Teacher Librarians: Superseded or Super-Needed?

Every school needs a teacher librarian, write Holly Godfrey and Olivia Neilson.

Myth: Teacher librarians are bespectacled old ladies telling children to shush. Who needs that in the digital age?

Fact: Teacher librarians help students and teachers access information. The teacher librarian (TL) is more important now than ever before.

The TL impact

There is a wealth of data, that clearly shows the measurable and significant positive impact TLs have on student learning outcomes. Most importantly, this outcome is independent of students' socioeconomic status.

Skills of a qualified TL

Information literacy

TLs are teachers. With a research project, the classroom teacher focuses on the content being learned (history, science, etc.); the TL focuses on the process (how can we find out what we need to know?). TLs teach:

  • Research skills - finding, choosing and using information from the best sources
  • Note taking skills - organising information and avoiding plagiarism
  • Critical and creative thinking – e.g. creating effective research questions
  • Online search strategies – narrowing/broadening a search, analysing search results
  • Website evaluation, copyright knowledge, cyber safety and responsible digital citizenship – all essential skills in today's world.

Teachers are NOT teacher librarians. A qualified TL has dual tertiary qualifications in both teaching and information studies. Studies show that the information literacy skills of many teachers and principals are not very strong. Nor are the information literacy skills of many so-called 'digital natives' (people who have grown up with the internet). Finding out what time a movie is showing is NOT information literacy – relevant skills need to be explicitly taught and practised.

Collaboration with staffSometimes the best way to help students is to teach the teachers. Through professional development and team-teaching lessons, the TL also teaches the teachers to be more information literate. TLs:

  • Cooperatively plan lessons and team-teach with teachers
  • Help teachers and students get what they need for teaching and learning
  • Work closely with the executive team – TLs have a bird's-eye view across all year levels and subject areas.

Collection management

Budgeting, selecting, purchasing and weeding print and online resources creates a library that supports the teaching and learning needs of the school. Every school has different needs.

The ACT situation: the bitter pill

Over the past 10 years, there has been a decline in the number of qualified TLs employed in ACT government schools as well as a drop in the number of full time TLs. This year, less than half of ACT government primary schools (that's 9,000+ students) have a qualified TL. There are now also some high- schools in the ACT choosing not to employ qualified TLs in their libraries.

By contrast, some independent and catholic schools in Canberra employ 4, 5, or even 6 teacher librarians as well as library technicians and library assistants to support them.

These are serious equity issues for students both within the ACT Government school system and between the public and the private sectors.

Where to from here?

Please consider what your children will miss out on if they don't have a qualified TL. Also, consider the issue of fairness. Is it fair that some students in the ACT have TLs while others don't?
Our goal is for the ACT Government to guarantee that all students have access to a full time, qualified teacher librarian.

At their core, these are issues of equity. The ACT Education Act states that "Every child has a right to receive a high-quality education." We would respectfully put forward that this cannot happen in the 21st century without a qualified teacher librarian in every school.

Read more on this issue. 

Holly and Olivia are teacher librarians in the ACT and members of the Australian Education Union's Teacher Librarian Advocacy Group.


This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 4, 2014. See other past editions of our quarterly magazine.