Leadership and the perceived role of the teacher librarian

As I mentioned in my last post the leadership role can be viewed as a function and not necessarily as a role.  It is a behaviour that, as part of a change process, is very much in keeping with the ideas associated with transformational leadership (Smith, 2011).  However, it is not really necessary for teacher librarians (TLs) to be accredited as leaders in order to create effective change within an organisation.  I am not sure why I thought this might be necessary in the first place but perhaps it stemmed from concern over the future role of the TL.   Anyone can be a leader if they are effecting change (Smith, 2011).  This brings into question whether TLs should define themselves openly as leaders within the school or carry out the behaviours of leaders without acknowledging themselves as such.  Certainly I know that in my own school TLs are regarded as leaders in some aspects of their work, particularly in terms of use of technology and resources, but the idea of TL’s as instructional leaders would be frowned upon by some teachers.

Recently I read an article by Professor Mardis of Florida State University, A Big Vision depends on a Long Memory: One Professor’s Take on 21st– Century School Libraries, in which she suggests that the reason TLs have found it challenging to establish themselves as instructional partners is because the strength of the TL really still lies in her ability to provide relevant resources and many teachers view the information specialist role as the most important (Mardis, 2011).  She states that many school librarians find it very difficult to establish true collaborative roles with teachers where TL’s are involved in the planning, executing and evaluating of student projects (Mardis, 2011).  This is certainly the case in my school where there is sometimes the opportunity to plan and team teach a unit of work with teachers but very seldom the opportunity to evaluate the work.  Most often as TLs we are required to assist with an assessment task, which usually involves some form of inquiry learning, after it has been given to students and we then have to work with task as it stands, usually within a limited period of time.  The problem here is that frequently the task does not lend itself to real inquiry learning and it is too late to change the task.  As Mardis points out in her article the TL’s role has been viewed historically as a support and reactive role and she argues that the school librarian should leverage the role of information specialist to create influence and change (Mardis, 2011).

Essentially Mardis’ argument is that school librarians have traditionally performed leadership roles through the resource collection and she suggests that this is a good way to leverage action, instead of school librarians advocating themselves as primarily instructional partners (Mardis, 2011).  Mardis sums up her argument: “For future school librarians, the collection, technology, and the learning environment of the library are the essential factors in every school library.  Instructional partnering follows these elements; it is not seen by future school librarians as preceding or occurring separately from them” (Mardis, 2011, p47).

This argument is taken up by Kimmel who advocates for TLs to use their role as supplier of resources as a means to also be involved as instructional partners (Kimmel, 2012).  Kimmel found in her study that TLs who brought resources with them to planning meetings and who had a strong knowledge of the curriculum naturally became instructional partners, offering ideas about how to best use resources (Kimmel, 2012).  Kimmel’s final suggestion is that the role of the teacher librarian is one that potentially suffers from too much definition!

I found the ideas of both Mardis and Kimmel refreshing as they both emphasised the strength of the TL as information specialist, a leading role that is openly acknowledged by teachers.  Perhaps I am naïve in my views of the role of the TL as I am still finding my way in my first year of practice and study, but I think that using resources as a primary means towards effecting change and being a transformational leader is a very palatable idea.

Kimmel, S. C. (2012). Seeing the Clouds: Teacher Librarian as Broker in Collaborative Planning with Teachers. [Article]. School Libraries Worldwide, 18(1), 87-96.

Mardis, M. A. (2011). A Big Vision Depends on a Long Memory: One Professor’s Take on 21st-Century School Libraries. [Opinion]. School Library Monthly, 27(6), 45-47.

Smith, D. (2011). Educating Preservice School Librarians to Lead: A Study of Self-Perceived Transformational Leadership Behaviors. [Article]. School Library Media Research, 14, 5-5.


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