My first official task as a student is to share what I think parents and other members of school communities perceive the role of a teacher librarian to be. I have a gut reaction to that question. I believe that the perception of the librarian’s role would vary among different categories of school community members, in a manner similar to the “What my friends think I do” genre of internet meme.
(Blue Mountains Library Staff Connections, 2017)
I would expect the most varied and nuanced ideas regarding the scope of this role to come from teacher librarians themselves. They realise their jobs encompass student welfare, technological coaching, curriculum development and collaboration with all members of staff in addition to teaching and collection management responsibilities. Principals and other executive staff would likely have a similar view of the scope of the role, but less awareness of the myriad different tasks involved. I believe teachers would mostly think of aspects of the role that affect their own daily jobs – like providing resources that align with the curriculum, collaborating on teaching units and providing technological assistance. Students would mostly consider book recommendations and direct teaching done in library lesson time, while parents, in my view, would have the narrowest view. They probably only think about the resource management and book recommendation facets of the role.
I decided to test this hypothesis with a bit of research and conversation.
Kuon and Weimar (2012) found that media specialists, an American teacher librarian equivalent, described over 100 daily tasks performed in their jobs, of which their principals mentioned effectively 10. Both sets of stakeholders nominated connecting students with resources, teaching technology and research skills to the school community and collaboration with classroom teachers as the main facets of the role. In a small Australian research project (Lupton, 2016), principals also expressed recognition of the varied roles of teacher librarians and a view that their librarians represented “value added” to the school community. It is notable, however, that this perception of value often came with a caveat that it pertained more to the particular employee rather than the role of teacher librarian in and of itself.
I asked a small sample of parents and students, “What do you think school librarians do?” All of the answers focused on books: maintaining and circulating the collection and recommending items for pleasure and assignments. Some students had a broader perspective that included teaching, but mostly limited to research skills and library rules. This points to an issue raised by Teacher Librarian Holly Godfree (Hunt, 2017) who refers to the “invisible work” of the teacher librarian. She argues that tasks such as collaboration with teachers on curriculum and pedagogy tend to be seen and reognised in the work of the collaborating partner only, with the teacher librarian’s contribution hidden in the background.
I was pleased that my initial intuition was supported by research. Even the hierarchical graduation of perceived role diversity, starting at ‘all about the books’ by parents and progressing in complexity through students, teachers, principals and finally teacher librarians themselves, seems to hold up under testing.
Blue Mountains Library Staff Connections. (2012, May 21). “What My Friends Think I Do”: Librarians [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://bluemtslibstaff.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/what-my-friends-think-do-librarians/
Hunt, S. (Host). (2017, October 12). Why we need qualified teacher librarians for the digital future Kinderling Conversations [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.kinderling.com.au/kinderling-conversation/why-we-need-qualified-teacher-librarians-needed-for-the-digital-future
Kuon, T., & Weimar, H. (2012). How does your boss see you? School Library Journal, 58(09), 36-39. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/1220638902?accountid=10344
Lupton, M. (2016). Adding Value: Principals’ Perceptions of the Role of the Teacher-Librarian. School Libraries Worldwide, 22(1), 49-61. doi:10.14265.22.1.005
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