Encouraging a Love of Life Long Learning


The third theme in this course focuses a lot on the guts of the reference section – that which is available for users to support research (Encyclopedias, Biographies, Dictionaries, Almanacs, and databases) and the ways in which these resources have changed over the years in relation to technology and online access. Due to space limitations and budget considerations in schools, switching to digital versions of things like dictionaries, almanacs and encyclopedias can be an attractive option, if not an outright necessity.  Rather than paying what would likely be thousands of dollars for one set of encyclopedias, for example, that same amount of money could be used for multiple licenses for an online resource. In terms of accessibility for users, with a digital version multiple users can access the same information at the same time from computers or iPads. It is unlikely a school library resource centre would have the budget to purchase more than one set of encyclopedias for comparable use.

However, though digital may be a more accessible option in optimal circumstances, the reality in a lot of schools is that they don’t have the funding to support the technology required to have a digital collection that is accessible to all students in the school. In my school district, many elementary schools are getting by with desktop computers almost 10 years old, and mobile devices are often only available through fundraising.

Beyond budgetary restrictions, having physical copies of resources can be beneficial in other ways, depending on the type of resource being considered. Riedling (2013) states “Almost every school library can benefit from having a general almanac” (p. 38), and I couldn’t agree more. The topic of almanacs brought up a lot of fond memories for me personally, of finding old copies of the Farmer’s Almanac at my family cottage and leafing through the pages and learning about things I had never considered or heard of.51+lQR5dm9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ This sort of experience can be extremely transformative for young learners, and can result in a lifelong passion and interest in certain subjects. But even If not an enduring interest, this practice of reading interesting tidbits can instill a love of continuing learning and research in learners, and is something that we risk losing in school libraries if we focus only on digital or more direct information, like that found in directories.

Obviously though, not all online or digital resources fall into this category. The discussion around traditional vs digital encyclopedia is captured excellently in Berinstein’s article Wikipedia and Britannica: The Kid’s All Right (And So’s the Old Man).  Both “sides” offer valid perspectives and the message Berinstein leaves us with is that there is room for both in our libraries. One aspect that stands out a lot for me, is the accessibility and representativeness of online resources, like Wikipedia. We are all well versed in the drawbacks of this format, with respect to reliable and valid information, but I think these sorts of resources offer an extremely important opportunity for access to information that may not be covered in traditional encyclopedias, as it relates to marginalized groups or topics.

As educators, we need to remember to always reflect back on our practice to ensure that it is supporting all of our learners, and that we don’t get caught up in new fads, or entrenched in traditional ways of doing things. The key to a vibrant and supportive school library resource centre is finding a balance, being open to change and above all ensuring all of our students can find a place for themselves in the reference section.


Berinstein, P. (2006). Wikipedia and Britannica: The kids alright (and so’s the old man). Retreived from: http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/mar06/berinstein.shtml

Riedling, A. M., Shake, L., & Houston, C. (2013). Reference skills for the school librarian: tools and tips. Santa Barbara, CA: Linworth, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Balancing the Many Hats of the Teacher Librarian

Illustration from Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

In working through the modules for this theme the thing that struck me the most is how many facets there are to the role of a teacher librarian, and the work that needs to be put into ensuring these are all attended to, as much as is possible.

There are three major areas of focus in this work:

  • being an information services/reference expert
  • being a team teacher available to do collaborative planning
  • managing the actual collection.

As someone not yet in the role, it seems like a significant task to find a balance between what is expected or hoped for, and what is actually possible within our current reality of an under supported system. These expectations aren’t just in terms of what colleagues may think, but those of myself as well – finding a way through to provide the level of service for colleagues and students that I see to be adequate and meaningful. As suggested by Riedling (2013), in the discussion around reference interviews, regardless of whether your school library has an exemplary selection of resources, if users feel that they have access to useful resources and are given enough attention, we can feel successful in our work.

I appreciated the consideration given to the concept of access, and the struggles that many teacher librarians face when they are given no choice but to physically limit the access of the library to student and colleagues because of inadequate dedicated library staffing. One way I have seen school library resource centres stay open and accessible for the school community is when the whole staff supports the library and its accessibility. While this may not be possible in the form of a full time librarian, it can be achieved through organizing any other assignments the teacher librarian takes on to be based out of the library – for example resource service or prep coverage done in the library. This way the actual space can remain open, even if the time isn’t specifically dedicated to its management.

One way we can facilitate this kind of support at the school level, is to take on an advocacy role. Not only does this help to bring colleagues along and show them the value of the school library resource centre, but I believe it also gives teacher librarians agency over our work and an outlet for the passion we all share for promoting literacy.

The British Columbia Teacher Librarians’ Association has a section on their website dedicated to advocacy with resources in various formats (PowerPoint, brochures, videos) to help support teacher librarians in promoting the school library. While some of the resources are a bit dated, the core of the message is relevant. One example, brochure about collaborative planning could be used as a basis by teacher librarians to create something more targeted for their own school community to promote this important aspect of the job.

Another side of advocacy and engagement in the role is getting involved with professional associations like the BCTLA, and local associations which are chapters of the BCTLA like the Vancouver Teacher Librarians’ Association. These organizations have tons of resources for teacher librarians – focusing on advocacy, planning, working and learning conditions, publications, and events. These sorts of networks are incredibly useful, not just from a professional development standpoint, but for connecting teacher librarians around issues of advocacy and access. They are a vital source of support for anyone struggling with how to navigate all the facets of our role, and as someone new to the role I will absolutely be availing myself of their supports.


BCTLA: Teacher-librarians in British Columbia, Canada. (2017) Retrieved from: http://bctf.ca/bctla/

Riedling, A. M., Shake, L., & Houston, C. (2013). Reference skills for the school librarian: tools and tips. Santa Barbara, CA: Linworth, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Vancouver Teacher Librarians’ Association. (2017). Retrieved from: https://vtla.wordpress.com/

Theme One Reflection – Getting a handle on the Reference Section

generalreference1 VS lc3

Images retrieved from: http://library.mapua.edu.ph/Images/Collections/generalreference1.jpg and https://cultureofyes.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/lc3.jpg

I think when many people think of school libraries, and especially the refernce section of the library, many immediately picture the first picture above: a dusty, old, under-utilized collection of heavy books. However, over the last few years there has been a push to revitalize school libraries and in the first theme of our Inforamtion Services course we looked at what the reference sections is and how to assess and evalutate resources so that they best serve your community and will encourage frequent, meaningful use (like the second picture!).

Our textbook for the course, Reference Skills for the School Librarian by Ann Marlow Riedling, Loretta Shake and Cynthia Houston goes into great detail about what falls into the generally accepted definition of a reference source, in that it “can be defined as materials, from book to periodical to photograph, designed to be consulted for definite items of information rather than to be examined consecutively.” This definition is clear, but I did also appreciate the inclusion of the more general working definition used by the Guide to Reference Sources from the American Library Association that is summed up perfectly as “you know when when you see one”. This acknowledged flexibility is important in a current climate of constant change and updates to reference sources, and changing attitudes towards digital media.

One topic that came up near the end of the theme that I believe connects to all the lessons, is that of framing the school library as a learning commons. The goal of a learning comons is to highlight the school library as a learning hub for the school – a place that is engaging, meaningful and fully resourced to support students, staff and the community. In this current climate, funding for school librarians and teaher librarian time is not adequate and one way to advocate for more support for libraries is to ensure they are seen as a valued and vital part of the school.

A school library’s value for users is tied to how useful it is, and whether users are able to achieve their learning goals. I appreciated the attention paid to Achieving Information Literacy, and in particular the standards for school libraries. The standards are practical and easily used by teacher librarians as as assessment tool in order to evaluate our current library connections and see how they measure up.  Also, having that criteria laid out is a great resource to use as support for advocacy around increased funding.

At the end of this theme I feel I have a good understanding of the refernce section in general, and ideas about how to improve it.