Teacher Librarianship in Australia
By world standards the status of teacher librarianship in Australia is strong. Most schools employ a teacher librarian, some employ a number. It should be noted that while schools refer to the person in charge of information services as a teacher librarian, it is possible that this person may not be a qualified teacher or a qualified librarian, although most are qualified teachers. The majority of secondary schools employ at least one teacher as a full time teacher librarian who is likely to be qualified in information studies of some kind. In contrast many primary schools do not employ a full time teacher librarian, and it is more likely that this teacher will not have undertaken a university course in information studies.
Schools that identify their teacher librarian as an educational leader who is information technology literate are likely to be expanding the traditional role, and the teacher librarian may well be the schools IT coordinator. Where teacher librarians are regarded as bookish and underproductive they are likely to have been marginalised and another member of staff will be leading the IT charge.
The dismal economic condition in Australia in the 1990s coupled with rampant economic rationalism has seen a significant decline in government funding for education at all levels. Support services for teacher librarians have diminished over the past decade, although there has been a recent revival of consultants. Funding for electronic information has increased dramatically and the employers are embarking upon programs that provide sophisticated IT to teachers.
The education of teacher librarianship
is almost exclusively provided by distance education to qualified and experienced
teachers. Programs are typically offered at the graduate level. There is
strong demand for these programs but not sufficient to cover market needs.
There is a current shortage of qualified teacher librarians.
The Research Sample
In Australia the initial qualitative study, that provided the rich data that were used to design the quantitative instruments for this international project, was conducted in six public schools within the Metropolitan South West Region of the New South Wales Department of School Education (DoSE). That is, it was conducted in the southwestern part of Sydney. It was originally intended to use this same region for the quantitative study, however, administrative changes within the DoSE made this impossible within the required time frame. The pilot for the quantitative study was undertaken by using a convenience sample of schools that subscribe to the teacher librarian listserv, OZTL_NET, and therefore took place in schools from across the country.
The quantitative study has been conducted
within the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ACT has a population
of approximately 310, 000 and is a relatively homogeneous socio-political
area, being the national capital. All schools within the ACT within the
public and Catholic systems that employed both a full time principal and
a teacher librarian were surveyed. Close liaison with key personnel in
each system enabled this identification. There were 191 public schools
(comprising, schools that were K-6, 7-10, and 11-12) and 55 Catholic schools
(comprising K-6 and 7-12), included in the project.
Administering the Australian Project
One of the challenges associated with an international project is the timing of the project. In the northern hemisphere, November and December may be good times to administer a survey but not so in Australia where teachers are getting to the end of the school year and schools shut down for six weeks over the Christmas and New Year period. The research in schools protocol is to seek approval from the Education System and when this is granted, permission must be sought from individual schools to proceed with the research. This process can be time-consuming, particularly at the close of a school year. The Catholic School system provided the green light in time to facilitate the sending out of individual school letters in November 1997. Permission from the public school system took longer and these letters could not be sent until February 1998.
Originally, it was the intention not to send a paper copy of the instruments with the letter of introduction, but rather to encourage participants to use the online facility. In fact the paper version was sent with the letter but respondents were encouraged to employ the online version. This was done for a number of reasons. Firstly it was known that not all schools had Internet access. Secondly, even where schools did have Internet access, it was felt that some respondents would not feel comfortable with that approach. Thirdly, because of the international timeline and the late commencement date for Australian participants it was felt that delays caused by the requesting of paper copy would create significant problems.
All original correspondence to schools was sent through the School Systemís internal mail system following negotiation with the appropriate administrative officer. This reduced the cost of mailing and guaranteed that all schools received the correspondence.
Close liaison was maintained with the officer in each system who had responsibility for school library services. This meant that information regarding the project came from a number of stakeholders. Likewise the professional bodies made reference to the project at their meetings and in correspondence encouraging their members to be involved.
Despite the intensity of efforts to ensure a strong response rate, early returns both directly on the web and through the mail were slow. By the time a paper had to be prepared for presentation at the 1998 IASL Conference in Israel there was only a 17% response rate. By the time analysis on Instruments 1 and 2 were commenced the response had risen to 25%. Since then further instruments have been returned and the response is now at 33%. Telephone calls to individual schools assisted in this response increase.
Since respondents had a choice to input directly to the web or to complete a paper survey few problems were encountered. Some respondents were uneasy about using the web, while others saw this as a sound approach. Some respondents completed one or two ,rather than all three instruments. No doubt the length of the instrument was an issue here.
The success of the project hinged,
to some extent on the successful completion of instruments by the teacher
librarian and principal of each responding school. The involvement of both
allows for analysis on paired responses. If only one of the pair return
the data other analysis can be successfully undertaken, but the value of
the study is diminished. A weakness in the project has been that unless
the teacher librarian and principal communicated about the project neither
would know whether the other has completed the instruments. It could be
guessed that such communication was less likely to occur in schools that
are at the lower end of the information literate school community scale.
It was surprising that in this study the returns from principals were greater
than the returns from teacher librarians, despite the fact that follow
up tended to focus on teacher librarians rather than principals.
Instrument 1: Composite picture of the Australian participants
The Australian principal is a male (it should be noted that the percentage of female principals was surprisingly high at 43%) in his fifties with a BEd and an MEd. He is the administrative head of a government primary (K-6) school in an urban area. The school has fewer than 20 teachers and from 200 to 400 students. The principal has been in that position for less than 5 years and he has had executive status for about 12 years and was a classroom teacher for 15 years before he was first appointed to a principalship. He has worked with fewer than 5 different teacher librarians as a classroom teacher and administrator. He is a member of three professional associations. The principal currently employs a full time teacher librarian.
The teacher librarian is a female (it should be noted that 100% of respondents were female, although there are a small percentage of male teacher librarians employed in ACT schools) in her forties, with one year of training beyond her BEd. She has been a teacher librarian at her current school for less than four years, and was appointed to the role after fewer than 10 years as a classroom teacher. She has not held an executive position but she has been identified as an advanced skills teacher for her contribution to teaching and learning. She is a member of two professional associations. She is a regular reader of three professional journals including Access the publication of the Australian school Library association.
Both principal and teacher librarian were selected for their positions by a competitive application process. Compared to the teacher librarian, the principal is senior in age, in teaching experience, and in experience beyond the classroom.
Implications from this data are that it is:
Overall principals viewed themselves as spending a little more time on critical support matters than the teacher librarians perceive them to be spending. Furthermore, principals perceived that they were allocating as much time as they can now on information literacy support.
Principals indicated that they need to increase their support in the future in the following areas:
Implications from these findings
librarianís critical contributions to the quality of teaching and learning
The critical functions of the teacher librarian, according to both principals and teacher librarians in the Australian study, are (1) contributing to professional development of teaching staff, (2) collegiality, (3) collection management, (4) process orientation, and (5) IT expertise.
The participants emphasized the need for the teacher librarian to be a person who could work well with staff and who was at the cutting edge across a number of areas and could encourage and equip teachers to try new approaches. They pointed out that the teacher librarian, therefore, needed to be a person who kept abreast of changes in curriculum, pedagogy, resources, and technology. The across the school perspective and the teacher librarianís willingness to be collegiate was presented in a diversity of ways--being a teacher, teaming with teachers, supporting teachers, leading teachers, and assisting teachers. The content focus of those activities, for teacher librarians was primarily on the application of IT, the strengthening of the research process and on promotion of reading and literature; for principals, concerns were similar but there was little emphasis on literature promotion.
The collection management function was seen as both providing the resources and providing access to those resources. The process orientation was exhibited through the development of an information skills culture and the integration of skills into units of work. Teacher librarians gave emphasis to the role that the teacher librarian played in evaluating student learning. While the IT focus could be seen as a part of each of the preceding categories, there is a sense in which it also stands alone. Both principals and teacher librarians suggested that the teacher librarianís role as an IT expert; even as the IT manager, was critical to the quality of teaching and learning.
Also mentioned by both principals and teacher librarians, but with less frequency, were the contributions of the teacher librarian in meeting the individual needs of students, in helping to develop a schoolwide plan or vision for learning, networking with other information providers, and in communicating the role of school library programs to parents and to the wider community. In addition the teacher librarianís capacity to manage time, or juggle responsibilities, coupled with a flexible approach to change processes was highlighted.
The differences between principals and teacher librarian comes down to a difference in emphasis. Principals in the main tend to see the teacher librarian as a key support, a key resource, a key facilitator-but largely as a professional who enables things to happen, or as a means to an end. The teacher librarians tend to emphasise the front line responsibility of planning, teaching, and evaluating learning as an equal partner with other teachers. All other thing are a means to an end.
to integration of information skills across the curriculum
There was strong agreement between principals and teacher librarians about what barriers hindered the integration of information skills across the curriculum. The barriers could be grouped under five major headings: (1) funding, (2) teacher knowledge and beliefs, (3) teacher desire, (4) planning time, and (5) credentials. Teacher librarians identified a further category, namely: lack of top-down support.
Funding was viewed as inadequate for the purchase of the resources and IT needed for teaching information skills and also for the provision of professional development in how to integrate information skills into the classroom curriculum. Funding for adequate teacher librarian hours, and for support staff hours sometimes meant that teacher librarians were under involved in teaching and learning. The beliefs that created barriers were ones related to teachers not believing that process was important, that collegiality could provide benefits, and that role modelling was important. In addition some suggested that some teacher librarians believed that they worked best in isolation. Some principals believed that teacher librarians did not have much to offer.
Teacher desire was seen as a major issue. Teachers were described as Ďjadedí, too old too change, not wanting to vary from an established program, and not wanting to share Ďtheirí classroom. Often professional development was available but not taken up by teachers. Planning time (or the lack thereof) was a significant problem. The existence of rigid timetables, the fragmentation of the curriculum, the part timeness of the teacher librarian, the isolation of the teacher librarian, and the focus on KLAs (key learning areas) rather than the processes of learning all contributed. teacher librarians were very aware that their role could be marginalised if they were required to replace class teachers during their scheduled release time. Teachers did not desire to increase what they thought was an already heavy workload.
Credentials was considered as the fifth category. The fact that a teacher librarian was not qualified or unprofessional was the major consideration.
Teacher librarians saw the lack of top-down support as a major impediment to their ability to influence the curriculum. This support might be expected from the principal and other executive staff. If the teacher librarianís supervisor were not supportive things were made difficult.
Whilst the principals and teacher
librarians tended to identify the same type of barriers, the principals
tended to be more concerned by big picture matters, and the teacher librarians
by more prosaic things.
This paper has provided only preliminary findings from the Australian study. Further analysis will be required before the full story is able to be told. The Australian findings demonstrate that their is a significant affinity between principals and teacher librarians with respect to information literacy issues. This will allow a concentration on those issues that are seen as contentious and will facilitate the development of a short instrument that could be used to generate data on these key issues. This will be fruitful because the length of the current instruments has been a barrier to the involvement of the stakeholders.
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