21st Century Literacy
What does it mean to be literate in the 21st Century?
Karen Bonanno’s School Library Management Website
I need to share some thoughts on a recent conversation regarding censorship and school libraries. As a retired librarian, a colleague volunteers in her grandchildren’s primary school library. This library is managed by a teacher who has worked in the school for over 20 years. As it happened, my colleague found a book (senior fiction) in the back room which had some pages ripped out. Concerned, she mentioned it to the librarian who protested that such a “disgusting” book would not be held in her library. A parent had complained about the book, the librarian had agreed, and tore out the offensive pages. Understandably, my colleague was lost for words. My questions … Who is responsible for resourcing the collection? Is there a selection policy and if so, why was that title selected?
The current situation of this school library causes me to reflect on my learning in ETL503 & 401. I wonder about the role of the library in this particular school. There is ample funding for new resources and a new Library Management System, yet no funding for qualified staff, who is the decision maker here? Is it the principal, the teacher managing the library, or the administration staff? Does anyone care? Who is selecting and acquiring resources, under what criteria are they chosen, is there a collection management policy and if so, is it ever consulted or updated? Is the principal aware of parent complaints or of books having pages ripped out? Who is ultimately responsible for this collection? I am constantly reminded of the indifference, the lack of appreciation for the role of the library, its staff and its resources. There is continued debate about the future of school libraries. Alarmingly, it seems that more often than not, it is the school principal and/or other important stakeholders, those who manage school funding that have the final say and will ultimately determine the continued existence of the school library.
Looking back on my learning journey I now realise how blissfully unaware I was about the depth and breadth of the role of the teacher librarian. I have learned so much! I now recognise that it is essential to have the necessary qualifications and training to be able to competently perform the many expected roles of the TL. I have grown to appreciate the significance of teaching experience and, the value that experience can bring to the role. I continue to be overwhelmed by the lack of appreciation & understanding of the role in schools by principals, administrators, teachers, even librarians and have started to understand that it is my responsibility to break down the barriers and fight for my relevance in schools today.
I suppose that my misguided perception of the role was founded on my own limited experience. I came to work in school libraries late in life and decided to retrain as a library technician. In this role, I have observed that school libraries vary and are managed and structured depending on the attitude or philosophy of the school. The common theme in these libraries is that there are few or no “qualified” teacher librarians. I was surprised to learn, through reading the forums, that this is quite common and that many of the students taking this journey are teachers who have assumed, or been assigned, the role of teacher librarian. Most of us seem overwhelmed by the nature of the role and the work that it entails. Many of the forum 2 posts indicate that students, who are teachers working in libraries, are swamped by library administrative duties, overwhelmed with managing the library collection and providing adequate services. Many are not employed full time or are not provided with much assistance. As a library technician, library administration is part of my role and those tasks are familiar to me, what surprised me however, is the breadth of library inexperience being employed in schools.
It appears that it is common practice in some schools to give ancillary library staff responsibility for tasks and duties in which they have no training or experience. For example, in addition to standard technician duties, it is common for the library technician to be responsible for all of the collection management, selection, acquisition, end processing, stock take and weeding; as a technician, new to the school, I have performed such tasks as an unwritten part of my job description. This subject has helped me appreciate that these tasks should be undertaken by someone with the appropriate experience, knowledge and qualifications. In earlier forums I detected some condescension of the administrative duties expected of some TL’s and there were recommendations that, instead of employing technicians, volunteers or parents could perform these tasks. As a trained technician I found these comments disappointing as I feel that my training, experience and skills deserve recognition. After much reading about the role of the TL, I can now proclaim that the same could be said of the teacher librarian, not only should teaching experience be recognised as a significant aspect of the role, but schools should also acknowledge and recognise the importance of the TL as a trained library specialist.
Purcell’s (2010) writing really resonated with me. As indicted in my blog post “All librarians do is check out books, right?” it is apparent that the nature of the role is generally ill conceived or misunderstood in schools. My reading is correlated by my own experience. Unqualified teacher librarians ARE employed and expected to perform tasks well beyond the realm of their experience. They ARE employed part time, yet expected to teach classes with limited time release and still manage library collections with little or no assistance. I concur with the forum posts that expound that the reality of the role of TL’s in most schools differs greatly to professional role statements and that we all face similar challenges in advocating our significance to the school community. Joyce Valenza’s (2010) Manifesto of the 21st Century Librarian, although completely intimidating, is an inspiration to me. Perhaps I am too idealistic, but if I can manage to adopt, even a few, of Valenza’s role descriptions I will feel triumphant in my future role.
Throughout this subject I have come to appreciate the value of the role in terms of teaching and learning. Previously, I perceived TL’s to be simply great proponents of literature, wonderful storytellers, champions of literacy and reading. These thoughts were reflected in my blog post “What do TL’s teach?” I have expanded my thinking and now understand that TL’s have a greater role to play in student learning, particularly in relation to curriculum and information literacy. I have grown to understand the importance of collaboration. I agree that it is vital for TL’s to be involved in curriculum planning and team teaching to integrate meaningful information literacy programs into curriculum. However, in my experience the concept of collaboration, although accepted, is not always put into practice, particularly with specialists like TL’s. I now realise the barriers and have learned strategies that will help overcome these obstacles.
At the beginning of this subject, I felt quite overwhelmed by my lack of teaching experience & educational knowledge and became deflated by all the educational jargon. Working in PYP schools helped, a little, to put the theory into some sort of perspective however, working through the modules has really helped to consolidate my understanding of curriculum, constructivist learning and guided inquiry and I feel more confident and better equipped to move on to the next stage of the journey.
It seems there are many –
Logistics – Lack of time to meet and plan during working hours. If planning does occur it is usually done informally, chatting at recess or lunch, via email. it seems that allocated planning time is rare, particularly between classroom and specialist teachers.
Principal support – strong leadership and support of the process is crucial to facilitate opportunities for shared experience and learning.
Motivation – If there is no shared vision, there is no motivation to build collegial relationships. Sharing common goals and values motivates people to excel and learn (Senge, 2007, p.9)
Trust and respect – Lack of understanding and awareness of one another’s expertise prohibits commitment to collaborative relationships. Collaborative cultures value diversity (Fullan, 1999).
Fragmentation and overload V Connectedness (Senge, 2007)
I believe the teacher librarian does have a positive role to play in the curriculum. CPT provides the opportunity to share and combine expertise, to learn new skills, improve pedagogical knowledge, problem solve, build confidence, build respectful professional and personal relationships. Teacher librarians involved in collaborative instruction can have positive impact on student learning outcomes (Todd, 2008). Team teaching creates opportunity for individualised attention to students, promotion of library services and resources, better information literacy instruction (integrated learning), more effective class management.