Teacher librarians and the networked school community: the opportunities

Schooling worldwide is finally in the process of evolving from its traditional paper-based operational mode to one that is digital and, in turn, networked. The opportunities being opened daily for the astute, proactive information professional prepared to embrace and lead ongoing change are immense.

Virtually every school is at some point along the evolutionary continuum, with many having reached the digital phase where all of the teachers in the school have normalised the use of the digital in their everyday teaching, and an escalating number of those digital schools are now moving at pace into the networked mode and taking their teaching well beyond the traditional school walls (Lee & Finger 2010).

Once organisations - be they banks, hospitals or schools - leave behind their paper base and go digital they move from a position of constancy to ongoing evolution and change, often rapid change (Hesselbein & Goldsmith 2009). Reflect for a moment on the organisational changes that occurred in banking when it moved from its books and ledgers to the digital and networked. Key developments in the technology apposite to the particular industry will forever have a significant impact on the nature of the organisation and its operations, and occasion ongoing evolution, whether desired or not.

This fundamental change in the nature of schooling appears not to have been appreciated by many in leadership positions.

It most assuredly has by Australia’s teacher librarians, many of whom are keen to play a leading role in the development of the networked school communities and to grasp the opportunities being opened, judging from the recent study by Twomey and Lee in 2010 (Lee & Twomey 2011).

In contrast to most other teachers Australia's teacher librarians have experienced first hand the process of going digital and networked since the early 1990s (Hay 2010a). While it is only in recent years that a significant number of their colleagues have begun to appreciate the opportunities opened by, and the school-wide implications of going digital (Lee & Winzenried 2009; Lee & Finger 2010), teacher librarians have had a long and often frustrating recognition of what is possible.

Digital has become and everyday teaching process

Digital has become an everyday teaching process


In 2011 there is a growing number of schools across Australia - in the state and non-government sectors, at the primary and secondary levels - that are moving into the networked operational mode and which provide proactive teacher librarians with the opportunity to make a significant and exciting contribution to the 24/7/365 education of the young.

Sadly, at this point in the history of Australian schooling there is still a large number of schools where most teachers (including those in leadership positions) are still operating in the traditional paper-based mode, the same as they did 30-40 years ago. These schools are falling ever further behind the pathfinding schools, with some seeing little or no value in the role a teacher librarian can play as information, technology and learning leader.

In brief Australia, like all other developed nations has schools along the evolutionary continuum, from the highly proactive, which are rapidly becoming networked school communities, and the reactive, which are yet to achieve 'digital take-off' (Lee & Winzenried 2009).

However, what needs to be borne in mind is that schools, particularly if there is a change of leadership that wants to shape a school for the future, can astutely evolve from the paper to the digital, networked mode in four to five years.

The key is the principal, and recognition that schools have to be responsible for shaping their own future with a staff willing to back him or her.


Evolution of schooling

Most in the community and indeed probably most educators and politicians have yet to grasp that the nature of schooling is fundamentally changing and that the pathfinding schools are abandoning many of the operational and teaching practices of the paper-based schools and adopting ones that take advantage of emerging, digital and mobile technologies (Lee & Gaffney 2009; Lee & Finger 2010; Lee 2011).

The perception, born of years of constancy, was that the organisational form of the place called school was somehow immutable. While virtually all other industries went digital in the latter part of the 20th century, as indicated in the aforementioned works, schooling did not begin to go digital with the early adopters until around 2002-2003 and begin moving to the networked mode in significant numbers until around 2009-2010. What our research (Lee & Finger in press) is suggesting is that schools cannot successfully move to the networked mode and begin to collaborate and network as a total school with their homes and community until all their teachers have normalised the everyday use of the digital and are attitudinally ready to collaborate with others.

However, once that position of whole-school readiness is reached, changes can come at pace, and will keep coming as those of you have seen with the increasing digitisation of information resources and library collections. The reality is that schooling will continue to evolve at pace, and more than ever educators need to work towards shaping the desired future.

That shaping requires educators who are comfortable with ongoing change and with the requisite human networking and collaborative skills and understandings, and most importantly who are able to work within a networked operational paradigm.

While the shaping of the future entails risk it is far less risky than futilely reacting to every new development. Building one’s own capacity and the capacity of others as flexible, adaptive digital citizens is central to 21st-century education. Change is the new constant, and teachers and students must learn to not just live with it, but embrace it - be empowered by it.

Shaping the future

Every school in Australia is unique. While most have many common features each has its own distinct mix of staff and students, each caters for a particular community and each is at a different point along the school evolutionary continuum.

While Australian schooling has been strongly characterised by the control of various education systems, and while in some 'the one size fits all model' of the Industrial Age is still favoured, the reality is that once organisations go digital and move from constancy to ongoing change they need the operational and organisational wherewithal to shape their own future. This applies to schools as much as it does to business, and is evident in the Federal Government’s move to encourage greater self management of schools.

While as the late management guru Peter Drucker (2001) noted there is no such thing as a perfect organisational form, there are organisational forms that are far more facilitating of one’s objectives than others.

The traditional strongly hierarchical, bureaucratically run school not only works to retain the status quo and disempowers the professionalism of most of its teachers (Lee & Finger 2010b), it is antithetical to ongoing change and development.

To shape the desired future, schools require the wherewithal to develop an organisational form and staff able to respond readily to ongoing change in an increasingly networked and collaborative world, while at the same time catering for the particular needs of each distinct school community. This is what Lee and Finger have examined in some depth in Developing a Networked School Community (2010) and in the followup work that examines the leadership of such a school (Lee & Finger in press).

Networked school community

The first of the aforementioned works on the concept of a networked school community, mainly in 2009–2010 examined the early moves being made by pathfinding schools across the developed world as they began to take advantage of the networking technology in the school and their community to begin dismantling their external and internal school walls and providing a more 24/7/365 education that took advantage of the burgeoning digital technology in the students’ homes.

In that work, Lee and Finger envisaged the form such a mode of schooling might take, and defined the networked school community as:
... a legally recognised school that takes advantage of the digital and networked technology, and of a more collaborative, networked and inclusive operational mode to involve its wider community in the provision of a quality education appropriate for the digital future. (2010, p 22)

In writing the new work and examining case studies from around the world we have been taken by the speed with which the pathfinders are moving and note possibilities mooted in 2009-2010 are now in place and further moves are being planned. For example the iCentre concept proposed by Lyn Hay (Hay 2010a; 2010b) is now operational in some Australian schools.

In many respects the ‘tsunami’ that is already impacting upon the operations of the pathfinders in a significant way, ie the burgeoning desire by students to use their own mobile computing, will oblige all schools to do a major rethink with regard to mobile-enabled learning, whatever form it takes, whether in classrooms, the home or in ‘the cloud’. Where Lee and Ryall (2010) identified the many considerable benefits, in 2011 schools are realising them.

This move has huge implications for you and school information and technology operations.

As too do the moves in Australia and globally for the school leadership to have a ready flow of information on the effectiveness of the workings of all facets of the school community's operations. While such processes are in place to provide that information - as opposed to mere data - on the financial workings of a school, there are no such internal processes to provide the information on the educational workings of the school. One is talking about the school leadership's understanding of all the external and internal variables impacting a school's realisation of the desired learning outcomes, ie its evidence base.

In brief, schools will increasingly need an information and learning specialist on staff who can assemble, synthesise and provide the relevant educational information on a regular basis. The role of the teacher librarian as a school-based leader in building evidence is clearly articulated in the School libraries 21C report, which presents the results of the school library futures project hosted in 2009 by the School Libraries & Information Literacy Unit for the New South Wales Department of Education & Training (Hay & Todd 2010).


Such a person could readily operate out of a school's iCentre as suggested by Lyn Hay in her recent Access commentary (2010a) and her chapter in Developing a networked school community (2010b), which positions teacher librarians to play the kind of lead role flagged in Lee and Twomey's research (2011).

The iCentre is not only a very powerful concept that rightly integrates the current disparate library and ICT operations within a school but most importantly posits the teacher librarian as an information, curriculum and technology leader:
... one who provides professional development for teachers with regard to integrating new technology tools and instructional initiatives. Someone who can lead the testing and trialling of new ideas, provide guidance in making better connections between school and home, and developing information policies and curriculum to support the development of students and teachers as informed, digital citizens. (Hay 2010a, p 7)

Hay has argued this information leadership role of the teacher librarian for some years now through information literacy, information policy and knowledge management to assist Australian schools in achieving sound integration of technology to effectively support teaching and learning (Hay 2010b; 2004; 2001). Hay argues this is more essential than ever as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, and those schools who value the learning leadership role of the teacher librarian are demonstrating this significance as their teacher librarian is employed to assist teachers transform their pedagogical practice and transform learning experiences for students to reflect the authenticity, immersion, mobility and connectedness of the socially networked world in which we now live (Hay 2010a).

Most importantly if the right atmosphere exists, as schools like Broulee Primary School on the South Coast of NSW and Assisi College on the Gold Coast can attest, the iCentre can be successfully operational within a very short period.

Digital communication channel

As networked schools reach out to their homes and community and begin taking advantage of the ever more sophisticated and inexpensive two-way digital communications facilities, they are often unwittingly creating vast, tailored multiway, digital communications channels with the students' homes.

It doesn't take long to recognise the opportunities such channels provide for interactive multimedia communication, teaching, support and feedback. Add the bandwidth upgrade of the national broadband network (NBN) and the possibilities are endless.


At first glance at this stage in the evolution of schooling, the role of the teacher librarian might appear gloomy in some schools. However, if one looks at the immense opportunities for an information leadership role within the networked school community you'll soon recognise, as did the teacher librarians of Brisbane Catholic Education (Lee & Twomey 2011) what a valuable resource you are, well positioned to play a leading role in the ongoing evolution of schooling.

In 1995 the Centre for Studies in Teacher Librarianship at Charles Sturt University created OZTL_NET and positioned Australia’s teacher librarians to play a leading role in the networked world (Hay & Dillon 1997).

Sixteen years on it is time to take advantage of the position and the understanding you have of the networked world and grasp the opportunities with both hands.

Mal Lee

Mal is an author/educational consultant specialising in the evolution of schooling. He can be contacted at or via

Lyn Hay

Lyn is a lecturer, School of Information Studies & Flexible Learning Institute (FLI) Teaching Fellow, Charles Sturt University, Canberra Campus.

Developing a Networked School Community can be acquired through ACER Press Online

Leading a Networked School Community, which explores the leadership and operation of networked school communities, will be released later this year.


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