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Advocacy, an essential tool in helping teachers understand why they need school librarians

The original article was published - CILIP Information Professional 3 May 2018

In a blog posted back in 2017 about why teachers need school librarians, I was amazed to have over 35,000 views and it is still being shared. I have been trying to work out why it attracted so much attention. My message was to teachers but I am sure that the majority who read it were probably school library staff. Across the country school librarians are diminishing and sadly schools do not seem to realise what they are actually losing but how have we got here?

Is it because school librarians are happy to sit behind a desk and issue books? Don’t be daft! Why would anyone who knows how difficult it is to get children, teenagers and teachers to read would risk sitting there and hoping that by some miracle everyone will start using the school library for research and love reading.

Is it because school librarians are resistant to change? Not a chance! If you follow any school librarian on social media you will see the innovative ideas being shared. From interactive research lessons, breakout challenges, reading groups online, book awards and maker-spaces, to online tools and international collaboration school librarians are trying it all.

Is it because school libraries don’t have what teachers need within the modern curriculum? This makes me laugh because the modern curriculum is everything you need from a school library and librarian, as it is all about skills. Critical thinking, evaluation, independent learning, communication, digital literacy, teamwork and real world learning, in other words information literacy and inquiry learning. So why are teachers not hammering down the door of the school library asking to collaborate?

Is it because teachers are experts in information literacy? I would love to say yes, that every teacher knows how to find good quality information, knows how to use keyword searches can access academic online resources, understands the importance of copyright and teaching about plagiarism but that would not be true. I know this because there are times I have talked teachers and they are shocked that I think they should be teaching these things. A teacher telling me that they do not know how find resources unless they do a Google search. Another saying to me, after a lesson from me about keyword searching, that they wish they had been taught that at school. Another saying they do not know how to find copyright free sound effects or music so they download illegally. Someone else saying that making children reference spoils the enjoyment of research and one of my favourite recently was that referencing and plagiarism is something for our students to learn when they get to university...

If this is the attitude of even some of our teachers then how do we, as school library staff, ensure that this changes? Our teachers work really hard, they do not need someone else telling them what they should be doing but are we shying away from difficult conversations and missing opportunities. I don’t want to make students reference because it is just something else for them to do, I want them to reference to show that they have found good quality information and are able to critically evaluate a source. If teachers have no way of checking what sources their students are using how can they have conversations about credibility or critical thinking.

In another conversation about referencing I suggested that teachers need to lead by example and all their presentations should be referenced. This was met by abject horror. Who has time to do this? I know, but who of us has time for anything? We do however, find time for the things we do think are important.

I asked them who regularly shared students work online as examples of good work and many said they did. However, none of them expected their students to references their sources or pictures and this was just one example. It is not ok to leave this until they go to university. Many of them will never go onto further education and this is not about academic writing. It is about understanding where your sources come from and this is just as important in life as it is in Further or Higher education. All our children need these skills not just those who are academically gifted.

When I originally wrote this I ended the piece by saying this. "Is it ok to ignore this?, unfortunately I don’t have any answers to this, I wish I did!" However, I have thought long and hard about this since then and do believe that advocacy is really important for school librarians and we need to talk to teachers about what we can do for them and their students. I have written about advocacy several times now but if you want to read more take a look at this blog.

If we stay quiet and hope that they somehow learn this stuff themselves we may not be here to have any conversation with them at all.

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