This paper was presented as part of IFLA'98 Session 158B:
School Libraries and Resource Centres: Morning Workshop
On Thursday, 20 August, 1998 at Hotel Mecure Amsterdam
Aan De Amstel, Joan Muyskenweg 10, 1096 CJ
Amsterdam, Netherlands


The Canadian Experience


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.

Research Sample
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. 

Survey Administration
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.

Survey Results
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 to one. 

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 by students.

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.


IFLA IRRG Principals Project Web Site Coordinator Lyn Hay
Updated 20 September 2000.
Copyright 1998-2000