, position, role, power,
or status, or a clarion call for more funding for teachnology or resources. I believe
central to our role is the major task of developing our own school evidence that supports
these findings -- building the local case in the context of more global findings, as well
as identifying specific local learning dilemmas, and exploring how the school library
program might contribute to their solution.
SOME OPPORTUNITIES FOR EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICE
One key area that teacher-librarians might focus on relates to students' engagement with
information technology. There are many important learning dilemmas emerging from
available research evidence, and these might form the centre of carefully planned,
evidence-based practice. The Table below highlights some learning dilemmas faced by
students when engaging with the World Wide Web. I have analyzed this literature from
an information literacy perspective, where information literacy is conceptualized as
centering on people connecting with information, interacting with information and
utilizing information as part of the learning process for knowledge construction. The
research, primarily American, provides insights into the cognitions, behaviors and
emotions that are commonly experienced during the process of interacting with
electronic information. This research, in contrast to the commonly held view that young
people are gurus in this vast digital world, suggests that the intuitiveness, ease,
certainty, and success as input and outcomes attributes of searching the World Wide
Web are highly questionable, and highlights significant learning dilemmas in this arena.
LITERACY RESEARCH FINDINGS
Connecting with Atkin (1998); Watson (1999); high levels of information overload;
information inability to manage and reduce large volumes of information;
Bilal & Watson (1998); McNicholas & Todd (1996); Todd (2000):
failure to retrieve documents based on aboutness; formulating
ineffective search queries; failure to utilize Boolean operators
Kuhlthau (1991); McNicholas & Todd (1996); Watson (1999):
considerable insecurity and uncertainty when searching;
McNicholas & Todd (1996); Kafai & Bates (1997); problems with
working with search engines;
Hertzberg & Rudner (1997); Nims & Rich (1998); tendency to
conduct simple searches, crafting poor searches; considerable
guessing of appropriate terms;
Nims & Rich (1998): high expectation of the technology's ability to
make up for poor searching techniques
Fidel (1999): examine only first screens of most sites
Schacter, Hung & Dorr (1998): preferred browsing techniques to
systematic, andlytic-based strategies;
Hirsch (1999, 1997): motivation for searching decreases when site
load time is slow, and especially in relation to graphics -- technical
Interacting with Atkin (1998): coping strategies -- filtering, simplification, errors,
information delegating; feelings of confusion and frustration;
Bilal & Watson (1998); Hirsch (1999): not thinking critically and
evaluatively in searching; limited use of thesaurus
Hertzberg & Rudner (1997): typical user only performs 2 or 3
inquiries per search; very small number of citations examined
(5-6); abort searches quickly;
McNicholas & Todd (1996); Schacter, Hung & Dorr (1998);
Hirsch (1999): inability to judge quality of information
Watson (1999): inability to question the accuracy of Web
McNicholas & Todd (1996); Wallace & Kuperman (1997); Hirsch
(1999): not able to judge relevance of information;
Fidel (1999): often inappropriately favoring visual cues; minimalist
behaviour -- made quick decisions at all stages of search process;
looked at pictures rather than textual information as signs of
relevance; use of "landmarks" rather than in-depth critical analysis
of sites to judge relevance and quality
Utilising McNicholas & Todd (1996): project management issues of time,
information workload management, meeting deadlines
Hertzberg & Rudner (1997): median amount of time spent in
searching was 5-6 minutes; willing to construct answer on limited
information; users satisfied with any somewhat-relevant hit
McNicholas & Todd (1996): tendency to plagiarize
As can be seen from the above analysis, students are experiencing a substantial range of
learning dilemmas associated with the World Wide Web. Any one of these learning
dilemmas provides a rich opportunity for teacher-librarians to intervene, and through
collaborative, inquiry-centered approaches, demonstrate that their practice makes a real
difference to student learning. This does not imply that information technology alone
provides the opportunities; opportunities exist with all facets of the library's information
literacy, reading, and literature programs. What is important is that the learning needs
are identified, instructional strategies developed, and considerations given to how this
will be evaluated. This is evidence-based practice. It might be in the form of statistics,
or stories, or documented case studies, or analyses of reflective student interviews or
feedback processes. It does not need to be complicated, but manageable, and clear.
Oberg (2001) identifies a range of evidence-based practices. In this paper, she asks:
How can we show that school libraries are making a difference in student learning? She
explores key approaches, some of which have already been touched on here. They are:
• Using research findings from the school library field; as indicated, these
highlight an extensive range of learning dilemmas that have a clear information
• Analysing the results of national, state or provincial testing programs: these
provide opportunities to see what key learning needs are, and how the library
can intervene to improve these. Often such results are accompanied by reports
on the local school, and sometimes these make explicit suggestions relating to
critical thinking skills, reading abilities, transfer of knowledge to new situations,
ability to interpret information, ability to structure and organise information.
These are opportunities begging the library program to intervene.
• Using locally available library and test data: the school library's automated
system can provide data about circulation of library materials; these data can be
correlated with learning programs, test scores, assignment results to see if there
are patterns that indicate that using the library makes a difference. For example,
it might show that the class that has the highest circulation, or the class where
collaborative inquiry learning processes have been implemented have scored
higher on reading comprehension or content mastery.
• Carrying out action research or teacher-researcher projects: at the heart of this
is an identified learning problem, and developing a cycle of collaborative
planning, acting, evaluating and reflecting to address it. The problem might be
low motivation for reading, plagiarism, weaknesses in skills of analysis and
synthesis, or it might relate to World Wide Web issues, such as issues centring
on the evaluation of web information. I want to commend to you the 1996
Volume 3 Issue 2 of School Libraries Worldwide, which documented a range of
perspectives and strategies on action research. Action research projects provide
real, creative, and collaborative opportunities for teacher-librarians to initiate
and document learning improvements. I want to commend to you the
• Using statistical data that is available or easily obtained: this approach might
include census data or educational system data, so that a specific school situation
might be compared to regional or state or national levels, and opportunities
identified for the school library program to intervene.
PRINCIPLES OF LEARNING
At the heart of evidence-based practice, and driving this practice, are 10 principles of
learning. I have been greatly influenced in my thinking by a paper called "Powerful
Partnerships: Shared Learning" (1999), developed by the American Association for
Higher Education and other associations, which articulates these principles of learning
as a basis for collaborative learning where students, teachers and community are all
stakeholders. I will briefly outline these. These principles form an exciting basis from
which a library program can be derived; they define the functions and roles of the
library team working transformatively for knowledge construction; they become the
basis of the criteria for the selection of resources; they shape the allocation of physical
space in thelibrary; they are the basis of developing school-wide ownership of the
library program. In addition, they become the marketing framework of the library, and
are the basis for demonstating the evidence of the power of the library. Each of these
learning principles forms a basis around which evidence might be collected to show the
power of the library program.
WORKING FOR KNOWLEDGE
LEARNING PRINCIPLE CONSTRUCTION:
1. Learning is an active search for An inquiry-based learning approach is the central
meaning by the learner: it is about philosophy and practice of the school -- from it
constructing knowledge rather than stems the information search process and the range
passively receiving it; involving of teaching-learning initiatives which focus on the
learners directly in discovery of development of the intellectual scaffolds for
knowledge; enabling them to engaging with and using information for
transform prior knowledge and knowledge construction.
experience, and to take responsibility Inquiry based learning, not information literacy or
for learning information skills, is the educative platform.
Outcomes articulated in terms of learning gains,
with evidence, becomes the strongest argument for
2. Learning is about making and Need to situate information literacy advocacy and
maintaining connections: linking initiatives within an empowerment model towards
concepts, ideas, meaning; linking knowledge construction, rather than conveying a
mind and environment; linking self deficiency notion -- ie students are somehow
and others; linking deliberation and deficient because they do not have these skills.
action. Ensuring instruction links needs to experience.
Giving learners responsibility for solving problems
and resolving conflicts.
Creating a physical and virtual environment that is
an invitation to connect, to get to know, to know
Making sure my instruction makes explicit the
relationships of need to the curriculum.
Ensuring that I personalize interventions
appropriate to learners' circumstances and needs.
Gathering evidence on which to base learning
initiatives and decisions.
3. Learning is developmental: a Planning for the progessive, developmental nature
cumulative process involving whole of each learning experience: instruction should be
person. Intellectual growth is gradual: additive and cumulative -> greater richness,
advancement, consolidation, complexity.
reinforcement; fostering an integrated Tracking student development of competence
sense of identity. (gathering the evidence).
Providing opportunities for trialing, testing,
reviewing, as well as opportunities for needs
assessment, discussion, reflection.
Systematic approaches to gathering evidence.
4. Learning is both individual and This might mean:
social: Responsive to students' Opportunities for peer tutoring and learning from
personal histories and common each other; enable students from different cultural
cultures; opportunities for co- backgrounds to experience each other's traditions
operative learning; cultivating and -- choice of resources;
inclusive community; valuing human creative approaches responsive to different
differences. learning styles and development of self-learning
packages to cater for different learning styles;
creating learning zones in the library, depending
on social or individual needs;
librarians daring to have fun with their students --
in the library!
using school, home and community as resources
for collaborative learning.
5. Learning is strongly affected by Ensuring that the library plays a key role in
educational climate in which it building a strong sense of community.
takes place: value academic and Library conveys a clear sense that it values
personal success and intellectual intellectual inquiry and knowledge construction.
inquiry; involve all constituents in Library rules and regulations invite, rather than
contributing to effective student forbid.
learning feeling connected, cared for Learning environment in which students feel
and trusted. connected, cared for, trusted -- and where they do
not suffer from LH ("Loans Harrassment") or PFS
("Petty Fines Syndrome")
Clearly thinking about what you convey that is
important to your students by your attitudes,
values, and in-house behaviors.
Celebrate knowledge successes.
6. Learning requires feedback, Instructional design encourages goal setting, and
practice, and use: opportunities for students to chart and measure
Feedback -> sustained learning their learning gain.
Practice -> nourishing learning Grab every opportunity to provide information on
Opportunities to use -> meaningful their progress towards meeting learning goals.
learning Engage in a recurring process of needs analysis
Be prepared to take risk and learn from your own
Encourage development of learners as constructive
Ensure demands for behavior modification and
rules compliances are not your primary feedback,
rather your feedback is the feedback of learning-
7. Much learning takes place Creative and imaginative approaches to instruction
informally and incidentally: -- not necessarily the group one-size-fits-all
Activities beyond the classroom approach.
enrich formal learning experiences; Rethink distributuion of responsibilities.
Mentoring relationships beyond the Engage school staff as Information Literacy
classroom; support staff.
Learning in a variety of settings and Identify strategies that ensure the library is a
circumstances. learning portal to information and enrichment.
Develop pathways to extension and enrichment on
Provide a virtual or real space that links students
with peers, staff, community mentors.
Create a physical environment that is an open
invitation for mystery, intrigue, discovery -- where
accidental discovery is highly likely: ie an
invitation to dance the "knowledge dance".
Use of volunteers and activities.
Provide on-line help points: quick-fix.
Learning is grounded in particular Provide opportunities to tailor education to
contexts and individual individual rather than mass-produced delivery.
experiences: Explore how you can use educational technologies
Requires effort to transfer specific as tool for collaborative learning.
knowledge and skills to new Make the library a hotbed of learning activism, a
circumstances; space where they can encounter alternative
Grounded nature of learning: perspectives and other realities, challenge
encounter alternative perspectives conventional views, test application of new
and other realities knowledge, engage in dialogue with people of
disparate perspectives and backgrounds -- in an
environment of safety and respect.
Focus on the development of the experience, and
reflection on the experience.
Provide students with opportunities to share their
experiences with others that have shaped their
identities and learning.
Understand factors which affect student cognition.
Curriculum co-ordination to contextualize learning
9. Learning involves ability of Provide opportunities and processes to help
individuals to monitor own students understand their strengths and weaknesses
learning: in learning.
Understand how knowledge is Help students observe and record their own
acquired; progress in learning.
Know how to work with capacities Show students how to think about their learning
and limitations; Awareness of own and learning processes in a reflective way.
ways of knowing; Ability to monitor
10. Learning is enhanced by taking Students learn more when asked to tackle complex
place in the context of compelling and compelling problems that invite them to
situations: develop an array of workable and innovative
Provides challenge and opportunity. solutions.
Stimulates brain to conceptualize, Students tend to engage more when they produce
contemplate and reflect. work to be shared with multiple audiences.
Amplifies the learning process. Ensure instruction provides opportunities for
active application of skills and abilities.
Effective instruction takes place when students are
placed in settings where they can draw on past
knowledge and competencies.
On the basis of what I have said, and in summary, I would like to suggest the following
as a model of teacher-librarians creating an information-knowledge environment for
learning, one that focuses on information connectivity and empowerment for knowledge
construction and the development of meaning and understanding. At its heart is an
educational philosophy and practice centering on inquiry learning, and which drives the
transformative actions and evidence-based practices centering on knowledge
construction and meaning making. This focus underpins the nature and scope of
collaborations to achieve learning outcomes, and in the context of the educational role
of the teacher-librarians, is likely to give emphasis to the information search process
and enabling students to connect with, interact with and utilize information in the
process of knowledge construction. This shapes and guides the selection of resources
amd how information technology is utilized across the school. And this focus underpins
the nature of the management role of the information-knowledge environment and its
infrastructure to create a knowledge sharing community.
At the heart of a school library empowering learning are teacher-librarians and
educators whose philosophy and actions empower learners to connect with, interact
with and utilize information to develop their own understanding, to construct their own
meaning, and who have the evidence to demonstrate this. It is about adding value and
making a difference to people. Systems, structures, buildings provide infrastructure,
frameworks, contexts, locations, and linkages are important, but they in themselves do
not empower. It is people who empower, and people who are empowered.
Senge (1990) claims that empowerment is one of four components that are central to
transformational leadership. These components are "the Four Es" -- Envisioning,
Energizing, Empathizing, and Empowering. Caldwell & Spinks (1992) argue that
transformational leadership is about leadership that transforms rather than simply
maintains the status quo; it is about leadership that brings about meaningful and
purposeful change; it is about leadership grounded in actions and evidence that create
the desired reality. Transformational leadership is about creating and enabling preferred
futures, and this is achieved through people who are empowered to take evidence-based
action. It is commitment to making a difference through action. It involves envisioning,
energizing, emphazing, and empowering. Central to this is a shared inquiry centered
philosophy and process of learning.
This calls for conceptualizing the role of the teacher-librarian as partner-leader. Partner-
• Purposeful leadership: have a clear vuision of desired learning outcomes for the
• Strategic leadership: have a clear blueprint for translating learning-centred
vision into evidence-based actions;
• Collaborative and creative leadership: are able to creatively combine
capabilities, and mutually reinforce capabilities, to deliver real value to the
• Renewable leadership: are able to be highly flexible and adaptive, continuously
learning, changing and innovating; and
• Sustainable leadership: being able to identify and celebrate achievements,
outcomes, and impacts -- showing, through evidence, the role of the teacher-
librarian is the most prized role in the school.
A personal philosophy of mine is "You begin the road by walking it". Today I present to
you the road, the way ahead, and I challenge you to walk it.
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SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA ACTIVITIES MONTHLY/VOLUME XXIV, NUMBER 8/APRIL 2008
Reframing the Library Media Specialist as a Learning Specialist
BY ALLISON ZMUDA AND VIOLET H. HARADA
Allison G. Zmuda is an education consultant who has worked with schools throughout the United States and Canada. Email:
Violet H. Harada is a professor in the University of Hawaii"s Library and Information Science Program. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Preparing students to meet the challenges of the 21st century has solidified the need for information literacy and technology as meaningful
components of curriculum designs and instructional practices. The survey report Partnership for 21st Century Skills states that, when polled, voters
rank the following areas as high priorities for schools (2007):
• computer and technology skills
• critical thinking and problem solving skills
• ethics and social responsibility
• written and oral communications
• teamwork and collaboration
• lifelong learning and self-direction
• creativity and innovation
• media literacy
• global awareness
In today's schools, a host of learning specialists joins classroom teachers in working with students. These specialists have no formal classroom
assignments, but they provide instruction for students, and, frequently, training for teachers. They range from library media specialists and reading
resource teachers to technology coordinators and math coaches. As learning specialists, library media specialists, because of their deep content
expertise about the nature of inquiry and the construction of knowledge, are uniquely suited to develop 21st-century student learning skills. What
would it look like if learners could determine their information needs, solve problems, read for pleasure, effectively and ethically use information
and ideas, debate merits of a point of view, and create quality written and oral communications?
Such clarification of what the learners must do to achieve mission goals defines for all staff what good business looks like in the library media
center. Good business is work (instructional activities and assessments) that develops student learning around the goals that are most important
(again as defined by the mission). The recently published Standards for the 21st-Century Learner requires students to construct knowledge through
the exploration and analysis of ideas, information, and point of view, and to communicate their learning through authentic, transfer-oriented tasks
(AASL 2007). In his research of student learning in Ohio, Ross Todd found strong evidence that:
Students unequivocally recognize that when school librarians have a clearly defined role as an information literacy specialist, their opportunities for
learning are enhanced. This role is a very active, learning-centered role where school librarians actively contribute their expertise to that of the
classroom teachers to enable students to transform information into personal knowledge (Todd, 2006).
Bad business is work that is irrelevant, tangential, or counter-productive. These activities or assessments require students to collect information or
resources in the library media center and then leave. The superficiality of this acquisition is doomed to fail. Students will not become wiser, more
skillful, or more strategic; they will not become more prolific or powerful as communicators; they will not become more mindful of the validity of
alternate points of view or the persuasive use of data. Bad business takes up precious resources of the library media specialist because of the time
it takes to prepare and organize the resources as well as the orchestration and oversight of the experience. Major features of bad and good
business practices are delineated in Table 1.
Table 1. Bad and Good Business Practices for Library Media Specialists
Moving away from bad business where... Moving toward good business where...
Success is defined by the number of staff who Success is defined by the quality of the work completed in the library media center.
collaborate with the library media specialist.
Success is defined by doing whatever is asked in order Success is defined by investing resources only in those tasks that are central to the library mission.
to be recognized as valuable or important.
Success is defined by helping students find what they Success is defined by engaging students in the construction of deep knowledge through the exploration of
are looking for. ideas and information, conducting of investigations, and communication and evaluation of findings.
Success is defined by the number of instructional Success is defined by the student learning that resulted from completion of work centered on subject area
sessions held in the library media center. and information literacy goals.
There is no upside to library media specialists collaborating with classroom teachers on tasks that are bad business. If library media specialists
participate in the design and orchestration of these types of tasks, even though they know that it is "bad business," they become accomplices in
the assignment of yet another task that dilutes inquiry to the level of answering the questions on a worksheet, reduces deep reading to counting
the number of pages read, and prostitutes construction of knowledge to a cut-and-paste exercise. The library media specialist must insist that
every learning experience in the library-classroom aligns with the learning goals of both the classroom teacher’s curriculum and the library media
curriculum. The key to depersonalizing this transformation of "bad business" to "good business" comes from the continued insistence that this isn’t
about what the teacher or library media specialist prefers, but what the learner requires. The mission statement and AASL Standards for the 21st-
Century Learner should be prominently featured in all aspects of the learning environment—physically hung on the walls, judiciously placed in
curriculum binders and planning materials, and prominently displayed on the school and library media websites. The library media specialist also
should use the learning goals as a touchstone in every conversation with staff. Such relentless consistency both models and reinforces to staff that
the focus on the goals of learning is a "disciplined mindset" that ensures that what students are asked to do on a daily basis is challenging and
worthy of the attempt.
How the 21st-Century Mission Affects the Job Description of the Library Media Specialist
In their upcoming book, Librarians as Learning Specialists: Meeting the Learning Imperative for the 21st Century , Zmuda and Harada contend that
library media specialists must refocus their job descriptions and their daily practice so that they target direct contributions to improve the
achievement of all learners on defined curricular goals. The job description of a library media specialist predictably includes key components that
appear in those of many other learning specialists employed in schools. A comparative analysis of reading, technology, mathematics and librarian
job descriptions is shown in Table 2.
Table 2. What Learning Specialists Do
Assessment and Instruction (with Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction Program Development, Leadership, and Management
students) (with staff)
• Provide instruction for individuals or small
Curriculum Development and Leadership
groups of students. Such instruction tends• Serve on curriculum committees. • Provide professional development for teachers as part of the
to be supplemental to that provided by the Assessment school staff development program; also teach classes that
classroom teachers. teachers can take for credit. Work with teachers in planning
• Assist in the development of assessment
• Work on short-term basis with targeted
instruments (retelling protocols and running
and conducting professional development in the schools.
students, then provide strategies/processes records) and selection of assessment instruments.
• Work closely with the principal in setting a schedule and
for classroom teachers to follow. making decisions about professional development.
• Assist in interpretation of test results with teachers
• Provide instruction, using research-
• Serve as mentor to new teachers by modeling, providing
supported programs. feedback, and coaching.
• Share results of assessments with public.
• Work with special educators and serve on instructional
support or pupil personnel teams.
• Discuss and share ideas with teachers about help
• Lead study groups (read a professional book or article and
for struggling students, and materials and ideas
that enhance performance.
• Serve as a resource to allied professionals, parents, other
• Hold collaborative planning sessions to develop
lessons and strategies for working with students. community members, volunteers, and tutors.
These are held either on a systematic, regular
• Serve as a resource for parents (communicate with parents,
basis, as needed, or "on the fly."
providing and accessing information); conduct workshops on
• Demonstrate strategies for teachers, observe, and how they can work with their children; provide workshops for
provide feedback. parents of preschool students.
• Participate in observations (teachers observing • Work with other school specialists.
each other) for professional growth.
• Work with volunteers (provide training sessions, coordinate
• Provide a "friendly ear" for teachers who want to
talk about issues, problems, or ideas that they have Management
about instruction and assessment for their
• Maintain center or location for various materials.
• Look for and assist in the selection of new materials (including
development of criteria for determining quality of those
materials); assist in the piloting of new materials.
• Coordinate program schedules.
While the parallels are evident in theory, will this "reframing" resonate with library media specialists? The authors tested out the viability of the
concept through countless conversations with library media specialists and their supervisors throughout the United States. In one such exploratory
conversation at a state-level conference, Zmuda asked over 100 library media specialists to participate in a KWL activity on their ideas, concerns,
and insights about being viewed as a learning specialist. This discussion is summarized in Table 3.
Table 3. Insights and Issues of Library Media Specialists as Learning Specialists
K W L
What do we know a learning specialist to What are we curious or concerned about What have we learned so far about what reframing the
be? if the library media specialist is reframed library media specialist as a learning specialist will
as a learning specialist? require?
• Someone who believes that all students can be • How do we articulate our role in an effective • Just because it isn"t happening in front of us doesn"t mean it
successful learners. way so the message is heard? isn"t happening—the teacher"s classroom is an extension of
• Someone who is up on the latest trends in • How do we use professional learning
the work in the library media center.
teaching and learning. communities to facilitate work? • We will never be considered learning specialists without
• Someone who has work experience in both the • How much do we really know about how
collecting evidence of student achievement in our classroom.
classroom and the library media center. different types of learners learn in the library • Because disengaged learners learn nothing, we have a
• Someone who uses assessment data to
media center? responsibility to "fix" instructional designs that are low-level,
determine student strength and weaknesses to • How can we earn respect of staff and the
information retrieval tasks.
inform future instruction. larger system as a learning specialist? • A learning specialist, like any teacher-leadership position, is an
• Someone who can diagnose learning problems • How does the learning specialist fit into the
inherently precarious, messy job because it lives somewhere
between the administrative ranks and the teaching ranks.
and design ways to address them. hierarchy of the school or district organization?
• Without a clear job description (on paper and in practice), it is
• Someone with deep content expertise about • Who has the authority to make decisions about
impossible to know whether we are doing the right things.
how people learn. what instruction will look like in the library
• Staff think that we are what they see us do—if they only
• Someone who works with staff and students.
• How do we increase the number of teachers
watch us organize, sort, manage, and support, they will not
• Someone who constantly reflects on his/her
who want to collaborate with us in the design,
see us as learning specialists.
own practice and how to improve.
implementation, and evaluation of learning?
• Someone who is able to break things down into
• How do we hone our leadership skills so that
small, manageable pieces.
we can improve the effectiveness of our
• Someone who is fluent with the curriculum collaborative work with staff?
goals across grade levels and subject areas. • How do we elevate the quality of instructional
• Someone who can coach performance (from and assessment practices in the school/district?
staff and students) through the design of • Who are the other learning specialists in the
challenging and motivating tasks.
school? What relationship do we have with one
• Someone who seeks out new learning another? What relationship should we have?
experiences, tools, and resources because of • How do we facilitate learning while running the
what the learners need.
library media center?
Note: Specific contributions to the KWL chart were made by audience participants at a breakout session facilitated by Allison Zmuda on November 15, 2007,
including but not limited to the reflections of: Debra Kay Logan, Hilda Weisburg, Dee Giordan, Linda Piscione, Pat Slemmer, Diane Drayer Beler, Pat VanEs,
Christine Lopey, and Dawn Henderson.
How This Affects the Design, Implementation, and Analysis of Student Learning
Instructional designs are always in a state of flux. While there are core practices, strategies, and resources that constitute the basis of the learning
experiences, teachers and library media specialists must constantly monitor and adjust their work in light of their increased knowledge of the
nature of their learners and the learning. This design cycle of construction, analysis, and adjustment is grounded in the essential question: How do
I know if what I did today worked? For an instructional design to "work," a teacher or library media specialist must investigate:
• Did the instructional experience(s) cause the desired learning for every learner?
• What evidence do I have to that effect?
• Will the learning likely transfer to future learning experiences?
Ross Todd stated in an interview in 2006:
In the current educational climate there is a very clear mandate for a shift from putting our emphasis on finding and accessing to knowledge
building. It"s where education is going. We are talking about standards-based education. We are talking about accountability. We are talking about
evidence of achievements. There is incredible emphasis on meeting curriculum standards, knowledge-based outcomes. Our instructional
interventions need to put a richer emphasis on those knowledge-based outcomes. How do we pedagogically intervene in the information
experience of a child, to enable them to go beyond the amassing of facts to the interrogation of those facts and to develop deep knowledge?
That"s a very complex task (Kenney 2006).
What makes this inquiry even more complex is the inevitable reality that what "works" for one student does not work for all students. Staff must
work to troubleshoot inevitable learning problems so that students have additional opportunities to improve performance through highly focused
remediation, extension, and enrichment. Again, library media specialists as learning specialists are uniquely situated to collaborate in this effort
through their development and dissemination of resources, curriculum leadership, and participation in professional learning communities. They also
possess valuable skills in designing and analyzing instructional activities and assessments tasks, modeling of processes and "best practices," and
coaching of improved staff and student performance.
How This Affects Our Short-Term and Long-Term Efforts
A mission-centered mindset requires a constant analysis of whether the daily practices of the library media specialist are having the desired effects
on student achievement. Such analysis will inevitably uncover areas of "misalignment" where significant resources are expended to support the
development of work and acquisition of materials that are tangential to established curricular goals. This "misalignment" plagues not only the work
of the library media specialist but of all educators. In their seminal work on schooling and leadership, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe state:
One failure of conventional schooling and of school reform in general relates to the deeply held belief that if we just get good people trying hard to
do good things, it will all work out. The truth is otherwise: excellence in leadership as well as in teaching is a function of constant and deliberate
self-correction, mindful of clear and agreed-upon goals while unflinchingly seeking out feedback and thus dealing with the brutal facts of reality.
The school reforms of the past twenty-five years continue—and continue to be needed—because many schools are far from facing the information
that cannot be ignored. That information is of two kinds: feedback about how deeply and effectively students are learning and are engaged, and
feedback suggesting that many time-honored actions and policies in school are dysfunctional—counter to mission (2007, 179).
Library media specialists who reframe themselves as learning specialists will find the recognition, respect, and collaboration they seek when they
put an end to "bad business" practices that divert focus from the mission. This charge will not be easy. It will be fraught with difficult
conversations, political strategizing, repeated modeling, relentless data collection and analysis, and candid feedback. But the rewards of good
business will be spectacular: the sound of students engaged in the construction of knowledge and the communication of thinking, the opportunity
to see that the investment of resources positively affects student performance on higher-order tasks and staff teaching practices, and the sense of
satisfaction that the library media center is the most information-rich, inquiry-rich, resource-rich, pedagogically-rich classroom in the building.
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