Balancing the Many Hats of the Teacher Librarian

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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.

References

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/