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AI in Education: An opportunity for School Libraries

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Robots looking at screen
Has AI opened a door?

From a headteacher's point of view, closing a school library can never be an easy decision. Whilst budget cuts, staffing shortages and even space are often given as a reason for school closures this is never the only reason. I would like to argue that the biggest reasons for closing a school library is the lack of understanding of the value it brings. If senior leaders knew what I knew they definitely would be fighting harder to keep them open.

Not just my opinion

I posted a poll on Twitter asking what people thought the main reason for removing a school librarian was. Of the 100 people who voted 60% said it was budget, which didn't surprise me. However, 32% said it was because it was a misunderstood role and of the 60% there were several comments saying that although they had said budget they did think that a misunderstanding of the role was also to blame.

It is easy to blame budgets when it is something you do not value or understand. Who really knows what a professional school librarian does? Here in the UK if a headteacher was to ask someone to explain role of the school librarian is they would struggle to find an answer. It differs from school to school and from librarian to librarian (made worse by the de-professionalising of the role too).

Sadly every school is in the position of making it up as they go along and if the librarian is not trained, even they don't really know their full potential... you don't know what you don't know until someone tells you. I have to say that there are some really fantastic school librarians out there doing great stuff, finding the training they need and pushing their role forward. But the inequity is astounding.

What resources are currently available for schools to learn more?

The School Library Association - Demonstrating Impact

CILIP School Library Group - SLG Connect

Evidence and Research - My website

The disparity grows

Even with all this research and resources, the growing disparity across education is mind-blowing. Some schools may have a full-time school librarian on a teacher's salary (not many of them though and mainly in private schools), some schools have a term time only school librarians and others have part-time term time only, or worse nothing at all. This leaves students who don't have a full-time school librarian at a significant disadvantage and not surprisingly the schools in areas of deprivation are least likely to have one. The Great School Libraries campaign's latest research shows how bad this has actually got. These are the students who need school libraries the most and are the least likely to have access to one.

What amazes me is that schools often talk about the need to increase literacy levels and very rarely make the connections with school librarians. There are numerous studies that show that schools with libraries and librarians make a difference to literacy levels and academic attainment such as this one by Keith Curry Lance and Debra E. Kachel Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us but still no-one listens.

If years of research have gone unnoticed or unrecognised and school libraries are still closing, the future of our profession surely looks grim. Definitely as bad as it has always looked or even a little bit worse, however, I like to think of school librarians as fighters. They fight for:-

  • Their students

  • Their teachers

  • Their community

The future is now

Strangely enough I see a new light on the horizon that I believe is going to make the difference to the school librarian profession. As we headed into 2023 there was a massive change in the air. AI and especially ChatGPT, landed front and central into my Twitter feed and educational conversations on LinkedIn. After a little hesitation I jumped in with 3 Podcasts to learn more.

ChatGPT for Teachers and School Librarians with Headteacher Domonic Sunderland

ChatGPT, School Libraries, Inquiry and Questioning Skills with Andrew Herft, curriculum advisor and Leon Furze, Educational Consultant and welcomed back Domonic Sunderland

Empowering Learning through ChatGPT and AI: Insights from School Librarians with John Royce, freelance consultant and trainer, Susan Merrick, teacher-librarian and Jeri Hurd teacher-librarian based in Korea.

These fascinating conversations have led me to believe that the skills and expertise of the school librarian are needed now more than ever. School librarians have long since taught the skills of critical thinking and information literacy. They have guided and taught students to navigate the world of fake news and misinformation. They have nurtured and supported inquiry based learning in order to help students become independent learners. I believe that in this new world of AI these skills will be at the forefront of teaching and the skills of the school librarian will be paramount. It is important that we don't miss this boat. It is important that school librarians believe that they have a role to play and have the support they need in order to step up when asked.

What can you do now?

As far as I see it we need all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet. These two resources, in my opinion, should be the foundation of every school library:-

1. IFLA School Library Guidelines. This well-researched document is an inspirational and aspirational document that will lead both school librarians and schools forward

2. A framework of inquiry to guide them. I would recommend taking a look at FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning) as a starting point. A place with space to grow and learn together. Fromm a single lesson to a whole inquiry, from reception up to yr 13

Unless school librarians and schools have the same starting point we are never going to start running this race, never mind finishing it. This is not about a school librarians individual expertise or the fact that every school is different I believe if we all start from the same central point we have a chance of getting the message across:-

  • school librarians are more valuable than the budget schools are saving

  • school librarians have the skills that schools need in this new world of AI

  • school librarians are the specialists that can bring critical thinking and independent learning into the heart of every school curriculum.

Moving forward as a school librarian or teacher

Download the IFLA School Library Guidelines, take a look at FOSIL and start talking and collaborating with your school librarian. They are the people who have direct line of sight of your whole curriculum. If you want some encouragement read this interesting blog by Darren Coxen, COO of Britus Education Learning Design in the Wake of AI to see how some educationalist are thinking. Education is always moving forward and so are school librarians. Let us move forward together!

If you need training for your school librarian or teachers please feel free to contact me and let's talk about how you can get started on this exciting path. Thanks for reading!

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