SCHOOL LIBRARIES: BRIDGES
Paper delivered at IFLA Conference, Tokyo 1986
Are school libraries today bridges or barriers? Are they services
or places? How we define the role of the professional who shapes
the school library determines whether the school library is
a bridge or a barrier to a better information future.
Recent IFLA research makes the point that we have little room
for complacency and suggests that some of our "recurrent problems"
may reflect our failure to define the role of the professional
in the school library. I quote:
There was disagreement about the fundamentals of 'Who is the
school librarian?' School libraries have different meanings
in different countries; school librarians serve different purposes
in different areas and the Standing Committee had to face the
question 'How could we help the future development of this profession
and rid it of some of the recurrent and fastidious problems?'...
We offer these guidelines in the hope that we can help to produce
a professional definition for the school librarian, a profession
whose position and role is considered to be extremely important,
almost crucial, in today's education but often neglected in
practice. We find that all over the world school librarians
are losing their jobs. We find schools 'making investments in
books but there is low priority in manpower. One of the reasons
for this is that the school librarian does not have a clear
definition of what he should be doing and how, and perhaps most
of all, why he should be doing it (1)
Other recent comments reflect the same ambivalence. Canada's
Ken Haycock asks:
In times such as these, what are the means by which the profession
of teacher-librarianship can be strengthened and even enhanced.
The term teacher-librarian is used purposely here, for the signs
are clear that there is relatively little danger to the continued
existence of school libraries; the issue today is the continued
existence of school librarians.
We have been successful in building facilities and collecting
and organising materials, but we have been less successful in
developing an awareness and understanding of the role of the
school librarian as a professional teacher, as an equal partner
in the educational enterprise, and in developing strong support
for that position.
He sees the first barrier as the term 'School Librarian' itself:
To develop the necessary programs to implement this stated
aim requires a strong and close partnership with colleagues.
Thus, we would do well to establish common bonds and eliminate
unnecessary barriers. Let's start by eliminating unnecessary
library jargon from our vocabulary. I, personally, feel that
it may have been a mistake to have used the term "school library"
and "school librarian."
The school resource centre serves quite a different function
from other types of libraries, because of an emphasis on teaching
young people to process and use information. Even the subtle
move to the term "teacher-librarian" designates the school librarian
more clearly as a teacher and member of the teaching staff.
Most school librarians are not professional librarians at all;
we are teachers, professional teachers, and should be proud
of it (2).
On the other side of the globe, Glen Pullen, puts this teaching
emphasis in the Tasmanian context just as strongly:
The first constant is that, whatever our tasks, however complex
our responsibilities whatever broad emphasis we or others have
placed on our work, we have always stressed our role as teacher
Though some nave failed to see beyond our resource management
functions and have caricatured us as obsessive cataloguers or
indolent book-stampers, we have in fact been teachers of Learning
and teachers of Literature (3).
Meanwhile in Britain the Assistant-Librarian attacked the definition
of the School Librarian as "a teacher whose subject is learning
itself" in the Library and Information Services Council
(LISC) report School Libraries: The foundations of the curriculum
as their "latest effusion" (4). The LISC Report (5) clearly
advocates dual qualifications for the school library professional,
In the L.A. report to the Transbinary Group the need for highly
trained professionals in an age of complex information was highlighted.
The L.A. made clear its position on school librarians. Opportunities
should be provided to enable the long term objective of dual
qualifications for school librarians to be feasible. The report
also called for greater efforts in marketing the skills of librarians
and a creative partnership between those who teach librarianship
and those who practise it (6).
Nevertheless, there is still ambivalence in the ranks of British
librarians. The following letter exemplifies this curious insistence
that, despite the acknowledgement of the central curriculum
role, a teaching qualification is not necessary, just some teaching
The librarian in school has a central curriculum role and a
responsibility towards information and learning skills. While
a teaching qualification is not necessary to fulfil this role,
a thorough understanding of education and some teaching ability
clearly is (7).
While it is a debatable point whether there is any way to acquire
a thorough understanding of education' except by teaching, one
is also tempted to remind librarians of their reaction to the
early information scientists' claim that they did not need a
thorough knowledge of librarianship, only some ability to organise
After the incisive definition of the school librarian as "a
teacher whose subject is learning itself," which is probably
the most succinct and appropriate comment on record in 1985,
the 'LISC report' then adopts a compromising stance by suggesting
that if dual qualifications cannot be achieved, the SECOND choice
is to give the posts to chartered librarians.
Some would call this a compromise. It is even more ironic when
the whole purpose of the library is recognised as central to
the curriculum issues:
Unless there is a curriculum need there is no point in considering
resources or organisation. We believe that the educational system
needs to focus on the central curriculum issues and that these
will demonstrate the need for libraries. Then, but only then,
can criteria for resourcing and models for staffing and organisation
be developed with conviction (8).
To sum up, Sigrun Hannesdottir in the first quote referred
to "some of the recurrent and fastidious problems" of school
librarianship. My research into school librarianship over the
last five years suggests to me that this lack of a clear definition
of the role of the professional in the school library is the
most insidious of the recurrent problems.
It is interesting to contrast Ken Haycock's statement that
"the school resource centre serves quite a different function
from other types of libraries because of an emphasis on teaching
young people to process and use information" (9) with a recent
comment by a New Zealand librarian:
Librarians are trained to run libraries, be they public, university
or special, big or small, adults' or children's. Why is it that
I can run a law library, a government apartment library, a trade
union library or a parliamentary library without special additional
training but I would apparently be a menace to the unformed
mind in a school library? (10).
My contention is that this sort of confusion reflects a view
of the school library as a room, a suite of rooms, an organised
collection of books or resources to be run, rather than an integral
part of the school's educational programmes, serving, as Haycock
suggests, a different function from other libraries.
Changing the focus from which we define the role of the information
professional in the school from the management of the school
library to the provision of information-based learning support
services to the school population has implications for how we
educate professionals, teachers and librarians, for this role.
Haycock again sums up the crucial link of clear role definition
to quality of professional education:
The overriding issue in school librarianship is to ensure that
the role of the teacher-librarian is both understood and supported
by not only teacher-librarians but teachers, administrators
and decision-makers. This necessitates a clearly defined and
well-respected program for education for school librarianship
in the country. Such is not the case at the present time (11).
I believe that the school library is a service, not a place,
and if it is to be a bridge, not a barrier, to a better information
future the education of the professional staffing must emphasise
this educational function of the library as a service in the
When I was given the task in January this year, of developing
New Zealand's first specialist course in teacher-librarianship,
it was the most exciting opportunity to put this philosophy
into practice, i.e. that the role of the teacher-librarian is
primarily a teaching one, the school library constituting an
education and information service provided by a highly skilled
and experienced teacher with specialist training in those areas
of librarianship relative to their school-based role.
Briefly, 2O schools (10 primary, 10 secondary) were selected
to have the newly appointed full-time teacher librarians. Teachers
were invited to apply for these senior positions in schools
all over New Zealand, urban and rural. The completion of the
course was a condition of their appointment. During 1986 they
have been seconded on full salary to do the course.
For three months of the year, March, June and November they
attend block courses at Wellington Teachers College- the course
I am developing. For the remainder of the year they are back
in their home schools doing course-related work. Some of this
work is school-based. Some is designed to get the teachers to
explore local sources of information - libraries, institutions
and people. In 1987 they will be back in their schools as full-time
The course is structured to reflect the fact that the teacher-librarian's
position will be a senior educational one in the school with
the brief for across-school resource development and use. This
presupposes that the management of the school library and buying
resources is included in the role, but the emphasis, in fact,
is firmly on looking at curriculum and syllabus: how the resources
provided in the school, and the way students are taught (by
the classroom teacher and the TL) to use these resources, support
the kind of student learning implicit in the curriculum and
Everything is looked at from the point of view of learning
and the learner.
• Do the resources, the systems, the curriculum-based integrated
information skill teaching, support the learner's needs and
• Can the TL work alongside the classroom teacher in much the
same way as the Reading Resource teacher to ensure that the
"information across the curriculum" concept reinforces the right
of every teacher to be a teacher of information in the same
way that every teacher is a teacher of reading and language?
• Can we emphasise information handling skills and de-emphasise
so-called library skills taught as a programme quite apart from
• Can we help students to see the school library as only one
source of information; that other libraries, people, the media,
stories, organisations, government departments, even the humble
phone book are all sources of information complementary to what
the school library offers?
• Can we help them to understand that familiarity with, and
confidence in using this information networK, is what will empower
them as adults to move flexibly in the society they are inheriting
• Can we encourage them to see computers, not as toys, but
as information storage and retrieval tools; one of a range of
information technologies like teletext, videotex, interactive
videodiscs, facsimile transfer, retrieval from 'home-made' or
overseas databases, bibliographic databases like NZBN, ABN,
WLN, OCLC or BLAISE?
• Can we show teachers as well as students that all these technologies
are not science fiction of the future, but the tools used for
teaching and learning, NOW?
• Can we educate successful experienced professionals to assume
this specialist role for spearheading information developments
in our schools? Can a librarian with no teaching qualifications
or experience assume this developmental educational role?
My answer is that the educational horse must be placed firmly
in front of the library-as-room cart. Professional librarians
will be needed and valued in schools when, and only when, skilled,
experienced teachers who are specialists in information and
information skills, work alongside classroom teachers to ensure
that 'information across the curriculum' is a concept translated
into students who are independent, motivated learners and information
Ann Irving states the case convincingly in the introduction
to her book:
Making a case for developing study and information skills across
the curriculum seems at once easy and difficult. It is easy
because of the obvious connections between information technology,
the information society, and the education of young people.
It is difficult because this innovation cannot await the usual
ten or twenty years of thought and discussion before it is introduced
into the curriculum, The information society has arrived quickly,
and preparing young people for.it must be done quickly - we
need tomorrow's education today. The teacher's task is enormous,
for unlike previous social changes, the impact of an information
society is pervasive...
The case for highlighting information and study skills in the
school curriculum has a long history, but can be argued more
cogently within the framework of social change already outlined.
For a variety of reasons, people in the information society
will need to handle information either as senders or recipients.
If engaged in the creation of information people need to acquire,
analyse, select, reject, package and communicate it. If engaged
in the receiving of information, people need to acquire, analyse,
select, reject, and use it. Everyone, at some time or other,
will be engaged In both activities.
Education currently consists of information-related activities
- for what is education if it is not about the transmission
of information between teacher and learner, in both directions,
In order to gain knowledge, skills and attitudes? Why this book
seems necessary is because knowledge has been seen as more important
than skills and attitudes, and obscured the fundamental issue
of the skills needed to acquire it.
The case presented is for developing the cognitive and manual
skills needed to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes
deemed necessary by educators. There is no call for 'new' subjects
to be introduced, nor is there a demand for 'new' skills. Rather,
the request is for new thinking and new strategies for teaching
and learning, all of which can be incorporated into the existing
teaching of all teachers; for shift rather than a change with
any activity preceded by sound thought on personal and educational
aims and objectives. Without this, the activity might sadly
become mechanistic - sadly because pupils deserve to be treated
as human beings, not educational operatives (12).
If we ask why."all over the world school librarians are losing
their jobs" (13) we are forced to consider the possibility that
there has been-too much emphasis on the library as a place;
too much emphasis on the professional as a librarian, and too
little emphasis on the library as an educational service with
the professional as an educator specialising in the field of
The need today is for the learning resource teacher to be a
highly skilled teacher, able to function on the school team
as a professional with competencies from teacher education and
classroom experience as well as competencies from school librarianship
and media services. The library has moved from being a subject
and merely a place to a service and a concept, a learning resource
centre for teachers and students.
Expectations for learning resource teachers are very high.
It is expected that a learning resource teacher will be in the
forefront of curriculum and professional development services,
will be familiar with the full range of instructional strategies
and learning styles, will be able to organise time, personnel
and materials to maximise utilisation of each and will be active
in professional concerns within the school and the district
School libraries cannot be discussed in isolation from the
society of which they are a part, the information society. The
British Library Association's 'Futures Report' claims that "technological
developments, together with social and cultural changes have
affected patterns of demand for information."
The complexities of everyday life and of the industrial and
commercial environment and their implications for education
have stimulated a rapid growth in information and advisory services,
many of which are established outside traditional library institutions.
Library and information work is moving away from its traditional
base and the range of skills required to provide services is
greater than ever before.
Librarians cannot operate in isolation; they must work closely
with a wider community of information personnel (15).
The 'LISC report' (16) states:
We are convinced that school libraries and school library services
have a vital role to play in the process of teaching children
to learn. We are disturbed by evidence that this role is not
recognised everywhere and by evidence of both underuse and lack
of library resources in schools. We believe that the nation
will pay a heavy penalty for many years to come if it continues
to neglect the self-evident contribution which school libraries
could make in producing citizens who are self reliant, well
adjusted and, above all, able to make use of information.
Put this way, it is clear to see that there is no country anywhere
in the world which can afford to do without school libraries
if they are given recognition, and staffing, reflecting their
central educational role. If they are seen as organised collections
of resources managed by a professional manager of resources
- clearly this is the view of many New Zealand librarians at
the moment who are incensed that it is senior teachers who have
been given the opportunity to do the course - and given the
evidence that all over the world school librarians are losing
their jobs, we are forced to ask the most elementary question
of all: "Why is it exactly that we need professionally staffed
libraries in schools"
My answer takes the form of the work twenty seconded senior,
successful, experienced, articulate, intelligent and committed
teachers are tackling with me this year. What is being challenged
is not their ability to organise and retrieve information. It
is their ability to work alongside every teacher in their home
schools to ensure that every teacher, is a catalyst whereby
every student becomes independent and confident in using information.
New Zealand has been a rich country. It is no longer so. The
wealth of a country, as Australia's Barry Jones and Britain's
Tom Stonier have pointed out, can no longer be measured in terms
of natural resources like trees and sheep. Our beautiful, isolated,
economically poor little island MUST turn its mind to producing
citizens whose heritage will be the skills and strategies to
use information effectively.
Information, as the above mentioned writers have argued so
convincingly, is the new international currency of power. New
Zealand as the "Pavlova Paradise" is a myth. We are a country
with a past that reaches back far beyond white settlers into
a people who had the information about how they could live in
this violent beautiful volcanic land buried deep in their cultural
tradition and heritage of story. But what are we doing now?
Trying to recall a forgotten past or encouraging New Zealanders
to use the information around them - in print, in their stories,
in their own multicultural richness - to shape a future in the
information world today.
My view of the role of the school library is certainly alienating
me from many of my New Zealand library colleagues who are firmly
wedded to the concept of school library management and user
education as a euphemism for library lessons. Twenty is a small
number to pioneer a different information future for our children.
If New Zealand librarians, - my colleagues, nave their way,
there will only ever be twenty.
Where is your view leading you - to see the school library
as a bridge to a better information future, or as a barrier
- information rich and information poor
1. HANNESDOTTIR, Sigrun Klara, 'The school librarian.in an
information society: an outline of competency requirements.'
In The school librarian in an information society: proceedings
of the seminar held by the School Libraries Section during the
IFLA general conference, Nairobi, 1984, edited by Ann Irving.
Loughborough : IFLA, Section on School Libraries, 1985
2. HAYCOCK, Ken : 'Teacher-Librarians - continuing to build.'
Canadian Library Journal 42(1) February 1985 pp. 27-33.
3. PULLEN, Glen C. 'Role... out the barrel: the modern teacher-librarian'
Ed. Lib : newsletter of the Library Services Branch Education
Department of Tasmania 12(1) June 1985 pp. 2-3.
4. Editorial Assistant Librarian January 1985 p.l.
5. School Libraries : the foundations of the curriculum. Report
of the Library and Information Services Council Working Party
on School Library Services. London : HMSO, 1984 [LISC Report]
6. SLG News No.12 Autumn 1985 p.3.
7. Letter from Anne Jones, Senior Librarian, Crofton School
in Library Association Record 88(1) January 1986 p.13.
8. LISC Report' op cit 6.6
9. HAYCOCK, Ken. op cit
10. Editorial Library Life No. 91 April 7, 1986 p.6
11. HAYCOCK, Ken 'Ten issues in school librarianship' . In
Kids and Libraries :selections from Emergency Librarian. Vancouver:
Dyad Services, 1984 p.37
12. IRVING, Ann Study and information skills across the curriculum.
London : Heinemann Educational.
3. HANNESDOTTIR, Sigrun Klara. op. cit.
14. HAYCOCK, Ken 'What is a school librarian? : Towards defining
professionalism' in Kids and Libraries : selection from Emergency
Librarian Vancouver : Dyad Services, 1984 pp 18-22
15. The Library Association Futures Working Party Futures :
the final report of the Futures Working Party. [October 1985]
London : The Library Association, 1985 p.2.
16. 'LISC Report' op. cit.