Making a difference

Case study

Module

Module 5: Libraries on the agenda

Topic

Topic 2: Developing an advocacy role

Abstract

Library associations can play an important role in helping to raise professional standards and to help their members strive for excellence in practice.  This case study profiles one teacher librarian who drew on professional standards to guide her own practice, to help her set the goals for the school library and to legitimise the work she performed.  By collecting evidence about the quality of the collections and services, it was possible to establish benchmarks that demonstrated the value of the library to the school community, as well as to contribute to the further development of the professional documents.

Key Ideas

As you read the case study, think about the following issues:

  1. The importance of evidence based practice in libraries
  2. How library associations support their members
  3. The resources developed and distributed by associations
  4. The role played by standards and benchmarking in service quality
  5. The role of members to contribute to the association’s work

Profile

The Australian School Library Association (ASLA), as a national federation of State and Territory Associations, serves as the peak forum in the field of teacher librarianship and school library resource services. Its key focus is for teacher librarians to foster student excellence and the capacity for independent lifelong learning through the optimum application of the dual skills of teaching and librarianship. The association promotes the role of qualified teacher librarians with an image of excellence, high professional standards, encourages the effective, cooperative use of school resource services by the whole school community and an awareness of advances and changes in technology, along with the competence and ability to teach and use information and communication technologies (ICT).

The association members collaboratively develop national standards and policies for school libraries and the teacher librarian profession, and engages in advocacy and lobbying activities on behalf of school libraries. In addition, ASLA supports research in the field of school libraries and publishes a range of professional resource materials. ASLA is administered by a council comprised of representatives from each member association. There is a strong alliance in place between ASLA and the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), with a joint Policy Advisory Group which advises both bodies on issues impacting on the school library sector. Key policy documents include the Statement on teacher librarians in Australia and Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians.

Discussion

Ann Gillespie was a primary school teacher who had moved into teacher librarianship. In 2007 she completed a Master of Information Management in 2007 which allowed her to rethink her information practices and apply her learnings to the specific field of teacher librarianship. She was offered the position of teacher librarian at Mount Samson, a small state school on the outskirts of Brisbane. Mount Samson State School has around 220 students from the Preparatory Year (age 5) to Year 7 (age 12).

As Ann believed that this would be a good opportunity to put her new knowledge and skills into practice, she accepted eagerly the job. Once she started work, however, she found that the library had been neglected badly as there had been no permanent teacher librarian at the school. The library was a mess! It had been used as a space to dump all sorts of things that had no ‘home’.

There was a huge backlog of cataloguing to do – there were many boxes of materials to work through, to sort and to organise.

Ann realised that she faced an enormous challenge to turn the situation around and create order from the chaos that confronted her. She wanted to be able to establish herself as a library and information professional and to develop a library service that would increase the visibility of the library and bring meaning and value to the staff, the students and their families at Mount Samson. Her mantra was “to provide the best library and information service that I can”. But where could she begin? Ann was already a member of both the Australian School Library Association (ASLA) and the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). An important first step was therefore to turn to the professional policies that could guide her practice. The Statement on teacher librarians in Australia outlines the role of teacher librarians:

Principle

Teacher librarians support and implement the vision of their school communities through advocating and building effective library and information services and programs that contribute to the development of lifelong learners.

Statement

The teacher librarian is a leader within the educational community. The valuable role of the teacher librarian focuses on:

  • Learners and learning
  • Teachers and teaching
  • Resourcing the curriculum
  • Facilitating access to information
  • Developing the physical environment

This can be evidenced by:

  • Understanding learners and their needs
  • Collaborating with teachers to plan and implement information literacy and literature programs
  • Ensuring the school library collection supports the school curriculum and community
  • Using technologies as teaching and learning tools
  • Creating effective learning environments
  • Participating in the school and wider learning community”

Ann realised that, to be effective, she needed to contextualise these ideas within the school itself. The school’s mission statement was in itself very helpful: “Learning for Living”, which is achieved through high academic expectations and strong partnerships between the staff and the school community. There was therefore already strong alignment with the concepts embodied in the principle of the statement for teacher librarians.

Ann drew on the key ideas presented in the school’s mission statement and in the ALIA/ASLA professional statement to develop new goals and policy directions for the school library:

To provide information and support services for the provision of learning and teaching of all members of the school community:

  • Through the promotion of the enjoyment and appreciation of literature
  • By fostering lifelong learning skills
  • By developing information literacy skills

She made sure that the school community became aware of the goals for the library by publishing it in the school newsletter that was read by teachers and parents and that it appeared on the school website. This brief policy became the leading tenet for Ann’s own work practices: every task she undertook linked back to one or more of these overarching goals.

Ann sought to create a high quality library service that reflected her own professional excellence. Again, she was able to turn to the professional association for guidance. The Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians have been developed as a national framework for professional practice, to ensure that school libraries are consistently staffed by highly-accomplished teacher librarians. The document serves both as a useful framework for pre-service and in-service education and as a framework for ongoing professional learning for qualified teacher librarians. Within the three strands of professional knowledge, professional practice and professional commitment there are twelve standards which attempt to encapsulate the complex work of the teacher librarian. The succinct structure of the standards was intentional, as an expanded narrative discussion of the work of a teacher librarian is available in the text Learning for the future: Developing information services in Australian schools. This text has a strong focus on the integration of ICT into teaching and learning.

The Standards of professional excellence and the detailed strategies presented in Learning for the future became Ann’s benchmark for professional practice. She felt it was imperative to identify areas of influence where her work as teacher librarian would make a difference. In Australia, primary school students sit a series of national tests in years 3, 5 and 7, so Ann liaised closely with her colleagues who were teaching in the areas of literacy, writing and numeracy to create the resources that would support their own work with the students. By using the professional documents to benchmark her own practice, Ann introduced a number of new initiatives, including:

  • Online library catalogue and access to relevant databases
  • Online homework helpers
  • Consultation and curriculum planning with teachers
  • Information literacy activities embedded in the learning programs
  • Liaison with council libraries, with a mobile library visiting the school every second week

Evidence based practice was an important angle of her work: by collecting quantitative and qualitative information about the collections and services, Ann could paint a clear picture of the changing role of the library and the contribution it made to the school community. Communication was critical – Ann met regularly with the school principal, attended staff meetings, and prepared regular progress reports. Ann’s philosophy is that ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child and a whole school to build positive outcomes for students”. There is clear evidence of the successful outcomes at Mount Samson: the library is now a lively centre of activity that meets Ann’s original goals providing information and support services for the provision of learning and teaching of all members of the school community. The support of the school principal was, of course, critical to these achievements.

Ann’s own workplace practice utilised the principles of action research to support her agenda for continuous improvement. She has worked directly with stakeholders to measure and evaluate the impact of the initiatives she has introduced and uses the evidence she collects to drive further change. As an active member of the ALIA/ASLA Policy Advisory Group, Ann is involved in updating the Learning for the future document, to ensure that there is a strong framework for future teacher librarian practice. She is now completing her PhD in the area of Evidence Based Practice, to investigate the extent to which the professional standards for teacher librarians contribute to improved student learning outcomes.

Summary

Library associations play an important role in drafting and promoting professional standards to support excellence in practice. IFLA has developed a range of guidelines for public, government and legislative library services, some of which focus on specific user groups such as multicultural communities, babies and toddlers and Braille users or on particular aspects of service, such as Internet access, audiovisual and multimedia materials, or on building design. At the local level, Ann Gillespie has made a significant impact in one small school library. While her personal attributes of high energy, enthusiasm and commitment are inspiring, Ann acknowledges that the professional standards developed jointly by ASLA and ALIA were integral to the attainment of the goals she established and the initiatives she introduced at Mount Sampson. Her experiences are now enabling her to make a positive contribution to the process of updating the documents that had guided her practice.

Footnote

At the time of preparing the case study, the Australian Federal Government was conducting a national enquiry into school libraries and teacher librarians. For further information: Parliament of Australia: http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/edt/schoollibraries/index.htm
ASLA: http://www.asla.org.au/schoollibraries/
ALIA: http://alia.org.au/schoollibraries/

Questions

  1. What data do you think Ann was able to collect to provide evidence about the quality of the library’s collections and services?
  2. Do you believe that your association and members could make use of tools and resources such as those used by Ann? How might they be used to the best advantage?
  3. To what extent does your library association support the interests of teacher librarians and/or school libraries? Do you think that there is more that can be done?
  4. Has your association already developed any standards or benchmarking tools to encourage excellence in practice? If so, please outline how they may have helped the association’s members. If not, what would you like to see happen in your own association? Who would benefit most from the process, and why?
  5. Are you familiar with the guidelines and standards developed by IFLA? Have these or other measurement tools been used by your association? Which have been used, and in what situations? Can you provide some examples or illustrations of where they have been used successfully?

Case Notes

Resource: Case study
Country: Australia
Region: Asia & Oceania
Agency: Australian School Library Association (ASLA), Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA)
Topic: Evidence based practice
Keywords: school libraries, teacher librarians, standards, benchmarking, evidence based practice

Source

Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) & Australian School Library Association (ASLA). (2001). Learning for the future: Developing information services in Australian schools. 2nd ed. Carlton South: Curriculum Corporation
Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) & Australian School Library Association (ASLA). Statement on teacher librarians in Australia. Available online: http://www.asla.org.au/policy/teacher.librarians.Australia.htm
Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) & Australian School Library Association (ASLA). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Available online: http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.htm

Associations, Australia, Building Strong Library Associations

Last update: 21 October 2012