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.


One thought on “The Collaboration Conundrum

  1. Thank you, Amanda, for a great article on the importance of a culture of collaboration. I am reminded of another important work on the role of school libraries
    Loertscher, D. V. (2000). Taxonomies of the school library media program. San Jose, Calif: Hi Willow Research & Pub

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