THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER LIBRARIAN:
A DISCUSSION PAPER
Amanda Credaro ©1999-2006
In recent years, there has been much discussion regarding the title of that member of teaching staff
in the education system who is employed in the position of “Teacher Librarian”. Whilst there is support in some academic areas that the label is precise, adequate and appropriate, there are others who argue that it is self-limiting, obsolete and inaccurate.
Although there can be no doubt as to the duel role of both teacher (in the sense of educator) and librarian (as the person in charge of the library), it would appear that the conflict arising from the
allocation of the title is a reflection of the changing scope of this position, rather than simply one of nomenclature.
This paper outlines a number of issues that are a direct result of recent technological developments, societal changes and educational advances that have impacted upon the Teacher Librarian, and includes recommendations for changes to improve the educational outcomes
for all members of the school community.
As the information professional within a school, the Teacher Librarian is presented with a cacophony of tasks, often with inadequate resources, and generally insufficient support.
A Teacher Librarian has a unique role, requiring the integration of teaching skills and competency in librarianship. Angus (1993) notes that they are also qualified to take an active role in
curriculum support, design and implementation.
Gorman (1998) states that a “librarian’s job” is to preserve forms of recorded knowledge, foster public education and continue a historical mission that provides a foundation for democratic
society. This is indeed a noble brief for librarians in general, but inadequate in the contemporary educational context.
Todd (in Todd, Henri and Rowen,1996) notes that Teacher Librarians may be involved in curriculum development, staff training and student learning and welfare and thus the position should be elevated to that equivalent to a Leading Teacher in a secondary setting, or an Executive Teacher in an infants/primary school. To this end, Todd supports the proposal of the creation of the position of Director of Information Resources (DIS). In some sections of the teacher-
librarianship community, this was interpreted as threatening the tenure and status of the profession.
Henri (1996) reaffirms the importance of retaining the word “teaching” in the title of Teacher Librarian, stating that Teacher Librarians have a whole-school curriculum perspective in
addition to their managerial experience. The possibility of replacing Teacher Librarians with librarians and technicians is of major concern to Henri, who states that a DIS has a different role
to that of a Teacher Librarian.
Adding to the above debate is Rowan (1996), who presents an emotive case with her contention that a library is “a place, not a service”. She disparages of synonyms for libraries, stating that
titles such as “multimedia resource centres, global information services and information services units” are merely elaborate pieces of whimsy, without justification.
However, Lemke (1993) notes that the fundamental assumptions of academic education are incompatible with the present, let alone future, needs of a postmodern society. With education diverging into multimedia applications, and curriculum developments demanding a higher degree of technologically advanced methodology, Lemke avows that new educational theory will deal with a multitude of new issues concerning student and teacher roles.
For Teacher Librarians to deny the inevitable changes is to render themselves liable to extinction. Should administrators fail to acknowledge the scope and importance of the school Teacher Librarian, regardless of position title, will not only render them politically vulnerable but also negligent in their responsibilities to education services.
SCOPE OF TEACHER LIBRARIAN’S ROLE
Within the generally accepted responsibilities of a Teacher Librarian are the management of the “books”, but it is widely acknowledged that information is no longer limited to containment in
print form. Boyle (1998) notes that in the future, sources of information will become more fluid, dynamic and readily available.
Additionally, not only will the sources of information evolve with technology, but also the amount of data will increase. Magire, Kazlaukas and Weir (1994) estimate that the volume of information
has doubled every five years for the last 20 years, causing a fragmentation of knowledge and resulting in a multitude of specialised information professionals.
To fulfill the emerging role for librarians, Boaden (1991) emphasises the need to be:
-use technology in a better way
-undertake research and planning
-carry out special needs surveys
-take on a broader role than currently
Similarly, Teacher Librarians are advised to accept new roles and to be more interactive with other staff. In this way, they will become more valued for their information expertise and technological
know-how (ALA, 1990).
Further to developing and expanding their role within the provision on information services, Teacher Librarians must also be cognisant of their legal responsibilities external to teaching. The
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions included in their Strategic Plan 1998 - 1999 the expectation of [Teacher Librarians] to comprehend and action legalities such as
copyright, fair use and licencing models.
In addition to the issues that are external to the education system are those requirements generated by the system itself. The Finn Report identified Information Literacy as being a core
competency (Burnheirm, 1992), with Skrzeczynski (1995) identifying the Teacher Librarians’ involvement in literacy education as including areas of:
Angus (1993) identified an extensive list of roles that are undertaken by a Teacher Librarian. Each one of the eighteen items on her checklist amounted to almost a full-time position. For
example, one of the eighteen roles was that of “planning, teaching and evaluating cooperatively with teachers to ensure effective integration of information resources and technologies into
Similarly, the ALIA/ASLA Joint Statement on Teacher Librarians (1994) identified seventeen different facets of the role, with seven separate areas of responsibility.
Dillon & Henri (1998) concur that Teacher Librarians have to provide broader services and better access to information, despite less funding. Even within the traditional areas of library-only
services, collections must be constantly reviewed, evaluated, compared, upgraded and publicised.
Walsh (1997) admonishes that libraries must respond to the needs of [their] local communities, and school libraries are no exception. With the introduction of Internet facilities to schools, the
Teacher Librarian finds that as the access point for the Internet is generally located in the library, their role is extended once again, to include supervision of this facility. In schools that have been
networked to provide multiple access points, the Teacher Librarian obviously cannot provide supervision in other parts of the school, and thus is required to provide teaching-staff training in
Lacey (1998) despairs of the fact that the Department of Education and Training (DET) has not conducted an investigation of the role of Teacher Librarians nor the changing nature of school libraries. Whilst the DET has imposed mandatory accountability functions, practicing Teacher Librarians are required to perform their managerial duties often with time-constraints
imposed by their educational commitments. The roles that Lacey identifies include:
- curriculum advisor
- information professional
- resource manager, advisor and selector
- trainer for students, teachers and school assistants
- computer technology advisor and troubleshooter
- Internet trainer and supervisor
- network coordinator
- literacy consultant and advisor
Clearly, it is not possible to undertake all the above functions and perform each to an ultimate degree of success There is neither the time nor the resources for this to be accomplished.
Todd’s summation that the quality of some Teacher Librarians is questionable must lead one to assume that he does not have an appreciation for the realities of life as a Teacher Librarian. Whilst there is no doubt that Teacher Librarians of lesser competency and commitment do exist, this is the norm in any profession, trade or indeed pursuit.
The recent deplorable practice in North America of replacing school librarians with library technicians does not offer an acceptable model for change. However, some of the American
states are now investigating this issue (Chicago Tribune, 1998), with findings to date recognising the gross underestimation of the value of Teacher Librarians. Additionally, recommendations have
been made that higher degrees in librarianship should be appropriately rewarded in salary scales.
Lacey’s appeal to the Minister for Education and Training (1998) for an immediate investigation into the role of Teacher Librarians and the changing functions of the school library warrants merit
as a starting point for underpinning the debate regarding the scope of the position. As the DET has not supplied a proscribed job description, the function of the Teacher Librarian is open to
manipulation and professional abuse.
The NSW Teachers Federation (1998) notes with concern that when teaching staff were reduced by 2,000 positions statewide, Teacher Librarians had to undertake Relief from Face to Face (RFF)
duties. Little more than a childminding role, these duties are continuing despite the fact that the DET has now reinstated the previously lost teaching positions.
Much time is spent by Teacher Librarians in the performance of tasks of a clerical nature, despite the fact that most school libraries have access to an amount of clerical time. It is interesting to note that Angus (1993) recommends the appointment of two teacher librarians should the number of staff (teaching and ancillary) be above 50, and three Teacher Librarians where the staff number more than 86. Similarly, ancillary hours are recommended well above the current allocations prevalent in most schools. However, it is noted that the allocation of ancillary hours is at the
discretion of the school’s principal, whilst the appointment of a Teacher Librarian is at the behest of the DET. The formulation of mandatory guidelines by the DET would resolve this issue.
Further, should schools be permitted to have more than one Teacher Librarian, it is obvious that there needs to be an appropriate Head Teacher. Angus notes that the number of students enrolled in a school is insufficient in itself to dictate appropriate staffing for a school, and factors such as student profile and special needs must be considered.
The matter of appropriate assistance is also one of great importance. Whilst some clerical duties may be performed by ancillary staff on secondment from other duties (in line with the DET policy of “multiskilling”), the lack of suitably trained staff is an issue that must be addressed. A suitable analogy is that of the science faculty laboratory assistant, who requires specialist skills in many of the science disciplines in order to satisfactorily undertake required tasks. Should Teacher Librarians be supplied with assistants with library technical skills, many of the more routine tasks of library operation could be delegated, enabling the Teacher Librarian to engage in higher level pursuits.
ALIA delineates between the roles of Teacher Librarians and library technicians, with the Teacher Librarian being responsible for the design, management, direction and policy formulation of a library. The library technician’s role is one concerning operational and technical aspects of library function, such as the maintenance of systems which support the acquisition, organization and management of the library.
Lee (1996) comments that Teacher Librarians are the personnel best placed within the teaching ranks to support a school’s move into the information age. However, few received any technological training in regard to either OASIS Library nor SCIS Cataloguing, let alone any
instruction regarding technology tools. Whilst the DET now provides minimalist assistance in this area with their Technology in Teaching and Learning (TILT) modules delivered via the District Offices in NSW, the depth of the instruction is generally less than that of students entering Year 7.
McKenzie (1998) recommends that for professional development to be effective:
15 - 60 hours annually per teacher must be committed
10% - 25% of technology budget should be spent on staff learning
traditional staff training and development should be replaced by adult learning
the emotional dimension of the challenge of transfer must be addressed.
Similarly, ALA (1998) suggests that it is necessary to enroll in on-line workshops, attend conferences and become informed regarding developments in the sphere of library administration.
The Department of Training and Education Coordination (1997) issued documentation regarding the computer proficiency of personnel in education, and promotes the requirement to keep abreast of technology. The implications for both teaching and administration are outlined, with both spheres being applicable to Teacher Librarians by virtue of their duel roles.
Many school districts and (former) regional divisions have an affiliation of Teacher Librarians. This is an important support network serving both social and professional functions. However, it is of interest to note that the Hunter Region School Libraries Association has used their collegial bonds to develop a strategic plan developed in collaboration with Teacher Librarians across what was then four Educational Recourse Centres (ERCs). This initiative was supported by the then Director of Schools and also by the then Director, Teaching and Learning (Barry, 1995). The success of this medium is self-evident, and provides a suitable model for collaborative, supported planning for the future.
Taylor (1997) bemoans the fact that successful educational practices depend on the alignment of education with cultural and social policy, rather than economic priorities.
As the governing body of education in the state of New South Wales, the DET imposes staff formulae that determine the number of Teacher Librarians, library assistants, and budget allocations.
An intensive investigation into the role of Teacher Librarians must reveal that they are unable to adequately fulfill all the tasks that have been imposed on them unless sufficient funds are made
available to employ more Teacher Librarians, allocate a greater number of ancillary hours, make provision for appropriate training and development, raise the status of Teacher Librarians by
recognising their specialist skills by making their position an executive one, and ensure suitably qualified personnel are employed in this critical position within the education system.
In conclusion, in order that Teacher Librarians are able to maximise the educational opportunities for members of the school community, it is necessary to increase library budgets in order that:
- schools have adequate numbers of personnel to allow access to appropriate information
- library personnel are appropriately qualified
- the professional attributes of Teacher Librarians are acknowledged
- professional development is on-going, appropriate and substantial.
Further, the DET should investigate the role of Teacher Librarians, and provide an appropriate
statement of duties for this position.
Without these changes, school libraries risk becoming what McKenzie (1996) refers to as
“information ATMs” where knowledge is to be withdrawn in the same manner that money can be
accessed from banks. Whilst in some circumstances this may be sufficient, school libraries are charged with the responsibility of not only providing access to information, but also with the
didactic challenge of providing instruction on the use, evaluation, and methods of obtaining that information.
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To cite this page for referencing purposes, quote:
Credaro, A.(1998). The role of the teacher librarian: A discussion paper. . Online.
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Updated April 22, 2001. Reformatted and moved to this site December 28, 2006.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Amanda Credaro © 2006.