5 Reasons we need Teacher Librarians and School Libraries in 2022

Headlines that speak of the horrors of war, of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and our struggles to reduce climate change make it clear that students must be educated to be globally aware, creative critical thinkers, able to meet complex challenges and adapt to new situations (Celume & Maoulida, 2022; Cimatti, 2016; Trilling & Fadel, 2009). The recently published UNESCO report from the International Commission on the Futures of Education highlights the need for “a new social contract…grounded in human rights and based on principles of non-discrimination, social justice, respect for life, human dignity and cultural diversity” (International Commission on the Futures of Education, 2021, p. 3).

While the UNESCO report makes high level recommendations concerning how education might be redesigned to embrace cooperation, collaboration and global solidarity (Beech, 2021), there are practical steps every school can take to enhance the quality of contemporary global education, and they revolve around the provision of a well-resourced school library, and a qualified teacher librarian (TL).

Global citizenship education aims to develop important contemporary skills (sometimes known as 21st century skills) including curiosity, critical thinking, ethics, collaboration and effective communication (Celume & Maoulida, 2022). In this blog post, I will consider five key reasons that highlight the value qualified library staff and a well resourced and designed school library can add to this extremely important aspect of education in 2022.

Reason 1: Global citizens have well developed general capabilities

In the Australian Curriculum, we have 7 General Capabilities, which are described as knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions needed to equip students to live and work successfully in the 21st century (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], n.d.). When we compare the General Capabilities Framework with the construct of Global Competence (OECD & PISA, 2018) it is easy to see an overlap. Both are future focused, and aim to build students’ skills, behaviours and attitudes in areas that include intercultural and ethical understanding, critical and creative thinking and personal and social capability.

The general capabilities have wide acceptance but teaching and assessing such complex and developmental concepts is incredibly challenging (Gilbert, 2019). TLs, with their unique qualifications in both education and information management, are perfectly situated to support teachers in the development of curricula that provide the opportunities students need to develop the skills that underpin the general capabilities (Kelly, 2019; La Marca, 2013). As educators who are not directly responsible for a specific subject area, and who work with students at every stage in their learning journey, TLs can support teachers and students as these capabilities are integrated across subjects and over time. The developmental nature of the general capabilities is therefore perfectly suited to the way in which TLs may continue to build students skills over years, assessing informally and providing feedback to the relevant teacher at various points in the learning.

Reason 2: Global citizens are inquiry learners

Related to the first, one of the most appropriate pedagogical approaches to developing students’ general capabilities/global competence is inquiry learning. This is a pedagogical approach that is central to the work of the TL (Lupton, 2015). Inquiry learning enables students to be scaffolded as they move through the information search process, seeking to formulate a well reasoned and supported response to their inquiry question. Rigorous research through the inquiry process requires students to develop many of the skills identified as underpinning the general capabilities, including (but not limited to!) creativity, critical thinking, reflective thinking, organisational skills, collaboration, communication skills, presentation skills, accessing and locating information, analysing and evaluating information, independent learning and self discipline (McIlvenny, 2019).

Inquiry learning is based upon a question which is ‘fertile’ rich and complex enough to stimulate interest and to sustain inquiry. Developing global competence requires students to respond to complex and challenging questions generated by global issues, intercultural experiences and environments. Advanced inquiry skills will enable these students to continue to grow as global citizens through and beyond their school years.

Reason 3: Global citizens are information fluent/literate

The information ecosystem that we all live in is growing in its influence upon every aspect of our lives. To be an active and informed member of our democracy, and to have the capacity to take action for a sustainable future, students must be able to engage critically with information (Zhilavskaya, 2017). As global citizens, our students must be more than just information literate; they must be information fluent (Wall, 2019); able to apply critical analysis and evaluation of information not just when completing research, but whenever they are engaging with information as it is pushed through to us via a growing array of channels.

We live in a world where rather than users evaluating the information they have found, now platforms evaluate users to determine what information they should receive (Bull et al., 2021 para. 7). Therefore, every student (and teacher) must have access to someone specifically qualified to understand and teach information fluency/literacy – the TL. Whether they are providing professional learning for teachers, co-planning curricula that embeds information fluency/literacy or creating resources to build students capabilities, a qualified TL is essential in every school, and more so if the school aims to develop students who can take an informed and active part in our highly interconnected global society.

Reason 4: Global citizens are informed and have access to current, high quality information

We cannot ask our students to be informed, self aware and open learners without providing access to information that is up to date and of high quality. Contrary to what many think, not everything is available on the internet. In fact, almost all research is (unfortunately) locked behind journal paywalls (Ito, 2019). Many news articles are likewise inaccessible and even if it is freely available, high quality material is not always the top hit on Google, thanks to algorithmic manipulation and search engine optimisation (Gao, 2020). A qualified TL will not only be able to identify and maintain the most appropriate databases but will develop a resource collection that aligns specifically with the school community’s profile and social and educational requirements. They will also teach students (and teachers!) the skills needed to access these resources effectively.

Reason 5: Global citizens need a safe space to research and discuss provocative issues

School libraries can represent a safe space for students, offering an informal learning environment that is not ‘owned’ by any particular group within the school (Merga, 2020). Libraries promote the free flow of balanced and unbiased information through their collections, and the code of ethics that guides the work of the library emphasises the importance and value of respect for confidentiality (Garcia-Febo et al., 2012). In other words, libraries and the people who work in them provide access to information without judgement and create a space where learning of even the most provocative or controversial issues can happen safely. Students who are building their global knowledge and intercultural understandings will need to engage with and work through the challenging and complex issues of our time, and a school library can provide a place where this type of exploration and debate might happen. Neither the home nor the classroom, the library can provide a third space for students, where they are free to develop their own opinions and viewpoints, based upon their learning in the classroom and other resources (Korodaj, 2019).

Global citizens need school libraries and qualified library staff!

Although the geography remains the same, our world is becoming seemingly smaller, as our connections with others through technology, our enhanced mobility (subject to pandemic) and our complex societies enable and encourage global relations like never before in our history. Schools know that they must work to develop students who are global citizens, and the TL and school library are powerful resources that can contribute to this important goal. While it may seem as though Google has the academics covered, and library management systems can do most of the organisational tasks of the library itself, a qualified TL offers so much more; this brief list does not scratch the surface of what else a TL can contribute to a school community.

References

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA]. (n.d.). General Capabilities (Version 8.4). https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/general-capabilities/

Beech, J. (2021). Can learning shape the future of humanity and the planet? Lens. https://lens.monash.edu/@jason-beech/2021/11/25/1384132/can-learning-shape-the-future-of-humanity-and-the-planet

Bull, A., MacMillan, M., & Head, A. J. (2021). Dismantling the evaluation framework. In the library with a lead pipe. https://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2021/dismantling-evaluation/

Celume, M.-P., & Maoulida, H. (2022). Developing 21st century competencies among youth through an online learning program: BE a global citizen. Education Sciences, 12(3), 148. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12030148

Cimatti, B. (2016). Definition, development, assessment of soft skills and their role for the quality of organizations and enterprises. International Journal for Quality Research, 10(1), 97-130. https://doi.org/10.18421/IJQR10.01-05

Gao, R. (2020). Toward creating a fairer ranking in search engines. Information Processing and Management, 57(1), 102138. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ipm.2019.102138

Garcia-Febo, L., Hustad, A., Rösch, H., Sturges, P., & Vallotton, A. (2012). IFLA Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. https://www.ifla.org/publications/ifla-code-of-ethics-for-librarians-and-other-information-workers–short-version-/

Gilbert, R. (2019). General capabilities in the Australian curriculum : Promise, problems and prospects. Curriculum Perspectives, 39(2), 169-177. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41297-019-00079-z

International Commission on the Futures of Education. (2021). Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Ito, J. (2019). The quest to topple science-stymying academic paywalls. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/ideas-joi-ito-academic-paywalls/

Kelly, D. (2019). General capabilities: A teacher-librarian perspective. Synergy, 17(2). https://www.slav.vic.edu.au/index.php/Synergy/article/view/V172195

Korodaj, L. (2019). The library as ‘third space’ in your school: Supporting academic and emotional wellbeing in the school community. Scan, 38(10). https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-38–2019/the-library-as-third-space-in-your-school

La Marca, S. (2013). Curriculum, culture and community: The school library and the general capabilities of the Australian Curriculum 2013 IASL Annual Conference Bali. https://iasl-online.org/resources/Documents/c1_6larmarcapp.pdf

Lupton, M. (2015). Teacher Librarians’ understandings of inquiry learning. Access, 29(4), 18-29. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/87481/1/87481.pdf

McIlvenny, L. (2019). Transversal competencies in the Australian Curriculum. Access 33(2), 6-13. https://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/transversal-competencies-australian-curriculum/docview/2593665781/se-2?accountid=10344

Merga, M. (2020). How can school libraries support student wellbeing? Evidence and implications for further research. Journal of Library Administration, 60(6), 660-673. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2020.1773718

OECD & PISA. (2018). Preparing our youth for an inclusive and sustainable world: The OECD PISA global competence framework.

Trilling, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21st century skills. Learning for life in our times (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Wall, J. (2019). Information fluency – a path to explore and innovate? Scan, 38(9). https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-38–2019/information-fluency-a-path-to-explore-and-innovate

Zhilavskaya, I. (2017). Media and information literacy and democracy [PowerPoint Slides]. UNESCO. https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/milweek17_irina_zhilavskaya.pdf

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