The role of the teacher librarian and principal support: My experiences and ideas

What sort of role do you see yourself fulfilling in the school as a TL (Herring lamb, Purcell and Valenza)?

After reading the ALIA and ASLA (2004) Standards Document I can see how these standards refer to “excellent, highly accomplished teacher librarians”. As someone starting out in the field they are quite overwhelming and highlight the breadth of the teacher librarian role. But they have made me realise that

  • I am currently really only scratching the surface of the job that I could be doing – I feel that my current focus as a TL is primarily on setting the library up as a positive and welcoming learning and recreational space and fostering a love and enjoyment of reading. Whilst this is important, I want to be doing more.
  • I need to collaborate a lot more with staff, increase my focus on information literacy and go deeper with my knowledge and teaching of quality literature in order to have a greater role in student learning.
  • I need to make greater use of ICT (and learn how to use it effectively) – students want to be and are interested in using it, although access in library is limited, a barrier that we will need to overcome.

The views of Herring (2007), Purcell (2010), Lamb (2011) and Valenza (2010) make one thing certain: the job of the teacher librarian is diverse, multi-faceted and vital to the teaching and learning that takes place in a school. As Herring (2007, p.31) writes, teacher librarians should prioritise their roles “according to the current needs of the students, staff and parents in the school community”. The TL role in my school is currently incorporated into the school’s release model. I have administration time each morning in which I catalogue and process new materials, return and shelve books, set up displays, tidy the library and prepare for my lessons. Purcell (2010) suggests recruiting volunteers and establishing a student helper program to help reduce some of the time spent on these clerical tasks, 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.

I then teach classes who come to the library while their teacher has their administration/planning time. I do feel that my impact on student learning is limited at the moment, and these readings have really opened my eyes to what I could be doing. I like the roles explored by Purcell (2010), especially that of instructional partner. The importance of collaboration between the TL and classroom teachers is a common theme among this week’s readings (Purcell, 2010; Oberg, 2006; Haycock, 2007; Farmer, 2007; Morris & Packard, 2007). Haycock (2007, p.32) argues that “collaboration is the single professional behaviour of teacher-librarians that most affects student achievement”. I feel that I am currently working at the ‘cooperation’ level of collaboration that Morris & Packard (2007, p.39) describe: I am a “provider of resources for the teacher”. I am going to strive for meaningful ‘collaboration’, “where the media specialist and classroom teacher together plan instruction, develop instructional materials, and evaluate students’ work”.  As Haycock (2007, p.29) writes, the role played by the TL “is not a support role; it is not a service role; it is a partner role”.

The readings have also inspired me to become more active in participating in professional learning and networking opportunities and trying to reshape and redefine my role within the school. However, I do wonder, how do you achieve all of this as a part time teacher? Particularly one who ‘job-shares’ only the teaching load with 2 other teachers who just ‘fill in’ as library teachers, and is left to do the rest of the TL job alone? It seems like a lot to take on on your own in three days.

Within your experience, how do principals perceive the role of the TL?

In my experience, I feel that the TL is seen as being a sort of ‘relief’ teacher and that the library program is not regarded as particularly important. I feel that the focus is primarily on the TL managing the resources in the library, facilitating lending by staff and students, and creating a nice, welcoming space for students.

I agree with Oberg (2006) when she argues that physical isolation in the library and scheduling can limit the ability of the TL to build relationships with other teachers. I am currently not afforded any scheduled time to meet or plan with classroom teachers or teaching teams. When teams have planning days each term, the TL has traditionally fulfilled the role of substitute teacher, covering one of the teachers’ classes whilst they plan. This has made it difficult to work closely with teachers and to really feel like a valuable member of staff.

I have also felt that some principals believe that “no library news is good news” (Farmer, 2007, p. 60). Perhaps that it was due to the library being in a building separate to the rest of the school, or that they are busy and have other priorities, but I have experienced a lack of physical presence by the principal in the library. I feel that this is necessary if they are to appreciate the work of TL’s and the challenges that they face, and if teachers and students are to see that library as a place of value.

What can you do? ie. suggest 2 strategies to change perceptions?

  1. Talking to the principal and being honest about changes that I would like to see take place and why I think these are important in terms of my role within the school and the benefits for teachers and students. This week’s readings have certainly provided a lot of evidence to support the argument for collaboration and scheduled time to do this. Having an open dialogue about the library program and how it can align with and support the curriculum may help to provide more opportunities for collaboration with teachers.
  1. Ensuring that the library has a clear mission that aligns with that of the school (Haycock, 2007). If the principal, and indeed, teachers, students and the wider school community, can see that the library is “primarily focused on the development of effective learning and teaching in the school” (Haycock, 2007, p.28), then perhaps a greater respect for library programs will follow. The development of library policies, such as a collection management policy, is also essential in raising the profile of the library and the TL as an integral part of the school and curriculum delivery.


Australian School Library Association (ASLA) and Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). (2004). Library standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from

Farmer, L. (2007). Principals: Catalysts for collaborationSchool Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 56-65.

Haycock, K. (2007). Collaboration: Critical success factors for student learningSchool Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 25-35.

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.

Morris, B. J., & Packard, A. (2007). The principal’s support of classroom teacher-media specialist collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 36-55.

Oberg, D. (2006). Developing the respect and support of school administratorsTeacher Librarian, 33(3), 13-18.

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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