This post is in response to some thoughts shared with me by Darryl Toerien, regarding the relationship between inquiry and resourcing, and in turn, inquiry learning and school library collection development.
This semester I have taught the subjects LCN616 Inquiry Learning and EUN615 Managing and Organising Collections as part of my role of lecturer in the Master of Education (Teacher Librarianship) at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane Australia.
Students often begin Managing and Organising Collections with little appreciation for the complexities and importance of collection development.
They expect a dry course, which focuses upon the finer details of cataloguing, and (possibly boring) examinations of databases and such. While these topics are definitely addressed (and are not necessarily boring!!), they are sometimes surprised to be engaged in rigorous and thought provoking discussion from the very first lecture. Issues such as developing collections in a context of information abundance, censorship (both intentional and unintentional), the rapid change from a ‘just in case’ collection development approach to a ‘just in time’ approach and the transition to blended collections, where the library hosts, subscribes to and provides access to as many resources as it actually owns all present challenges for the contemporary teacher librarian. These challenges are sometimes overlooked, misunderstood or underestimated by librarians themselves and of course, by others in the community, who see collection management as simply buying books, putting them on the shelf and circulating them when required.
While inquiry learning and collection management appear at first to be two quite separate and different subjects, they are, as pointed out by Darryl, quite closely connected. I would like to share how I perceive these interconnections.
Inquiry is predicated upon access to information. In a school setting, this information was previously only accessible through the school library collection, but is now abundantly available via many sources, the largest of course being the internet. This does not in any way render the school library collection a relic. Instead, it demands that the school library collection steps up to meet the needs of these inquirers, in ways that ‘the internet’- in its unfiltered form – cannot.
How is this achieved?
As I previously stated, collection development and management is a rigorous and complex activity, which must now be considered through a far more expansive lens. The role of the collection is to meet students’ learning requirements (and of course their leisure needs, but that is a topic for another day) at every stage. It does so with carefully curated resources, which have been identified by a teacher librarian who has both an awareness of curriculum demands, and the needs of students as evolving inquiry learners.
A school library collection which supports inquiry learners can be as dynamic as the internet, yet has the capacity to align far more closely with learners at each age and stage. Carefully selected physical resources can complement and extend a range of electronic resources, including subscription databases, eBooks and audio books and digital video platforms. In (sadly too frequent) situations where these may be out of financial reach, the expertise of the teacher librarian allows them to develop high quality curated collections of freely available online resources, thus taming the information onslaught of the internet. They are also able to make use of the continually growing suite of open education resources which may be reused and remixed to suit the context of the learners.
Collection development and management is an active and constant activity which seeks to acknowledge the abundance of information accessible and to harness this in ways that meet the changing needs of developing inquiry learners. It recognises and creates access to information in all its forms – physical, electronic and digital – and in many media.
Thus, collection development and management requires teacher librarians to be knowledgeable of the curriculum and the various inquiry foci students engage with at each stage of their educational journey. Inquiry and collection development should be considered inextricably connected if we wish to offer students access to information resources which are suitable not only for their content, but also for their alignment with students’ learning levels and research capacity.
I recognise that there are many challenges for teacher librarians and library teams and that collection development and management is neither easy nor straight forward. I’d love to hear how you approach collection development and management and whether you agree that the relationship between it and inquiry learning is important. Thanks for your time 😊.
I am so excited that you have joined our conversation here on the FOSIL forum.
Your post above is really important in highlighting that buying books and resources for a school library is not as basic as everyone thinks. You explain beautifully why we need to talk about what school librarians do in this area. The idea that ‘anyone could do this’ is just not true. The link to the curriculum and understanding the needs of the teachers and students in a school is so important. I think where schools have employed library assistants rather than librarians however, the focus is less on curriculum books and more on fiction and if you are just buying the popular fiction then I agree anyone could do this.
The expertise of the school librarian is so important in collection development and you put it beautifully when you say “Inquiry and collection development should be considered inextricably connected if we wish to offer students access to information resources which are suitable not only for their content but also for their alignment with students’ learning levels and research capacity.” It is so much more than just ordering from the best sellers list.
What an interesting and thought provoking piece. Several things struck me as I was reading.
The first thing is that I wish my MSc had covered such useful and practical topics as these. I have long thought that the idea of Teacher Librarians as a stand alone qualification is something I’d like to pursue and something I’d really like to see developed in Library Schools here in the UK. Before I worked in schools I have previously had Librarian incarnations in the commercial, academic and public sectors and so I am very much learning as I go along.
I have been following FOSIL closely and am currently trying to get my leadership team to allow me time to develop a school wide approach to Inquiry based on FOSIL. Your article is perfectly timed, I also need to carry out a radical weed of our non-fiction curriculum resource and had been thinking about building the Inquiry program first, looking at the units of study through which the program will delivered and buying resources that support both elements. I think this is the idea you’re discussing, unless I’ve misunderstood.
I battle with the idea of curating online topic based resources for my students. We have just decided not to subscribe to a popular online encyclopaedia because we thought that it was more important to teach students to source material according to CRAAP rather than knowing the database provided reliable information and therefore failing to look beyond it. With this same thought in mind, I think I prefer to open the discussion with students about source selection and if necessary make it part of the assessment criteria rather than making choices for them. I understand that purchases of physical resources are often limited by money and therefore free online material can fill a gap but generally I remain opposed to too much guidance.
I think the opportunity to share good resources, on this forum, could be really valuable especially to those of us with less school specific training or experience.
I very much agree with your posited connection between the library collection, students’ learning levels and the inquiry task. A carefully curated collection is, to my mind, an essential requirement of any inquiry-based task.
“Thus, collection development and management requires teacher librarians to be knowledgeable of the curriculum and the various inquiry foci students engage with at each stage of their educational journey. Inquiry and collection development should be considered inextricably connected if we wish to offer students access to information resources which are suitable not only for their content, but also for their alignment with students’ learning levels and research capacity.”
Moreover, I’d like to add that an inquiry is a wonderful opportunity, which I fear is all too often missed, to teach students the value of different media. As a Computer Science teacher I frequently need to rebuff students’ over-reliance upon the internet, for which information is plentiful but rarely written for their learning level. I often find it heartening to watch as students who once relegated books as ‘not of our time’ find a new-found ability to better comprehend the information contained within them than that on the internet. However, I might add that I explicitly give them directed time with book, subscription database, and internet sources (in that order) so that they might reap the best of all worlds.