School librarians are a crucial component in enhancing the student learning experience, and while I acknowledge there is huge and important work being done in the development and support of a reading society, in this post I want to focus on information literacy teaching through the library.
Information literacy has never been more important than it is today, yet resources and support for the programs and people who are best-suited to teach and facilitate information literacy has dwindled in too many schools and districts across the nation. Even as the demand for accountability grows and mounting evidence continues to affirm that school libraries staffed by certified school librarians make a measurable difference on student achievement, library resources are too-often reduced or eliminated from budgets all together. – School Libraries Work! A Compendium of Research Supporting the Effectiveness of School Libraries
There are many excellent educators working in our schools in New Zealand, and in the secondary level a large proportion of them have specialist knowledge in their area of expertise. Suitably experienced and qualified librarians also have their own specialist knowledge which for the most part “teaches not content but process … (they are) the original, most powerful search engine, able to decipher the most cryptic reference question and connect that child or that teacher with the information needed.” Audrey Church, 2016-2017 AASL President
Audrey also goes on to state in her August article in Knowledge Quest, the Journal of the American Association of School Libraries, that librarians are an instructional partner who works collaboratively with all other educators to teach critical information skills in the context of content curriculum. That they are there to partner with that teacher who wants to present a lesson in a different way or who wants to have children create a more authentic product to demonstrate real learning. Because of this collaborative participation, the lesson is stronger and more effective.
Both of these examples are from the United States, but I would argue that it equally applies to our New Zealand context. Back in 2002 The National Library, together with the Ministry of Education published the School Library and Learning in the Information Landscape document. Those of us working in school libraries at that time were very excited about the potential this document had to initiate conversations and effect real change in how our libraries operated and were viewed by our communities. Sadly, almost 15 years on and there is no evidence of significant change prompted by this document and how integrated school library staff are in the teaching and learning in schools across the country.
Within this document is a quote from a keynote address by Dr Ross Todd, Director of the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL), at Rutgers University, at the International Association of School Libraries conference held in Auckland in 2001, in which he stated the process approach to teaching information literacy skills explicitly and systematically develops students’ ability to connect with information and to use it to construct personal understandings. Research evidence shows that students who learn through a process approach:
• are better able to master content material;
• develop more positive attitudes towards learning;
• respond more actively to the opportunities in the learning environment;
• are more likely to perceive themselves as active, constructive learners.
Last year I worked collaboratively with a Year 9 teacher, embedding information literacy skills into an inquiry-based unit, which led to fantastic learning for him, me and more importantly, the students. We wrote a series of blog posts about our journey and in his final summation Leon stated: I thought the process of inquiry, learning how to be a good researcher, was the really important stuff. For me, it became about the skill-set developed along the way far out weighing the knowledge gained.
Intentional and explicit teaching of information literacy skills, especially combined with critical thinking skills is one of several intersections school libraries make with the teaching and learning happening in our schools. With the right support and the right staffing, this is something that could be made available to every school in New Zealand.