Literacy is a term which first came into regular use in the late 19 century and is defined as the ability to read and write (Macquarie concise dictionary, 2nd ed 1998). Information literacy is a more recent term, which has evolved from ‘library skills’ in the 1980’s to information/study skills of the 1990’s. (CSU ETL401 Modules). It is perhaps the evolutionary nature of the term, which has led to difficulties in pinning a suitable definition on to it. Langford (1998) questioned if information literacy was a concept, process or indeed a whole new form of literacy. Whilst Abilock (2004) defines information literacy as a process the student/learner uses for personal, social or global reasons. On the other hand some argue it is ‘the basic skills set of the 21st century (Eisenberg 2008). It is generally agreed that information literacy is more than just finding and reading information. Students are ‘no longer confined to simply decoding and comprehending the printed word’ (NSW DEC, 2010). The new technologies of the 21st century demand more from learners.
Intepretation, analysis, synthesis and reflection are all common elements required to be information literate and these can be found in various models for information literacy teaching (e.g. ISP, Big 6). According to Herring (2011) it is the ability to use the various skills of literacy to allow a person to function well in our society, which defines information literacy. Mckenzie (2000) tells us the importance of students being information producers rather than information gatherers. The teacher and teacher librarian can teach these skills, the ability on the other hand must come from the learner making the links and transferring the skills, into all the situations, which they may encounter through their lives. It is this point I think which takes us from defining information literacy as a ‘skills set’ through to another level. These skills need to be used across a plethora of media from the traditional print-based to the ever-changing and extensive digital media. More importantly these skills must encourage and facilitate ‘lifelong learning’.
Information literacy is most definitely more than just a set of skills. At the beginning of this topic I was confused and somewhat bemused by the many definitions of information literacy. Initially the definitions seemed to be saying essentially the same thing just with slight differences in the wording. I questioned the importance of discussing the definitions and I certainly then questioned why we had to think about information literacy being more than a set of skills. However NOW I understand and realise how essential an understanding of information literacy is to informing the role of the 21st teacher and teacher librarian.
Information literacy goes beyond being a set of skills, it goes beyond being a process, it goes beyond the limitations of one sector be that technology, education, governmental or business.
The 2012 Moscow Declaration on Media and Information Literacy, in addition to the Prague Declaration of 2003 reveal the importance placed on Information Literacy to the wider society. These declarations encourage governments as well as education authorities to promote information literacy and make ‘structural and pedagogical reforms’ as necessary. Taking this a step further, information literacy can be described as a ‘basic human right’, as an aspiration or ideal, as evidence of a successful society, but it cannot be described simply as a set of skills. Information literacy is made up of skills. A car is made up of many parts but is not called an engine or a seatbelt. Information literacy is made up of many skills but the sum total is not a group of skills but a new product – an information literate person.
Abilock, D. (2004). Information literacy: an overview of design, process and outcomes.
NoodleTools. Retrieved September 2012 from http://www.noodletools.com/debbie/literacies/information/1over/infolit1.html
Charles Sturt University, ETL 401 Module 4. Accessed September 2012, from,
Eisenberg, M. B. (2008). Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age.
DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, 28(2), (p. 39-47)
Herring, James (2011) Improving Students’ Web Use and Information Literacy (p. 62-63). Facet Publishing, UK.
Langford, L (1998). Information literacy: a clarification. School Libraries Worldwide, 4(1), (p. 59-72).
Mackenzie, James. (2000). The Research Cycle. Retrieved September 10 2012, from,
Macquarie Dictionary (2nd Ed.) (1998). Macquarie Publishing
New South Wales Dept. of Education (2010) Literacy Learning and Technology (p. 3). NSW DET
Prague Declaration ‘Towards an Information Literate Society’. Retrieved September 10, 2012 from,
UNESCO, 2012. Moscow Declaration on Media and Information Lliteracy. Retrieved September 10 2012 from,
My T/L journey has taken me on a long, bumpy, pot-hole filled road and it’s not the end of my first subject yet!
In the beginning I was very excited. Excited to be learning again and educating myself. Overwhelmed was another feeling that was closely associated with the excitement. Having assessment due dates again, after almost 20 yrs was overwhelming enough, but added to this was the fact I was now a mother of 3 children, a wife and an employee. University life at 19 seems like a breeze in comparison.
Early on in my readings about being a T/L I was very excited and kept thinking to myself that – wow I would be one of the highest educated members of staff (with my Masters of Ed) in the school! I’d be active in the school leadership and be highly respected – sought after by staff members and executive teams to forward our vision of educating students! Mmmm – I’m not so sure that will be the case anymore!
It appears Principals don’t always know, value, respect, understand or care about the role of the Teacher Librarian in their school or about the Library as a central learning space within the school.
It also appears that teachers don’t always know, value, respect, understand or care about the role of the Teacher Librarian in their school either, or about the Library as a central learning space. Teachers may use the library but for very limited purposes.
In addition to this it appears the NSW state government with its recent announcement of education funding cuts to the amount of $1.7 billion is at the very least placing other issues above education in terms of priorities.
On a more local level, I’ve been disturbed to read postings on the NSW T/L listserv about qualified T/L’s NOT being appointed to positions, and unqualified people being appointed in their place. Surely this speaks volumes about the respect and importance placed upon libraries and the role of the Teacher Librarian by school principals and indeed the teachers taking on these roles. Makes for feelings of despair rather than excitement and enthusiasm – don’t you think?
We must also look to some of the current people working as Teacher Librarians and ask if they are ‘up to the job’. The answer is no – some are not and some are seriously letting down the rest of the profession, future Teacher Librarians, themselves and most importantly of all – the students.
The problem with T/L’s not doing their jobs properly (aside from the obvious educational concerns) is that it is obvious to the ENTIRE school – students and teachers alike. It also impacts on a large number of people – students and teachers. A bad teacher on the other hand, or a teacher not doing their job properly is known about only by a small group of people in the school – not the whole school as with Teacher Librarians. A poorly performing teacher also impacts only upon their own classes and the students within those classes – once again this is in contrast to a poorly performing Teacher Librarian.
A teacher librarian has a great capacity to influence many students and staff in the school and have wide-ranging impacts upon school programs and student learning outcomes, this means that a poorly performing Teacher Librarian is worse than a poorly performing Teacher.
So what do I think can be done about these issues? Ironically enough education is of course one of the solutions. Politicians, school principals, classroom teachers AND existing Teacher Librarians need to be educated about current research into benefits of Teacher Librarians to improved student learning outcomes. They also need to be educated in the fact that most Teacher Librarians are highly educated with Masters in Education. In addition to education, I believe the teacher’s unions need to agitate and publicise until certain things (particularly the employment of only qualified Teacher Librarians) become mandated, either at a federal level or at a state level. Once mandated then certain issues will disappear and the importance and profile of Teacher Librarians should be lifted.
So what are my current feelings after 2 months of studying? The excitement of learning again is still there, it is now tempered by feelings of concern for the profession and future job prospects. I’m frustrated at governments and education departments for their lack of knowledge, foresight and innovation. I’m deeply annoyed at lazy Teacher Librarians, ineffectual Teacher Librarians, unqualified Teacher Librarians and Teacher Librarians who ‘hide out’ in their libraries and fail our students.
These issues aside, I’m still very happy with my decision to retrain and am enjoying the aspects of being a Teacher Librarian which I’ve learnt so far.
The Role of the Teacher Librarian and Implementing a Guided Inquiry Approach
The 21st century T/L is no longer simply the custodian of books and reference materials. They no longer simply teach students how to find a resource in their library, or expose students to the joy of books. Today’s T/L must ensure they are active, visible and effective members of the school community.
An active T/L is one who is collaborating with class teachers in developing units of work. A visible T/L is one who not only collaborates with class teachers, but assists in the teaching of units of work, as well as presenting new ways of teaching and learning to the teaching body. An effective T/L is one that can show evidence of learning goals being reaching by students and improved learning outcomes. The teaching and learning approach called Guided Inquiry allows the T/L to do all of these things.
Guided Inquiry owes its origins to the early 20th century theorists, John Dewey, George Kelly and Jerome Brunner (Kuhthau, 2007). It was they who started to believe the way we learn is fundamentally about ‘construction’. Learning occurs when the learner takes the new information and constructs the learning in their own mind. The learner experiences different feelings at different stages of the learning /constructive process. With this basis research was further undertaken by Kuhlthau (2004, 2007), which resulted in the Information Search Process (ISP). This model explains that learning occurs in stages and each stage is accompanied by different feelings. The model shows the feelings accompanying each stage of the learning. For the Teacher Librarian this information is vital. They are able to use the model to show at which stage students may need extra support and guidance. An understanding of the students’ feelings can also impact upon the types of tasks given at any particular point.
Guided Inquiry is used in conjunction with ISP. It is a unit of inquiry, which is taught by an instructional team to allow students to develop deep understanding of curriculum content and information literacy concepts. Students are guided toward developing skills and abilities for their current and future learning needs (Kuhlthau, 2007). As T/ L’s have the knowledge, expertise and experience in many avenues of information ‘seeking’, they are ideally placed to be central to the Guided Inquiry implementation.
Guided Inquiry has proven successful in achieving higher student learning outcomes and motivational levels (Scheffers, 2008 p. 35). There is also evidence that Guided Inquiry enables students to ‘reach a level of deep personal knowledge’ (Sheerman, 2011 p. 25). These outcomes fall well within the Teacher Librarian’s role.
The Standards of Excellence for Teacher Librarians produced by the Australian School Library Association (ASLA) state that T/L’s ‘assist individuals to develop independence in their learning’ and ‘empower other in the school community to become lifelong learners’.
Similarly, the NSW Department of Education’s (NSW DEC) Information Skills in the School Policy Document clearly states it is the role of the Teacher Librarian to implement Information Skills (p. 3) and that a Guided Inquiry approach may enhance information literacy skills (p. 5)
The T/L, following the above guidelines must work to implement Guided Inquiry in their library and also in the wider school. The historical research into ‘how we learn’ combined with the evidence of successful outcomes of Guided Inquiry make this approach integral to the Teacher Librarian of the 21st Century and indeed beyond.
Australian School Library Association. (2004). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from Australian School Library Association website, July 30: http://www.asla.org.au
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Learning as a process. In Seeking meaning: a process approach to library and information services (2nd ed.) (p. 13-27). Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.
Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L., Caspari, A. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century.Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unllimited.
NSW Department of Education and Training. (2007). Information Skills in the School. Retrieved September 2012, from website:
Scheffers, J. Guided Inquiry: a learning journey. Scan. Vol 27 No 4 November 2008 (p. 34-42)
Sheerman, A. Accepting the challenge: evidence based practice at Broughton Anglican College. Scan. Vol 30 No 2 2011 (p. 24-33).