paper was presented as part of IFLA'98 Session 158B:
Libraries and Resource Centres: Morning Workshop
20 August, 1998 at Hotel Mecure Amsterdam
Aan De Amstel,
Joan Muyskenweg 10, 1096 CJ
OF THE PRINCIPAL IN AN INFORMATION LITERATE SCHOOL COMMUNITY : AN INTERNATIONAL
Oberg School of Library and Information Studies, University
of Alberta, Canada
The Canadian study was conducted across the public and separate
school districts of the province of Alberta. Alberta is in the Western
part of Canada; it is a very large geographic area that is sparsely populated.
In Alberta, both non-denominational public schools and Catholic separate
schools are fully funded by the provincial government. Alberta Education
(the ministry of education for the province) sets the goals of schooling,
establishes curriculum guidelines and requirements, evaluates student learning
through a testing program at grades 3, 6, 9 and 12, and provides educational
funding. The delivery of schooling is delegated to school districts, each
governed by an elected board of trustees and ranging in size from several
schools and a few hundred students to over 200 schools with tens of thousands
of students. The organizational structure for public education in Alberta
results in considerable local autonomy for schools, even those within the
same school district. This local autonomy, combined with reductions in
funding to education by the provincial government, has led to a decrease
in the time allocation for many teacher-librarians and a decrease in the
overall numbers of teacher-librarians in the province in the 1990s.
Selection of the research participants could not be done by
random sampling because all schools in Alberta do not have teacher-librarians.
A population approach (selection of all the schools in one district, for
example) could not used either because no district in the province is large
enough to have 250 schools with teacher-librarians, the sample size that
was needed to reach the target response number of at least 150 participating
schools (both elementary and secondary schools). This was based on a minimum
60% response rate, predicted from earlier survey research done in the schools
of the province. Instead a purposive sampling approach was used. The sample--the
252 schools with a teacher-librarian assigned at least one-half time to
the school library program--was identified using the teacher information
database of Alberta Education.
Because all public schools in Alberta were believed to have
Internet access, the online version of the questionnaires were used for
the study. In November 1997, information about the study and how to participate
was mailed to the principals of the 252 schools. Because of the Freedom
of Information and Protection of Privacy Act of the Province of Alberta,
letters could not be sent to principals and teacher-librarians by name.
To increase response rate, reminder cards were mailed to teacher-librarians
one week after the invitations to participate were mailed to principals.
As the responses began to come in, problems in the research design became
apparent. By January, it was clear that some of the online forms were being
only partially filled out, that only one or two of the three instruments
were filled out by some participants, and that not both the principal and
the teacher-librarian in some schools were responding. A second reminder
letter was mailed out to the schools in March. The Canadian data pool included
responses from 59 teacher-librarians and 40 principals. The final response
rate was 9% (23 out of 252 schools with complete data sets).
What went wrong in the Canadian study? There were a number of factors that
influenced response rates. Firstly, the survey instrument was viewed by
the Canadian participants as too lengthy and too complicated to complete.
Both principals and teacher-librarians contacted the researcher with concerns
about the survey length and format. One principal commented in responding
to Instrument 3, the open-ended part of the survey, "I can not believe
that you sent out something so time consuming! I do not have time in my
busy schedule to fill out this document!"
Secondly, the Web-based format of the instrument created difficulties for
some of the participants. Not all schools actually had Internet access,
despite the official Alberta Education stance that all Alberta schools
are connected to the Internet. Some participants had difficulty getting
into the survey website and some participants, particularly principals,
were inexperienced Internet users. A few participants, however, requested
paper copies of the surveys and, in those cases, the data was entered online
by a research assistant. Finally, a postal strike delayed the mailing
of the letters inviting participation in the study until November which
is the beginning of the busy time of the fall school term. In addition,
the two largest school systems in the province were involved in labour
disputes during the time of the study. One system experienced a "work-to-rule"
situation when teachers were expected to limit their non-classroom activities
to one half-hour before and after the school day and the other was threatened
with such action for several weeks.
The findings from the Canadian data that are reported below
are based responses from 59 teacher-librarians and 40 principals. Due to
the fact that the majority of schools who responded were K-6, urban, public
schools, the results of this study will reflect the perceptions of principals
and teacher-librarians in urban primary schools that are public schools
more than those of rural schools, private schools and schools of other
types (i.e., high schools, K-10, 11-12, and 7-10). These results cannot
be generalized to all the schools in Alberta due to the fact that the sample
size is skewed in this manner. However, it is likely the results are generalizable
for urban K-6 public schools in Alberta.
(a) Results from Instrument 1
The data from Instrument 1 gave information about the school
context of the participants and about their education and experience.
To give readers a sense of the Canadian participants and their context,
a composite picture has been developed by selecting the modal (most frequently
selected) response for each of the categories in Instrument 1.
Composite Picture of the Canadian Respondents
The principal is a male in his fifties with a BEd (the four-year degree
normally required for entry into teaching) and an MEd (a two-year graduate
level degree). He is the administrative head of an elementary (grades
K-6) school in an urban area. The school has approximately 20 teachers
and 500 students. The principal has been in that position for less
than five years and he was a classroom teacher for 10 years or more before
he was first appointed to a principalship. He has served in school or district
leadership positions for more than twenty years and, during his time as
a classroom teacher and as an administrator, he has worked with three or
four different teacher-librarians. He is a member of the teachers' association
specialist council for administrators.
The teacher-librarian is a female in her forties, with a BEd and a year
or more of postbaccalaureate studies. She has been a teacher-librarian
for less than five years, and was appointed to the role after less than
10 years as a classroom teacher. She has not served in any school or district
leadership roles but she is a member of the specialist council for teacher-librarians.
She subscribes to three or four different teacher-librarian journals and
is a regular reader of Teacher-Librarian Today (the publication of her
specialist council) and Emergency Librarian (a commercial publication for
Canadian and American teacher-librarians). Although the library in her
school has an Internet connection and although there are several listservs
for teacher-librarians in Canada and the United States, she does not belong
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.
(b) Results from Instrument 2
Part A: Perception Factors
Part A: Perception Factors examined the perceptions that teacher-librarians
and principals held in relation to the amount of time that principals spend
now and should spend in the future in relation to the development of an
information literate school community. The participants responded to 31
items using a 4-point scale (4-A lot, 3-Some, 2-Little, 1-None). The option
of '0-Cannot Comment' was also provided.
Frequency Analysis: For the teacher-librarian, the means for
the Present Situation ranged from a high of 3.66 (between Some and A lot)
for "The principal encourages and facilitates the professional development
of teaching staff" to a low of 2.37 (between Little and Some) for "When
the teacher-librarian is not represented on a key committee, the principal
ensures that the needs of the library resource centre are addressed." For
the teacher-librarians, the means for the Future Situation ranged from
a high of 3.49 for "The principal ensures that the attainment of information
literacy is part of the school plan" to a low of 2.64 for "The principal
encourages teaching staff debate on information policy." On average the
teacher-librarians viewed their principals as spending an appropriate amount
of time on tasks related to the development of an information literate
school, that is, the teacher-librarians rated the Present Situation (how
much attention the principal gives this item) and the Future Situation
(how much attention should the principal give this item) quite similarly.
For example, for Item 2, the teacher-librarians viewed their principals
as spending between Some and A lot of time on ensuring that the attainment
of information literacy was part of the school plan and they felt that
the principal should continue to spend this amount of time on this task
in the future.
For the principals, the means for the Present Situation ranged from a high
of 3.94 (between Some and A lot) for "The principal encourages and facilitates
the professional development of teaching staff" to a low of 2.51 (between
Little and Some) for "The principal actively seeks outside school funding
possibilities that can be used to supplement the library resource budget."
For principals, for the Future Situation, the means ranged from a high
of 3.94 for "The principal ensures that the school library resource centre
objectives reflect school goals" to a low of 2.80 for "The principal actively
seeks outside school funding possibilities that can be used to supplement
the library resource budget." Overall, principals viewed themselves as
spending about the same time on tasks as teacher-librarians perceived them
to be spending. Principals also perceived themselves as generally
spending as much time on tasks as they can or think they should.
Significant Differences: T-tests were used to look for significant
differences between time currently spent and time perceived to be required
in the future, by individual items and by overall scores. Only one individual
item revealed significant difference (p<.01). Present vs Future responses
to Item 12, "The principal informs new teaching staff about the importance
of collaborating with the teacher-librarian" were significant for the principals
only (Present mean of 3.40 and Future mean of 3.71).
By overall scores, principals and teacher-librarians differed significantly
on the amount of time they perceived the principal to spend on tasks.
Principals viewed themselves as spending slightly more time on tasks than
did the teacher-librarians. Principals and teacher-librarians also
significantly differed on the amount of time they perceived the principal
should spend on tasks in the future. Principals believed they should
spend more time on tasks in the future than did the teacher-librarians.
Part B: Belief Factors
Part B: Belief Factors examined
the beliefs held by teacher-librarians and principals in relation to a
number of issues related to the development of an information literate
school community. The participants responded to 22 items using a 4-point
scale (4-Strongly agree, 3-Agree, 2-Disagree, 1-Strongly disagree).
Teacher-librarians (TLs) rated the
following belief statements most strongly (mean of greater than 3.70):
the TL should be a key player in the school's information literacy programs;
the TL should provide a flexible timetable that best meets the needs of
individual students, groups, and whole classes; Internet access should
be available through the LRC; the TL should provide appropriate inservicing
to the teaching staff; cooperative planning and teaching should occur in
the classroom as well as in the LRC; and the TL should inform the principal
about issues affecting the potential of the LRC. The principals also rated
these belief statement very strongly (mean of greater than 3.70).
The principals differed from teacher-librarians on other items: the principals
were less likely to believe that it was necessary for the teacher-librarian
to spend all of his/her day in the LRC; they were more likely to believe
that the principal should supervise the TL; they believed it was not as
necessary to fill the TL's position with a suitably qualified person if
the TL were absent; and they did not believe that it was as necessary for
the TLs to be supported to serve in school or district leadership positions
as the TLs themselves felt it was.
(c) Results from Instrument 3
Responses to the open-ended questions on Instrument 3 were analyzed
through a process of reading and re-reading responses, noting the content
of responses, identifying themes or categories according to the content,
and then grouping and re-grouping the responses within the themes or categories.
This interpretive process began with reading all the responses to get an
overall sense of the data. Then, each of the open-ended questions was analyzed.
Approximately the same proportion (about 75%) of the teacher-librarian
respondents completed the open-ended questions as did the principal respondents.
The themes for each of the open-ended questions are based on the responses
of 43-47 of the 59 teacher-librarians and 18-31 of the 40 principals.
Question 1 asked participants to identify the strengths of the library
resource centre. Principals emphasized the qualified and cooperative staff,
the resources and equipment, and a focus on learning and curriculum; teacher-librarians
emphasized the resources and equipment, a focus on learning and curriculum,
and an open, inviting, well-organized environment.
Question 2 asked participants to identify the challenges that face the
library resource centre. Principals and teacher-librarians mentioned financial
resources most frequently. Teacher-librarians frequently mentioned two
other challenges: lack of support for the library resource centre from
other educators and difficulties in dealing with constantly changing technology.
Question 3 asked the participants to identify the things that the teacher-librarian
does that are critical to the quality of teaching and learning. The three
critical functions of the teacher-librarian, according to both principals
and teacher-librarians in the Canadian study, are inservicing staff, cooperative
planning and teaching, and collection development. Overall, the principals
and teacher-librarians were in agreement as to the nature of teacher-librarians'
contributions to teaching and learning. However, the principals put the
strongest emphasis on the inservicing role while the teacher-librarians
put the strongest emphasis on the cooperative planning and teaching role.
Question 4 asked how the form and quality of teaching and learning in the
school would be affected if the learning resource centre were to be closed
for more than two weeks. Principals most frequently responded that students
and teachers would be unable to access the resources that they needed and
that this would have a major schoolwide impact. Teacher-librarians also
mentioned the schoolwide impact but were more likely to focus on specific
impacts such as students and teachers being unable to access the resources
that they needed, less collaboration among staff, reductions in the variety
of instructional strategies being used, and decreased recreational reading
Question 5 asked how the form and quality of teaching and learning would
be affected if the teacher-librarian were to be absent for more than two
weeks. Both principals and teacher-librarians believed, first, that there
would be less collaboration among staff and, second, that the instructional
program related to the research process would suffer.
Question 6 asked about the arrangements that are made to ensure access
to the learning resource centre when the teacher-librarian is absent. Slightly
more than 50% of both principals and teacher-librarians reported that support
staff (aide or technician) are left in charge to do the best that they
can while the others reported that a substitute teacher (not necessarily
a qualified teacher-librarian) supervises the learning resources centre.
Question 7 asked respondents to give their ideas about information literacy.
The principals responded to this question with fewer ideas and with less
consistency than did teacher-librarians. The most frequent responses from
both groups centred around being able to access information from a variety
of sources and knowing how to analyze, evaluate and use information. Only
teacher-librarians mentioned being able to share knowledge effectively
and being able to find answers to questions relevant to one's life as important
aspects of information literacy.
Question 8 asked respondents to identify major barriers to the integration
of information skills across the curriculum. Teacher-librarians saw time
(their own time and teachers' time-25 mentions) as the major barrier to
integration. The second barrier (12 mentions each by principals and by
teacher-librarians) was teachers' beliefs and attitudes. Tied for third
place were lack of funding (mentioned by both groups), lack of principal
leadership and understanding (mentioned by teacher-librarians) and focus
on test scores instead of critical thinking skills (mentioned by teacher-librarians).
Question 9 asked how the respondents promoted the role of the learning
resources centre through school committees. The most frequent responses,
from principals and teacher-librarians, centred around the teacher-librarians'
membership on the internal committees of the school, those responsible
for general governance such as faculty council and those responsible for
key aspects of school organization such as professional development, budget
and technology as well as their regular participation in monthly staff
meetings. Several principals mentioned that the teacher-librarian represented
the school on the school council, the advisory bodies made up of parents
and teachers which are mandated for Alberta schools; others mentioned that
they supported and defended the position of the teacher-librarian at the
system or school district level.
Only teacher-librarians were asked to respond to questions 10 and 11 about
maintaining teacher-librarian credibility and about additional support
that the principal could provide. Teacher librarians reported that they
maintain their credibility by keeping current in curriculum and instruction
and technology (24 mentions), by providing a quality school library program
through collaboration and through services to teachers (20 mentions), by
participating in the life of the school including serving on committees
(10 mentions), and by staying current in their own field of teacher-librarianship
(8 mentions). Teacher-librarians suggested that principals could provide
additional supports by increasing financial support (over 30 mentions)
for resources, teacher-librarian time, and/or clerical staff time and by
advocating for the program (11 mentions) through talking about the library
program and collaboration in staff meetings and through visiting the library
and providing feedback to the teacher-librarian. Nine respondents reported
that their principals were, in fact, very supportive.
Selected Factors and Recommendations
1. Teacher-librarians in Alberta need to work to increase both
their qualifications and their curriculum leadership experience. Many teacher-librarians
lack the minimum recommended educational qualifications for their positions;
many lack the leadership experience that would help them perform their
expected leadership role. Almost half (46.4%) of the teacher-librarian
respondents in Alberta had neither a post-baccalaureate diploma nor graduate
degree, and almost half (46.2%) had not served in a school or district
curriculum leadership position. Both principals and teacher-librarians
agreed that teacher-librarians should have a qualification in education
and librarianship but teacher-librarians were less likely than principals
to believe that an unqualified teacher-librarian should seek librarianship
qualifications The principals, however, were less likely to believe that
absent teacher-librarians should be replaced by suitably qualified persons
and much less likely to believe that teacher-librarians should be supported
to serve in leadership positions. The relationships between principals
and teacher-librarians are likely to be influenced by differences in gender,
age, experience and education as well as their position power. In the Canadian
study, the principals had the advantage overall. Compared to the mostly
female teacher-librarians, the mostly male principals were senior in age,
in education, in teaching experience, and in experience beyond the classroom--81.4%
of principals had a diploma or graduate degree and all had five or more
years of administrative experience. Consideration of these factors would
increase the strength of the recommendation for teacher-librarians to increase
both their qualifications and their curriculum leadership experience.
2. Teacher-librarians and principals
may need to work together to improve their supervisory relationships. The
principals and teacher librarians disagreed on both the amount of supervision
and the sources of information used in supervision, now and in the future.
Both reported that the principal currently spends some time visiting the
library to observe the work of the teacher-librarian but principals believed
they should spend more time in this way in the future while teacher-librarians
believed that principals should spend less time in this way in the future
(mean of 3.40 for principals; mean of 2.88 for teacher-librarians). Both
principals and teacher-librarians believed that in future principals should
be spending more time seeking feedback from staff about their impressions
of the quality of library services, but principals believed that they should
spend more time at this than did teacher-librarians (mean of 3.29 for principals;
mean of 2.86 for teacher-librarians). Supervision can be and should be
an opportunity for mutual education and for realistic goal-setting. The
new supervision system which will be used in Alberta schools, being introduced
over the next few years, does require all educators to set goals annually
for performance, to meet with their supervisors at the beginning and end
of each year to discuss goals and assess progress. This approach, where
educators develop and use "personal professional growth plans" could be
used to good effect by teacher-librarians and principals.
Although there were many difficulties with the data collection
for the Alberta study, they were the kind of problems from which researchers
can learn. For example, piloting of data collection instruments always
needs to be done very carefully and thoroughly but, in an international
study, the instruments need to be piloted in each of the countries involved
and with a population that is very similar to the one that will be surveyed.
The use of web-based questionnaires was a major obstacle for many of the
Alberta participants and likely a total deterrent for many potential participants.
Despite the low response rates for the individual principals (15%), for
the individual teacher-librarians (23%), and for the school pairs (9%)
and the skewed data (responses mostly from urban elementary schools), the
data has provided some interesting patterns and has allowed the raising
of questions for further investigation.
Principals Project Web Site Coordinator Lyn
Updated 20 September 2000.