How do school librarians help support independent learning? I think if you asked several school librarians this question the answer from each one would be different. This could be down to how long they have been working, the expertise and specialism of the librarian, whether they have a library degree, or CILIP qualification, or none of the above and lastly the expectation and understanding of the school. Some focus on reading for pleasure, others information literacy and for some lucky schools, some do both.
My previous role as an SLS librarian evolved over the years with an increasing focus on enquiry learning. One of the main reasons for this was because we were constantly being asked to demonstrate how we were offering value for money and being asked what were we doing that the schools could not do themselves? Our main focus had been ‘reading for pleasure’ but unfortunately we had competition from several voluntary groups who were supporting reading. For example, Every Child our Future arranged for office workers to come into our schools to read with the children. These groups were apparently proving to our Education department that anyone could support reading so why did they need us? Our expertise and knowledge of new and exciting fiction and ideas of how to engage readers was just not enough.
It had become essential that our specialism in information became central to our role. If I’m honest, I was not sure how we were going to support and teach information literacy but I did know that I was looking for an information literacy framework. Luckily for me, I knew Darryl Toerien from Oakham school who was prepared to share his framework, FOSIL (Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning), with us and with that we had a focus. We started to create lessons, learning how to talk about and teach these skills. A couple of our librarians went on a City and Guilds teaching course to give them the confidence to be in the classroom and we began talking to headteachers and policymakers about our specialism. Many teachers are so used to teaching to the test that these inquiry skills had been lost. We found that teachers needed our support just as much as their students did.
Being a school librarian can sometimes be a very isolating lonely job. Focusing on reading for pleasure is a safe way to get your foot in the door with teachers but if the role is questioned like it was with us how do you change what you are doing? I am not saying that you should leave the reading for pleasure behind but what do you do if you want to start talking about inquiry learning and the school librarians role in supporting and teaching it? I do understand that this is way outside the comfort zone of some school librarians who are not confident in the teaching side or feel that reading and literacy is their main focus. However, whether we like it or not our roles are changing and we have to find a way to encourage and support all school librarians who are interested in learning more about this side of school librarianship.
I was lucky to meet Darryl but what can other school librarians do to learn what they can teach if they wish to change direction? Take a look at FOSIL and talk to other school librarians. Our expertise as an information specialist is research so take some time to find out what works for you. This is our specialism, this is our ‘what we can do that the schools can’t do themselves’ and I truly believe that this is our route to survival.
In order to support those school librarians who want to learn more, I have developed a course that is supported and run by the SLA called Using Inquiry to Engage Teachers Across the Curriculum on the 12th March in London and another in Manchester on the 30th April Please click the link to find out more about this course.