Sunday, May 22, 2011

School Libraries Report Tabled today

With much excitement amongst the TL profession - the long awaited tabling of the national inquiry into School Libraries was tabled today.

One of the concluding comments did stand out to me - as follows.

6.16 While the teacher librarians’ role appears to be rapidly changing in an ever evolving digital, online and e-learning environment, it is not always clear exactly what role they should and could play in schools to those outside, and even within, the profession. p119

So it would appear the role will be continued to be defined! Interesting to watch this space!

My First Wordle

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. Will Durant


Initial readings on the role of the teacher librarian (TL) exploded the romantic personally-held perceptions of the traditional TL. Herring (2007 & 2005) Purcell (2010) Eisenberg (2006) Oberg (2002) drew out the many facets involved with the role and highlighted the constantly changing technology-driven context has caused some to question the continued relevance of the profession. Seth Godin’s blog (2011) claims that “When kids go to the mall instead of the library, it's not that the mall won, it's that the library lost.". This had to led to learning that the profession needs to at all times remain “relevant, friendly and easy to use” (Schmidmaier 2007) and that the foundations upon which librarian professional practice is currently being hotly contested has come as a surprise. Being a librarian is not a conservative profession but a cutting-edge one. Struggles with a clearly defined role (March 17 blog entry) has given way to a working definition which will continue to evolve as the profession does.

Rick Susman (2011), contentiously states the role for the TL in the current context "there isn't one ... unless they create one." This seems to be a deliberately provocative and unsettling statement which certain creates seismic shifts in what has been a traditional view of libraries and those who work in them. Grasping the impact of such a statement suggests to this learner TL that as many suggest [Johnson (2008), Bush & Kwielford (2001),Martin (2007) – being an advocate, proactive professional that debunks traditional perceptions of the role is essential.

Even the very act of studying within this new context has brought the complex and intertwined role(s) of the TL into sharper focus. Previous undertakings of tertiary studies (last century) involved a much more limited Personal Learning Network (PLN) that could not harness the potential of the web 2.0 applications. The concept of PLN in the 21st century (Buchanan, 2010), has opened up a world of exciting new tools to access and gather information and create knowledge.

One of the strengths of undertaking ETL401 is the compelling of the learner to adopt new technologies: Social bookmarking such as to aid organisation of websites, articles and ideas. Blogs which provide a platform to distil and collate the information and share with others. Forums are an excellent place to collaboratively learn (personally need to post more rather than observe to utilise its full potential) . Accessing and viewing vodcasts from experts all over the world make learning more flexible and dynamic, so too are the possibilities of using social networking applications such the NSW DET’s Yammer, Facebook, and Twitter. All of the above impacts on the role of the TL. As Schmidmaier (2007) advocates TLs need to be open and flexible to ensure that libraries “supports the specific curriculum needs AND is a place for exploration of ideas and innovation”. Learning to be a learner in the current milieu has enhanced my understanding of the wonderful possibilities of web 2.o which could and should be harnessed in a library today. (Possibilities shown in “Beyond the Blackboard” blog entry March 27, 2011) Hopefully it will be a strength in the future, fledging skills in the use of web 2.0 means they are currently a weakness, not being applied or used effectively within the library or my learning.

Working definition and goals for the future –

what kind of TL do I want to be?

TLs need to be and often are, many things to many people. They connect people with information and act as a guide and facilitator the access to the information and books they need; equip the library users with the best strategies for their searching for the information. TLs should be locksmiths (not gatekeepers) to open the doors to the worlds of knowledge and creation, but the role always changes in response to the shifting landscape. The modern TL needs to be innovative, enthusiastic, passionate, flexible and open to new ideas in order to be that great proactive advocate for their library and role; to overcome any resistance to collaboration and ensure that the understanding of their role is fully understood by others and not positioned by misconception.

(750 words without references or heading)


Buchanan, Ruth. (2010) August 13, 2010, PLN: Building your personal network presentation, Retrieved from

Bush, G., & Kwielford, M. (2001). Marketing Reflections: Advocacy in action. Teacher Librarian, 28(5), 8. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Eisenberg, Michael. (2006). Three roles for the 21st Century Teacher-Librarian, In CSLA Journal. 29(2), 21-23.

Godin, Seth (2011). The future of the library, IN Seth Godin's Blog Retrieved May 22, 2001

Herring, James. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In Ferguson, S. (Ed.) Libraries in the twenty-first century: charting new directions in information (pp 27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW : Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

Herring, James. (2005). The end of the teacher-librarian. Teacher Librarian 33(1), 26-29.

Johnson, D. (2008). Change from the radical center of education. Teacher Librarian, 35(5),14-19, Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Martin, A. (2007). The evolution of the librarian as advocate: are advocates born or developed? In Knowledge Quest, 36(1), 16-19. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Oberg, Dianne. (2002). Looking for evidence Do School libraries improve student achievement? In School Libraries Canada, 22(2), 10-13 & 44.

Purcell, Melissa. (2010). All librarians do is check out books, right? A look at the role of school library media specialist. Library Media Connection 29(3), 30-33.

Schmidmaier, Dagmar. (2007) Retrieved March 5 2011 from

Susman, Rick. (2011). Libraries setting the agenda for research. In The Booklegger Library Specialist, 1-4, Box Hill, Vic : The Booklegger.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Collaboration - Turning barriers into opportunities

If you consider the issue of collaboration in any professional environment it is one of the best parts of any working environment. Collaborative practice in any learning organisations is vital and the synergy is energising and often sees a highly positive outcome for teachers (excellent job satisfaction) and student (improvement achievement and deeper understanding). A cohesive group has the ability to be greater than the individuals that make it up. And doesn't mean that there has to be agreement - if approached as a problem solving process - collaboration can see the very obstacles that give people many headaches in their working lives disappear - or at least be reduced.

Sarah Lusher-Main on the CSU Forum on 17 May 2011 posted an excellent summary of the elements in play when considering the issue.

This topic was perhaps of the most interest to me and where I learnt the most as I previously did not understand the importance or depth of learning that can be achieved through collaboration between the CT and the TL.

Successful collaboration has so many obstacles:

  • time tabling flexibility,

  • CT lack of understanding,

  • interest or support,

  • schools culture,

  • state culture,

  • value placed on the TL,

  • principal support,

  • TL lack of curriculum knowledge to name a few.

So many different articles with different information. Take aways from literature:

TL is the key stake holder
different teaching styles do not matter just an interest or desire to collaborate
principal support is paramount
a good professional relationship between TL and principal is very important
flexibility of timetabling important
TLs knowledge of the curriculum important and deepens with collaboration
develops information literacy
it is under used/not used in many schools
CT may not understand or know about what the library has to offer collaboratively
can be very simple - one lesson or complex - whole units
successful collaboration builds sense of trust between TL and CT
collaboration is not as prevalent as it should be after a long time of TLs understanding its benefits
Tl's need to be confident in collaboration to get it going in their school
all library staff need to be on board for it to be successful
RFF should not coincide with a classes library time as it may disengage the CT from the library

So it got me thinking - instead of seeing the barriers to collaboration - addressing the list as opportunities for the teacher librarian to turn them into opportunities to ensure that their vital in the learning hub of the learning organisation is valued, support and maintained.

Lack of time tabling flexibility - consult with those who do the timetable and make them aware of the needs of the TL and how they need to be factored into the timetable.
Lack of understanding of the classroom teacher - like many things on the list of the obstacles to collaboration - if there is a lack of understanding, support, valuing and limit culture to do with the library then the TL needs to be proactive and advocate their role - show those just what the Library and the TL can do for them.
Lack of library culture within the school - again the TL needs to change it through being a proactive advocate.
Lack of interest or support - again the TL needs to change it through being a proactive advocate.
Lack of principal support - again the TL needs to change it through being a proactive advocate.

So it means that barriers or obstacles are really just opportunities in disguise and it is up to the teacher librarians to really be the biggest advocate for what infinite possibilities the library can offer - if the perception is that a library is just a warehouse for books - then change that perception. If the perception is that the librarian is just someone who shelves books - then change that perception. Creative solutions to what may seem like intractable problems is what is called for. In the web 2.0 age sharing and collaborating the collective wisdom of all the teacher librarians out there - many solutions to age old problems will be found.

I was lucky enough to host the TL Network Conference for the South West Sydney Region at my school this week and what struck me is that there is so much that can be achieved when collaboration is embraced.

Teacher librarians need to be and often are, many things to many people. They connect people with information and act as a guide and facilitator the access to the information and books they need. And we are also those who can equip the library users with the best strategies for their searching for the information that they need. They ARE NOT gatekeepers to the information - that just conjures up images of trolls under a bridge - scary arbiters of who or who may not pass into the world of knowledge and imagination. Rather the modern librarian is the locksmith to open the doors to the worlds of knowledge and creation. But the role always changes in response to the changing landscape and essentially the modern teacher librarian needs to be innovative, enthusiastic, passionate, flexible and open to new ideas in order to be that great proactive advocate for their library, their role to overcome any resistance to collaboration and ensure that the understanding of their role is fully understood by others and not positioned by misconception.

Rambling thoughts

Some rambling thoughts on the role of the teacher librarian in today's digital age.

Granted there is a greater complexity to the role than what would appear to be on the surface. It is not just "checking out books" as many would think - which Purcell (2010) debunked in her excellent distillation of her views of the multiple roles which are intertwined within the profession.

The twenty-first century context is certainly something which impacts upon professional roles and workplaces. And it is no different for the teacher-librarian. Rick Susman (2011), aka The Booklegger, contentiously states as far as a role for the teacher-librarian in the current context "there isn't one ... unless they create one." This seems to be a deliberately provocative statement which certain creates seismic shifts in what has been a traditional view of libraries and those who work in them.

Seth Godin, also contributes to the heated debate about the future of libraries and librarians in his blog 16 May 2011. He charts the change from the technological advancement of the printing press to now and how the perception of the libraries was influenced by these changes.

Initially the printing press (cheers to Gutenberg) made books so much more accessible to a wider audience - "This naturally led to the creation of shared books, of libraries where scholars (everyone else was too busy not starving) could come to read books that they didn't have to own. The library as warehouse for books worth sharing."

And this was a good thing. Then the creation of a new profession came from this change - librarians were needed to organise and maintain these "warehouses" of knowledge. Great for those of us who are teacher-librarians. In age where we are educating children for professions that have not even been created - it is important to remember that the creation of any occupation is a direct result of the context of its times - usually out of some technological advancement. The warp speed at which it is happening in the 21st century is possibly the one chief difference between now and the 15th century.

"After Gutenberg, books got a lot cheaper. More individuals built their own collections. At the same time, though, the number of titles exploded, and the demand for libraries did as well. We definitely needed a warehouse to store all this bounty, and more than ever we needed a librarian to help us find what we needed. The library is a house for the librarian."

I disagree that the library is a "house" for the librarian - it is our place of work, where we craft and polish our professional skills. Godin is being simplistic in suggesting that a library is just a place where teacher-librarians or librarians reside. It smacks of a stereotypical and outdated perception of what is involved in the teacher-librarian role. Although I am not calling for his head on a platter as some have been doing. Perhaps it was his assertion that "When kids go to the mall instead of the library, it's not that the mall won, it's that the library lost."
that has got so many teacher-librarians worked up.

And yet what IS the library now is the modern age? Godin would say "Post-Gutenberg, books are finally abundant, hardly scarce, hardly expensive, hardly worth warehousing. Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data. The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books."

And I agree with him. What it means is that teacher-librarians are going to be an enduring profession but they cannot continue in the same manner as those who were working before the turn of the century (and I mean ANY century before this one). Teacher-librarians need to be transliterate and ensure that their students are too. Teacher-librarians need to keep abreast of the technological tools that can be integrated into serving the needs of those who use the library. They need to ensure that their students are as information literate as possible, confident in finding and using data for their specific purposes. To be intelligent, responsible digital citizens.

Some talk about being "gatekeepers" I dislike this term immensely - it has a traditional transmission model of education at its core.- The constructivist model of education means that collaboration is valued - we aren't back in Ancient Athens or Rome - forming orderly queues to ask the oracle a burning question. We are here in web 2.0 land in which connectivity, collaboration, sharing and creating are all ripe with endless possibilities.

And rather than calling for the head of someone who dares to challenge the profession, we should embrace the core message that Godin has - which is that "We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don't need are mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime. "

And there is so much research out there which supports the profession. The Lonsdale Report (2003) clearly states "school libraries can make a positive difference to the students' self-esteem, confidence, independence and sense of responsibility in regards to their own learning." What a wonderful and powerful profession. To have the potential impact on students, and a lasting impact, it something which gives those teacher-librarians a sense of immense value - to make a difference in any small measure is ultimately highly satisfying.


Godin, Seth (2011). The future of the library, IN Seth Godin's Blog Retrieved May 22, 2001

Londsdale, M. (2003). Impact of school libraries on student achievement: a review of research. Australian Council for Educational Research. Retrieved April 11, 2011 from

Purcell, Melissa. (2010). All librarians do is check out books, right? A look at the role of school library media specialist. Library Media Connection 29(3), 30-33.

Susman, Rick. (2011). Libraries setting the agenda for research. In The Booklegger Library Specialist, 1-4, Box Hill, Vic : The Booklegger.

What is knowledge and how to get it.

So the last typewriter company (in India) has finally closed it doors. It is certainly the passing of an era. A time when things were done in a different fashion. People, according to Sarah Wilson in Sunday Life May 22, 2011, are getting nostalgic about this passing.

Apparently people hunt around flea markets to find typewriters and "Type-ins" are being held around the world (cool typers hang out in pubs and hit they keys) and there's an emerging 'typo sphere" (a blog scene for typewriter nuts). One Gen Y fan sums up the appeal: "It's about permanence, not being able to hit delete." Another: "On a typewriter, you have to think". By which she means you have to think ahead (so as to avoid dousing your page in Liquid Page), which dictates a considered, reflective approach. As opposed to the modern "ready, aim, fire" approach." Sarah Wilson

Does this shift the way we thinking, attain knowledge with this quick, rapid fire approach to work and life? Wilson suggests that previously there was a lot more research, critical synthesis and contemplation on a subject before anyone "opined" on a particular subject. Josh Thomas, of Gen Y fame on the television show Talking about your generation, has carved out a persona of the "typical" Gen Y-er who has scant general knowledge about just about everything - almost the Goldie Hawn ditsy blond of the twenty-first century. Wilson says that he claims he gets his knowledge "as he needed it" and via Google on his phone.

And as a teacher librarian - that is a frightening reality - that so many students think that the ubiquitous search engine IS knowledge. That by putting in a keyword search into the box and hit enter - all the answers you will need can be gathered in LESS than a second. There is no fact checking, no ascertaining the authority or relevancy of the information before it is used. That is why teachers complain so often that students just type in keywords - get AN answer, copy/paste, hand it in and it hasn't answered the question.

Wilson talks about the virtues of different methods of collating information, thinking about it and presenting it. What is wonderful about the modern age is that you can use ALL the technologies at hand. From the humble pen and paper, the typewriter (if you can still find one), index cards (in the vein of Edward de Bono), or the laptop/web 2.0, all these methods are valid, have their uses and match various purposes. What is important that whatever your learning style, whatever your purpose - using the technology in an effective manner in order to get the best end product is what it is all about.

I don't think the pining for the way things were is beneficial to anyone. It is great to be able to access information with such ease. I loved hanging out in the library and reading books - but it didn't mean that copy/paste didn't happen in "dem old days" - I am sure most people would have copied verbatim at least a sentence from the World Book or some other monograph for an assignment to keep their teacher happy. So blaming the Internet and the current generation is just counterproductive.

What I need to do is ensure that students grasp that they need to drill down into a subject or issue to gain deep understanding - through many different techniques. Information literacy and trans-literacies are vital in order for any of us to get the most out of these tools - rather than being manipulated by the tools themselves. We are the ones in control, and need to exercise that power over the information we access.

The Blurring of the lines between Public and Private

Mia Freedman's column in the Sunday Life (May 22, 2011) magazine really resonated with me. This week I was talking to a colleague about my role in the library and where I see it heading. I feel really strongly that students need to be equipped to handled the modern world is at times can be frighteningly complex and uncertain. That so much of what should be private is no longer that.She made that excellent point which got me thinking. That one of the aspects of modern life that students are struggling with is the blurring of the private and public worlds. The mistakes that past generations made as teenagers weren't captured on iphones, social networking cites and the like. Facebook is often derided by those in the teaching profession and police force due to the amount of pain and suffering it inflicts on others - and that teachers and police officers are forced to deal with - due to it large part it plays in capturing and repeating often thoughtless words and actions. A hurtful comment in the past, was said, perhaps repeated as hearsay but eventually its currency and agency faded. This is unfortunately not the case for the modern teenager trying to navigate the murky and turbulent waters of growing up. Cyber-bullying is only a recent phenomenon. I know that I am forever grateful that my mistakes and actions that I would be less than proud of- then or now - has not been cached on my computer server for posterity!

As Freedman points out "This isn't new, this desire to share. We're just documenting our lives in different ways. Instead of diaries, scrapbooks or photo albums, we post pictures, blog and tweet. Social media is the modern version of cave paintings. The key difference is scalability. Unlike the physical and geographic limitations of scrapbooks and caves, anyone anywhere can hop online. In fact, that's the point. The more friends, followers, readers, the better. That's how social media works.
The town square never shuts down in 2011. People are broadcasting details of their lives constantly. Even if you're not a broadcaster, at every point in the day where your life intersects with another person who has an Internet connection, your privacy can be breached."

And that is the scary thing for the modern teenager in our schools. Medical science has now ascertained that the human brain doesn't fully develop, especially in logic and reasoning, until approximately 23. So the risk taking behaviour and poor choices which characterises every one's growing up and maturing period (however long that takes - longer for some than others) now has consequences far into the future - which the teenage brain doesn't contemplate and cannot foresee. Being circumspect, self-contained, self-aware and discerning doesn't happen overnight and are attributes that many adults do not possess, let alone teenagers. Yet those characteristics are almost essential to safeguard yourself against the perils and pitfalls of the web 2.0 reality that so many of us are utilising on a daily basis.

So how does that impact upon my role of being a Teacher/Librarian. I feel strongly that digital citizenship needs to be part of the library program. To equip students to USE the technology as a tool to WORK FOR THEM, rather than being something that can be used against them, something which can cause them pain and negativity. It wasn't part of the role previously, but my tiny crystal ball seems to suggest that it will become one of the fundamental tenets of what a teacher/librarian should be addressing.

Seth Grodin in his blog on the future of the library also advocates that a teacher/librarian should be someone "with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user serviceable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it's fun. This librarian takes responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark." And part of being that first-rate data shark is to use the tools that finds that data in a responsible fashion - that being on-line has rights AND responsibilities.

Friday, May 20, 2011

More on the State of Librarians in LA

It seems very much an Alice in Wonderland scenario that we have gone through the looking glass into a world in acts in such an illogical manner. It seems everywhere you turn in the past couple of weeks the role of the library and librarians in the modern 21st century age is being examined.

Scrutiny is a good think. No professional should resent the spotlight being placed squarely upon what they do. It seems, in a very comforting manner, that there is plenty of evidence to say that libraries and librarians are vital in the new digital age, that they make a positive difference to student achievement and enable them to be positive participants in wider society.

And YET local libraries in the UK are under threat. When I lived in England I was an almost daily user of the local library - it was fantastic - a national treasure. I felt privileged to live (however briefly) in a country that valued the access to literature, information and the community that a library can provide.

And then you have the counter-intuitive situation in the LA where the bad soap opera script is being played out. It could almost a bad parody of the courtroom dramas that are part of the American television canon. TLs in the LA school district are having defend themselves and their professional worth in the a court of law!! WHAT is going on?

I haven't even left the fledging nest of being a TL - almost as the end of my first session of study for my retraining - and I feel like I have jumped out of the fat into the frying pan. I left the classroom in which I felt under seige from the looming National Curriculum and worrying directions of the basic expectations of the classroom teacher. I want to re-energise and fall in love with my profession again. And I have. But it seems I have made the shift into shaky terrritory. At least it won't be boring!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Scientia potentia est

The transitory and provisional nature of any definition of information literacy can lead many such as Williams (2001) to see that "information literacy (as) an often-used but dangerously ambiguous concept" (Williams, D. (2001). Information literacy and learning on-line, In SCROLLA Networked Learning Symposium, University of Glasgow, 14 November 2001 Retrieved May 16, 2011 from

So why wrangle with the concept at all? Why turn the collective intelligence to defining it?

Whether it was Sir Francis Bacon or Thomas Hobbes that is attributed with saying the Latin maxim scientia potentia est - knowledge is power, matters naught. But the idea is a seductive one. And if we accept the premise to be true - isn't this an important starting point to then defend, develop and define the whole notion of information literacy.

In the current context that we all find ourselves - a information rich landscapes which is highly stimulating - often distracting and discombobulating - we all know that information is easily accessed. Yet information remains just that - information, unless it is effectively harnessed for some purpose. Information can be almost useless, mainly irrelevant, quite interesting, but merely diverting, if it does not have an aim. Information needs to be converted into knowledge, and at this point, the individual is then empowered.

I see the endeavours of educators to equip their charges with information literacy to be one at the heart of social justice and a fundamental human right. In order to be empowered, to not be assigned to the life-long circumstance of disadvantage, unemployment, poor health, poverty and lack of dignity, an individual needs information literacy in their armoury. And Chris Sidoti would agree.
Sidoti, Chris. (2001). Literacy and lifelong learning: social justice for all? In ACAL Forum Sydney, 15 June 2001. Retrieved May 16, 2011 from

Whilst Sidoti focused on the right of adults in this article from the point of view of a human rights lawyer, he strongly advocated that knowledge, information and skills are the base requirements for an individual to reach "their fullest potential as a person and a citizen" p 4 Isn't that the point of information literacy? Isn't that the end point all of us working in education are working towards?

Information literacy is predicated on the notion that an individual is literate - those who have poor literacy/numeracy aren't going to be successful information literate citizens as they will not be able to easily access the meaning of the resources in front of them. But it would be hoped that this essential prerequisite will be afforded to everyone through the universal and free public education - which so many countries agreed is a human right that is enshrined in International Conventions. Ergo, public education systems have been established all around the world to meet this fundamental human right where education must be:

  • available

  • accessible

  • affordable

  • acceptable

  • and adaptable (p 5/6)

“Fundamental education” is seen as separate from primary or secondary education, which are also components of the general right. It includes essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. " (p 8)

So information literacy is part of this "fundamental education" and that is why it is important to wrestle the unwieldy beast. The constantly shifting context impact on the manner in which the purpose will be undertaken. It is no longer enough to be able to read and write, but to ask the right questions, successfully navigate multiple platforms, successfully organise and manipulate information into that all powerful knowledge. Easier said than done.

But with such important concepts lying at the heart of information literacy - human rights and social justice - I think it is a worthwhile endeavour - even if the end goal may never be achieved in any agreed, definitive and definable manner.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Information Literacy - a Zebra with Spots?

It would seem relatively straightforward to come up with a definition of information literacy. Or so you would like to think.

If you started with a simple (or simplistic) combination of the two words

Information = informing, telling; thing told, knowledge, (desired) items of knowledge, news; knowledge on various subjects, however acquired
Literacy = ability to read and write, the state of being literate; possession of education

then you would derive a definition of

information literacy = the ability of an individual to possess knowledge on various subjects.

Somehow that would be classified in the colloquialisms of the modern age as an EPIC FAIL in terms of achieving the desired outcome.

Hmmmmm. So how does one nail down at least a provisional definition of the term "information literacy"? Given that meaning must be derived from context; the context that we live in is shifting and changing at a rapid rate, then any definition will be provisional - can only be a signifier rather than a comfortable delineated signified.

James Herring (2009) A ground analysis of year 8 students' reflections on information literacy skills and techniques, in School Libraries Worldwide 15(1) 1-13. includes in his study a literature review of information literacy. His opening gambit states

"There is now a vast range of literature on information literacy in the school, higher education and workplace sector but there is no agreement as to one definition of information literacy or whether information literacy should be viewed as a concept, an ideal to be reached, a practice, a set of skills, set of competencies, a set of attributes or a combination of these elements." p 2

So it seems that we have entered the realm where you can argue about the number of angels that could dance on a pin-head with more certainty than elicit agreement on a single definition of information literacy. And to come up with a definition feels like design by committee - after consulting widely to get a four-legged animal with black and white stripes it somehow turns out to be a zebra with spots! Not quite what you thought it would look like.

So what does an information literate student look like? According to ASLA they are effective learners "who are able to find and use information as required". Remembering that definitions are based on context and are always provisional - the succinct definition might seem to be, on the surface, the holy grail that we are looking for, however, it does not seem to be broad enough to be applicable in the digital age.

So it is more than being about to read, write, find, locate, assess, utilise and apply information. So what has to be added to make it useful as a definition? Does it also have to include the effective use of multiple and new technologies - web 2.0 tools etc, the impact of globalisation, the explosion of information availability???

It seems that information literacy (whatever that is) is valued - due to the fact that in order to function in the ever increasingly complex information environment - skills and competencies need to be acquired. So what is information literacy?

  • Information literacy means being information smart. It means knowing when a book may be more helpful than a computer. It mans know how to find, evaluate ans use information in all forms.

  • Information literacy is more than print literacy, computer literacy or media literacy. It means knowing when you need information, where to find it and how to evaluate and use it in your everyday life.

  • Information smart communities use the latest and best information to develop sound policies. They know the importance of having citizens who are information literate. And they invest in their school, public and higher education libraries as centres for information, culture and lifelong learning.

  • Information smart people lead satisfying lives. They know how to find quality information that will help through family, medical or job crises. They are information-smart consumers who know how to use information resources wisely for work and pleasure.

  • Information smart people run successful businesses. They know when they need data and what data they need to evaluate success and plan for the future.

  • Information smart people know that what is true today may not be true tomorrow, that information is not the same as knowledge.

ASLA Advocacy Kit 2006 page 8

Yet the above six bullet points don't come even close to encapsulating a definition. So is information literacy a "dangerously ambiguous concept"? I think not.

It seems that the end product is clear - the desired goal or common purpose of teacher-librarians and educators alike is to equip our charges with the necessary skills to allow them to successfully navigate the increasingly complex information landscapes. The aim is to ensure that their individuality is catered for within a differentiated curriculum, that their creativity is allowed to flourish and their voice to be heard. And the desired outcome is to see respectful, responsible digital citizenship of the students who can exploit the new technologies to their advantage rather than to fall into the traps and potential pitfalls that they contain.

Definitions are inherently problematic - they are by their very nature approximations which often cannot convey the true essence of something as ephemeral and elusory as being literate in the modern age. But it would seem that you need to approximate what it is - in order to ensure you can go about achieving it.

The definition needs to encompass the skills - planning, selection and accessing the content, manipulate and communicate in an appropriate manner to the environment the user finds themselves; as well as the high - ordering thinking which can be transfered to multiple environments such as originality, fluency, flexibility and convergence and ultimately has reflection and evulation of the each part of the process at its core.

It is still a work in progress - which I believe it always will be - and I am getting used to the stripey lion and the spotted tiger - they are kinda cute!

Collaboration as an expectation

Image from Dmitry Rostovtsev

The irony of change being one the reliable constants in one's life (along with death, taxes and procrastination when it comes to something you don't want to do) is not lost on this teacher-librarian in training.

So change is constant and it is a vital part of the educational context in the 21st century and thus impacts on the TL's role within schools. And so too is COLLABORATION. I have been mulling over the research of Patricia Montiel-Overall (2008) A qualitative study of teacher and librarian collaboration: a preliminary report SCAN 27(3), 25-31. What stood out to me is that Monteil-Overall states that collaboration is an EXPECTATION which has been outlined in various published guidelines such as the American Association of School Librarians (AASL)'s Information Power and in Australia in ALIA/ASLA's Statement on TL in Australia and of course, there in black and white in standard 2.2 of the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians.

So collaboration is foundational, a given, a core function - it is expected. And there is very little reason to disagree with this expectation as the body of research for the past 25 years has supported the finding that if the TL takes on the role of being a collaborator within their school setting then improvement in student achievement and information literacy follows.

Montiel-Overall seems to suggest that there needs to be an individual or individuals who have the force of personality, vibrancy and/or energy to drive the collaboration train. She describes them as the ones "who becomes a catalyst of the collaborative process". This seems to be a little hit or miss to me. The characteristics listed which are exhibited by these specific individuals sounds like the cliched list of attributes one put on the resume in order to get short listed for an interview

  • flexibility

  • openness

  • accommodation

  • able to develop interpersonal relationships

  • able to built trust and confidence in colleagues.

And the process or structure conditions are

  • time (of which those in education are extremely time poor)

  • planning

  • knowledge sharing (these next two are cultural aspects and may or may not exist in the particular school)

  • principal support (a raft of literature on this topic alone in aiding the TL)

AND if any of the above elements are missing collaboration will be inhibited.

Tickety-boo. Sounds like a walk in the park. Please excuse my cynicism but it seems to me that there are so many reasons why collaboration SHOULD take place and then there are so many BARRIERS to it taking place. And it isn't just confined to the conditions within the individual TL or the structure. It also has problems when you start to talk about those with whom you are supposed to collaborating.!!! (It bit like the above image of the brick wall and the blank poster - the wall may not move but you can write your message on the poster.)

The lack of understanding within the classroom practitioners as to the importance of collaborating with the TL in their school means that the CT (classroom teacher) is often blissfully unaware of the information literacy responsibilities of the TL or the infinite potential which could be unleashed in their students if they took the time to collaborate. Montiel-Overall points out that CTs and TLs often have different ways in which they "conceptualise and define collaboration".

CT see the core business or role of the TL in a traditional manner as TLs being "resource agents and instructional adjuncts". Hence they will send students to the library to "research" a topic - quite often without discussing with the TL that one, they are coming, or two, what it is exactly they need to do with the information they are seeking.

"Such differences and limitations in conceptions, if not discussed and brought to a common understanding, may be an ongoing stumbling block in implementation of effective collaborations which result in students meeting defined curriculum outcomes." (page 30)

So picture in the heads of CTs need to change from the traditional image of TLs just being there to gather resources to aid the CT to one of "high-end collaborative endeavours" between the two professional where (time-consuming and organisational intensive) joint-planning and integration of information literacy into the subject content of the classroom.

Montiel-Overall also challenge TLs to change their traditional practices to incorporate the standards for 21st century learner into their library program and collaborative practice.
Ultimately, a TL in the 21st century can find all the reasons as to why collaboration is not possible. But it must be something that is valued by the individual TL because of its inherent worth to the students and their educational outcomes. And because it is so vital - then instead of finding reasons why you can't, find the time to make it happen. And even though it may sound like you are interviewing for your job, everyday - a TL needs to harness that cliched list of attributes to advocate to the CTs and the school community why collaboration is essential and convince them to get on board that collaboration train - no tickets required - just faith to get on board! Apologies to Curtis Mayfield and his great gospel song - but you do feel like you have to proselytise and convert the disbelievers to see that collaboration is the way!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The scary times we live in,0,3002882.column

It was with horror that I clicked onto the above LA Times news article after being directed to it by Barbara Baxton. THe LA school distrcit is forcing 85 TLs through legal inquiry into their teaching positions and " are not allowing them to return to their teaching positions if they haven't taught in a traditional classroom within the last five years" (Barbara Braxton). Hector Tobar's article - The disgraceful interrogation of L.A. school librarians May 13 2011 - is horrifying to this TL in training. To see the narrow and ignorant perception of the value and role of TLs is something that we shouldn't just chalk up to American exceptionalism - even if they did ban Jamie Oliver and his healthy food message in the same school district schools.

One hopes and prays that sense, logic and the RIGHT thing will prevail but that is never a certain thing when the economic imperative takes precdence over the professionalism of educators.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Walter Cronkite said it best

I have severe reservations about performance-based pay for teachers. I experienced it first hand whilst teaching in England and I was not a fan.

And when Julia Gillard says that they will build the system to measure I just despair. I am all for professionals being accountable for what they do. But when data from a skills test which is supposed to be a tool for teachers to help their students address the areas for improvement will then somehow be aligned to bonus pay then I can't see teachers really being creative and interested in inqury based learning or anything other than teaching to the test! It just sends a shudder up my spine.

And when educational experts like Michael Fullan warn against its then I think it is clear that it is policy gone wrong. And to narrow it down to my area of practice - being a teacher librarian now instead in the classroom - how am I going to be measured if this policy agenda is pushed through??? How am I going to be measured? Against what criteria? I am all about improving student achievement and hope that the library can be a wonderful place in which they can become information literate people able to navigate the perils and pitfalls of a rapidly changing world which throws at them terabytes of information at a growing rate. But some things cannot be measured and somethings should be valued for what they are. As the wise sage Walter Cronkite said - Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Overcoming the reluctance to read

I have been pondering the importance of instilling in those library users in my high school library the love of reading. Obama describes the threshold of the library as a magical one, and that we change these children's lives forever once they cross it. The man is nothing if an optimist!

The reality I find is that the majority of students who enter into this "magical" world are there to socialise, playing chess, escape the rough and tumble of the playground, access the internet or computer games. In a school of over 900 students for Term 1 there were 412 loans - that is less than 50% and most of those who did borrow - borrowed multiple times. So real number is miniscule. So the majority of the students whom I see on a daily basis do not borrow. Yes, the school does have those voracious readers who will always exist. But I feel that my collection is not igniting the reluctant readers. And struggles to keep up with the voracious ones.

So it was with interest that I read the thoughts of Nicholas Morton in the Times Higher Education 6 May 2011. "Pick a book, any book" Morton was shocked by his university students general reluctance to read. The middle-class valuing of the "reading habit" was the underlyin assumption in this article. In a post-literate world, should I be pushing this agenda onto my students when they would much prefer other forms of recreation???

Morton asserts that "students come to university expecting to read". He means in this context reading for pleasure, yet I think he missed the point . The on-line readers comment did raise the point that often reading for pleasure doesn't happen due to the required course reading that must taken priority. I know that when I was writing my honours thesis, reading for pleasure was luxury I couldn't afford. Once it was handed in I overdosed on Patricia Cornwell crime ficition because it was so far removed from what I had been reading for my thesis. Horrible nightmares ensued, but I did enjoy the indulgence.

Is it the same in High Schools??? Is the curriculum so crowded with assessment tasks and "required" reading that students have little if anytime for the reading habit? Of the little recreational time students may have, are they really going to spend it reading a book when they might prefer to connect with friends on facebook, share clips from youtube or playing interactive on-line games. Even thirty years ago when I was a fledgling the only thing competing for my attention was the radio and the television (which only had two stations). Hence books didn't have to compete with a cavalcade of interactive and interesting possibilities.

Morton proudly announces in his article that he lauched a "Reading Challenge" - it the vein of the BBC's University Challenge. "A voluntary even encourages them to read 20 books for pleasure during their degree. It is not a attempt to force on them a "canon" of worthy literature; it presents them with a wide range of books from which they select titles that interest them." Well he didn't invent the idea and in New South Wales primary and secondary schools have signed up for the "Premier's Reading Challenge" with varying success for many years thanks to Bob Carr and subsequent premiers. I maintain that it is harder in High School with the multitude of things vying for students' time - part time work, looking after younger siblings, facebook and other social media, sport and television to name a few.

Morton says that we must try something - and I thoroughly agree but perhaps there might be a dialogue between the generation viewing the reading habit as an essential part of anyone's armoury to take into the world and the intended target - who may not view the acquisition of this source of "interesting dinner-table conversation" as worthy or even desirable!!

Certainly something to think about - and address. It would be lovely to see others derive as much pleasure from recreational reading as I do. I suppose that I would like to think thatbeing an advocate for books (in whatever form - but then ebooks and digital books is a whole other conversation) it is still a relevant and important part of my role as a teacher/librarian - but seen within the 21st century context. I don't wish to unthinkingly foist my vaules and views onto others which I believe runs counter to what being teacher/librarian is all about.

A Great Quote to think about

At the moment we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a libary, we change their lives forever, for the better. Barack Obama

Monday, May 2, 2011

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries

The above article is an interesting snapshot of the educational context in America. Very scary that professionals have to work two jobs to make ends meet.