I have wanted to be a teacher-librarian since August 2008. Shortly after returning from my very first teaching placement, I was struggling with the dissatisfaction and disillusionment of having not enjoyed the experience. I was nineteen and completely unsure of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life (in retrospect, not at all an unusual situation for a nineteen year old to be in). But I was aware that the aspect of my placement which I had most enjoyed were the hours I had spent in the school library.
There was nothing terribly special about this school library – it had a range of books, and around twenty computers scattered throughout for student use. Just like any other. But the experience of being in the library, surrounded by hundreds of books, hundreds of sources of information, had remained in my mind as a particular highlight. And that, I realised, was where I wanted to be…
In retrospect, that life-changing school library really wasn’t amazing. Whilst teachers did bring students into the facility, it was mostly to use it as a computer lab and there appeared to me to be very little collaboration between teachers and library staff. Indeed, whilst researching different resources to use in the teaching of a unit on comparative religion, I was given a large box full of (mostly useless) reference and text-books and left to my own devices. And yet, somehow, the library managed to leave a positive impression…
Ever since that time, I have known that what I most wanted to be was a teacher-librarian. I wanted to be able to work with students, with books and (at least a little bit) within the educational field. (After all, I wasn’t about to give up on education all together, I had wanted to be a teacher since I was in grade six…) Admittedly, it probably was the books that most appealed to me, and therein lies my current problem.
I’ve been studying some form of librarianship (there was a hiccup in my initial enrolment) since February, and more and more I come to realise that the role of a teacher-librarian is not what I thought it was. My imagining, my ideal of what a librarian is, what a library is, is stuck in the 1950s-70s. I want a library that is full of books, of the wealth of knowledge and enjoyment which lie within their pages. That is not the library of the twenty-first century.
As I am fast coming to discover, the library of the twenty-first century is largely to be found on-line. The library is no longer restricted by its access to physical books, and neither are its users. With the growing prevalence of e-books, of online journals and journal articles, the physical library is no longer in high demand. When users are able to access information from the comfort of their own homes, what use is there for a physical library? And what becomes of the teacher-librarian?
In response to the developments in information provision, the role of the teacher-librarian is increasingly concerned with technology. The teacher-librarian’s roles include searching for new resources (print, online, and other), establishing an online presence for themselves and the library on professional and social networking sites (last semester I explored the usefulness of establishing student-centred library pages on Facebook and there is a surprisingly large librarian presence in the blogosphere), and working closely with teachers to promote information literacy skills throughout the school. Among others. A current assignment of mine is to develop an online reference guide (or electronic pathfinder) for students studying a specific topic. And trust me, it involves a hell of a lot of trawling the web…
And where are the books in all this?
A recent article I read in my studies was entitled ‘All librarian’s do is check out books, right?’ (Purcell, 2010). In this article, Purcell addressed the different roles of the teacher-librarian – teacher, instructional partner, program administrator, leader, information specialist – but no books! I’m a traditionalist. I know this, and I accept this about myself. To an extent, I can embrace new technology, where it is beneficial, but I would much rather sit down with a hardback and a cup of tea then read an ebook. I just can’t imagine sitting comfortably in front the fire with one… But I’m getting distracted.
Purcell’s teacher-librarian is far too busy to concern themselves with books (aside from the need to resource for the curriculum) and Purcell recommends that the librarian should enlist the assistance of a staff member or volunteer to handle the (implied) more boring and time-consuming job of book circulation.
For me, the main role of the teacher-librarian is that of information provision, of ensuring that students have access to resources that meet their information needs, as well as supplying resources appropriate for both their learning and enjoyment. And to me, this involves the books. It involves recommending books to students that you think they might enjoy, that they might learn something from. How can the teacher-librarian do that if they’re too involved in promoting information literacy, in curriculum development and creating an online presence for the library, to bother about all that boring book stuff?
My view on the role of the teacher-librarian, on the place of the book at the heart of the library, will probably change. It already has, to some extent. But one thing I do know, I wish it was fifty years ago.