Collector, curator or collaborator?

By Jennie Bales

Jennie Bales, adjunct lecturer at Charles Sturt University, celebrates the collaborative ethos inherent in school library professionals.

Collaborators by nature

Collaborators work together for a common purpose. In the school library setting, collaboration involves the sharing of information, knowledge, resources, and expertise — all of which are fundamental to being a successful and effective school library practitioner.

To be a powerhouse of expertise, school library staff need constant and regular exposure to new ideas embracing educational and technological developments, sources, and resources. An effective and time-efficient way to do so is to tap into the collective wisdom of the school library community. Sharing your professional learning, experience, and knowledge — not only in the workplace but also in the school library community — reflects best collaborative practice. It is worthy of your personal commitment.

Professional engagement

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL 2014) require all teachers to ‘engage with professional learning networks and the broader community’ (AITSL 2014, p. 21). There are many formal and informal groups within the education sector that provide opportunities for the sharing of knowledge and expertise. Teacher librarians are active participants within professional communities — and not just limited to those within the school library sector — that embrace technology, literature, literacy, the maker movement, and other curriculum areas. Contemporary teacher librarians ‘establish and maintain links to local, national and global education networks, ensuring [their] school maintains a position at the cutting edge of worldwide resourcing and technological trends’ (ACT Government 2016, p. 7). It is worth considering if this statement is a fair representation of your own practice.

The Australian School Library Association (ASLA), in its 2013 future-focused report, highlights the significant contribution that increasing globalisation and growth in technological communications have had in fostering a knowledge economy. The dissemination and distribution of knowledge in networks contribute to this knowledge economy (pp. 5–6). Teacher librarians need to actively seek and engage with relevant networks to maintain currency with developments, to prepare for future challenges, and to be able to harness, distribute, and facilitate this knowledge within their schools. There are numerous professional learning communities that provide support for school library professionals.

Professional learning communities

Professional association memberships provide an effective pathway to develop your professional network. Karen Bonanno (2012a, p. 16) highlights the following reasons to join a professional association: to connect and network with like-minded professionals; to join a community; to keep up to date with the latest news, trends and information; and to receive professional learning and support. Joining local, state and national associations in the library, information and technology fields will open doors to a wide range of collaborative learning.

With the continuous growth of social media tools, opportunities for online networking abound. OZTL_NET is one of the most well-known and active national collaborative forums available to the Australian school library sector. It relies on its members to generate content on matters relating to school libraries, programs, pedagogy, and the library profession. It was established as a listserv in 1995 by Charles Sturt University’s teacher librarianship team, and by 2004, it had over 2,000 subscribers (Dillon 2005, p. 8). Having just turned 21, the OZTL_NET list continues today with over 2,800 subscribers. Many members act in a ‘hunter and gatherer’ capacity: seeking assistance, or sitting in the background collecting information and gaining knowledge. The number of members who actively share information does not reflect the size of the membership. Moving beyond an information consumer role to that of a contributor is an important stepping stone, ensuring networks like OZTL_NET remain rich, dynamic, responsive and collaborative.

In 2012, OZTL_NET expanded its online presence with a revamped website and additional collaborative tools including the Australian Teacher Librarian Network Facebook and Twitter accounts. At the time of composing this article, there were 3,000+ Facebook members, consisting of 2,370 Australian followers, with others dispersed across the globe: from the US, Canada, UK and New Zealand, to Turkey, China, Philippines, Brazil, Tanzania, Fiji and beyond — a truly multicultural, collaborative gathering. Although content is driven by the OZTL_NET administrators, it is informed by many sources, including the OZTL_NET community’s listserv posts and material drawn from the administrators’ own personal learning networks. OZTL_NET acts as a source of curated information for its followers, whether on the listserv or on social media channels.

Personal learning networks (PLNs)

A personal learning network (PLN) is an informal, personalised approach to addressing your own learning needs. The network ‘is a group of people or professionals, with whom you connect, communicate and collaborate in the sharing … of information and ideas and through whom you increase your knowledge and understanding of topics of interest to you’ (Novak 2012, p. 4). Most of us have access to networks where we can share ideas and resources to facilitate learning and collaboration. Web 2.0 tools have increased the opportunities to expand personal networks. To find out more on harnessing tools to build your PLN, the following two sources can help to get you started: Building Your PLN and Building Your Personal Learning Network: My Story.

Collaborative teacher librarians can make a difference in their profession by harnessing the learning engendered within their PLNs. Sharing knowledge and skills gained through your PLN within your school environment will help to support learning programs and the professional growth of teacher colleagues. Collaboration is most effective when PLNs provide a conduit that not only brings new ideas into the school but also channels ideas out to benefit others. School library staff that openly and actively share their own experiences and expertise are the foundation of this collaborative profession.

Highly accomplished teacher librarian collaborators

It is common among school library professionals to aspire to contribute to the learning of others. The next step in building expertise and improving teaching and learning is to ‘contribute to professional networks and associations and build productive links with the wider community’ (AITSL 2014, p. 21). The tools adopted to build your PLN can also be the means for sharing with the wider community. Contributing content to networks such as OZTL_NET is a sound first step in moving beyond your role as consumer and disseminator of information, and into your role as a contributor. Establishing your own online presence is integral to the collaborative process.

Screenshot from Jennie Bales' website showing books on a bookshelf.

Jennie Bales uses her blog to create, curate and share information with the wider library and education community.

Returning to Bonanno’s reasons to become a member of a professional association, she also highlights the following collaborative reasons: to give back to the profession; to provide a local and a national voice; and to engage in the promotion and advocacy of school libraries and teacher librarians (2012a, p. 16).

Continuous learning through PLNs and professional networks builds knowledge and expertise. Sharing your expertise within the school environment helps to build your confidence and credibility to then share into the wider education community. Actively sharing quality resources, best practice, the use of new technologies, and creative ideas through networks and associations demonstrates the collaborative nature inherent in the library profession.

Other ways to contribute to colleagues’ learning is to present at conferences or to write articles relevant to the profession. Through social networking and the delivery of professional learning to stakeholders, many teacher librarians have developed a strong online profile. Often after conferences, presentation content is made available on personal websites or sites such as SlideShare. Searching on names of key school library contributors or on relevant topics within SlideShare will provide you with a wealth of resources.

If you are just beginning your PLN journey, harness the learning content from your network to share with the teachers, students, and leadership team at your school. To become an active collaborator in the profession, leverage your exposure to quality content, build your own skills and expertise, and then share these back to the community. Go beyond collating and curating to become a collaborator: ‘Take a leadership role in professional and community networks and support the involvement of colleagues in external learning opportunities’ (AITSL 2014, p. 21). An active and visible profession is a healthy profession.

As a concluding collaborative gesture, I have curated a selection of social networking sites to add to your PLN. These include some personal favourites and represent a balance of different foci and curators: professional associations, corporate services, teacher librarians, and leaders in the information services field. This list is available here. You can also browse through an annotated list of free digital stories that address curriculum areas. Think about how you can leverage these in your own practice and share them with your networks.

Good luck on your journey, and enjoy the partnerships that you build. I look forward to reading your journal articles, hearing you at conferences — virtual and face-to-face — and engaging with the online presence of many of you.


Image credits:

  • Screenshot of Jennie Bales's blog. Used with permission.
Jennie Bales

Jennie Bales

Adjunct lecturer

Charles Sturt University

Dr Jennie Bales is an adjunct lecturer in the School of Information Studies with Charles Sturt University, and is the current OZTL_Net administrator. Her current duties are informed and enriched by 30 years' work as a teacher librarian in primary and secondary school libraries and social media responsibilities with CBCA Tasmania.