SCISConnections

Need support and advice? Network!

When you’re the only person in your school with your kind of job and no one on the school staff can answer your questions about library systems, resource management and professional teaching challenges, you need support. Regional and local networks can provide the support teacher librarians need.

‘Teacher librarians are very generous in sharing ideas and resources and supporting each other’, says Jenny Stubbs, Coordinator of the Ipswich District Teacher Librarian Network (IDTLN). ‘They can help solve each other’s problems, and pass on information and advice. When you’re the only person in your school with your kind of job, you need support and advice.’

Teacher librarians just starting out can have lots of questions like: How do you run a library monitor program? How do you access some professional development? What do you do when a kid loses a book? They might seem simple questions, but when there’s no one on the school staff who can answer them, you need support!

The IDTLN has been providing support for the teacher librarians in the Ipswich area – and beyond – for over 30 years. Over those years, the Network has survived cutbacks, restructures, funding shortfalls and loss of staff. It’s not only survived, it’s grown and in 2007 it’s stronger than ever. This year, the IDTLN is:

  • running a Biennial Festival of Children’s Literature and an Online Literature Festival
  • producing a book of activities and ideas on how to celebrate Children’s Book Week
  • organising the Ipswich Region Reader’s Cup Final for CBCA
  • supplying or lending resources like books, a puppet theatre and IT equipment to schools
  • running professional development sessions and workshops
  • maintaining a website packed with news, contacts and resources
  • running a writing competition connected with the Literature Festival.

If that sounds impressive, it’s even more impressive when you realise that all this is done by volunteers. People who have full-time jobs, families and plenty of other commitments but who make time for this as well. Why do they do it?

Duncan Ball, Isobelle Carmody, Paul Collins and Lilli Wilkinson at the IDTLN 2005 Festival

Isobelle Carmody, Paul Collins and Lilli Wilkinson at the IDTLN 2005 Festival

Why join a network?

Megan Daley is Junior School Teacher librarian at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School. She joined the Network because she wanted to talk to other teacher librarians about issues that were unique to being a teacher librarian. ‘It can be quite an isolated profession, working in a school library – all the classroom teachers are a network in themselves’, Megan said. She had to start a primary school library from scratch. ‘I had very little idea where to get practical advice on how I should go about this. Academic study taught me the theory of the job: my Network – and my teacher librarian mother – has taught me how to actually do the job!’

‘We do offer some benefits for members who become actively involved in running the Network, working on subcommittees and so on. For example, we might offer help with funding to attend conferences, provide free attendance at the Festival or access to author sessions in schools and network-owned resources’, said Jenny Stubbs. ‘But that’s not why most people join. They join for other reasons.’

Ann Christopherson, Teacher librarian at Ipswich East State School, said she joined the Network ‘as soon as she was placed in a school’. ‘The six-month teacher librarian training course was detailed, rigorous, extremely practical and superb, in my opinion, but it didn’t address all the school issues I confronted once I started the job’, she said. ‘My fellow teacher librarians were able to help me with library system questions, resource management organisation and professional teaching challenges.’

A brief history

The IDTLN was set up in the 1970s. ‘It was at that time an Education Department initiative’, said Jenny Stubbs. ‘Library and Resource Services (LARS), based in Brisbane, set up networks all over the state for state school teacher librarians. There could be a few networks in each region. Each network had a contact person, who received information from the Regional Library Advisor, and that would be passed on to members.’

Regional networks got together to share ideas and resources. At meetings, many members arrived with duplicated copies of ‘tried and true’ activities to pass out and share. Many networks put these activities together and produced ‘ideas’ books that were then distributed to other networks. LARS also produced publications like Review Point, with reviews of new books, and Connexions, a booklet of teaching and display ideas.

Teacher librarians entering the state system joined their local network as a matter of course. In those days, Jenny Stubbs remembers, almost all contact was personal. Meetings of primary and secondary teacher librarians were held regularly. ‘They were great! Real resource sharing, problem solving, show and tell. Everyone supported everyone else. And it was all face to face – nothing electronic in those days!’

In that time, Regional Advisors organised a lot of in-service sessions. ‘The role of the teacher librarian was changing’, Ms Stubbs said. ‘It was moving from library lessons in isolation and the promotion of literature, towards cooperative teaching and learning. Teacher librarians were starting to work with teachers, planning lessons in collaboration with them. It was a very exciting and productive time!’

In the 1980s teacher librarians from Catholic, Lutheran and other private schools began to attend network meetings, as did children’s librarians from the Ipswich City Council Library.

When Carol Moore was first appointed to the position of Children’s Librarian with the Ipswich City Council in 1996, she was keen to tap into networks that supported literacy, reading and the advancement of children’s literature. ‘I discovered there was a very active local network of teacher librarians who met on a regular basis’, she said. Ms Moore contacted the IDTLN and was welcomed.

‘There are approximately 70 schools within the Ipswich City Council area. If the IDTLN didn’t exist, it would be much more difficult to obtain information as the library would need to rely on individual contact with those schools’, she said. ‘It would also be harder for the Library Service to disseminate information to schools.’

The Ipswich Library and Information Service now works collaboratively with the IDTLN on projects such as the Children’s Book Week ‘ideas’ publication, the Ipswich Festival of Children’s Literature, training in new technologies, storytelling workshops, author visits and other events. The Network has gone from strength to strength.

Personal ‘highs’

For Network member Marilyn Bell, Teacher librarian at Rosewood State School, the ‘high’ has been introducing students to authors and illustrators at first hand. ‘This has come about largely through participating in our biennial Children’s Literature Festival’, she said.

For Carolyn Keighley, Senior Project Officer at the Learning Place, Department of Education, Training and the Arts, a highlight has been the online chat sessions between students and authors and illustrators. Carolyn’s favourite piece of interaction took place between a student and the author Richard Tulloch.

Student: Richard, do you think I could be an author or an illustrator? If I do, I want to be just like you.

Richard Tulloch: But no-one else can be just like me. Be an author just like you.

Roz Reichle, Teacher librarian at Immaculate Heart School, also enjoys getting students together with authors and illustrators. She took her whole school of 200 students to the Festival in 2003 and 2005, and plans to take them all again this September. She loves watching children respond to writers’ and illustrators’ presentations. ‘The writers and illustrators are incredibly talented, not only as writers and illustrators but in ‘knowing’ kids.’

And some lows

In the 1990s, much of the centralised departmental support for school libraries and the Network disappeared. The Regional Library Advisor roles were abolished and LARS was disbanded soon after that. There was no more Review Point or Connexions.

‘If the Regions wanted to keep their networks, it was up to the networks to provide the impetus’, Jenny Stubbs said. ‘Some networks seemed to get kind of lost without a person to coordinate them. Some survived, some didn’t.’

The Ipswich Network was fortunate. Jenny Stubbs (Regional Library Advisor since 1989) had been able to retain some of her advisory role, working with small schools. ‘So I still had the knowledge, I had some flexibility, I was making contact with people through my work and I could pass the knowledge on’, she said. The IDTLN not only survived – but flourished.

Successes

Many of the small ‘ideas’ books had disappeared along with the networks that had produced them. The Ipswich Network decided to step into the void and produce a book, full of ideas and activities, to support Children’s Book Week. The book was based on the short-listed books and the Book Week theme. They began to sell it to other schools and public libraries. In the first year, 800 copies went out. In 2007 the Network has sold 3,300 copies.

The biggest changes to the way the Network operates, over the years, have been driven by technology. Initially meetings, sharing sessions and professional development took place face to face. Now, although there are still face-to-face meetings, minutes are immediately placed online and made accessible to members who can’t attend.

The Network was quick to take advantage of developments in technology. ‘In 1995 we had information about our first Festival up on a website’, said Jenny Stubbs. ‘The Internet was just getting going then. Around that time, we also ran a rather primitive online chat with James Moloney as part of a Book Rap. Chats and raps are now a vital part of the Festival, hosted by the Learning Place.’

By 1999 additional material for the ideas book, together with other resources and links to useful websites, was up on the Internet. When Education Queensland provided their listserv facilities, it enabled much more efficient communication than the old fax tree system. In 2003, EQ’s Learning Place joined in.

‘The Learning Place has been great!’, Jenny Stubbs said. ‘They’ve done so much to support our online presence. Through the Learning Place we can share information, communicate between meetings, store documents in a secure store. Every member has access to all the information at any time and can add to, or edit, data on the site. The website is especially valuable for people in remote areas. If you have a communication tool like this, you’re not so isolated – you can talk to people, access professional development and share, all online.’ According to Ms Stubbs, the IDTLN website gets more hits than any other website on the Learning Place. For more information, visit http://www.learningplace.com.au/sc/ipswich/idtln

Network projects for 2007 include the Festival, which is bigger than ever. This year the Network is trialling a new approach and taking the Festival to secondary schools. Six authors and a bookseller will travel to schools, creating a mini-festival for a day. ‘We found that logistics were a problem for some secondary schools in getting students to the Festival’, said Jenny Stubbs. ‘Things like timetabling and distance and transport costs. So we’re taking the Festival to them!’

What if there was no Network?

Without the Network, Roz Reichle said, it would be much harder and more time consuming to get information. ‘By networking and knowing other teacher librarians, we are able to share resources, particularly multiple copies of books: for example, for the Reader’s Cup or Literature Circles.’

‘Without the Network I’d lose the human support and professional stimulation and the development that really makes the TL job so essential to an effective school’, said Ann Christopherson. ‘Without our network of shared interests and experience, mine would be a very different position to the one I hold now.’

Megan Daley said, ‘I would still be floundering without the support of the amazing, utterly professional, totally cool, not-at-all-stereotypical teacher librarians I have met through the Network – many of whom are now personal friends. Every time I’ve started to feel disillusioned with education, another Network meeting rolls around and I leave feeling utterly refreshed and bursting with ideas to take back to school.’

Starting a network

If there’s no network in your area, how do you go about creating one? It may seem an overwhelming task.

‘Don’t be deterred’, Jenny Stubbs says. ‘You can run an effective network without major projects like festivals and publications. You can share ideas, especially through electronic mediums. If you can set up a website through a body, for example, like the Learning Place, that’s the greatest networking tool around. Everyone has access to all the information and the resources. All you need to start is a coordinator and someone to take the minutes – plus people willing to share and to share the workload!’

Other useful sources for information include:
EDNA Teacher Librarians Community http://www.groups.edna.edu.au/course/view.php?id=5
Queensland Teacher librarians Network (subscribe) http://education.qld.gov.au/listserv/subscribe.html
OZTL_NET http://www.csu.edu.au/cstl/oztl_net

Pamela Rushby
Email: P.Rushby@uq.net.au
http://www.pamelarushby.com