Saturday, April 26, 2014

We Need Teacher-Librarians Now More Than Ever

Every year for the last many in our school district and many others across our province, librarians have been on the list of “fat to be trimmed” at budget times. Perhaps it’s because the idea of libraries and librarians is connected to the past, to hushed spaces and painstaking research copied out of aging encyclopaedias.  They no longer fit in the 21st century. We have technology now. Research? Students can Google it! Books? They can download them. And the books we still have in libraries? Check them out electronically! Indeed, our district proposes streamlining the business of libraries to a half-time district librarian to order books and organize digital resources, the purchase of a new library system to allow students more flexible electronic access to all our libraries and a library clerk to open the doors, oversee students and re-shelve the books. Who needs librarians?

We do.  More than ever.

You would think that we've had enough time to learn that technology in and of itself changes nothing. You need people to think of ways to use the technology in meaningful ways, to apply their deep understanding of pedagogy and curriculum to technological possibilities. Developing a collection of digital resources, for example, is as complex as curating a physical collection. Finding relevant, stable and accurate resources, keeping them constantly up-dated and organizing them to meaningfully support curriculum and classroom teachers in a way that is easy and consistent is not a task that can be done by an assistant. It can’t even be done by district personnel. Each school, each teacher, develops unique curricular perspectives based on their students need, their own expertise and passion, and what's already available in the school. Gathering resources to meet the individual needs of teachers and students in classrooms – and oh, how important this is! – is the work of teacher-librarians. Now, with the diversity in our classroom demanding a range of resources on every topic (in shifting proportions every year), with yet another change of curriculum looming in BC, with cuts to district resource centres and classroom budgets, we need teacher-librarians. More than ever.

And because of technology, we need them to support student research more than ever. In schools with ready access to the technology, we are moving toward personalized, passion-led student inquiries, student choice and big ungoogleable questions rather than “find and record” research. We are moving from the inevitable essay to videos, websites, and digital presentations through a variety of ever-changing tools from Prezi to Voicethread. How can a teacher alone support this transition? How can they ensure students have the skills and strategies necessary? Yes, technology has changed the game in libraries, but not so we can eliminate them; we need them now more than ever. Their lessons on citing resources have morphed from correct punctuation to discussions of creative commons, how to acknowledge video clips and what music you can use for your presentation and where to find it.  They have had to be on the front line of learning about technology tools, about digital safety and cyber etiquette, about credible sources and how to help students find relevant information – the needle in the proverbial haystack of cyberspace. In our current budget proposal, library skills would now be the responsibility of the enrolling teacher. Of course. I’m just curious to know when and how they are going to learn all of these new things along with continually updating materials and pedagogy in their own subject areas. Because one thing is certain: kids need to learn these skills now more than ever. Just handing students laptops and telling them to “do research” is like giving a ten-year old the keys to a car to pick up milk at the supermarket. We definitely still need teacher-librarians. More than ever.

But it is perhaps the traditional role of the teacher-librarian that is most important now more than ever: putting the right book in the right hands at the right moment. The just-right resource (today we include, of course, a vast variety of carefully chosen digital artifacts as well, which expands the role of the teacher-librarian rather than shrinking it) can make a profound difference, moving a student inquiry from frustration and disengagement to excitement and passion, connecting students to a complex topic, inspiring new thinking and – this might seem like hyperbole, but I've seen it with my own eyes – changing lives. I have watched teacher-librarians coax even the most reluctant reader, showing him first one book, then another, watching carefully for his eyes to light up and then pouncing, stacking similar books until a match is made. I have watched them go to the bookstore in the evening to buy the next book in a series if they've caught the imagination of a reluctant reader. “Look what I've got,” I hear them say to these students who, over the course of a year or two or three, with the teacher-librarian setting the bait, become hooked at last on reading. And reading, we all know this, changes lives. But this work can’t be done by an assistant or district personnel or a new electronic library system. This is the intimate, personal (personalized) work of teacher-librarians, quiet behind-the-scenes life-changing work. And it’s more important than ever as the attention of children is seduced by the many, many choices that technology offers.

I heard someone say, and I can’t remember who now, that librarians are stewards of important things. It seems ominous that we are proposing their elimination. In this rapidly changing world where new things flash and fade continuously and abundance threatens to bury us in trivia, we need teacher-librarians. More than ever.

1 comment:

  1. Shelley,

    Thank you so much for your extremely articulate and "on point" plea for SD 68 Teacher Librarians. You are always such a thoughtful advocate for the "important things" in education.

    My sincerest appreciate to you!