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School Libraries

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Article Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. The context: regulation and funding
  3. What does the school librarian do?
  4. Resources
  5. Summary
  6. References

What does the school librarian do?

The effective library positions itself at the heart of the school, providing vital support to both teachers teaching and learners learning.

To do this most effectively, it must have the support of management.  According to the CILIP report (Streatfield et al. 2010), it is preferable that the librarian report to someone with an effective voice who also has sufficient time, and knowledge, to provide assistance and mentoring.

Supporting teaching and learning

The first duty of the school librarian is to support teaching and learning throughout the school at all levels, not just first year and sixth form.

In some places, such as Australia and the US, school librarians may be dual qualified in teaching and librarianship, and referred to as a "teacher-librarian".

The Australian Government report referred to earlier (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment, 2011) describes this role as focusing on:

  • Learners and learning – understanding student learning needs and supporting them through a variety of suitable media, with the aim of fostering independent and creative learning.
  • Teachers and teaching – cooperating with teachers to plan and implement information literacy programmes.
  • Resourcing the curriculum – offering evaluated collections in a variety of media, print and digital, text and visual, that meet curriculum needs.
  • Facilitating access to the library’s collection, and supporting both literacy and reading for pleasure.
  • Developing the physical environment – offering both physical and digital learning spaces which are purpose designed for independent learning.

Information literacy and pedagogical work is also a high priority with British and American school librarians. 

According to the CILIP survey (Streatfield et al, 2010), 87 per cent of librarians contribute to information literacy work in their schools.  In the US, 2010 saw a modest increase in hours (0.5) spent in information literacy work, to a total of 15 hours a week.

But what exactly is involved in the provision of information literacy? Some examples are (Streatfield et al, 2010, ALA, 2011):

  • Planning and conducting lessons, often team-taught with another teacher.
  • Using ICT to link to external resources, as well as bookmarking and reviewing relevant sites on the WWW.
  • Actively contributing to, and even managing, the school website, Intranet or VLE, including linking the library site to the Intranet so that resources can be accessed outside the library.
  • Supporting teachers by proactively determining their needs (for example, getting hold of schemes of work, and supplying them with appropriate resources, engaging with them and putting them in touch with other teachers with similar tasks and interests). Sometimes, school librarians train teachers in the use of electronic resources.
  • Developing online materials including tutorials, blogs, wikis etc.
  • Encouraging independent learning. In that they have a large number of available resources which have been vetted for their educational suitability, and from which the student can choose, libraries by their very nature do this.
  • Encourage information literacy by developing and resourcing assignments and projects which involve judicious use of information sources.

In an age when students of all ages seek instant answers from Google, the school library can offer a model of a structured information environment.  For this reason (and the balance between digital and other media will be explored elsewhere) it is important to have all media, including print, to give experience of different search and reading techniques (Shenton, 2009).

(Shenton provides a useful discussion of the importance of a hybrid information environment, and of whether or not the Internet encourages shallow reading, with opinions from such figures as Susan Hill, read the article .)

As an example of failure to understand how to "work" a library, Sajjad ur Rehman and Sumayyah Alfaresi describe a piece of research on information literacy skills among Kuwaiti high school students (2009). They report that over half did not use the school library, and of those who did, few borrowed books, and many were deficient in basic catalogue use and search.

Even where there is no properly qualified librarian, the library can still have a strongly educational purpose. Anderson and Matthews (2010) comment (p579) that teachers in Malawi value the library highly – "you can’t teach everything…one who have found difficulty…they have to go to the library".

Encouraging reading

The school librarian is there for play as well as work, in that he or she can encourage reading for pleasure.

Most librarians are involved in literacy work, either directly in the classroom or by obtaining useful resources to help teachers. They may also promote reading through particular activities, for example groups, reading clubs, author visits, awards for reading etc.

In some countries, where there is no proper infrastructure of school libraries, reading initiatives are particularly important as a way of developing literacy.

Anderson and Matthews (2010) refer to a series of case studies in seven different African countries collated by Rosenberg (2003, p.575).

Strategic management and evaluation

Strategic activity means having a policy in place, as opposed just to responding operationally.  That policy should be approved by the school’s senior management and should guide library strategy.

Having an endorsed policy, that is linked to overall school improvement, is an indication of the library’s perceived importance. Some respondents to the CILIP survey said that the library was not considered important enough to merit a policy (Streatfield et al., 2010).

Strategic librarians evaluate what they are doing.  Two approaches are discussed by , both of which concentrate on the reactions of the pupils.  He also suggests that positive comments be made public as part of advocacy.