I was invited to write a feature series for The School Librarian, which is the Quarterly Journal of the School Library Association.
My starting point, which is clear from the title of the series (see below), is where I left off here, and I will, initially, pick up where I left off from the perspective of this series.
Between the Library and the Classroom: Becoming Integral to the Educational Process
The School Librarian, Volume 69, Number 1, Spring 2021
The IFLA/UNESCO School Library Manifesto proclaims that the school library is integral to the educational process. The fact that it is not says much about the educational process, or at least the prevailing one, but It also says something about the school library. For the school library to become integral to the educational process – without which it cannot fulfil its educational purpose, and upon which its moral purpose depends – we urgently need to deepen our understanding of both the educational process and the school library. This is imperative, and not for our sake, but for the sake of our children.
This series takes its title from Norman Beswick’s profound insight that the library does not support the classroom – rather, the classroom leads (or should lead) inevitably and essentially to the library. This is less about the classroom or the library than it is about the sustained collaborative effort of both to equip our children with the kind of knowledge that they most need, which is knowledge that will help them to get more knowledge for themselves. This is desirable, because the principal lesson that school teaches should not be, as Illich charged, the need to be taught. This is also necessary, because the failure of school to help children learn how to distinguish useful talk from bullshit, as Neil Postman puts it, leaves them vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them, especially online.
This brings me to the point of this series, which is to reflect on how the school library becomes integral to the educational process. For this I draw on the collective insight of the IFLA School Library Guidelines, which translate the principles of the Manifesto into practical terms. The Guidelines frame learning through the process of inquiry, which reflects an evolution towards inquiry in and through the school library that can be traced back to 1960, and inquiry, I have come to believe, is the only way for the school library to become integral to the educational process. The reason for this is that inquiry is an educational process – a countervailing one that centres education in the learning process, rather than in the teaching process, encourages initiative and independence on the part of the student, and brings the student to grips with original thought as expressed in books and other media. This, in turn, requires a model of the inquiry process, which is also the means for collaboratively structuring teaching around a framework of skills that students must develop at each stage in the inquiry process over their time in school and in the context of subject area learning.
FOSIL is such a model and framework of skills, and the perspective from which I will write this series. For a brief history of FOSIL and the FOSIL Group, see here: https://fosil.org.uk/history/.
The FOSIL Group is an international community of educators who frame learning through inquiry, which is a process and stance aimed at building knowledge and understanding of the world and ourselves in it as the basis for responsible participation in society.
The School Librarian, Volume 69, Number 2, Summer 2021
If the school library is to become integral to the educational process, we need to account for why the classroom does not lead inevitably and essentially to the library. This is a complex problem, aspects of which we have no direct control over. Jesse Shera, in The Foundations of Education for Librarianship, charged that “librarians have never developed a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience [in response to the] characteristic information needs of inquiry as a method of instruction and an environment for formalized learning”. While this alone will not solve our problem, developing such a theory is under our direct control, without which we remain peripheral to the educational process at best.
Depending on how globally-minded we are, more or less progress has been made towards such a theory. As Daniel Callison notes, the evolution towards inquiry has been underway since 1960, which is reflected in the IFLA School Library Guidelines (2015), which frame learning through inquiry; this evolution is also gathering pace, so much so that inquiry is the subject of an upcoming IFLA publication provisionally titled Global Action on School Libraries: Models of Inquiry (2022). In further observing that the school library exists as a learning centre because of inquiry, Callison makes the logic of our emerging theory explicit – inquiry is an educational process that has characteristic information needs that the library is fundamentally suited to meeting, provided that the librarian understands their role in meeting these needs, which is not limited to resources and/ or information literacy.
Arming ourselves with this emerging theory is not, again, enough on its own, mainly because the prevailing educational process, at least in this country, is not based on inquiry, at least not yet. We do not, however, have the luxury of waiting for this to change, because being peripheral to the educational process is but one step away from being unnecessary. Rather, we must “be the change we want to see happen” (popularly misattributed to Gandhi). In doing so, we will find allies, whether individual teachers, entire departments, or even whole schools. We will, however, inevitably also meet with more or less resistance, which is why we need to be increasingly well-grounded in theory-informed practice.
In this, FOSIL serves us well. I have written about FOSIL’s past – https://fosil.org.uk/history/ – but more relevant here is its future, which, in close collaboration with Barbara Stripling and the growing FOSIL Group community, is the subject of a chapter in Global Action on School Libraries: Models of Inquiry.
More than ever, Gil Scott-Heron’s words strike a powerful chord – the revolution will not be televised.
The School Librarian, Volume 69, Number 3, Autumn 2021
In preparing for my presentation with Barbara Stripling at #SLALeaders 2021, I uncovered Norman Beswick’s extraordinary article for Library Review titled, ‘The Past as Prologue: Two Decades of Missed Chances’. He writes:
It is heartbreaking to recall that in 1970 it was possible to be very hopeful that a great new age of British school librarianship was about to dawn. It did not happen: and this despite the best activities of some school librarians and some local education authorities; and despite some positive statements by professional associations, and some research projects and official reports. It could be important to ask what went wrong. Although the circumstances may not recur, asking the right questions might give us helpful answers for when the campaign for school libraries starts again, tomorrow morning.
I wondered whether, writing today, the article might need to be titled, ‘ThePastAsPrologueasPastasPrologue: FiveDecadesofMissedChances‘. While it remains important, and increasingly urgent, to investigate in detail what went wrong, now is not the time to do so. However, it is opportune to frame our inquiry.
Harold Howe, United States commissioner of education during the Johnson administration and senior lecturer emeritus at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, incisively observed that “what a school thinks of its library is a measure of how it feels about education”.
Howe’s observation demands a response. Given the generally poor condition that we find ourselves in, it is understandable why our response might be to demand that the school thinks more highly of its library, and to redouble our efforts to focus attention on the library. This, however, misses Howe’s profound point, which is that what a school thinks of its library is a consequence of what it feels about education. Therefore, to change what the school thinks of its library, we, if necessary, must change how it feels about education. This, in turn, requires a preoccupation with being integral to the educational process, or, where necessary, agitating for an educational process that the library is integral to, which, as we have argued, is an inquiry learning process.
Given that we are dealing with the reality of five decades of missed chances, most beyond our direct control, we have our work cut out for us. To keep us focused, as Dallas Willard reminds us, the true measure of success is how well we deal with reality.
The revolution will not be televised.
The School Librarian, Volume 69, Number 4, Winter 2021