Pivotal figure in modern lessons

21st October 2005 at 01:00
The staid image of school librarians has no relevance to today's role in learning, writes Raymond Ross

Things have changed radically for school librarian Anne Inglis since she was faced with her first computer 15 years ago. To begin with, she now has 25 computers in constant demand in the library at James Gillespie's High in Edinburgh.

Then, she was a novice. Now, like many of her colleagues across the country, she is a member of Learning and Teaching Scotland's Masterclass community and a pivotal figure at the forefront of integrating information technology with learning and teaching.

She can make use of interactive whiteboards and data projectors to show whole classes how the library works, while both pupils and teachers can use them for PowerPoint presentations to classes, colleagues and parents.

Latest developments include the Accelerated Reader program, which analyses and evaluates a pupil's reading, setting the right level for them, encouraging them to move up or down levels, and giving them personalised certificates to record their successes.

Star Reader, a similar program that is popular with both pupils and teachers, can give an overview of whole class reading.

"It's fun for the pupils and that makes it more attractive. If computers are involved, the majority get excited," says Mrs Inglis.

Integrating information technology with learning and teaching at James Gillespie's High begins with the S1 challenge and the S1 personal and social education programme. The challenge is for groups of pupils to make an electronic presentation to class parents on environmental issues at the end of a day's research and evaluation. The PSE programme introduces them to safe e-mailing and texting and how to use multimedia software to make a presentation about themselves.

Developments like this mean that the role of school librarians is changing radically, says Mrs Inglis. "When we first became involved in ICT, we were what someone once called 'sneaky teachers'." Now their teaching role is very much tied up with information literacy.

"You can integrate information literacy - the ability to find, critically evaluate, use and communicate information from electronic sources - into any part of the curriculum to enhance the learning experience," says Mrs Inglis. "But pupils have to be taught how to evaluate the information.

"Is the website biased? Is it promoting a particular point of view? Is it independent?

"And when questions like that have been dealt with, then pupils need to know they can't just cut and paste - plagiarism, if you like - but they have to process the information and make it their own, put it in their own words."

Part of her role is also to strike a balance between e-sources and print materials. The sophisticated learner will demonstrate a balance in both the use and evaluation of source materials.

All of this places librarians very much in the role of a teacher and demands a collaborative approach with class or subject teachers.

Collaboration between teachers and librarians, with full backing from school managements, is necessary to develop this crucial role says Professor Dorothy Williams of the department of information management at Robert Gordon University, a leading expert.

"Information literacy is widely recognised as key to lifelong learning, critical thinking, decision-making and problem solving. The librarian, as an information professional and information expert, has an important role to play in developing information literacy. But this will only be effective if schools move towards a much more collaborative inter-professional working relationship, with librarians working alongside teachers as equal and complementary professionals with the common goal of education and learning," she says.

Whether this happens will depend largely on the headteacher and the way she or he both manages and supports the librarian.

"If there is no vision and understanding of the role and value of a professional librarian within senior management, the librarian will remain isolated and will not be able to fulfil their potential," says Professor Williams.

With strong backing from the management team at James Gillespie's High, Mrs Inglis is already fulfilling the role of what Professor Williams calls "the effective librarian". That is:l to be able to customise and manage e-resource collections as well as print-based collections to meet the needs of curriculum, teaching and learning, and reader development;l to help design the content and navigation of school websites and intranets;l to advise teachers on information and reading materials;l to disseminate information to keep teachers up-to-date; and l to develop the ability of learners and teachers to find and use information (information literacy).

"This is more than a support for teaching and learning. It's about developing and changing teaching, learning and management practice," says Professor Williams.

"It's about contributing to the development of a more effective, information literate school, a school where staff as well as pupils have the ability to make effective use of internal and external information to enhance learning, formal and informal, decision-making and knowledge sharing."

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