Last week, I attended my daughter’s open house. She just started middle school (6th grade). As we went through and met her teachers, I began to wonder how research skills fit into the curriculum. So, when I met her language arts teacher, one of the questions I asked was about her relationship with the librarian. Did they collaborate on teaching information literacy skills, etc…? Maybe I shouldn’t have used the term information literacy because I got the impression that the teacher wasn’t interpreting information literacy in the context of research skills. She seemed to view information literacy purely in terms of technology skills. Nonetheless, the answer was no to the collaboration question. She gave me a vague explanation of how the students might get some library instruction when they go to the library (she didn’t seem too sure).
I was not surprised, just disappointed, especially considering that this school district prides itself on supporting 21st century learning. And they have a 1:1 program, so all students from middle school on up are equipped with a tablet-keyboard combo. And guess what? The students are using those tablets for research everyday in their classes. But they’re using Google instead of the library databases (and the library has some nice databases).
This is a problem.
Other than reading, no connections are being made between the library and the classroom. No connections are being made between the research students do in class (using Google) and the inquiry-based research skills that are a part of academic information literacy. Students are not becoming practitioners of academic information literacy. They’re taking their informal information literacy practices and applying them to schoolwork. Students are not learning that there are similarities and differences between the two practices. They’re not being taught how to connect informal with formal information literacy practices.
Again, this is a problem. I’ve seen the end result of it in the freshmen that are entering college for the first time and have little to no library research experience. They’re diehard Googlers. And by the time they enter college, it can be quite tough to immerse them into the new and sometimes foreign information literacy practices that are required. In other words, lack of adequate academic information literacy exposure in K-12 impedes college (and career) readiness.
Librarians are the key players in integrating information literacy skills into the curriculum. But that doesn’t mean they need to be the key players in teaching information literacy skills. Why? Because those skills are already being practiced in the classroom. Every day and without adequate guidance. This goes beyond teacher-librarian collaboration — undoubtedly a good thing, just not always easy to achieve.
How can we solve this problem?
I think first and foremost (and one of my career goals) we need to catch teachers during the pre-service stage to teach them how information and related literacies fit into the bigger picture. Teachers need to enter the teaching practice information literate themselves. This is a job for academic librarians. Secondly, those pre-service courses that librarians take on teacher-librarian collaboration should include both teachers and librarians. This requires a merging of the LIS and learning sciences disciplines.
How can library and classroom connections be made outside the pre-service circuit? Professional development is good a place to start. Teachers need to become aware of the differences between academic information literacy and informal information literacy practices. They need to become aware of the library research sources and learn how those sources fit into their everyday teaching. Then, teachers need to become self-aware of all the information literacy moments that pop up during the process of teaching and learning, and take those moments to model quality academic research practices. It’s not a matter of teaching information literacy skills as a separate unit so much. It’s about teachers immersing and modeling those skills into their everyday classroom practices. It’s about librarians teaching the teachers.
I can think of one last (and often overlooked) approach that would help create greater library-classroom connections. Parents. The one thing that would have made a lasting impression on me as a parent would have been if, during parent orientation (given to 6th grade parents), the librarian had introduced herself and given a brief talk about library skills and resources and their importance for college and career readiness. This is not just limited to the school librarian either. Public librarians can just as easily jump in by partnering with school librarians to offer parent workshops on the library’s role in developing the skills that lead to student success.
As librarians, we know how important information literacy skills are to student success. Sometimes I wonder if we’re the only ones who recognize that.