To further clarify what I mean by the lack of a body of professional knowledge underpinning school librarianship in this country, please see below for the letter that Jenny Toerien wrote to Information Professional, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, which was published on 28 June 2018 and is reprinted here with permission.
Your view: Why isn’t it possible to study school librarianship?
I would like to comment on the contrast and connection between two articles in the latest fascinating and informative edition of Information Professional (April-May 2018), particularly in the light of the new Great School Libraries campaign.
Elizabeth Hutchinson, backed up by her outstanding work with Guernsey Schools’ Library Service, wrote a passionate portrayal of school librarians as dynamic, innovative, professional experts who have a vital contribution to make in an age where even teachers can often need help with basic information literacy skills (Why do teachers need school librarians?), while Rob Mackinlay (Future LIS: debating the challenges) reported on the views of 10 leading UK institutions offering CILIP accredited Library and Information Science courses.
In arguing for greater collaboration between teachers and library staff, Elizabeth describes school library staff as highly-qualified professionals who bring information literacy expertise to the conversation and, in my view, should be regarded as co-educators and educational partners with teaching staff.
For me this contrasted starkly with a question asked in the article “Future LIS: debating the challenges” as to “whether the profession and its learning providers are too focused on a postgraduate-heavy profession.” There was a range of different views as to whether or not it would be desirable to “[dilute] the profession’s postgraduate density”, but for me the article highlighted and reminded me of a particular problem for school librarians. If we are asking teachers, 98.5 per cent of whom are qualified to degree level or higher (UK Department for Education, School Workforce in England: November 2016, https://bit.ly/2rZjFqJ), to treat us as professional equals, recognise our area of expertise and collaborate with us in the pursuit of educational excellence, then we need to be at least as qualified as they are.
The problem is that it is not actually possible to study school librarianship in this country, even as an optional module. Of the 16 CILIP-accredited institutions, offering almost 40 postgraduate courses between them, the only one that offers even one module (in English) on school librarianship (titled “Teacher Librarianship”) is the University of Hong Kong and (as far as I can tell) this qualification is not available by distance. The situation in undergraduate qualifications is at least as bad.
Learning on the job
My husband and I both entered school librarianship from within teaching and are both qualified teachers as well as qualified librarians. While I am certainly not suggesting that dual qualification should be essential for school librarians (although I note that in countries where school librarianship is particularly strong, such as Australia and the United States, it is the norm) it seems inconceivable to me that school librarians should have to learn everything they need to know about schools and education “on the job”, simply because they are not offered any opportunities to learn whilst training. In fact, my husband and I both found that attempting to ground our postgraduate assignments in our school settings was actually a disadvantage because that setting was so poorly understood in library schools.
Shaping the future
School libraries are vitally important both for the nation and the profession, because school may be the only occasion in some people’s lives when they will encounter a library/librarian, particularly if they do not go on to tertiary education. All information sectors are important, but school libraries at their best should be playing a vital role in shaping the future of every child in the country – and therefore every future member of society.
All children deserve great libraries, and all school libraries deserve great librarians (of whom there are many, despite the odds) – why aren’t our library schools interested in training them?