Teacher Librarian – a learning journey in progress!
As a child I loved going to school because I had an inquiring mind and wanted to learn as much as possible, as well as reading five novels a week to indulge my imagination! As I progressed along my life journey as a mother and teacher, I continued my ‘love affair’ with learning on a daily basis by encouraging my children and students to recognise the value of becoming ‘lifelong learners’, and stressing the relevancy of their learning and how I was learning with them too. Hopefully my enthusiasm for learning has been emulated! Thus, in 2013 I began my Masters of Education Teacher Librarianship course as a distance education student with Charles Sturt University, as a means to combine my love of reading and literature with learning new knowledge and skills as a teacher librarian in the context of school libraries.
My portfolio is a combination of all the ‘deep learning that has emerged’ of the constantly changing information environment which impacts 21st century school libraries, and how the role of the teacher librarian has become multi-faceted and constantly evolving, as changes occur in how information is delivered and accessed (Barrett, Dr. H, n.d.). It is a big jigsaw-puzzle of learning, beginning with ELT401 Teacher Librarianship as the background, and all of the other units providing the missing pieces, supplemented by Study visits to a selection of Melbourne libraries and a professional practice at Padua College, Mornington (Charles Sturt University, ETL401, 2013).
I consider this my new learning journey in progress; where I have experienced times of exasperation and frustration when not understanding a concept, searching for suitable websites, or navigating the intricacies of the World Wide Web because I wasn’t born a ‘digital native’! As a classroom teacher in a primary school who knew absolutely nothing about school libraries and how they operated, I experienced feeling totally overwhelmed at the complexities of what I had undertaken, especially classification, cataloguing, blogs, wikis, or widgets. Reflecting on feeling helpless and not knowing what to do, and actually failing an assessment because I didn’t ask for help from my coordinator or a teacher librarian from one of the local schools (CSU, ETL503, 2013). Yes, I now know exactly how students feel when faced with searching, finding, selecting, and using information resources from the huge amount of information available to them from Internet websites, and their anxiety of being unsure of what to do and who to ask for help (Kuhlthau, 2004, conclusion). As a student myself, I can now relate to the junior secondary students from my professional practice placement at Padua College Mornington, who often came and asked for help and advice because of the sheer enormity of searching for relevant information, and lacking the skills to find and access what they wanted (CSU, ETL507, Professional Practice Report, 2014). I call these my ‘lightbulb moments’ and will refer to these times of enlightenment throughout my portfolio!
These experiences have shaped my attitude towards taking an iterative approach when planning inquiry research tasks for my students, and encouraging them to return to a previous stage in the rubric if feeling uncertain of how to proceed, as well as asking their peers or a teacher/teacher librarian for assistance (Herring & Tarter, 2004, & Kuhlthau, 2004). Kuhlthau in her article Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st-Century Learners, argued the importance of student attitudinal behaviours towards seeking information, and the introduction of a teaching team designed to implement the information literacy inquiry approach at all educational levels, to meet the needs of 21st century learners (2010, p.18). Information Literacy is now part of the National Curriculum and has been integrated into all areas of the curriculum at Padua College to encourage students to effectively select, evaluate and utilise websites and online resources. It is particularly effective when combined with inquiry based learning as students can use a range of skills and abilities involving higher order thinking skills such as question formulation, evaluating information, and building new knowledge, to complete a task or solve a problem (Collins et al., 2008). I have found that like all initiatives implemented into a school’s curriculum it generally depends on the teacher to integrate it into their learning activities, and this often doesn’t occur especially with the older teaching staff who are resistant to change. However, as in the case at Padua College, the principal is actively involved in supporting the initiative it usually becomes a permanent feature within the learning programs (Padua College, 2014).
I wholeheartedly agree with the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) who consider information literacy to play a central role in the lifelong learning process as essential information skills within a global perspective (Bundy, 2004, p.1). I believe that if teacher librarians introduce information literacy skills which are consistently practiced by students within classroom contexts aswell as research tasks in the library, these skills can be transferred into whatever future life or work context students find themselves in. On the other hand, I have found that with junior students in particular this is an ‘uphill battle’ for both teachers and teacher librarian’s, because even though students have the research structures in place for them to follow and specific search engines to use, they will still automatically use Google (2014) as the preferred search engine because it is easier to access information instantly of whatever quality, and easy to use on any digital or mobile devices inside or outside of school.
This tendency of students to automatically download unfiltered information of uncertain quality information as instant digital sources has been another ‘lightbulb moment’ for me, because as a teacher and future teacher librarian, I struggle with communicating to young adolescents the implications of uploading or downloading information available through multi-media such as InstaSnap and Instagram, and social media Facebook and Twitter. This raises questions about authenticity, validity, and reliability of web sources, and challenges in evaluating, understanding and using information in an ethical and legal manner (Bundy, 2004), p. 2). Students need to understand how to use information effectively in this 21st century digital information world if they want to become responsible global citizens. Especially in the light of recent hacking issues in relation to Apple’s iCloud (Cook, T. 2014) storage facility for digital photographs or information, and student’s failure to understand the repercussions of their digital footprint (Cybersmart Kids, 2014).
As a future teacher librarian I feel we need to show leadership in this regard, and collaborate with staff members at all levels to formulate and implement policies within our school communities, specifically designed to address the important issues of copyright, creative commons, and legal and ethical issues that arise with student’s use of social media and mobile devices within the school context (CSU, ETL503, Module 4, 2013). For example, privacy issues of student’s using smartphones for taking photographs of other students and uploading them to the web (CSU, ETL507, Professional Practice Report, 2014).
Leadership was another lightbulb moment for me when it was introduced in the unit ETL504 (2013). I had previously only considered leadership as a classroom teacher within a primary school context which included taking on extra responsibilities in coordinating areas such as Wellbeing, Literacy and Religious Education. However, this unit opened up my eyes to the opportunities a teacher librarian has to work collaboratively with teaching, library and administration staff as a leader to improve student learning outcomes, as well as support the information needs of all staff and students (CSU, ETL504, Module 5, 2013). Planning effectively for the future is another area where a teacher librarian can demonstrate great communication and leadership skills, by initiating strategic plans for the development of the library and its services, as well as any other program such as Clickview (Professional Practice Report, 2014) that will have a positive impact on the role of the school library aswell as learning outcomes (Matthews, 2013). As Padua College has three campuses there are plans in place for all of them, particularly taking into account the school’s implementation of Apple iPad technology and the move towards electronic texts to replace printed texts in the next two years (Professional Practice Report, 2014).
With Web 2.0 technology providing revolutionary new ways of creating, collaborating, editing and sharing user-generated content online, I have witnessed first-hand how effective professional development initiated by teacher librarians for all staff members on the use and mastering of digital tools, technologies and literacies has been, especially when creating pathfinders or wikis (CSU, ETL 501, Module 4, 2013). I agree with Valenza (2013) that wikis are more versatile when building and utilising pathfinders as they are easy to upload and link. I hadn’t thought of the collaborative aspect of wikis other than at school with other staff members, but that’s what’s so great with Web 2.0 tools, the ability to learn and share collaboratively outside the school context, as well as part of a teacher librarian’s role in 21st century digital learning.
By taking such an active part in the professional learning of staff, teacher librarians are positioned as leaders integral to the learning process within the whole school community (Herring, 2007). It is interesting to note that my experience of Padua College’s teacher librarians collaboratively working with teachers to integrate information literacy programs and formulate information resource wikis for teachers from all disciplines, has been a work ‘in progress’ and hasn’t happened over night. The teacher librarians have been aware of the nature of the school culture and the process of change, and it has been both risk-taking and challenging for the library staff to initiate change especially within the curriculum areas which were resistant to change (CSU, ETL 504, Module 7, 2013).
Herring (2007) also stresses that the school library is “a vital part of the school” and the forefront of school life, and this has been my experience at Padua College Library where students don’t just go to the library to find information or research topics, they gather before, during, and after school as a hub for social interaction and to view exhibitions of their peers work, or a particular author who will be visiting in the future, play chess or other board games, and to access the computers at lunchtime (Padua College Library, 2014). On my study visits (CSU, ETL507, 2014) to some of Melbourne’s largest community libraries, such as the City Library, I was astounded to find how many facilities and services they offer their clients, such as music streaming and electronic games facilities, amongst many other services which include different language formats to suit their multi-cultural community needs. The City Library’s new addition at Docklands has a recording studio, creative editing suite, a performance venue for 120 people and community space to suit the needs of the local community, workers and visitors (City Library, The Dock, 2014). Certainly not just a book repository anymore!
The biggest ‘learning curve’ for me during this course and a large part of my jigsaw puzzle, was engaging with the intricacies of cataloguing and classification in units ETL 503 and ETL505. My limited knowledge of library management and organisation through cataloguing and classifying brought me many frustrating moments and anguish, but I persevered and now feel most of the puzzle pieces are in place! ETL503 Resourcing the Curriculum (2013) introduced me to school library catalogues and how they are constantly changing to meet the needs of their users, predominantly through the use of electronic resources from the Internet from digital technologies.
Part of this the ETL503 unit also introduced the concept of ‘weeding’ a catalogue, and Padua College had weeded thousands of non-fiction texts, videos, DVDs and CDs from their school library collection, and have retained a small reference section in their main library at their Mornington Campus. I found storage problems and continual weeding (discarding unused or out-of-date items) were similar issues with the other libraries I visited on my Melbourne Study Visits (CSU, ETL507, Study Visits, 2014). Fiction texts were also being replaced by e-books and the library had an extensive e-library sourced from their publishers Wheelers (CSU, ETL507, Placement Report, 2014). Increasingly, the library was replacing journals, periodicals, national newspapers and magazines with electronic copies for use by students and staff, and annual subscriptions for access to websites from databases were replacing library acquisitions of information resources. Websites were becoming the research information resource instead of factual texts and Clickview (2014) provides content delivery systems which allow schools to add digital content to their digital library and provide the means for students and teachers to access this content (Placement Report, 2014).
I found a major factor in all the libraries I visited and worked in was the issue of budgets. Expansions, new items and technologies, staffing, and resources were all dependent on budgetary constraints, from the largest community libraries, school libraries, to the smaller more selective libraries such as the Shaw Library and Fairwork Commission Library (CSU, ETL507, Study Visits, 2014). A common thread throughout all the libraries too was the trend towards retaining one hard copy of a text together with an electronic copy, and storing or archiving all other material to create more space. Significantly, all libraries retained hard copies of texts due to demand from users, even though electronic websites and databases satisfied factual information requirements. I found it interesting that the Dewy Decimal Classification scheme (DDC23) for cataloguing library texts had been dropped by the large community libraries because publishing companies were pre-cataloguing texts which enabled librarians to be more time efficient (Study Visits, 2014).The smaller libraries and school libraries such as Padua College still use DDC23 classification for their reference sections as it suited their needs and is more practical.
ETL 505 Describing Educational Resources became the most significant unit for me after my initial introduction to teacher librarianship with ETL 401 at the beginning of my course. This unit finally provided many missing pieces of my jigsaw puzzle and provided me with many ‘lightbulb moments’, particularly after my Study visits to the State Library and Melbourne University, and my placement at Padua College resulted in many frustrating occasions when I was unable to comprehend what the speaker was referring to, and completed the visit in a state of confusion (Study Visits, 2014). I did mention this in my Study Visits Report but have since reflected on these occasions and realised that I was only one of 3 students (all TLs) out of 30 CSU students (the others were Information Studies students) on the visit unable to understand the terminology and concepts, and that I could use this experience to relate to students at school who are similarly frustrated when they don’t understand a process or concept but the rest of the class do. A ‘lightbulb moment’!
After completing ETL 505 I now understand the terminology of metadata and am familiar with the management systems that were previously mentioned on the study visits. I have a good knowledge of the management system Access-It used by Padua College Library, and I am also familiar with the Schools Catalogue Information Service (2013) that I was introduced to back in ETL 401! (2013). I knew from my placement at Padua College that the library staff used SCIS (2013) to catalogue and classify texts, but I really fully understood how useful it was as an organisational tool for school libraries when I completed the Resource Description and Access (RDA)(2014) Module 4, and DDC23 (2014) Module 5 exercises, which enabled me to work with specific examples of classifying and subject headings within a meaningful context, and the two assessment tasks further enhanced the learning experiences (CSU, ETL 505, Assessment tasks 1 & 2, 2014). When working through the ETL 505 unit I was heavily reliant on the subject text by Philip Hider, Information Resource Description (2012) which became almost like an information ‘bible’ to me, because it was so clearly written and informative especially with the concepts of metadata, and standardised organisation of resource description through RDA and its Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (2013), together with Marc2 encoding. The unit forums of ETL 401 and ETL 505 were also particularly helpful to me for guidance and support throughout both units, and I felt a sense of achievement when I completed the very tricky ETL 505 second assessment on SCIS subject headings and WebDewey classification. This is when I really felt my learning jigsaw was almost complete!
When concluding my learning journey in Teacher librarianship as I am close to completing my course, I felt that my first Blog posting would be an appropriate way to end my portfolio.
‘My initial comments recorded as part of the first week’s activity, demonstrated how I perceived a teacher librarian’s role within a school library to be mainly involved with library management, organising appropriate websites, data collection, and teaching students technology skills to access and use a range of electronic resources when researching inquiry projects. There was a clear assumption that the teacher librarian worked independently as a specialist rather than part of the teaching staff, and took no part in collaboration with the principal or other staff members when planning a library collection or implementing an information literacy program. Through course readings, activities, forum postings and comments, together with Blog Tasks, this perspective has completely changed and a new respect for the multi-faceted and constantly evolving role of a teacher librarian within the 21st Century educational context has emerged’ (Kerlin, WordPress, Blog, 2013).
Of course I can now also mention my use of and familiarity with information organisation tools such as Scootle, Diigo, Pinterest, Flickr, Bing and Noodle Tools, all names I had never heard of prior to beginning this course, let alone use with such familiarity now! I also enjoy accessing Edublogs, TechSmith Learning Lounge, 21st Century Library Blog and Judy O’Connell’s Hey Jude blog, along with many more educational and library orientated websites. However, I know that as technology is changing so is the role of a teacher librarian as an information expert, and I have to continue challenging myself to keep up with the latest information tools and concepts within the school library context.
I know I still have a lot to learn in the information world of Teacher Librarianship – but after all, my learning journey is still in progress!
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