04 May, 2010

why do they hate me?

OK, perhaps I am being over dramatic (and perhaps posting this on my blog rather than as a reply to the list I will be talking about is a tad passive aggressive?) but...

The recent government enquiry into school libraries has lead to a spike in posts on the OZTL_NET list. Amongst these posts (and here) there have been some at which I take umbrage, but I have decided not to engage in a land war in Asia pointless online argument. Instead, I will work out my thinking here on the blog and then decide whether I have anything to add to the debate.

What has been said?

Well, in short there have been questions asked about how to properly staff and resource a school library. There have been some, nay, plenty of very good arguments for teacher librarians (TLs), but then some TLs have taken a slightly different tack and argued against public librarians (seems to be shorthand for non-teacher librarians) and their suitability in a school setting.

as a school librarian who has come to this position via (amongst other things) public libraries I have found a lot of the negative stuff rather affronting. Take these extracts (from a couple of different people) for example

A public librarian might learn *some* of these (teaching) skills through the school of hard knocks, their own child-rearing, journal articles, or short professional development courses...
It's a legality that while students are at school they *must* be under the supervision of fully-trained teachers at all times. If a school opted to staff its school library with parent helpers, clerical assistants, or a former public librarian, the students could not legally be left alone in their presence.
In Australia, public librarians are not teachers in the sense of having a teaching qualification and therefore an understanding of pedagogy, curriculum, student management and administration and all those sorts of things... They may have learned about information literacy and children's lit during their qualification but it is all that other stuff... that requires that extra year at least.

A non-teaching librarian (with no teacher qualifications) might be called upon to demonstrate skills to library patrons, but they wouldn't be designing a program of lessons (for school students) with no teacher input.
Can I argue with these people? What do I offer that a TL does not or what don't I offer that a TL does and am I just being over-sensitive when I feel insulted by these posts (and others like them)?

Before I reply, I will make it clear that I am thinking for the most part about high school libraries, rather than primary school libraries. I think a TL is much more important in a primary school setting. That said, given the choice between a teacher who is not a librarian and a librarian who is not a teacher I would suggest the library needs the librarian more but the public system in Australia does not make employing a librarian possible while many of the school librarians I meet are teachers not TLs.

Public librarians are not teachers...
No, fair call, I am not a teacher. In fact I keep forgetting what a pedagogy is, but does that disqualify me from performing my duties here?
I don't believe so. Sure, perhaps others here are better trained in the theory of teaching but unfortunately a lot of them don't know the things which I teach. Search strategies, referencing... There seem to be a lot of gaps in the knowledge of many teachers in these areas. Would these gaps exist in the knowledge of a TL? I would certainly hope not but then, just as I know plenty of overly conservative librarians who are reluctant to embrace change there are plenty of TLs who are in the same situation. TLs who still act like the book is the be all and end all of the profession, who engage in petty and pointless arguments with students about the unsuitability of wikipedia or whose library are dry vaults, tombs to the memory of a bookcentric information gathering process.

As a non-TL, I may be called upon (so these folk believe) to demonstrate skills, but little more. Well, in fact no. I am writing lessons (and have delivered lessons) to students on topics relevant to the library, to research, copyright, referencing. Yes, I have done so at the behest of a teacher and that teacher has been present with me when I have delivered the lesson. But there has been enough respect shown for my professionalism to allow me to deliver the lesson as I see fit.
It is interesting that in my last position, no one thought it inappropriate for me to write and deliver lessons to students in higher education (including those studying for a B Ed). So, somehow I am qualified to teach teachers, but not to teach their students?

Now, of course my last job was as an academic librarian rather than as a public librarian. But I did feel that the public librarian term was being used as a catch all term for non-TLs. Still, in defence of the public librarian... As a public librarian (Children's and Youth Services) I was regularly invited into schools by TLs or teachers to talk to students about research skills, to demonstrate databases and to teach them how best to use these resources. No one ever asked to see my proposed lessons beforehand. No one ever saw fit to correct my pedagogy (can you correct a pedagogy?). Plus, the public library is often the place where kids come and do their research. And due to the rarity of a kid who knew what the hell they were doing when it came to researching their work the public librarians are often the ones to teach that skill. Now, sure the one on one nature of teaching research skills in a public library make it very diferent from a classroom but it is certainly not an unusual thing for a public librarian to be doing.

The legalities of leaving students supervised by non-teachers vary from State to State but as a non-teacher I certainly would not want to be shuffled off sideways and told to teach year 9 English. In fact, even were I a qualified teacher, I wouldn't want to be shuffled off sideways into a classroom because that would cause all sorts of problems for the correct running of the library. Indeed, that is (at least part of) the reason why my school decided to employ a non-TL. Because I am here and can not be dragged off to become a free relief teacher.

Yet, despite the fact I am not a teacher it is quite legal (here in the NT) for me to be running the library at lunch time and after school (we average about 65 kids in the place at lunch). This does involve student management which, despite my never having done my Dip Ed is not dissimilar to the sort of crowd control I would use in a busy public library. In fact, at one stage in one public library I would regularly be doing storytime for 90 pre-school kids. So yes I have learned these skills in the school of hard knocks.

Which leads me onto another aspect of this public library dissing. Where do teachers learn their student management? I would say in the school of hard knocks, the same way I learned. Why would I say that? Because I have friends who are teachers, I work with teachers and I have watched teachers. New graduate teachers do not arrive fully operational and ready to go. Just as new grad librarians do not have all the skills they need. They arrive with some ideas, some part formed skills gained during practicum and they leap out of their nest and try to fly. The theory you gain during your studies in a good resource, it gives you something to model your style on and something to fall back on when things don't work but it is not everything. I have seen new grad teachers who have the personality to leap into a classroom and do all they need to do with consummate ease. But I have also seen teachers with years under their belt who crumble (or worse yet, begin screaming and shouting) at the first sign of dissent of defiance.

The bit of paper is unfortunately no indicator of how well someone will perform under real world conditions so, in the right school, with the right conditions and the right person I stand here and tell you a Public Librarian can do the job and do it well.

Andrew (librarian idol, who is like me an ex-public librarian now working as a school librarian) wrote a post where he looked at the difference between the deprofessionalisation of librarians and the employing on non-TLs in schools. I would like to suggest that employing a librarian is not in any way deprofessionalising. It is looking for a different skillset, but my skills are every bit as professional as a TL. Unfortunately, the posts I have been reading (and the comments on Andrew's blog) seem to clump all non teachers into one big basket, so the arguments against employing a librarian are the same as those against staffing your library with a support officer or with parent volunteers. This is unfortunately a very disingenuous line of reasoning and completely ignores the professionalism of a librarian.

Like Andrew, I recognise that a Dip Ed could "enhance my current skills" and unlike Andrew I am lucky enough to be in a position where my employer would support me in gaining that nice bit of paper. But, if I were to go out and get it, my reason would be that it makes me more employable, not that it is in any way necessary to do my job and do it well.