When our school started this research journey and the TLRI project (and we were an early joiner), I sat in the initial seminars thinking, as a recently successful uppity postgraduate, ‘Why would I get the librarian to do this information literacy stuff?’ For example, when the TLRI facilitators suggested getting our school librarian to show kids how to look at the EPIC databases I thought, ‘I can do that, so why would I waste the librarian’s time?’ Because, in the past (in our small, rural school of approximately 350 kids), school librarians have been skilled ‘keepers of fictional texts’, colleagues who have been great at inspiring kids to read books (which is no small feat), who offered refuge to kids who didn’t fit into classes or in the lunchtime playground, and who marked off the Year 13’s attendance for their study lessons in the library. This year, everything changed for me.
One day in late 2017, a small plucky woman, a trained librarian, asked to see the Principal on the off chance he had a place for her. Luckily (for us, as it turns out) there was. But at the time, I thought ‘bloody hell, here we go again, another keeper of fictional texts … how am I going to sell this research project stuff to yet another librarian?’ She was you see, our third within 12 months – the previous two having disappeared to different parts of the school. I put it off for a couple of weeks until there was an imminent visit from Ken (a great motivator to do something in the project). So off I trudged down to the library gearing up to twist her arm (nicely), by saying we (meaning she) had little choice but to opt in as we were already signed up.
And then, she began talking about APA referencing.
None of our earlier librarians, talented as they were, had ever talked about APA referencing. This wasn’t a keeper of fiction but a Librarian (and the capital ‘L’ makes all the difference). This was someone who knew their information science stuff and she was in – with no arm twisting nor a wincing “ummmmm, yeeeeaaaahhhhhh” nor ‘if I absolutely have to, but I really don’t want to’. She was a gift from the heavens!
She has changed everything ‘information wise’!! Now, our teachers are beginning to see the value of the librarian in their subject studies. They are building positive and equal relationships with the librarian and, within this TLRI project, are collaborating with her to build better outcomes for our kids. She knows more than us about how to find, select and retrieve information from a range of sources! She’s better than us at showing the kids how to access the databases and put in search terms that actually get results. It’s because of her expertise as an information literacy professional that we now see a reason to build these relationships, across the school and across curriculum areas. She has in effect, challenged our uppity, isolating arrogance.
What this has highlighted for us is how important it is to have a trained, qualified, dedicated librarian whose presence and expertise are valued. Here’s someone who is making a significant difference to the lives and academic achievement of our kids. What concerns me now is why, as our super Librarian has put it, does she have to still “compete with the loo paper” to be paid, when annual budget rounds come up? We’re a low decile school that has to stretch the operational budget as far as possible. Even so, the boss has extended the librarian’s hours this year – after years of erosion by other principals mired in the sticky place of balancing budgets with reduced operational funding – so much does he value her contribution to students’ learning. But it does raise the question about funding mechanisms of support staff, and where that money should come from. Wouldn’t it be great to see librarians paid as a designated professional position? Even better, paid their actual worth?
Until that political utopia becomes reality, and maybe the imminent national review of education is our opportunity to make the case, we can make small changes to lift the position of our librarians in our schools. Get them into the staffroom when most teachers are there so that they can be part of the accidental educational conversations that go on – this gives them the chance to say ‘hey, I could help you with that’, or ‘I can do that!’. It gives them the chance to build their knowledge of what we teachers need in the school library collections, which makes our lives even easier. We can use the library space more variably, so that budget balancers see the value of putting money into the library, and more importantly, the librarian.
Our super star Librarian has said to me that she isn’t in this for the money. But I really hope that one day very soon, all schools regardless of size or decile, have full time trained and qualified, and well remunerated School Librarians. This one change alone – better pay and conditions – has the potential to change everything.
Deputy Principal, Waitara High School, Taranaki