Saturday, May 21, 2011

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.

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