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Evidence-based, data-informed practice is critical for teacher librarians to bolster the impact of library programs. This involves interweaving research evidence with professional expertise, collection of local data, and reasoning to make effective decisions about library services and learning interventions (Todd, 2002; Todd, 2009). Speaking to my Deputy of Data and Pedagogical Practice recently, I highlighted that data informs the library’s everyday practice. It is a must. As a service-based, community-orientated resource, the library must meet the current and emerging needs of its users. Evidence-based, data-informed school libraries collect evidence for practice, in practice and of practice (Todd, 2015). This holistic approach suggested by Todd (2015) builds a strong foundation for the decisions of school libraries and contributes tangibly to the advocacy activities of teacher librarians. In 2018, I referenced Gillespie (2013) who found that teacher librarians gather evidence through two key modes; by engaging and encountering (Harrison, 2018). I think this sums up the evidenced-based TL nicely, as it highlights the rigorous methods employed by this profession but also the human side - the side that connects, that is embedded in the community. To generate evidence, school libraries collect data in many ways including borrowing statistics, use of library spaces, Research Guide hits, database visits, article retrievals, and number and frequency of lessons with library staff. It is also the anecdotal evidence collected by libraries through conversation and observation that is integral to informing all services offered by the library including collection development, information literacy programs, technology integration programs and literacy initiatives. The collection of hard and soft data, research-based and practitioner-based evidence ensures the library demonstrates explicit evidence of impact and builds evidence for change when needed (Gillespie, 2013; Harrison, 2018; National Library of New Zealand, n.d.). As I discovered while studying INF447 Research in Practice, the range methods of data collection used by libraries also help to triangulate evidence, which strengthens the credibility of the findings (Kivunja & Kuyini, 2017).
Figure 1: Action Research for Teacher Librarians: A brief introduction and overview to action research as a tool for evidence based practice for teacher librarians. (Oddone, 2017).
From my studies in INF447, action research resonated deeply with me, as I see it to be achievable, practical and meaningful research in a school setting. Gordon (2010) describes action research as a tool of evidence-based practice for teacher librarians. Through this type of research, teacher librarians take on the dual roles of researcher and practitioner. Oddone's (2017) infographic [Figure 1] provides a succinct snapshot of what can be involved with action research and is something I have shown when talking to colleagues about our research projects. The ability of teacher librarians to undertake on-site research strengthens the place and value of school libraries and can enhance the school’s overall approach to teaching and learning. This valuable form of research ensures that the process is contextual, timely, inclusive and representative of key stakeholders. I have already applied my learning from INF447 to a real-world action research project at my school, of which I wrote briefly about in this blog post from 2020. Critical participatory action research [CPAR] is particularly interesting to me, as it enables practitioners to improve learning opportunities and pedagogical practices through critical reflection and active participation in the research process (Kemmis, McTaggart & Nixon, 2014). Thus, CPAR can be highly effective for teacher librarians as it produces actionable knowledge, and the dual roles of researcher and practitioner can increase the likelihood of the resulting evidence informing practice (Clinton, Aston & Quach, 2018).
A strong relationship between education and social change is also a key feature of CPAR, as increased student equity through the provision of innovative learning opportunities contributes to social change (Kemmis, McTaggart & Nixon, 2014). School libraries are well-positioned to encourage social change through action research, as they represent strong community connections with the school and wider community. Furthermore, the fundamental ethos underpinning all libraries is the promotion of “equality of opportunity” (ALIA, 2014), which aligns with the principles of CPAR. Libraries provide the resources and support to minimise the information divide by providing print and digital information resources for learning and recreation, access to technology, programs that encourage exploration, and assistance to overcome information-based problems. Through these activities, the library can have a measurable impact on the culture of the community.
This occurs not just through the physical resources offered by the library but most importantly through the connections made by library staff. As Lankes (2011) so poignantly highlights, great libraries are those that are active, that seek to inspire, and “where the community is the collection” (p. 9). For this to work best, teacher librarians must be embedded within the school community (Moreillon, 2018). When teacher librarians are part of the conversation, we better support our communities. Embedding yourself as a teacher librarian should occur in multiple ways; including, participation in strategic committees, promotion of school-wide events, collaborative curriculum planning, co-teaching, and through school-based research. Teacher librarians who appear in the unit outlines of subject areas, who are actively sought out by staff and students, and who are visible change leaders within the school are value-adding to the teaching and learning culture of the school.
A strong position within the school community enables teacher librarians to conduct action research that leads to evidence-based practice. Activated school libraries that are well-positioned within the community are more likely to engage staff and students in research that seeks to improve teaching and learning. Similarly, libraries and teacher librarians that are embedded across the school have a measurable impact on achievement. Embedded teacher librarians can take advantage of their connections to the community to conduct valuable action research to curate evidence and generate data to inform practice for self-improvement or social change through school-based or educational reform.
Australian Library and Information Association. (2014). Future of the library and information science profession. https://www.alia.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/advocacy/ALIA-Future-of-the-Profession-ALL.pdf
Clinton, J.M., Aston, R., & Quach, J. (2018). Promoting evidence uptake in schools: A review of the key features of research and evidence institutions [Report]. http://doi.org/10.4225/49/5aa61c6c75a9e
Gillespie, A. (2013). Untangling the evidence: Teacher librarians and evidence based practice [Thesis]. Retrieved from https://eprints.qut.edu.au/61742/2/Ann_Gillespie_Thesis.pdf
Gordon, C. A. (2010). The culture of inquiry in school libraries. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 73-88. https://iasl-online.org/Resources/Documents/slw/v16/16_1Gordon.pdf
Harrison, N. (2018, November 19). The evidence-based TL. The concept library. https://noniharrison.wixsite.com/the-evidence-based-tl
Kemmis S., McTaggart R., & Nixon R. (2014). The Action Research Planner. Springer. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1007/978-981-4560-67-2_1
Kivunja, C., & Kuyini, A. B. (2017). Understanding and applying research paradigms in educational contexts. International Journal of Higher Education, 6(5), 26-41. https://doi.org/10.5430/ijhe.v6n5p26
Lankes, D, R. (2011). The atlas of new librarianship. MIT Press.
Moreillon, J. (2018, April 16). #SLM18 making community connections. School librarian leadership. http://www.schoollibrarianleadership.com/2018/04/16/slm18-making-community-connections/
National Library of New Zealand. (n.d.). Evidence-based practice and why it matters.
Oddone, K. (2017). Action research for teacher librarians [Infographic]. https://my.visme.co/projects/jwvj7ogk-action-research-for-teacher-librarians#s1
Todd, R. J. (2002). Evidence-based practice: The sustainable future for teacher-librarians. SCAN, 21(1), 30-37.
Todd, R. J. (2009). School librarianship and evidence-based practice: Progress, perspectives, and challenges. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 4(2), 78-96. https://doaj.org/article/80c68d5291ea4f2eb7e8d3db03124d1c
Todd, R. J. (2015). Evidence-based practice and school libraries: Interconnections of evidence, advocacy, and actions. Knowledge Quest, 43(3). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1048950.pdf