Pen’s TL Blog

Journey to the Centre of Teacher Librarianship

A changing perception June 2, 2009

I entered this course seeking qualification for a role that may be disappearing or probably never existed. With a primary teaching background and a personal love of books, my emphasis was on reading books for pleasure, more than information. I loved the library exactly for its separation from the fast-paced, stressful world of the classroom. No parents, no reports, and books books books.

My first blog entry, Hello World (26/2), reflects my one-sided view of the library as a repository of stories and me, the teacher librarian, as the reader and guide, but it also mentions how the librarian is “involved with all the staff” and describes the library as “the hub of the school”, two concepts which turn out to be critical in my new, informed imagining of the role.

At the residential school, I was excited but overwhelmed by the presentations. The video clip Information R/evolution rocked my world. I wrote in my blog entry But Is It Crap? (8/3), “After watching the mind-blowing video Information R/evolution I had feelings akin to panic as I realised I was entering a domain I knew almost nothing about.” I had a sinking feeling in my gut that perhaps I was in the wrong course, a feeling that would recur periodically.

The readings were nearly all fascinating, opening my eyes to a world of deep-thinking, ambitious professionalism that I had never suspected. I wrote in the Topic 1 sub-forum, “these readings have reinforced my strongly held belief in the importance of collaboration. It has rekindled my interest in RBL, which I see in practice at my kid’s pre-school and less and less frequently as kids progress through school. And it has certainly made me aware of the critical impact of school libraries and TLs on educational outcomes (thanks to Haycock’s searing report on poor Canada)” (9/3, A proud and beautiful people).

However, the breadth and responsibility of the teacher librarian’s role seemed overwhelming, summed up neatly by Anne Olsen in the Topic 1 sub-forum, “Just now the task of a Teacher Librarian seems at once impossibly worthy and . . . impossible” (7/3, About the impossible).

The measured response of Judy Bolton in the Topic 2 sub-forum was reassuring and inspiring. “Before a T/L even contemplates communicating her or his priorities to others, I believe that s/he must make them clear and palatable to her/himself. … So our first priority must be to ourselves…. a clear articulation, within our own mind, of what we must/ want / need to / CAN do in our individual situations” (9/3, First things first: communicating our priorities). It was good to be reminded that there might be an ideal role, but we must start from where we are and not feel intimidated by the task.

Reading about teaching and learning reminded me how much I love teaching, and that it is a part of the teacher librarian role I will relish. The learning theory behind Kuhlthau’s work inspired me, especially Dewey’s vision. I wrote in my blog entry Kuhlthau the Guru (12/4): “[T]o say in 1944 that a democratic society “must see that its members are educated for personal initiative and adaptability” (in Kuhlthau, 2004, p.15) is so progressive.” It also fits perfectly with the information literacy concept of empowering learners to cope with the rapid pace of change in the 21st century.

Collaboration is a topic I am passionate about and I assume, wrongly it seems, that everyone enjoys sharing and working with others as much as I do. In my forum post for Topic 3, I wrote: “would it not be reasonable for a principal to set up an expectation that TLs are included in grade meetings? Would teachers really feel imposed upon or threatened to have another professional joining their planning? Whether the TL would have time to do it is another question, but in theory, it seems simple enough. Or does it???!!!” (2/4, Am I out of touch with the real (school) world?) Several other posts from practising teachers and teacher librarians indicated that if fact many teachers out there keep a very closed shop and see collaboration as threatening and invasive. It’s a challenge I am ready to take on.

So, perhaps I am inspired enough by the potential for change to set aside my quiet vision of reading stories, shelving books and showing someone how to find Argentina in an atlas, though I will still relish those moments. I am becoming convinced of the importance of information literacy in this Web 2.0 world our students are growing up in, with which we must also engage if we want to help them learn. If I can make it through this course I hope I can get out there and make a difference.


Bolton, J. (2009) ETL401 Forum posting to sub-topic 2, First things first: communicating our priorities, 9/3/09.

Haycock, K. (2003). The crisis in Canada’s school libraries: The case for reform and reinvestment, Association of Canadian Publishers, Toronto, Ontario. Retrieved from CSU Library Reserve database.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Learning as a process, in Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services, Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, pp.13-27. Retrieved from CSU Library Reserve database.

Olsen, A. (2009) ETL401 Forums posting to sub-topic 1, About the impossible, 7/3/09.

Szentkuti, P. (2009) ETL401 Forums postings to sub-topics 1, 3. (Various entries).

Szentkuti, P. (2009) Pen’s TL Blog, (Various entries).

Wesch, M. (2007) Information R/evolution. Available at


Quality teaching April 2, 2009

Filed under: Information literacy,RBL,Teaching and learning strategies — penszen @ 8:41 am

I’ve moved through a few responses to the discussion paper about quality teaching from the NSW Department of Education and Training.

On first skim, I rolled my eyes at the jargony quality of it. I have a real aversion to jargon – I believe it is a great way to maintain and increase social division. While obviously some fields will have terms not familiar to the layman, using big words and long sentences where smaller and shorter ones will do serves only to alienate a large number of readers. (Did I just do that? Oh dear.) The target audience for the DET paper is educated to at least tertiary level but too much jargon will still send a lot of teachers running. If the way I react is anything to go by, others too may feel defensive and negative about what they are reading and quickly switch off.

However, once I settled in to reading it more closely (fortunately my course required it!), I thought it was a thoughtful and positive document. It definitely promotes a move to an RBL style pedagogy with a focus on student direction, self-regulation and engagement. Information literacy is addressed, though not completely, in the “higher order thinking” section where it describes students being “regularly engaged in thinking that requires them to organise, reorganise, apply, analyse, synthesise and evaluate knowledge and information” (p.11).

There is some nod to collaborative teaching and learning in the “social support” section, which states: “There is strong positive support for learning and mutual respect among teachers and students and others assisting students’ learning” (p.13).

Finally I got a little bit excited about it. I especially liked the concept of “problematic knowledge” where “students are encouraged to address multiple perspectives and/or solutions and to recognise that knowledge has been constructed and therefore is open to question” (p.11). That feels positively subversive! Are teachers out there ready to be challenged? I hope so.


Topic 1: The big picture comes into view March 8, 2009

Filed under: History of school libraries,RBL,Teacher Librarianship — penszen @ 4:01 am

I feel like I’ve been studying teacher librarianship for months rather than just two weeks. The first topic has been a brilliant introduction to the course, filling my head with ideas, questions and challenges. I can’t wait to go and pick the brains of practising TLs to see how they actually work and why.

Lundin (1981) gave a clear overview of the history of school  libraries in Australia and what had been learned from experience. An overwhelming message that reappeared in all the literature was the necessity of a properly trained TL to maximise the potential of the library and to positively influence learning outcomes. I liked Lundin’s discussion of ‘readiness’ in relation to appropriate spending of grants.  The research showed that “in some schools the principal and teachers recognised the need for change, a library and increased collection of resources, and they had the knowledge, expertise and plans for spending the money; in other schools this was not the case.” (p.18) When I worked part time in a school library, prior to any training, I was extremely grateful that I was not required to make any budgetary decisions. Even then I recognised that I had no idea of the bigger picture and what to prioritise in spending. I probably would have bought lots of books. I would have rightly been classed as ‘unready’! It is slightly alarming to think of the number of school libraries that are staffed by unqualified people who are finding their way by trial and error. I’m sure a lot of money is being wasted in this way.

Resource based learning (RBL) is discussed by Hazell (1990) and wonderfully explicitly by Carol-Ann Haycock (1991). It is a concept that I’m familiar with from my uni days back in the 80s. We studied constructivism, especially in relation to learning maths, and we struggled to implement it in pracs with classes that were more used to direct teaching. I remember a particularly chaotic lesson where MAB ones were being hurled around the room while the 6 year olds ran wild. I’m glad those days are past. Teaching unfamiliar children with unfamiliar methods is challenging to say the least.

I have since implemented something probably closer to resource-based teaching (RBT) in my own classrooms. I believe that setting children up to work independently not only allows the students more freedom to learn in their own way but also gives the teacher time to work with individuals and small groups when they need more support. It does require a tolerance for a more noisy classroom but I believe that you can tell the difference between constructive noise and all out chaos.

Herring’s (2007) chapter is a comprehensive discussion of all things relevant to the TL. I wish I’d read it when I’d been working in the library to help me attain that elusive ‘big picture’. The only point I would take issue with is his query about the prominence given to reading for pleasure in school library mission statements. I strongly believe it should remain prominent. Reading is the key skill we need to come out of school with – it is the first step to literacy of any kind. Teaching children to read should not be something done early on and then finished with. It must be encouraged continually right through school and into adulthood to help create well-informed, empathetic, worldly individuals. If students discover the joy of reading and pursue it for its own intrinsic value, it makes all other learning through reading so much easier. It may be ‘old school’ but it’s a fine school!