The Collaboration Conundrum


Librarians like to collaborate. Teachers don’t. Not an absolute truth, but one that many librarians face on a daily basis.

Why does there seem to be less motivation to collaborate among teachers than among librarians?

Teachers tend to be own-classroom oriented. Librarians tend to be all-classroom oriented.
Teachers do not always recognize the relevance of information literacy skills to their classroom goals. Librarians recognize that information literacy skills are relevant to almost all classroom goals.
Teachers are not typically trained in models of collaboration. Modern school librarianship is based on models of collaboration.
Teachers’ schedules can make collaboration difficult. Librarians (especially those on flexible schedules) may have more time to collaborate.
Organizational culture may make teachers resistant to collaboration, whether owing to organizational apathy (“we don’t care”) or organizational mandate (“you must collaborate!”).

Hence, the collaboration conundrum.

So, how can librarians contribute to the development of a collaborative culture? And why is it important?

First, the why. Most librarians already know that collaboration is key to successful integration of information and related literacies into classroom curricula. But, collaboration has another benefit — it fosters more constructivist teaching practices as shown in the figure below — a win-win for both teachers and librarians.


Teacher Role Orientation: Classroom Focus versus Collaborative Professional Practice (from the Teaching, Learning and Computing Survey from the Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations)













Now for the how. There are three different roles librarians can take on that I think may go a long way toward contributing to a collaborative culture. Here they are:


The role of librarian leader is an emerging one, and a very good fit for a group that is professionally trained with collaboration models of school librarianship. Taking the lead toward fostering a culture of collaboration might mean sharing research on the importance of collaboration with administrators or board members, broadcasting successful collaboration efforts through the library’s communication media (e.g., blog; e-mail; LMS), or training classroom teachers on best practice approaches through professional development. Whatever the method, collaboration may be more likely to happen when teachers see the librarian as a leader..


Leaders are advocates, but advocacy can still take place outside of leadership roles. Advocating for collaboration by leading from below can be done by gathering the evidence that builds a strong case for teacher-librarian collaboration. For example, by comparing student outcomes (quantitative and qualitative) on assignments in collaborative and non-collaborative conditions within the school, it is easier to present the argument that collaboration improves student learning.

A more direct way to advocate is through students themselves. The library can become a ‘Third Space’ to bridge students’ informal literacy interests with their academic ones (think learning commons). When students are enthusiastic about the library so are teachers, which may open up opportunities for teacher-librarian collaboration.


There is no doubt that tight schedules make finding time to collaborate tough. Time does not have to be a barrier to collaboration though. Technology has made collaboration easier than ever. Find out teachers’ preferred method of communication (is it e-mail, Twitter, a Facebook group?) and take advantage of it to communicate simple ways in which 21st century skills can be integrated with their classroom goals (knowing teachers’ classroom goals helps). Create online guides (LibGuides or something similar) for teachers to use to scaffold library skills into their curricula. Collaboration doesn’t always have to be face to face, and being a facilitator of collaboration may be a more comfortable approach for many librarians.

The benefit of teacher-librarian collaboration goes way beyond improving students’ information literacy skills. It also leads to more constructivist teaching practices. This is absolutely essential in an era of 21st century learning where critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration are expected of students, which leads to my final point. How can we expect students to learn to collaborate when their teachers don’t? I believe that librarians are one solution to improving cultures of collaboration as LEADERS, as ADVOCATES, and as FACILITATORS.

5 Ways to Improve Students’ Online Reading Comprehension


Students prefer print to reading online. At least that’s what the research has found. I think most librarians can confirm this anecdotally.

Is anybody asking why? Because its implications are problematic.

We know that online reading comprehension requires a separate set of skills than print-based reading comprehension; skills such as interpreting, critically evaluating and then synthesizing multiple modes of information.

Online reading comprehension becomes even more critical as students enter college and are required to locate, evaluate, synthesize and communicate information stemming from online resources. That of course, is the basis for information literacy.

Students’ current preferences for print suggests that their online reading comprehension skills are underdeveloped. This is not surprising considering that schools have been very slow to adapt to 21st century learning — and many still equate 21st century skills with technology skills.

Add to that the misinterpretation of what a digital native is (yes, being born into a digital age makes you a digital native in a sense, but not necessarily a digitally literate native) and you can see we have a problem. A BIG problem that ultimately is hurting students’ abilities to function as information and digital literates in both college and career.

So what can we do to nurture the development of students’ online reading comprehension skills? Here are 5 ways librarians can tackle the problem:

  1. Transmedia storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is storytelling across multiple media platforms, exercising multiple literacies. Librarians can support online reading comprehension by promoting the reading of transmedia stories in the library, and collaborating with teachers to integrate transmedia stories into the classroom. See my previous posts here and here to learn more.
  2. Maker activities. Maker activities, especially of the digital variety, support online reading comprehension as students locate, evaluate and learn how to synthesize multiple digital elements together to communicate messages within their local or global communities. Transmedia storytelling can serve as an inspiration for maker activities.
  3. Digital games. Strategy (e.g. Minecraft, SimCity) and role playing (e.g. World of Warcraft) games, in particular, help develop the types of problem solving skills that are inherent in digital and information literacies. In that way, digital games are also good for supporting online reading comprehension skills. Librarians can provide access to digital games and game play in the library, and collaborate with teachers to bring digital games into the classroom to promote multiple literacies.
  4. WebQuests. WebQuests use elements of gamification to help students develop online research skills — and online reading comprehension skills along the way. WebQuests that are presented with a storytelling narrative (e.g. scenario-based, fantasy-based) motivate students to solve online information problems in an authentic context. Librarians can use WebQuests for library instruction, or just as easily integrate them into classroom-based lessons.
  5. Alternative research assignments. Research assignments that utilize social media (e.g. blogs, wikis) or share-able tools (e.g. infographics) support the full gamut of online reading comprehension skills – locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating information. Librarians play an important role in advocating for and articulating the value of alternatives to the traditional research paper.