To provide some context, I work in the Grossmont Union High School District that consists of nine comprehensive high schools. Each high school has a Teacher Librarian, and four of the nine schools also have a paraprofessional Library Technician. The nine Teacher Librarians meet in-person monthly at an after school meeting as a district Library Council and communicate in between via email and occasionally by phone. Having said that, our meetings never seem to be long enough to cover all of our agenda times, and during our work days, we usually cannot talk for more than a few minutes by phone before we are interrupted and must hang up.
This reminds me of a course reading by Vakkari and Kuokkanen (1997) that suggests shortage of time as a situational factor affecting information-seeking. In my case, it makes me wonder how my fellow librarians and I may be missing out on information sharing simply due to lack of time. And so, I used this assignment as an opportunity to carve out valuable time with one of my colleagues and pick her brain about ideas we would not normally discuss. The conversation that we had turned out to be so helpful, enriching, and uplifting to me professionally, that it makes me think about finding ways to prioritize more check-in conversations with colleagues in the future.
The librarian I connected with is Carolyn Teschler, who works in the same small city of Santee as me, but as Teacher Librarian at our “rival” school, Santana High School. While this is my first year working as a Teacher Librarian and I also happen to be working under an emergency credential, Carolyn is fully credentialed and draws from seven years of experience working as a Teacher Librarian.
I started off the interview asking Carolyn to share some specific examples of information-seeking that she engages in as a Teacher Librarian. As Carolyn talked about a number of needs that arise in her everyday work life, I noticed a thread of how information encountering, more than focused seeking, plays a large role in how she gathers information to serve her students and teachers (Erdelez, 1999). Inspired by simple, but wise advice she received during her first year as a Teacher Librarian to “get good books in kids’ hands and the rest will follow,” Carolyn keeps current with fiction and nonfiction by following the LA Times, subscribing to Goodreads, and browsing through Barnes and Noble. Perhaps of greatest importance, Carolyn mentions how students themselves inform her purchases. Having built strong relationships, students directly offer suggestions, and in this way, users not only benefit from her information-seeking, but they also drive it.
Another idea from our readings that interests me is how Vakkari and Kuokkanen consider work experience as a personal factor that may affect information-seeking behavior, suggesting that as someone gains experience, information-seeking may become more streamlined (p. 510-511). I asked Carolyn to reflect on how she has evolved as a Teacher Librarian over the years, and while I am sure that she has become more efficient at meeting individual information needs as they arise, her comments shed light another aspect. It became clear to me that Carolyn’s growth in experience has simultaneously reaped growth in terms of her web of relationships with others, which in turn has increased the volume of expressed and identified needs. She explained:
From beginning to now, the huge thing has been, I have had to learn that I have to put on so many different hats to do this job. I’m not just a librarian, I’m a therapist, I’m an advocate. [The library] really is a hub of school activity. I’m an emcee, a comedian . . . I’m a technology person . . . a textbook clerk. There are so many different needs. I feel like I have to be super flexible . . . in a way that is productive. Sometimes it is difficult to balance the two. I really have to be mindful of the projects that I have to accomplish. I feel like there’s this frenzy of activity and need and demand, but I have had to learn to structure and prioritize all of those things and to accept that I can’t do it all. It is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually impossible to do everything that I need to do.Carolyn humbly identified technology as one area that she considers to be a personal weakness. Having said that, it is not lack of interest that keeps her from “fine tuning [her] own skills” in that area. She simply wishes she had more time. Along those lines, connecting with other librarians for professional growth has also “taken such a back burner” other than connecting with immediate colleagues of our district’s Library Council group and participating in some annual programs hosted by the San Diego County Office of Education. Again, she reiterated: “To be honest, it’s the time.”
Talking with Carolyn has helped me further develop my thoughts about Teacher Librarians as an information community. I see how broad in scope their potential information-seeking needs may be and how a critical piece to focus on is how the professionals choose to prioritize efforts. In Carolyn’s case, I have personally witnessed the way that she consistently prioritizes the students and teachers at her school. I have attended one of her impressive fundraisers with line-ups of performing students and teachers so that she was not only raising money for her program, but also bringing together her school community. Carolyn has been a leading advocate with our Library Council to develop research curriculum resources to support students and teachers. And, during our interview, Carolyn also shared about an upcoming school-wide program she is organizing to host guest speaker Vicki Crompton, author of Saving Beauty from the Beast. With this initiative, she is helping facilitate powerful discussions on her campus about real-life information needs regarding healthy relationship-building and communication.
Thus, in the end, while Carolyn openly admits that she does not have time to do it all, I see how she does a lot. Getting to the heart heart of what drives her prioritization and how to choose among the many needs that come her way, Carolyn says without hesitation: “I am going to choose my kids and teachers, because they are more immediate needs.”
As I continue to grow professionally, I think these words will continue to inspire me as simple, but wise advice I received during my first year as a Teacher Librarian. Maybe years down the road, I will get interviewed by a library and information science student and I’ll be able to tell how early in my career, I was reminded by a colleague working just down the road at our “sister” school: when setting priorities, I choose my students and teachers.
Erdelez, S. (1999). Information encountering: It’s more than just bumping into information. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science 25(3). Retrieved from http://libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/bult.118
Vakkari, P, & Kuokkanen, M. (1997). Theory growth in information science: Applications of the theory of science to a theory of information seeking. Journal of Documentation, 53(5). Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/10.1108/EUM0000000007210