As a companion to my last post about what I do as a Library Technician, blogger Kerri Cicolan's post from 2010 brings it home. While I do have a 0.3 Teacher Librarian in each of my eight elementary [k-6] schools and this is from Australia while my schools are in Canada, this could have been a conversation heard at any one of my schools.
[as posted on THE HUB under the title Why do we need library technicians in our school libraries]
I’m often asked what I do for a living and see the puzzled look on people’s faces when I say I’m a library technician and I work for the Department of Education in Victoria, where I run 3 primary school libraries. The majority of people assume that I’m a “Librarian” or a “Teacher”, very few admit to not knowing what a library technician is and I often find myself explaining the differences.
I’m not a teacher (they assume this because I work in a primary school). I’m not a librarian as that involves the “Librarianship” qualifications. I’m a “technician,” I run the “technical” side of the library. Most still remain perplexed about the difference and that always entails more of an explanation!
I started in the school library many years ago without “qualifications” with a teacher who did have library qualifications, but not the current “teacher-librarian” qualifications of today. When she went on to greener pastures l worked alongside another teacher who didn’t have any formal qualifications either, but we were both very passionate about the role of the library within the school and the services that we offered and the importance of the school library and its role in the curriculum.
Both my teacher librarian and I went on to gain more formal qualifications, and with learning became a different understanding about the differences in our roles and more importantly the services we could now offer our patrons. We can both undertake the administrative, clerical and budgetary running of the library; we are both able to assist our patrons with locating and retrieving information. We can create online web-based resources for classroom use, assist them in locating a book whether for project work or personal pleasure, produce displays; provide input into planning sessions and the hundreds of other day-to-day tasks that are involved in providing a viable library service.
Whilst undertaking my study l focused most of my readings on the primary school library setting and was amazed at the research into the impact of school libraries and what suitably trained library staff could offer the school community. l begun to understand the differences in having some basic idea of my role to learning how l could enhance our library services with my new found training and with all that l was learning. At the same time my teacher-librarian was undertaking her library qualifications and our understanding about our differences were becoming vastly evident. She no longer saw herself as a “keeper” of the books as it were, but someone who is fundamental in the learning outcomes of our students whilst providing peer support to her teaching colleagues at the same time.
Our natural progression saw our roles change and evolve over time to where l undertook all the technical aspects of running the library, cataloguing, maintaining the automated systems in all areas etc. thus allowing the teacher librarian to concentrate on her dual roles, that of the teacher and the librarian. Her expertise as a teacher and a librarian provided us with the opportunity to offer information to our patrons with a school library webpage that expanded our library beyond its walls in that l had the expertise in web design, she had the curriculum knowledge and we both had the ability to select suitable web content for our patrons.
I do not have a teaching qualification, nor do I have the desire to attain it. I love the technical aspects of my job. I love the cataloguing and revel in learning and teaching everything Web 2.0. l have a strong understanding of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards, but l lack the vital expertise of the teacher in a school library setting. I cannot offer my colleagues the specialised knowledge that comes from having that teaching training.
Library staff work in isolation in a school setting, whether we are teacher librarians or library technicians. We all envisage a library service that includes digital content, a library programme rich in ICTs, web 2.0 capabilities, a library that allows our users to seek information from a wide variety of media sources, flexible timetabling, co-operative planning and most of all to not be seen as “time release” or “babysitting” for classroom teachers.
Many library technicians are employed in primary school libraries due to budgetary decision-making in schools as I am and I’m certainly very thankful for that! l successfully run 3 school libraries single-handedly and do an excellent job in all 3 libraries. Why? Because I have trained alongside a teacher-librarian and have been given the opportunity to learn all the aspects required to confidently run them. But I reiterate I cannot fully offer my patrons that expert knowledge that a teacher librarian can.
Recently, I lost my last teacher librarian due to retirement and I am now responsible for that third library. If both teacher-librarians and technicians were allowed to work as they should, staff, students and the wider community would enjoy the benefits of boosted literacy achievement, students who have a love of literature and who are confident in seeking information in an abundant and media rich environment, where the library equips its users with skills in their quest for life-long learning.
A school library that is staffed by qualified teacher librarians and trained support staff is often the first step in helping students learn how to become ‘information literate’. A library program that is run in conjunction with an information literacy curriculum teaches students how to access and utilise relevant information, where and how to locate it and to be able to adapt it to suit their needs.
How will we ever be able to provide a viable library service if the fundamental differences between teacher librarians and library technicians are not seen? It should not be an either or situation, adequately staffed school libraries MUST consist of qualified teacher librarians, library technicians and library support staff who all by their very nature undertake different roles to provide a library service that is central to the user’s education. School leadership must take the time to understand these fundamental differences and ensure adequate funding to service library programmes within schools in the same way that they fund the curriculum programmes elsewhere. This begins with qualified library staff, and the rest is just a natural progression.