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).