Transforming School Libraries: A Conversation with Lee Crockett

By Lee Crockett

In a compelling discussion with Lee Crockett – a visionary in global education – we spoke about the role of school libraries, advocating for the role of library staff in the school community, and the evolving landscape of literacy and AI in education.

Lee Crockett

Lee Crockett’s work has taken him from helping impoverished schools in Palestine to advising prestigious institutions in Europe and the Middle East. At the beginning of our interview, he emphasises that his work in education has always been guided by a simple yet powerful ethos: doing what’s best for children. He underscores this point by declaring that children, while only 15% of our population, are 100% of our future.

On the role of library staff

Central to our conversation is the role of school library staff. Crockett stresses that the traditional view of library staff as ‘curators of books’ is limiting for the future of library positions. He observes that during his time in Australia in early 2023, many library staff were voicing concerns that appeared in other parts of the world 10 to 15 years ago; there was a threat on library roles in schools due to budget cuts. School leaders, facing financial pressures, were less concerned about investing in books and reading (and by extension the library) than they were about investing in other parts of the school. He believes that in order to remain relevant, library staff must take a broader view of their role, one that extends beyond curating books.

‘As much as we love books,’ Crockett says, ‘the danger for Australian librarians is that they define themselves as a curator of books. If they’re that person, and that person only, that position is going to disappear.’

How would you connect with learners and improve their lives and improve their learning if there were no books? What would you do? - Lee Crockett

Despite this warning, Crockett remains optimistic for the role of library staff if they harness the expertise they often already possess. ‘The biggest power of a librarian,’ he argues, ‘is to be the one person in the entire school that is the longitudinal master of literacy or the longitudinal instructor of literacy. Learners go from one year to the next year, but they stay with the librarian. And so, the librarian is the one who can really be the literacy coach and the information fluency coach.’

Crockett highlights the story of Natalie Otten, a librarian in Canberra who he mentored. Otten’s journey from a traditional librarian to an integral figure in her school’s learning community exemplifies his point. He coached Natalie on how to proactively engage with teaching staff, and in doing so, position herself as the resource expert within her school, as distinct from simply the curator of books.

This approach involved enquiring about the learning teaching staff were leading in their classes and offering to curate resources for them ahead of time. In doing this, she built up a knowledge base encompassing everything that was happening across all year levels in her school. This allowed her to start tying learning together more meaningfully through her resource curation across multiple year levels. She now facilitates all the professional learning communities in her school, and her role has been elevated to Director of Future-Focused Learning, sitting as part of her school’s executive.

As we canvass the role of library staff, Crockett poses a striking provocation to help library staff to think beyond the confines of their role as purely a curator of books. ‘How would you connect with learners and improve their lives and improve their learning if there were no books? What would you do?’

On literacy and generative AI

Discussing literacy in modern education, Crockett emphasises its significance as an outcome, rather than a subject. ‘Whenever a school tells me about their “literacy block”,’ he says, ‘it’s a term that makes me shudder.’

‘When I’m told that there’s a literacy block, my first question is: where is your critical thinking block and when is your intercultural understanding block? Because those are also general capabilities.’ Crockett goes on to point out that confining our idea of literacy to teaching it as a subject limits our ability to teach effectively. Literacy, in his view, is something that encompasses critical thinking, creative problem-solving and information fluency – capabilities that reach across all subject areas.

Considering literacy as a wider educational outcome, it becomes clear why Crockett views the role of library staff as vital in curating resources that facilitate it across all subjects and year levels. Essentially, library staff possess unique resource expertise and a comprehensive understanding of literacy for different age groups and disciplines, largely unmatched by other teaching staff.

As the subject shifts to generative AI in education, Crockett expresses a cautious optimism about its role in the classroom. ‘Everyone’s very quick to point out all of the potential things that could go wrong,’ he says, ‘and state them as fact as opposed to stating their opinion.’

He believes that AI could serve as a useful prompt to help people reflect more deeply on their writing, rather than a tool that simply writes for them. ‘It cannot replace the culmination of thoughts and experiences that you have,’ he asserts, ‘but it can do a very nice job of tidying up language, of coaching you on your own language and prompting you when you need prompting.’

Crockett poses a compelling analogy that people often learn to write well by osmosis through reading, and that seeing AI tidy up and refine their writing could have a similar effect to this. ‘Even if you are doing the worst thing imaginable with AI and having it write all of your homework for you,’ he says, ‘just by the virtue of seeing what it’s written, you’re kind of absorbing something and you’re getting somewhere.’

He goes on to postulate that the emergence of generative AI simply serves to underscore the importance of asking meaningful and complex questions in a context where education and technology coexist.

‘If we’re asking questions that can be answered with Google or that can be responded to by AI, then we’re not doing a very good job of asking questions. That’s something for us to reflect on. We shouldn’t be asking things that can easily be responded to. We should be looking for deeper thinking and understanding and connection with our learners.’

‘It’s the same argument,’ he continues, ‘that happened a decade ago where people were saying, we can’t allow children to have cell phones and schools, because if they have cell phones in schools, then they’ll look up all the answers. Well, if you ask questions that you can find an answer for on Google, then you’re not asking the right questions.’

Crockett highlights that asking the right questions comes back to ‘the fundamental question of what literacy is’, touching briefly on his earlier comments about literacy being an outcome and not a subject. He believes that if we pursue teaching literacy meaningfully, AI can be assimilated into education and used as a helpful teaching tool.

As our conversation draws to a close, Crockett shares his vision for the future of education and the place of school libraries within it. He sees a world where education systems are fluid, dynamic and responsive to the needs of students in a rapidly changing world. ‘Libraries, as part of this system, must continually evolve, embracing new roles, technologies and methods to remain relevant and vital,’ he concludes.

Find out more about Lee’s work, masterclasses and mentoring programs on his website:

Lee Crockett

Lee Crockett

Author, Speaker and Mentor

Author, speaker and mentor Lee Crockett works to help people and organisations connect to their highest purpose and realise their wish for the future. Visit Lee's website at: Main image: