We all know the difference a qualified teacher-librarian can make to the educational outcomes of students in their schools. Research shows that standardised testing results in literacy are higher in schools with teacher-librarians on staff. Current advocacy campaigns in Australia, such as Students Need School Libraries, rightly focus on the fact that students benefit from having a well-resourced and adequately staffed school library. What is lesser discussed is the impact teacher-librarians have on educators and staff at a school.
Teachers need teacher-librarians too. They just may not always realise it. A lot of the work teacher-librarians do can be invisible, as they actively support teaching colleagues to meet the teaching and learning needs of a school. For example, teacher-librarians provide book recommendations and teaching resources to support the curriculum, participate in curriculum planning, collaboratively teach research and digital literacy skills, as well as provide professional development to staff. It is a servant-leader approach where teacher-librarians focus on supporting the growth, well-being and performance of others.
“While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” (Greenleaf, 1970)
It is through putting the needs of students, teachers and schools first that the positive contribution of the teacher-librarian can be overlooked and undervalued. Despite the fact that teacher-librarians are highly-trained specialists with university qualifications in both education and librarianship, many teachers and principals are unaware of the educational value of the role (Merga, 2019). When the value of a role is unknown and not made visible, it can be easy for school leaders to cut funding for the teacher-librarian position and divert funds elsewhere. But at what cost for teacher well-being?
Early in my teaching career, I was lucky enough to work with a dedicated, passionate and qualified teacher-librarian. It was this person, who inspired my own desire to be a teacher-librarian. The teacher-librarian was a great support to teachers – she always ensured we had a box of quality literature and teaching resources ready to support our units of work. Every term, new library books were delivered to classrooms for silent reading. Library lessons were collaborative and based around our units of work in the classroom. The teacher-librarian was involved in curriculum planning days and always there to support teachers in anyway she could.
Sadly, this is no longer the case in many schools around Australia and many young teachers may not have experienced the difference a teacher-librarian can make to their teaching practice, workload and well-being. Workload intensification is a common concern faced by many educators around the world and the loss of a teacher-librarian in schools simply compounds the issue. Without a teacher-librarian, the important work of this specialised position, simply becomes another to-do list on an already busy teachers to-do list or worse still doesn’t get done at all.
Unfortunately old stereotypes still exist and some educators still perpetuate the myth of the teacher-librarian as a “dragon” and “gatekeeper” of the books. Other colleagues wrongly believe that the teacher-librarian role simply involves borrowing and shelving books. These stereotypes are not helpful and do little to help the cause of contemporary teacher-librarians. Jenny Kemp’s article Ten ways to advocate for your role as a teacher librarian provides excellent tips on how to show teachers and schools why they need a teacher librarian.
As a result, advocacy campaigns need to highlight how teacher-librarians support educators as well as students. Library advocates need to work together with teachers to show governments and school leadership the value a teacher-librarian can bring to school teaching practice and staff well-being. Teachers who have a dedicated teacher-librarian on staff, must become active advocacy partners and acknowledge the work teacher-librarians do before it is too late. Otherwise, schools and educators won’t know what they are missing until it is too late.
Students AND teachers not only need, but deserve, qualified and passionate teacher-librarians in schools.