you can design your own teacher-librarianship landscape.
But if you then make a conscious mental leap and force yourself
to see the shape of the sky with the shape of the trees cut
out of it, you are in a better position to look at the missing
links. By foregrounding some things, it is inevitable that other
things get backgrounded.
Obviously the things we foreground are the essence, the backbone,
of our profession. However, by concentrating for a while on
the background, the foreground looks different when you look
at it again.
University lecturers have always had the benefit of this by
virtue of sabbatical leave. This is no substitute, but I hope
it will encourage you to look, not so much at what we do, but
at how we do it, so that we can free up our professional thinking
and energise ourselves by thinking up different and innovative
ways of doing what we do.
By telling three true (non-fiction!) stories. I hope to cut
right through many of the assumptions that underlie these terms,
and suggest that there are three missing links - imagination,
motivation and self-esteem - which background, and
potentially link, many of the things we do.
By foregrounding them I suggest three areas that look different
and could be different. This does not mean that I think
what we do is wrong. Far from it. I think that teacher-librarianship
has come of age. We have outgrown our adolescent angst and we
now have the professional maturity to look at what we do from
the outside in, from the background to the foreground.
[OHT with tree graphic followed by three stories
1. The true story of Margaret Mahy and the black tip hanging
fly (reproduced here)
2. The true story of Gwen, UK trained, chartered librarian,
(+MA in library studies) trying to find books in a public library.
3. Gary Paulsen's account of how, as a kid from a tough background,
he fell in love with reading through being given Zane Grey
by a librarian.
[Stories 2 and 3 are not reproduced here].
This dates back to 1983 and the South Pacific Reading Association
Conference held in Auckland. The organisers had the inspired
idea that, as the culmination of the social events, different
authors would be invited to dinners at different venues to give
after dinner talks on their lives and loves as readers.
Margaret Mahy was asked to join the group on the ferry, the
Kestrel. on the Auckland harbour. It was an excellent meal,
a balmy evening and we all awaited Margaret's usual brilliant
and bizarre fare with enthusiasm. Then, out from the bowels
of the boat waddled this dirty great penguin! Flippers made
leaping onto a bench and holding lecture notes tricky, but undaunted,
the penguin kept us spellbound for one and a half hours talking
about her discovery of reading in the back yard dunny, and in
particular the contribution made by handy copies of Scientific
American. Its wealth of incredible true stories fuelled
her imagination, her love of learning, her respect for the incongruous
and the bizarre.
Allowing for the ravages of my middle aged memory, I will repeat
her story of the sex life of the Black Tip Hanging Fly (apologies
to Scientific American).
The BTHF had an extraordinarily demanding courting ritual.
The female could, apparently, only be stimulated after a long
exhausting and amazing display of athletic prowess on the part
of the male. When he was sufficiently exhausted and she sufficiently
titillated, all would be well. Unfortunately, in fly society
no less than human, there are always the unscrupulous who prey
on the hard work of others.
There were BTHF equivalents of pirate gangs lurking in the
bushes, and frequently, when the poor male was so exhausted
by his courting dance as so be totally incapable of defending
himself, he'd be pounced on and mugged by the villains who would
carry on where he'd left off. The cruelest irony was that the
female BTHF by this stage was so advanced in ecstasy that she
couldn't recognise the impostor for what he was!
There are many human society parallels for that animal kingdom
version of Dallas but the point Margaret made, and the point
I want to stress here was simply how wonderful learning is.
It isn't just that truth is stranger than fiction, but that
reading for Margaret triggered her imagination and a lifelong
fascination with learning and the amazing reality of our world.
STORY 2 - using the public library
STORY 3 - Gary Paulsen
To me these stories say a lot about reading and learning. Above
all, it says that reading and learning are intensely personal
- intimately connected with ones image of self and self worth,
ones self-esteem. It shows so clearly what Paulo Freire talks
about when he discusses 'naming' - the 'recognition', the changing
of one's world through the 'generative power of language'.
Margaret Mahy and Gary Paulsen were both clear about reading
being more, much more than fun. It was about learning, about
developing a self-concept as a person who read and learnt simultaneously,
Margaret reading Scientific American and Gary reading Zane Grey
and talking about escaping into a world of knowledge,
being given his 'brain'.
Returning to the Margaret Mahy story ... Here we have a problem
reader; a child who would only read non-fiction. She needs Reader
Guidance or she will not develop the Reading Habit. We'll provide
book displays, book talks and book lists. Maybe she'll succumb
to Judy Blume rather than Trixie Belden? But she really needs
the first Library Lesson - the one that tells you that non-fiction
is true stories and fiction is made up, imaginary stories! HA!
Margaret was an exceptional child? Of course she was. She was
able to do for herself what I think all Teacher-Librarians can
and should do for the many children who will not do it
for themselves. That is to try to convince all children of the
wonder, the fascination, the power and enjoyment of learning.
We need to work through and with all teachers to convince students
of all ages of the need to feed their imaginations. There
is a vast difference between children now and when we were young.
We were starved for story and needed no persuasion to read and
listen. Children now are much more sophisticated and satiated
with story - up to their eyeballs - as the TV/video passive
receivers of highly visual high-paced plot-type what-happened-next
story. Trying to persuade them that printed story is the same
'fun' is not only dishonest but unproductive. It is simply not
The difference is in the power of word-based story to trigger
the imagination. This is what Paulo Freire calls the 'generative
power of language' - his conviction that 'naming the world'
becomes a model for changing the world. It is 'the power of
envisagement' - being able to imagine what it would be like,
what it would feel like, what would happen if the BTHF had been
to karate class!
This is our future hope for a world of caring and questioning
people. Paul Jennings said: "Imagination is the food of compassion.
We should fear those who lack it."
My contention is that the Teacher-Librarian is in a uniquely
powerful position to make this shift to a model of READING AND
LEARNING TO EDUCATE THE IMAGINATION.
This is not suggesting for one minute that we should abandon
any of the activities listed above. But it is suggesting that
we examine our own underlying professional assumptions about
them as I have done here with a re-examination of the 'simple'
concept of non-fiction.
Here is one example of how shifting from a model of Reading
is fun' to a model of Reading educates the imagination' can
alter how you approach reading promotion.
If I want students to feed their imagination, I need to have
a mental picture of what I want. I see it as a hotline between
head and heart. I look for ways of showing students, getting
them to see for themselves, that reading written story Is a
lot more work than watching TV, but it sets up that heart to
head link for which there are few substitutes.
Hence Reading Alive! This book is the most serious thing
I've ever written. I hope it proves the point that serious does
not necessarily mean boring and not fun. It is based on my personal
commitment to seeing 'educating the Imagination' as the driving
force behind reading promotion.
We simply have to show and tell students what we know - that
learning is tough. that finding information. even with a computer
as intermediary, is still a time-consuming human process. What
you need is motivation and persistence.
Many non-librarians think that automated cataloguing means
that the computer does the cataloguing. Likewise, many students
seem to show the instant-gratiflcation-or-it-is-boring- so -give
-it-up mode. I also suspect that at many students. when they
don't find reading 'fun' and learning quick and easy think that
they are dumb. that the fault is theirs - and hide it with bravado
by declaring the whole thing to be BORING!
So, how do we model this conviction that learning and finding
information is tough and frustrating, but also fascinating and
One way is taking a cold hard look at our libraries. In our
wave of enthusiasm for IT, RBL and CPPT is it possible that
we might have lost sight of the fact that the way we lay out
and signpost our libraries, systems and technologies can be
an incredibly powerful hidden motivating or de-motivating force?
Let's throw out patronising and pompous terms like Library
Orientation and User Education. The assumption behind both is
that they are something we do to clients. The trouble with corporate
planning, economies of scale and accountability is that it tempts
us to think in terms of generic categories like USERS and BORROWERS
Behind Gary Paulsen's story was an individual. His view of
reading and learning was inextricably bound up with Gary the
child, Gary the person. It was personal, related to his self,
What the librarian did for Gary was to accept him for what he
was, opening doors into a world of knowledge by engaging his
She didn't classify him as a 'Reluctant Reader'. She didn't
look at him and say "Poor boy, parents alcoholics; it follows
he'll want to read a problem novel about a boy whose parents
were alcoholic." She didn't hand him a list called 'growing
pains'. She gave him the stuff of Scientific American - a wonderful
escape into the world of imagination, intrigue, adventure, heroes
and villains, good and evil. She didn't try to educate him as
a user. She gave him access to knowledge through his imagination,
and, as he says, she gave him his world.
To build self-esteem as a reader and learner, you have to be
in control. You have to learn to do it yourself. It can't be
done to you. One of the assumptions that I suspect we make is
that CPPT motivates students.
It may do, but by virtue of the name, the focus, quite rightly,
is on working with teachers to help teachers to plan to make
better use of resources in their teaching. This is very necessary,
but does it give students the independence and control
they need to develop a self-concept of powerful, motivated,
tough but rewarding learning?