There seem to be myriad roles required for the teacher librarian of the 21st century (Herring, 2007). The various standards documents and school library mission statements attempt to address what a teacher librarian and a school library should be. As Valenza (2010) states this is “a moving target”.
The literature supports that at the heart of it all is a critical need for teacher librarians to ensure their relevance by positioning themselves, and perhaps more importantly, being seen to be positioning themselves, as the information literacy professionals of the future, particularly in terms of digital media. “The role of the teacher librarian continues to change and one key feature of this role is the ability of the teacher librarian to adapt” (Herring, 2007, p. 32). This is supported by Lamb who urges teacher librarians to continually “revisit, reframe, and re-imagine” (2011, p. 27). As Herring (2007) aptly points out a lone teacher librarian would find it impossible to play all of the roles required all at the same time. Prioritising is a necessity and is based on the needs of the school community (Herring, 2007). According to Herring (2007, p. 31) “Learning for the future (ASLA 2003) focuses on three particular roles of the teacher librarian: curriculum leader, information specialist and information services manager.” So perhaps that is where Australian teacher librarians should begin, along with their school and library mission statements.
Valenza’s manifesto (2010) seems to suggest that an effective teacher librarian must have many strings to their fiddle and that compromise is “non-negotiable”. I’m not sure that Valenza’s manifesto is realistic for a single teacher librarian to meet. Perhaps, like the ASLA standards, it is something to aim for – a standard of excellence. In order for teacher librarians to meet these high falutin standards they need financial, staffing and school policy support from their principals (Herring, 2007).
Lamb also implies that an effective teacher librarian cannot simply have knowledge and skills but must also possess the right “attitudes and dispositions” (2011, p. 27) to go with the job. This begs the question – can the right attitude and disposition be learned or taught? These seem to be personality traits that may be developed with maturity and experienced but they are certainly not learnable in the traditional sense. As in any profession, some people are born to the role and some have to work bloody hard at it.
In addition to being an expert in information literacy, the literature points to teacher librarians as collaborators with teachers as being integral to their role (Lamb, 2011 and Herring, 2007). Purcell urges teacher librarians to bring instruction to the fore and place less emphasis on administrative tasks. Although, according to Herring (2007) emphasis should be placed on good collection development.
Purcell places a heavy emphasis on the need for the teacher librarian to be continually and obviously proving their value and securing funds. It is also mentioned in the AASL podcasts (2012). The literature implies that it is unique to the USA. This, then would need to be a priority for those teacher librarians. In Australia we are fortunate in having to worry a little less about the measuring our success in dollar terms – or is this simply naiviety on my part? Certainly, in a private organization (where I previously worked as a research librarian) we were considered a “cost centre” and had to “charge” our clients (all internal from the same organization) for our services. This was then used to prove our worthiness.
From this arises the next issue – would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? In the USA school libraries are known as Media Centres and teacher librarians as media specialists. Whilst the term media is certainly more indicative of digital technologies (Herring, 2007), does the name by which our profession is known play a role in how we are perceived and therefore our relevance? In the six years I worked in the corporate library we changed our name several times. When I started we were the library. By the time I finished we had morphed into the Business Information Centre. However, nobody (even within the organization) knew what this was. As soon as we explained that we were the “library” they understood what we were there to do.
How to know if there are other roles played by teacher librarians? It is such a shifting environment and each school library has unique requirements. Certainly, there are roles outside of the school community such as being part of a larger organisation, for example, as a member of the the Australian Library and Information Association. Every person, regardless of profession has multiple roles that cross over such as parent or partner. They might belong to various clubs or undertake certain leisure all activities. It is only natural that we would bring our skills and perspectives as a teacher librarian to these other roles as well and vice versa.
To be as proactive as Lamb (2011) and Valenza (2010) insist a good teacher librarian needs to be, what would I give up? To be honest, I really don’t know. I haven’t worked in a school library so it is difficult to imagine every task that needs to be dealt with. However, I would hope that I had support staff to whom I could delegate certain tasks – probably the more administrative tasks.
After reading the literature and viewing the podcasts I do see myself fitting with the proposed roles of the teacher librarian. I think the one that I would have most difficulty with is that of an overt advocate. I am not by nature one to blow my own horn and I shy away from confrontation so being vocal about the value of the library and chasing funding, rather than letting the services provided speak for the themselves would not come naturally. However, I do really enjoy challenging myself and learning new things and experimenting with new technologies so the ever changing landscape of digital technologies would be welcome, if not somewhat exhausting and sometimes bewildering. As a teacher, I agree with Purcell that teacher librarians should collaborate with teachers and other members of the school community. We should be “making a difference in the ways teachers teach and in the ways students learn.” (Purcell, 2010, p. 30)
The American Association of School Librarians (Producer). (2012 January/February). 30 Second Thought Leadership: Insights from Leaders in the School Library Community. Are school librarians and endangered species? [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/aboutkq/30second_JanFeb12
Herring, J. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In S. Ferguson (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.
Lamb, A. (2011). Bursting with Potential: Mixing a Media Specialist’s Palette. TechTrends, 55(4), 27-36.
Purcell, M. (2010, November/December). All Librarians Do Is Check Out Books, Right? A Look at the Roles of a School Library Media Specialist. Library Media Connection, 30-33.
Valenza, J. (2010). A revised manifesto. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2010/12/03/a-revised-manifesto/