Tag Archives: research

A theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience , by Darryl Toerien

I write this as I approach the end of my second spell on the National Committee of SLG. My first started shortly after I became a school librarian, by chance rather than design (or at least through no design of my own). This means that serving on the National Committee of SLG has framed pretty much the first 20 years of my work in and for school libraries, and that a measure of reflection is, therefore, appropriate.

An even earlier and profoundly formative experience was stumbling across Jesse Shera’s The Foundations of Education for Librarianship (1972) in a charity shop in Caversham. In this remarkable book, Shera articulated what I instinctively knew about librarianship in general, and school librarianship in particular. This may seem a little odd, given that he was writing partly about academic librarianship in the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Not so odd when you consider Blanche Woolls’ observation that the only difference between a school librarian and an academic librarian is, or ought to be, the length of time between a student leaving school and starting university, and that the fundamental issues confronting Shera then and there confront us still here and now. One passage in particular illustrates this, and set the course of my professional development (p. 177, emphasis added):

Increasingly, research as a method of instruction and an environment for formalized learning is being introduced into undergraduate as well as graduate programs.* This undergraduate research, or more properly, inquiry, has its own characteristic information needs, though academic librarians generally have given these requirements slight attention, while the faculty has tended to ignore them almost entirely. This neglect may doubtless be attributed to the fact that the instructors themselves were not properly encouraged in the use of the library in their own undergraduate years. The textbook and the reserve collection, which in the final analysis is only a kind of multiple text, have too long dominated undergraduate, and even graduate, instruction. The teacher’s own mimeographed reading lists and bibliographies have been imposed between the student and the total library collection, largely because the typical faculty member does not trust either the bibliographic mechanisms of the library or the competence of the librarians, while the librarians, for their part, have never developed a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience. This neglect has been intensified by the absence of any real communication between teacher and librarian, both have paid lip service to the library as a “learning center,” and having said that satisfied their sense of obligation with a short course or a few lectures on “How to Use the Library.”

I have been wrestling with a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience ever since. Shera led me to Patricia Knapp (1966), who led me to Helen Sheehan (1969), who led me to Norman Beswick (1967), who posited that “it is not the library that ‘supports’ the classroom . . . but the classroom that leads (or should lead) inevitably and essentially to the library” (p. 201). It seemed to me then, as it does to me now, that a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience needs to compellingly account for why the classroom leads (or should lead) inevitably and essentially to the library, as well as how. Shera provided 2 clues – “inquiry” and the “library as a learning center” – in this passage. Daniel Callison (2006) linked them explicitly, stating that “the school library only exists as a learning centre because of inquiry” (p. 601). Inquiry, then, frames learning, and it is unsurprising, therefore, that the IFLA School Library Guidelines (2015) define the school library in terms of inquiry (p. 16) – “a school’s physical and digital learning space where reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to students’ information-to-knowledge journey and to their personal, social, and cultural growth” – and include inquiry as one of the core instructional activities that make up the school library’s pedagogical program (pp. 41 – 44). This brings me to the present.

I was recently interviewed by Barbara Stripling for School Library Connection (a publication of Libraries Unlimited/ ABC-CLIO) about The Process and Stance of Inquiry in a Digital World. The title of the interview, and the starting point of our discussion, comes from the Galileo Educational Network’s definition of inquiry as a dynamic process and stance that is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is, therefore, an epistemological concern – a concern with what we know and how we come to know it – the “information-to-knowledge” part of the IFLA definition of a school library. As such, inquiry is a fundamental human activity, and the library is, or ought to be, essential to this activity. This, however, demands something of us as librarians, and of our libraries. Moreover, this process and stance is both facilitated by the digital world, and hindered by it, and Barbara was interested in my thoughts on this from the perspective of FOSIL, which is based on the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum(2019) that she led the development of.

Somewhat paradoxically, the very characteristics of the digital environment that facilitate inquiry also hinder inquiry. The question of equity of access as aside for now, although it remains a pressing concern, these characteristics broadly relate to the quantity of information, discernment of its quality and motivation. At a certain point the relentless increase in the quantity of information brings about a qualitative change – scarcity of information becomes an abundance of information, which becomes a superabundance of information. The problem then shifts from finding enough information to dealing with too much information, which is both a different and a new problem. David Foster Wallace’s Total Noise captures this qualitative change perfectly – the growing “tsunami of available fact, context and perspective” (2007!). Then, to this tsunami must be added the growing maelstrom of mis-information, dis-information and mal-information created, manipulated and distributed to devastating effect. And to make matters worse, the difficulties of building knowledge and understanding from information in these conditions is made more challenging still by the fact that the digital environment is both overwhelming and endlessly distracting, and this brings us full circle – inquiry is both an epistemological process and stance, and being able to carry out the process is no guarantee that we will care enough, one way or another, to make the effort to do so.

Huw Davies (2019) issues the following stark warning:

No digital literacy programme is ever likely to work unless it produces reflexive critical thinkers, motivated to challenge their own thinking and positionality: people know and care when they are being sold a biased or racist view of history, pseudo-science or when they are being manipulated.

This highlights the importance of inquiry as stance, which, I think, must now become our focus and most urgent task. In this we draw on 60 years’ worth of work in and through the school library on inquiry as process, which, in the words of the IFLA School Library Guidelines unites us with our classroom colleagues in the aim of “influencing, orienting, and motivating the pursuit of learning using a process of discovery that encourages curiosity and a love of learning” (p. 43).

*This extends to schools. As Daniel Callison (2015) points out, “the progression to student-centered, inquiry-based learning through school library programs was clearly underway more than forty years ago” (p. 3), at least in the US, and can be traced back to 1960 (p. 213). More broadly, though, Callison lists the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program as an early adopter of inquiry (p. 214). The IB was founded in 1968, although the philosophy, structure, content and pedagogy of the IB Diploma Programme, which was the first IB Programme, were developed in 1962 (IBO, 2017). The Diploma Programme was followed by the Middle Years Programme, the Primary Years Programme and the Career-related Programme, with “inquiry, as a curriculum stance, pervading all Programmes” (Tilke, 2011, p. 5).

Bibliography

Beswick, N. W. (1967). The ‘Library-College’ – the ‘True University’? The Library Association Record, 198-202.

Callison, D. (2015). The Evolution of Inquiry: Controlled, Guided, Modeled, and Free. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Davies, H. (2019, June 14). Digital literacy vs the anti-human machine: A proxy debate for our times. Retrieved from Medium: https://medium.com/@huwcdavies/digital-literacy-vs-the-anti-human-machine-b2884a0f075c

IBO. (2017). The history of the IB. Retrieved from International Baccalaureate: https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/digital-toolkit/presentations/1711-presentation-history-of-the-ib-en.pdf

IFLA School Libraries Section Standing Committee. (2015). IFLA School Library Guidelines. Retrieved from IFLA School Libraries: https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/9512?og=52

Knapp, P. B. (1966). The Monteith College Library Experiment. New York: The Scarecrow Press.

Sheehan, H. (1969). The Library-College Idea: Trend of the Future? Library Trends, 18(1), 93-102.

Shera, Jesse. (1972). Foundations of Education for Librarianship. New York : Wiley-Becker and Hayes.

Stripling, B. K. (2020). The Process and Stance of Inquiry in a Digital World [15: 6] [Video]. School Library Connection.

Tilke, A. (2011). The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program and the School Library: Inquiry-Based Education. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Wallace, D. F. (Ed.). (2007). The Best American Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

The Beating Heart of the School – a London & SE SLG course

heart image copyright free

On Friday 14th November 2014, SLG London and South East committee hosted a training course to attempt to deal with some of the issues facing school librarians. This event was inspired by issues raised in the APPG document published in May 2014; The Beating Heart of the School. This is a summary of the key elements of the course.

Post written by Dawn Finch

The Beating Heart document has highlighted both the need for a professional librarian in schools, and the need of schools to have a more enlightened view of what exactly a school librarian does. Sadly it seems from their findings that in schools there is still a very archaic view of the abilities of school librarians, and this can hinder how much they are able to be part of the higher level or management structure of the school. Ultimately this can have a directly negative effect on pupil progress, and is essentially a misuse of valuable resources.

In the course we discussed how a successful and ‘outstanding’ school library is such an integral part of the school that its influence reaches far beyond its walls. It simply is not possible to be a “Beating Heart” if the pump does not have the strength to reach every limb! So how do we break out beyond our walls? We have all done every event and reading initiative we can think of, and taken part in every scheme and promotion we can – but most of us are still finding it hard to keep a high profile, and to increase the number of our loyal users.

One of the most successful strategies for creating extended loyalty for the school library is to engage in certain branding activities; make a logo, create a theme, decide what image you want to represent for your library and be persistent and consistent with your promotion of the library. Our aim should be that as soon as anyone sees our logo, they should have an instant understanding of what we represent, and of what a library can do for them. Branding is recognition in a heartbeat, and recognition creates loyalty. What we are looking to do is create a feeling, an emotion, and ultimately loyalty.

On the day we also looked at the issues surrounding digital literacy. The days of ICT skills in schools has passed, and school librarians are now at the front-line of the teaching of digital literacy. We live in a world of cyber-crime and cyber-bullying and our children’s best defence of this is knowledge and understanding. We cannot expect our children to protect themselves online, or to behave well, if we do not model good behaviour in schools. To this end we need to be using social media and blogging just as they do, but to use it to show young people how it should be done.

There are many arguments against the use of social media in schools but, as Ofsted are increasingly saying, it will soon not be possible for schools to achieve an outstanding rating if they fall behind in digital literacy. The fact remains that some of the finest resources available for researchers are now in blog form. To deny use of blogs and blogging in schools is to deny access to some of the most accurate first-hand resources available. This denial will also act as a kind of exclusion policy exposing the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in the classroom.  If we do not allow our pupils access to blogs for information and research, we are simply encouraging unreliable wiki-research and creating a two-tier system of work.

As an example, let’s look at the landing of Philae on Comet 67P. Pupils researching this historic event can read Wikipedia, or newspaper reports, but how much better is it to access the blog of the European Space Agency and subscribe to their updates?

How about if your pupils are studying fashion? During London Fashion Week they might be able to find a newspaper report about the week, or even some smaller articles on the official site. How much better would it be to follow the accredited blog of a young designer as they go through the process for the first time?

Then we should take into account the fabulous resources that we have at our fingertips to protect our own service. How would we have access to articles like this one by Phillip Ardagh about the importance of libraries if we did not access blogs? We are not even touching on the importance of Twitter and other social media as a vital communication tool, but needless to say it is all part of the same move towards a digitally literate society.

The issue of cyber-bulling and trolling is at the top of many schools’ agendas, and is often an excuse used to prevent access to social media sites. This can lead to failings in how children perceive social-media, and failings in how schools deal with cyber-bullying issues. The children that I have supported through these issues still complain that school doesn’t “believe it’s real.” Pupils often complain that adults (including teachers) still insist that the hurt felt from online insults and persecution is not real. They are often still told that they should “get over it” or “forget it” or “ignore it.”  It is very real, and the key to preventing it is to first accept the reality of it. The “sticks and stones” line is dated and insulting. If you hit me with a stick, I’ll heal. If you cut me down with savage words I may carry those scars for the rest of my life. Embracing the hurt is the first step to preventing it from happening, and the first step towards stopping your pupils from behaving in this way themselves. The next step is using social media in lessons and as an educational tool.

We, as school librarians, have a duty to provide what our pupils need, and that is information in any form and format. We should do this by using social media in both our communication methods, and in our service to our young learners. By staying at the cutting edge, and using every tool at our disposal, we will future-proof our service whilst providing what our pupils need to fully progress as both informed learners, and socially well-adjusted adults.

Course delivered by Dawn Finch

Literacy and school library consultant, writer of children’s fiction and non-fiction books.

www.dawnfinch.com

Footnote; we will be revisiting elements of this course in much greater details, including supporting EPQs, in our April LibMeet as well as our Summer 2015 training courses. Follow this blog for more information. If you are a CILIP member you can log in and see our events posted here.

All of our events are open to both CILIP members and non-members, but if you are a member the cost of events will be lower.



Documents referred to on this training course can be downloaded by using the links below;

The Beating Heart of the School – APPG report on school librarieshttp://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/advocacy-campaigns-awards/advocacy-campaigns/libraries-all-party-parliamentary-group/beating

Moving English Forward – Ofsted

http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/moving-english-forward

National Curriculum for English (2014/2015)  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-english-programmes-of-study