The role of the teacher librarian: some authors’ views

After reading the views of Herring, Purcell, Lamb and Valenza, one thing is certain: the job of the teacher librarian is diverse, multi-faceted and vital to the teaching and learning that takes place in a school. With so many possible roles incorporating a wide range of tasks, such as teacher, librarian, collaborator, administrator, IT expert, curriculum leader, and instructional partner, the need to prioritise the roles played by the teacher librarian is essential.


 But how to best do this? Herring (2007, p.31) argues that teacher librarians should prioritise their roles “according to the current needs of the students, staff and parents in the school community” and this would be the sensible place to start. Teaching and learning is the core business of any school, and priority should be given to providing programs and services that enable this to occur effectively. Priority should therefore be given to:

  • Understanding the needs of students and teachers, including informational needs, recreational needs, teaching resources and how to cater for different learning styles
  • Collaborating with teachers to “design and implement curriculum and instruction that prepare young citizens for a life that requires thinking, inquiry, problem-solving and ethical behaviour “ (Lamb, 2011, p.27)
  • Developing information literate students and teaching them “how to apply their information literacy skills irrespective of what technology they are using and where they are finding and using information” (Herring, 2007, p.35); and
  • Participating in ongoing professional learning to keep abreast of changes in technology and the fields of librarianship and education, adapt services and programs to reflect these changes, and model a commitment to lifelong learning to students and teachers.


In her article, Purcell (2010) discusses the role of the library media specialist as outlined in the document “Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs”. Her visual representation of these roles (Figure 1, p.31) suggests that each role holds equal importance and all are essential in performing the job effectively. She provides a number of examples of activities performed in each of the roles, suggesting that prioritising the types of activities within each role is also important. So although a library media specialist may not be able to perform each of the activities listed, they should ensure that their role includes some aspects from each of these areas. Like Herring (2007), consideration of the needs of the school community and the need to “assist teachers and students in functioning in an increasingly complex world” (Purcell, 2010, p.31) should guide decision-making when prioritising roles.


Lamb (2011) stresses the importance of media specialists shifting the way that they think about their role if they are to be innovative and effective in 21st century schools. Her focus is on the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions that media specialists must possess and she calls for media specialists to “revisit, reframe, and re-imagine” (Lamb, 2011, p.28) these in order to successfully adapt to the ever-changing library and information environment. Rather than explicitly stating some examples of roles played by teacher librarians today, as was the case in the articles by Herring (2007) and Purcell (2010), Lamb (2011) examines the underlying factors that shape the roles played by the media specialist, what media specialists must know and understand about these factors, and how their thinking about these factors must shift as they enter a new age of information if they are to continue to meet the needs of their patrons.


In order to be as proactive as Lamb and Valenza want teacher librarians to be, I need to begin thinking outside the box and beginning to modify my view of what the library should look and function like. I currently spend the majority of my ‘admin’ time carrying out clerical tasks, particularly shelving, cataloguing, covering books, returning books, setting up displays and generally tidying the library. Purcell (2010) suggests recruiting volunteers and establishing a student helper program to help reduce some of the time spent on these, which is definitely an idea that I will look into, as I am desperate for more time to devote to planning and preparing for my lessons.


These four readings have made me realise that there are a number of aspects of my work that I would like to change in order to get closer to fulfilling the role that I would like to play in my school. These include:

  • Making greater use of virtual interactions to communicate with teachers – particularly in order to meet some of the information needs outlined by Herring (2007, p.37), such as keeping up to date about different subject areas and new resources available in the library to support their teaching
  • Be more proactive in exploring new book formats and ebook collections for use in the library as well as in classrooms
  • Spending time on customising the library website (currently only used for its search function) to include access to resources (both in the library and online)
  • Spending more time actually using some of the new technologies that students and teachers are using/want to be using and engaging in professional reading and professional learning activities
  • Most importantly, I need to be spending a lot more time working with teachers. I want to be actively involved in helping them plan units, providing them with the resources that they will need, and support them in their teaching both in and out of the library. This will require a discussion with the principal about a shift in perception about my role of support person to teaching teams.


I feel that some of the roles proposed by these authors are possible, maybe not right now but definitely in the future. However, I feel that my current work situation presents a challenge in fulfilling some of the roles. I work 3 days a week and teach ‘library’ to students in Years 1-4. I also have 2 hours of ‘admin’ time each day. After school on two of those days we have meetings. On the days that I don’t work one teacher fills in to take the Kindergarten students to the library and another takes the Year 5 and 6 students. Neither of these teachers are teacher librarians and neither perform any ‘admin’ tasks other than issuing and returning books. So my conundrum (like everyone) is time: how do you get so many tasks done in such little time? Working part time also limits my access to professional learning opportunities and professional network meetings.


I am particularly concerned about the role of collaborating with teachers, as this is something that I see as being vital. At my school, ‘library’ is a part of the release model. Students come to me without their teachers for library lessons and to borrow. The downside of this is that I don’t have any timetabled planning time with the teachers as my ‘admin’ time does not align with theirs. The readings this week have really opened my eyes to the value of this in supporting teachers and improving student learning outcomes, so I feel that I may need to raise this as an issue with our principal (who is new to our school this year and keen to hear any concerns that we have). I am also beginning to feel that the role of teacher librarian is best suited to a full time staff member who can work with all teacher and all students to ensure consistency of quality teaching and support across the school.


Herring (2007, p.27) argues that “The school library should be seen as a centre of learning first and a centre of resources second.”  As teacher librarians, I think that this is a worthwhile point to remember. Whilst I believe that Purcell (2010) intends for the roles that she presents to hold equal importance, I do feel that discussing the teaching role first would be more reflective of the core business of the teacher librarian, and indeed all teachers in a school, regardless of their specialisation or subject. I also feel that this would provide for a sense of connectedness between the teacher librarian and classroom teachers, rather than the feeling that the teacher librarian and their teaching role is discrete and separate from other teaching and learning that is taking place in the school. We are called teacher librarians, after all.



Herring, J. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In S. Ferguson (Ed.) Libraries in the twenty-first century: charting new directions in information (pp.27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW : Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.


Lamb, A. (2011). Bursting with potential: Mixing a media specialist’s palette. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 55(4), 27-36.


Purcell, M. (2010). All librarians do is check out books right? A look at the roles of the school library media specialist. Library Media Connection 29(3), 30-33.


Valenza, J. (2010). A revised manifesto. In Neverending Search. Retrieved from


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