I write this as I approach the end of my second spell on the National Committee of SLG. My first started shortly after I became a school librarian, by chance rather than design (or at least through no design of my own). This means that serving on the National Committee of SLG has framed pretty much the first 20 years of my work in and for school libraries, and that a measure of reflection is, therefore, appropriate.
An even earlier and profoundly formative experience was stumbling across Jesse Shera’s The Foundations of Education for Librarianship (1972) in a charity shop in Caversham. In this remarkable book, Shera articulated what I instinctively knew about librarianship in general, and school librarianship in particular. This may seem a little odd, given that he was writing partly about academic librarianship in the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Not so odd when you consider Blanche Woolls’ observation that the only difference between a school librarian and an academic librarian is, or ought to be, the length of time between a student leaving school and starting university, and that the fundamental issues confronting Shera then and there confront us still here and now. One passage in particular illustrates this, and set the course of my professional development (p. 177, emphasis added):
Increasingly, research as a method of instruction and an environment for formalized learning is being introduced into undergraduate as well as graduate programs.* This undergraduate research, or more properly, inquiry, has its own characteristic information needs, though academic librarians generally have given these requirements slight attention, while the faculty has tended to ignore them almost entirely. This neglect may doubtless be attributed to the fact that the instructors themselves were not properly encouraged in the use of the library in their own undergraduate years. The textbook and the reserve collection, which in the final analysis is only a kind of multiple text, have too long dominated undergraduate, and even graduate, instruction. The teacher’s own mimeographed reading lists and bibliographies have been imposed between the student and the total library collection, largely because the typical faculty member does not trust either the bibliographic mechanisms of the library or the competence of the librarians, while the librarians, for their part, have never developed a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience. This neglect has been intensified by the absence of any real communication between teacher and librarian, both have paid lip service to the library as a ‘learning center,’ and having said that satisfied their sense of obligation with a short course or a few lectures on ‘How to Use the Library.’
I have been wrestling with a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience ever since. Shera led me to Patricia Knapp (1966), who led me to Helen Sheehan (1969), who led me to Norman Beswick (1967), who posited that “it is not the library that ‘supports’ the classroom . . . but the classroom that leads (or should lead) inevitably and essentially to the library” (p. 201). It seemed to me then, as it does to me now, that a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience needs to compellingly account for why the classroom leads (or should lead) inevitably and essentially to the library, as well as how. Shera provided 2 clues – “inquiry” and the “library as a learning center” – in this passage. Daniel Callison (2006) linked them explicitly, stating that “the school library only exists as a learning centre because of inquiry” (p. 601). Inquiry, then, frames learning, and it is unsurprising, therefore, that the IFLA School Library Guidelines (2015) define the school library in terms of inquiry (p. 16) – “a school’s physical and digital learning space where reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to students’ information-to-knowledge journey and to their personal, social, and cultural growth” – and include inquiry as one of the core instructional activities that make up the school library’s pedagogical program (pp. 41 – 44). This brings me to the present.
I was recently interviewed by Barbara Stripling for School Library Connection (a publication of Libraries Unlimited/ ABC-CLIO) about The Process and Stance of Inquiry in a Digital World. The title of the interview, and the starting point of our discussion, comes from the Galileo Educational Network’s definition of inquiry as a dynamic process and stance that is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is, therefore, an epistemological concern – a concern with what we know and how we come to know it – the “information-to-knowledge” part of the IFLA definition of a school library. As such, inquiry is a fundamental human activity, and the library is, or ought to be, essential to this activity. This, however, demands something of us as librarians, and of our libraries. Moreover, this process and stance is both facilitated by the digital world, and hindered by it, and Barbara was interested in my thoughts on this from the perspective of FOSIL, which is based on the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum (2019) that she led the development of.
Somewhat paradoxically, the very characteristics of the digital environment that facilitate inquiry also hinder inquiry. The question of equality of access as aside for now, although it remains a pressing concern, these characteristics broadly relate to the quantity of information, discernment of its quality and motivation. At a certain point the relentless increase in the quantity of information brings about a qualitative change – scarcity of information becomes an abundance of information, which becomes a superabundance of information. The problem then shifts from finding enough information to dealing with too much information, which is both a different and a new problem. David Foster Wallace’s Total Noise captures this qualitative change perfectly – the growing “tsunami of available fact, context and perspective” (2007!). Then, to this tsunami must be added the growing maelstrom of mis-information, dis-information and mal-information created, manipulated and distributed to devastating effect. And to make matters worse, the difficulties of building knowledge and understanding from information in these conditions is made more challenging still by the fact that the digital environment is both overwhelming and endlessly distracting, and this brings us full circle – inquiry is both an epistemological process and stance, and being able to carry out the process is no guarantee that we will care enough, one way or another, to make the effort to do so.
Huw Davies (2019) issues the following stark warning:
No digital literacy programme is ever likely to work unless it produces reflexive critical thinkers, motivated to challenge their own thinking and positionality: people know and care when they are being sold a biased or racist view of history, pseudo-science or when they are being manipulated.
This highlights the importance of inquiry as stance, which, I think, must now become our focus and most urgent task. In this we draw on 60 years’ worth of work in and through the school library on inquiry as process, which, in the words of the IFLA School Library Guidelines unites us with our classroom colleagues in the aim of “influencing, orienting, and motivating the pursuit of learning using a process of discovery that encourages curiosity and a love of learning” (p. 43).
*This extends to schools. As Daniel Callison (2015) points out, “the progression to student-centered, inquiry-based learning through school library programs was clearly underway more than forty years ago” (p. 3), at least in the US, and can be traced back to 1960 (p. 213). More broadly, though, Callison lists the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program as an early adopter of inquiry (p. 214). The IB was founded in 1968, although the philosophy, structure, content and pedagogy of the IB Diploma Programme, which was the first IB Programme, were developed in 1962 (IBO, 2017). The Diploma Programme was followed by the Middle Years Programme, the Primary Years Programme and the Career-related Programme, with “inquiry, as a curriculum stance, pervading all Programmes” (Tilke, 2011, p. 5).
Beswick, N. W. (1967). The ‘Library-College’ – the ‘True University’? The Library Association Record, 198-202.
Callison, D. (2015). The Evolution of Inquiry: Controlled, Guided, Modeled, and Free. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
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
The School Librarian, Volume 69, Number 4, Winter 2021
My appointment as Head of Inquiry-Based Learning at Blanchelande College has allowed me to reflect more deeply on the development of a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience (Shera) and personal growth, which is necessary if we are to change the way our colleagues think of the school library by changing how they feel about education (Howe).
Our starting point is Shera’s assertion that the fundamental philosophical question that we address is, “What is a book that man may know it, and a man that he may know a book?” It is clear from Shera’s writing that he understood book as “record, in the widest McLuhan-like sense” (Beswick). The question then becomes, “What is a record that a person may know it, and a person that they may know a record?”
From the perspective of the development of a theory of the role of the library in the student’s educational experience, our concern, then, is with how a person comes to know a record, or, more specifically in our context, how a student comes to know and understand the world and themselves in it through the record of human knowledge. This, as we have argued, is a learning process, and specifically an inquiry learning process, which is largely dependent on thoughtful reading, both nonfiction and fiction. And this, as we have further argued, is the fundamental purpose of the school library, which closely aligns it with the fundamental purpose of the school. In this way, the library actually becomes integral to the educational process.
From the perspective of FOSIL, this deepening insight into an emerging theory of the role of the library in the student’s educational experience coincides with two important events.
Firstly, the imminent publication of IFLA’s Global Action on School Libraries: Models of Inquiry. This includes a chapter on the evolving nature of inquiry (co-authored with Barbara Stripling), Barbara’s chapter on Stripling’s Model/ESIFC, my chapter on FOSIL (which is based on Stripling’s Model/ESIFC), and a chapter on FOSIL in A-Level Politics at Oakham School by Joe Sanders and Jenny Toerien.
The second is the upcoming IFLA School Libraries Section midyear meeting in April, which we are hosting at Blanchelande College, a focus of which is inquiry-based learning.
These events reaffirm the centrality of inquiry to the library’s instructional program, and the value of the library’s instructional program to the fundamental purpose of the school.
Darryl as always your insight is fascinating and brilliant timing! I am about to register for a talk/session at the TLConference in Leeds in June and was trying to find an angle that would encourage any Headteachers or SLT into my talk. I think I have just found my answer. I will write the title and abstract using your information above and maybe we can find time to discuss it before I submit it.
Thinking of this as a Title to start with
Catch 22 – What you don’t know until someone tells you. The school library; an integral component of the education process.
Sorry, Elizabeth, I missed this post in the the build up to the house move, although, as it turns out, we ended discussing your talk/ session anyway.
How did it go?
The School Librarian, Volume 70, Number 1, Spring 2022
I write this from the perspective of a new year in a new country (Guernsey), new school (Blanchelande College) and a new role (Head of Inquiry-Based Learning), so an added measure of reflection is to be expected.
I am particularly mindful of Octavia Butler’s warning in the Parable of the Talents (1988):
When vision fails/ Direction is lost.
When direction is lost/ Purpose may be forgotten.
When purpose is forgotten/ Emotion rules alone.
When emotion rules alone,/ Destruction… destruction.
Inquiry, as an instructional approach to curriculum content, to which the library is integral, provokes an emotional response. This is good, insofar as emotion serves a purpose, and in the case of education, a “transcendent and honorable purpose” (Postman, 1996).
This is important for two reasons.
Firstly, purpose gives shape to resolve. I have long held that the fundamental purpose of the school library is to enable students to come to know and understand the world and themselves in it through reading, both nonfiction and fiction. This process of coming to know and understand is a learning process, and specifically an inquiry learning process. This purpose, in turn, aligns the school library with the fundamental purpose of school – knowledge and understanding – regardless of whether the school, or the broader educational system in which the school operates, favours an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning or not. In the service of this purpose, the school library expresses its essential nature, and finds allies in those colleagues who view the educational process in the same way. The particular shape that my resolve takes, then, and which is enacted through the library programme, is to enable reading for knowledge and understanding within an inquiry-based model of the learning process, and this within the curricular constraints of UK GCSE and A-Level qualifications. Having clear shape to my resolve helps me to balance impossible demands on my time, which goes a long way towards ensuring a balanced library programme.
Secondly, purpose strengthens resolve. In choosing to work in a school library, I am choosing to serve a “transcendent and honorable purpose”. This lifts my eyes above the struggles of today to the hope of a better tomorrow – one that I strive towards with likeminded colleagues, both near and far. In doing so, I am preparing myself, my colleagues, and my students for a future that will make demands of us that the school library uniquely equips us to meet.
Now, as I have argued, the school library is integral to the educational process, but only if it is understood in a certain way. Understanding this is vital, if not to our success, then to our survival. The reason for this is that our concern, as librarians, lies first and foremost with this educational process, and then with our role in this process. Ruth Davies expresses this idea powerfully:
Today’s school library is a source and a force for educational excellence, and today’s school librarian “is a teacher whose subject is learning itself” (quoting Douglas Knight).
This idea no longer animates us.
However, writing this while looking back on 85 years of the School Library Association reminds us that history is the consequence of ideas.
Richard Colebourn, in his personal survey of the first 50 years of the SLA, makes the point that from the outset “the Association…was clearly envisioned as an organisation of, and for, educationalists”. Cecil Stott, joint honorary secretary, underscored this view in his report for the inaugural meeting in January 1937, that while efficiency and technique were important, they were only so “as a preliminary to the far more important use of the library as an instrument of education”. It is worth noting that the “educational use” and “educational function” of the school library remain Association priorities, at least in Colebourn’s survey, into the 1970s.
Yet, by 1986, Norman Beswick, who Colebourn references in the highest regard, laments the passing of this idea – that the school library is a source and a force for educational excellence because the school librarian is a teacher whose subject is learning itself. And yet, this idea remains at the heart of the revised Manifesto (2022), which, in turn, revitalises the School Library Guidelines (2015) and is reflected in Global Action on School Libraries: Models of Inquiry (2022).
Perhaps heightened reflection on 85 years of service to our local profession combined with greater engagement with our global profession will help us to recover an idea from our past that will prove vital to our future?