It’s been a busy week and, like many others I’m sure, I’ve only really had a chance to get up to speed with this facsinating discussion now we’ve reached the weekend.
Reading the start of the chapter, and all the answers above have really made me think hard about our self-image as librarians, and our relationship with our students. Traditionally librarians have been seen as curators and gatekeepers to information. Our interaction with students all centred on fulfilling an informational need.When I was at school (and this will age me!) the internet didn’t really exist as we know it today. If I needed to find something out, the only option was to go to the library. That is no longer the case and when confronted with an informational need most children (and adults too) will initially go directly to the internet. Although we have a great deal we can teach students about locating, selecting and using information (including the place and value of books and databases alongside the free web!) I do not think that we can any longer claim to be gatekeepers.
However, and I think this is the paradigm shift, we have a much more important, complex and exciting role in helping students to develop as inquirers. As Barabara says in the chapter, “to construct their own meaning, build new understandings on prior knowledge, form understanding through social interaction and find meaning by engaging in authentic tasks”. We have moved from gatekeepers of information to master craftsmen, guiding our ‘apprentices’ in the art of constructing new knowledge and understanding from information. Of course teaching them how to access the information they need is a part of that, in the same way as a craftsman must understand how to access and select appropriate materials, but it needs to be seen in the context of an inquiry, not as an end in itself.
A consequence of this is also that our relationship with teaching staff changes. We become co-educators, working together to support students on their information to knowledge journey. Librarians are ideally positioned to develop an overview of skills progression across subject and year group boundaries. By working to become inquiry specialists we bring something of real value to a partnership with our subject specialist colleagues and earn the right to collaborate with them in designing and delivering inquiries from start to finish, rather than only being invited in to deliver a stand-alone research skills session in the Investigate stage.
While Elizabeth has a valid point about some librarians having a different relationship with some students to some classroom teachers, I think we do need to be careful about putting ourselves into a separate category. Part of the paradigm shift we need to make is to start thinking about ourselves as a specialist type of teacher (as is already the case in a number of countries). If we don’t, no-one else will. Our school has quite a different set up to many in that, because it is a boarding school, most students spend break and lunchtimes in their boarding and day houses and the library is actually busier during lesson times than breaks. It does not tend to become the refuge that many school libraries are for some students (and that I have experienced before in a previous library). However, in a previous incarnation as a Senior Tutor (effectively Deputy Housemistress) at the same school I had a very close pastoral relationship with the girls in my house, similar to that that many librarians will experience with those who choose to spend their free time in the library. This did not stop them regarding me as a teacher when we encountered each other in my Physics classroom though. Elizabeth’s point about encountering students in a slightly different way to our subject colleagues is still valid, but my experience of that is different, and relates to encountering students in an inquiry context across a number of different subjects.