Research in School Librarianship:

The Role of IASL

By Maureen Nimon [December 1995]

In a recent article in School Library Media Quarterly, Professor Kem Haycock reminded readers of two salient facts: that research in school librarianship is fundamental to the guidance of effective school library practice, and that there is a body of research literature in teacher- librarianship which provides evidence of the eduucational value of teacher librarians and school libraries (1995, p.227).

When hard pressed to manage under the day-to-day pressures of our professional work, we may find it difficult to perceive the value of carefully constructed studies which appear to formalize the chaotic patterns of our busy lives into an order we can scarcely recognize. Many people also comment that reading research reports couched as they are in academic language, is not a tempting prospect at the end of a long, hard day. Nevertheless the fact remains that the more we are pressured by the vilume and demands of our daily tasks, the more we need the perspective given by research to help us keep ourselves focussed on what is central to our work and indicators of how to achieve it. However, with works like Haycock's own What Works: Research About Teaching and Learning Through the School's Library Resurce Center (1992) and Krashen's The Power of Reading: Insights From the Research (1993), most practitioners do not need to read original studies.

It is important, however, that while a research base does exist, it is updated constantly to deal not only with evolving conditions, but that it is expanded to encompass a diversity of educational communities, such as those represented by the membership of IASL.

Haycock summarises evidence drawn from North American studies that substantiates the value of the professional role of teacher librarians and the educational value of school libraries. He points out that "the development of student competence is most effective when classroom instruction is integrated with cooperative program planning and team teaching by two equal partners: the classroom teacher and the library media specialist" (p.228). He highlights the need for teacher librarians to have dual qualifications in teaching and librarianship and stresses the importance of having the decision-makers in education, be they principals, superintendents or whatever, cognizant of and committed to the integration of library media services into classroom learning through cooperative planning and teaching.

The content of Haycock's article is invaluable information for all teacher librarians, but it also serves another purpose pertinent to IASL, because the conclusions it draws are all based on research undertaken in the North American continent. It therefore raises questions about the relevance of the studies and the conclusions they support, when viewed from the perspective of educational systems and circumstances ranging from ones similar to ones quite unlike those of North America. Moreover, haycock points out that even in North America where there is and has been for years considerable support for the integration of school library media services into classroom learning, these goals have not always been implemented. Particularly significant is the fact that superintendents may acknowledge the value of professional library media specialists, but not make them a priority, some even regarding them as luxuries (Haycock, 1995, p.229).

Thus we find that there is substantial evidence that we are educationally of great importance, but that even in an environment where our goals are understood and our qualities appreciated, competing interests may be placed ahead of us. We, and the services we provide, are expensive. To quote Haycock again, "inadequate funding and staffing, governance at state levels, and work schedules most adversely affect coperation" (Haycock, 1995, p.229).

What implications, therefore, do these studies have for teacher librarians in other parts of the world? In Australia, where cooperative program planning and teaching was seized upon in the 1980's, they are confirmation that the directions we have set ourselves are the right ones, despite the challenges imposed on us by massive cuts to public education systems in recent years. However, in a country in which some teacher librarians so enthusiastically took up the idea of teaching partners that they interpreted this to mean they must do fifty per cent of the work in any cooperative program, we must now investigate how to foster information literacy through collaboration where the conditions and criteria we previously considered essential no longer exist. It is time for us to aim at a What Works volume for part-time teacher librarians with little or no clerical assistance, and an emerging potential competitor rather than ally in the computing teacher. Indeed, some contributions of this kind have begun to appear, for example Mobley's article in ACCESS (1994).

If, though, we step outside countries such as Canada and Australia which, whatever the differences between them share many characteristics, what applications do the studies reported by Haycock have? Certainly, I am not in a position to say, but I am very conscious of the fact that all the studies referred to are based on a single concept of how children learn best and that this concept is not one universally adopted. Here is where IASL can contine to make a vital contribution, carrying on the work it has already done. By supporting research on teacher librarianship in many countries and reporting it in the IASL fora of the IASL Newsletter and School Libraries Worldwide, members will help us all to gain a deeper understanding of children's learning, and the ways in which school libraries and the professionals who run them can promote that learning.

We will all benefit from having access to a wide range of perspectives. For example, Haycock stresses the critical nature of the professional relationship between teacher librarian and teacher in integrating the use of information resources into student learning. It does seem likely that this factor will be one that is critical in all societies. In Kuhne's Barkestorp Project, the researcher writes of the need for teachers and librarians to respect each other more (Kuhne, 1995, p.25). There is another pointer to the importance of this relationship in an article by Krashen (1995). He reports a study that found "a clear negative correlationship... between reading ability and [the level of ] library services" (p.235). This result may well be an outcome of the finding reported by Haycock that "library media specialists who rate personal relations as a lower priority spend more time on circulation and related tasks" (p.228). These clues argue that successful teacher librarians will be people who enjoy and are good at working with other colleagues; it is possible, though, that the high extroversion factor reported by Haycock as significant in this relationship in North American studies will not be universally applicable.

It is essential then that all members consider what they can do to continue the research tradition of IASL and to expand it, and are willing to report of relevant work of which they know.

Dr Maureen Nimon
IASL Research Committee Chair
University of South Australia


Haycock, K. (1992). What Works: Research About Teaching and Learning Through the School's Library Resource Center. Seattle: Rockland.

Haycock, K. (1995). "Research in Teacher-Librarianship and the Institutionalization of Change", School Library Media Quarterly, 23(4), pp.227-233.

Krashen, S. (1993). The Power of Reading: Insights From the Research. Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. (1995). "School Libraries, Public Libraries, and the NAEP Reading Scores", School Library Media Quarterly, 23(4), pp.235-237.

Kuhne, B. (1995). "The Barkestorp Project: Investigating School Library Use", School Libraries Worldwide, 1(1), pp.13-27.

Mobley, V. (1994). "The Teacher-Librarian as Instructional Consultant: Clarifying an Educational Role Within the Context of CPT", ACCESS, 8(1), pp.28-30.

Reproduced, with permission, from the December 1995 issue of the IASL Newsletter.

Last Updated 8 February 2003 (LAC)