Having worked in a Schools’ Library Service for over 15 years I have been lucky to visit and teach in many different schools and to talk to a lot of school librarians. Many are very enthusiastic about their students and what they can do for them but the main problem for many school librarians is not effecting change but actually being part of any conversation about change. Many just find that change happens around them and they find out at a later date. They don’t get invited to curriculum meetings or if they do they have to do it in their own time. When you are a lone librarian in a school you have to have a very strong character to be the only person talking about why the school library is important to your students. Many don’t have this voice and this is a problem.
Over the years my role has changed and even as Head of SLS I have found it extremely difficult to have conversations with Head teachers about how a school librarian has a place teaching and learning. Often I have found out about meetings that I felt I should be going to and just turned up. the more people see me the more I can talk about what I do. However, not everyone feels that this is something that they can do in the position they are in.
FOSIL does allow us, as school librarians, to begin the conversation but I would love to hear from teachers about how we can raise awareness of the role of the school librarian. Is there a way to engage teachers that is not during their precious lunch break or while they are walking down the corridor to their next lesson. What will make teachers walk into the library and ask for support?
Elizabeth makes an excellent point, and one that I know will resonate with most, if not all, colleagues in school libraries. I am certainly aware, for example, of schools where the library staff are not welcome in the (‘teaching’) staff common room, which makes ‘chance’ conversations very difficult. School librarians are also often lone workers, or part of very small teams, and lunchtime and break-time are often the busiest times in the library, making it difficult to get out to see classroom colleagues during their natural breaks (and yes, I know that many teachers also work with students during ‘breaks’ – but not usually every break as lone library staff often do). While currently part of a larger team, I have also been part of a very small part-time team and do understand the pressures.
Having said all that, even as a library assistant rather than a head of service, I would echo Elizabeth’s comments about ‘just turning up’. Colleagues aren’t going to seek us out if they don’t know we are there and are unaware of what we can offer. It is so easy to stay in the library and become invisible! Some of my most fruitful conversations with colleagues have been a consequence of attending and contributing to our regular TeachMeets – which then allowed me to volunteer to lead one on FOSIL, which led to several very successful collaborations. If we had been patiently waiting for an invitation to attend, then the library would still have no representation at the TeachMeets. The assumption is that those who are interested will turn up, and those who have something interesting to say will offer to lead. The other place I find very productive in terms of being able to start and join conversations that raise awareness of what we do and give opportunities to offer support, is the lunch hall. Teachers tend to ‘talk shop’ over lunch and by choosing to sit with teaching staff rather than support staff I am able to be involved in these conversations. To be clear, these groups tend to self-segregate, partly as a consequence of when the two groups are free to eat, and partly because the teaching staff are generally expected to be in the larger, noisier lunch hall with the students, whereas support staff can choose to go into a smaller, quieter room if they wish. There is no rule saying who should sit where! All credit to my classroom colleagues that my right to be at the TeachMeets or at the teaching staff lunch table has never been questioned, and I always feel very welcome, because I know this is not the case everywhere.
Not all of us find it easy to push our way in and I know some of us are nervous of ‘intruding’ and aren’t sure whether our opinions and ideas carry as much weight as those of our classroom colleagues. As someone who has been on both sides of that classroom-library fence I can say with confidence that we are information professionals and have just as much to offer educationally as our classroom colleagues. It isn’t fair on them to expect them to work out for themselves what we have to offer – we need to get out there, build relationships with them and explain in practical detail!
If it is possible to go to teaching staff social events, then do. If you can get yourself on the teaching staff email list, it opens up a whole world of opportunities because you have access to so much more information about what is happening. Go to staff meetings and staff INSET if you can (if possible, even if they sometimes fall outside your normal working hours – teachers do). The more we view ourselves as teaching staff and include ourselves in their activities, the more they will ‘see’ us and include us as a matter of course. Many of us do these things already, some of us have been told we are not welcome and are fighting an uphill battle for recognition – and some of us are patiently waiting for invitations that will never come.
My guess is that teachers reading and contributing to this forum are already convinced of the value of the library and collaboration with library staff, but to echo Elizabeth again, we’d love to hear how that happened.
Elizabeth is so right. School librarianship has changed beyond recognition over the last decade not just through austerity cuts but also through change in the National Curriculum veering away from enquiry based learning and retreating back to a rote learning stance.
In 2008 there was outcry regarding plagiarism and concerns about parents or others completing coursework for school students. Even the exam boards signed up to use Turnitin as a tool for identifying cheats. However, instead of using this as a platform to illustrate good practice in enquiry based learning utilising the skills of qualified librarians (who were definately flavour of the month as cross curricular information experts as this point) those in charge decided to clamp down and remove this element or constrict it through controlled assessment. The librarian skills were no longer in demand and this co-incided with a huge push for literacy and the unfortunate assumption that librarians were simply in a school to promote reading for pleasure. Librarians lost their cross curriclular status along with their positions on heads of department meetings (since invariably they began reporting to the heads of English) and a loss of influence within the school hierarchy. This opened the door in the new austerity era to close school libraries (as provision could be made through English departments, or via a commercial reading scheme) and the skills of libriams as information specialists were no longer required. We have now had 10 years of recruiting people to school librarianship with few qualifications let alone professional degrees and many experienced professional librarians are now of retirement age. It is a tragedy!
However there is hope – the attendence at the JCS conference last November shows there is considerable interest in information and digital literacy amongst the independent school community at least. This year’s LILAC conference has 2 speakers about schools and a record number of school library delegates. Many years ago now I submitted a poster presentation on collaboration between librarians and teachers to the first LILAC conference which morphed into an award winning paper and a friendship with Jane Secker. The IBO qualifications do much to involve school librarians and libraries in these skills and there are even rumblings this week from the Labout Party about abolishing SATS and looking at the pathways to learning in Finland which are of course enquiry based learning. Perhaps the pendulum of change is at last swinging back.
Personally when I was working as a school librarian I found the best approach to collaboration was to select individual teachers and devise programmes with them. I also believe a key to success is to become involved in assessment and to award marks for research and presentation and the ultimate goal is to embed the approach within a Scheme of Work to ensure continuity. It is a slow process but word spreads and it can become the preferred approach. The downside is it highly dependent on the proactivity of the librarian and will disappear if this support is not provided – this of course also becomes dependent on how the librarian is recruited, what they are appointed for and the inclusion of cross curricular enquiry based learning within their job description. That is the big ask and without that change will not happen.
Programmes such as FOSIL help to promote what librarians can do to collaborate and drive the common goal of teaching and learning and we need to highlight this wherever possible