Evidence-based Practice and the Teacher Librarian

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March 19, 2013 by patriciawhite84

Evidence based practice has been a daunting notion for many teacher librarians since the mid 1990s. Its original conception was to measure accountability. Todd (2002b, p.35) tries to explain that “evidence based practice is not about ‘proving our worth'” but yet goes on to describe that it “may well be a necessary, and possibly a painful step, that our profession needs to take if its rhetoric is to become reality, and a vital future is to be assured”. However, many teacher librarians are hesitant to commit to evidence based practice. This can be linked to a variety of factors, but the underlying reason for avoidance is the abundance of research already available. Since Mary Virginia Gaver’s “pioneer research study” during the early 1960s, there has been extensive literature that proves the beneficial effects of a school library on a child’s performance (Dickinson, 2008, p.391). But the one critical element missing is that “this evidence is not local, immediately derived from the day by day teaching and learning going on in a specific school” (Todd, 2002a, p.31).

To make the school community aware of how important the role of the teacher librarian and the library is on student learning, information must be gathered to support the claim. As Loertscher and Todd (2003) discuss “many school administrators, school boards and parent communities are looking for tangible, documented evidence” (p. 20). It is disappointing that such methods must be undertaken to substantiate the role of teacher librarians, but with the dwindling respect of the profession worldwide evidence based practice is not only needed, it is essential. By identifying concerns surrounding evidence based practice will also offer opportunities for professional development as well as a “tantalizing path to substantiating the value of school libraries, particularly in the current paradigm of data-driven educational philosophies” (Bogel, 2008, p.10).

As information specialists we already have the tools and skills to carry out research, but the question still remains on how to gather evidence. Just like in the classroom, evidence of learning emerges from assessments. Therefore a similar process of assessing student outcomes in relation to the curriculum and the library is required. This can be achieved using a series of strategies. Todd (2002b) indicates that the use of simple checklists, rubics or scaling, reflections, journal writing and portfolios could be used to gather evidence on individual children. National or state based testing such as NAPLAN could also be used and even the library’s own management system to identify borrowing habits can provide further evidence and trends. Combined with a collaborative teaching team and compelling literature generates irrefutable evidence demonstrating “that the library is a vital part of the learning fabric of the school; an integral part, rather than peripheral” (Todd, 2002b,p.38).

Carrying out evidence based practice need not be a complicated task, but must be systematic. By exercising an inquiry approach daily, asking questions, exploring and identifying possibilities, gathering and creating evidence, sharing conclusions to then evaluating and reflecting on the process, is how evidence based practice works. Dickinson (2008) highlight that as information specialists “we can model not only how to search efficiently for the best evidence, but it can also demonstrate why being able to search efficiently is such an important skill” (p.393). Being held accountable may not be an inviting motive but it occurs throughout the rest of the school. Maitland-Smith, Twitchett, & Davey (2009) urge “teacher-librarians to take up the challenge of evidence-based practice, to ensure student learning outcomes are the primary focus in the school library”(p.10). Ultimately, the sustainability of the school library is dependent on evidence and therefore is dependent on the teacher librarian to find it.

Bogel, G. (2008). Facets of Practice. Knowledge Quest: Journal of the American Association of School Librarian, 37(2), 10-15.

Dickinson, G. (2008). How one child learns: The teacher-librarian as evidence-based practitioner. In  E. Rosenfeld & D. V. Loertscher (Eds.), Toward a 21st century school library media program (pp. 391-397). Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

Loertscher, D. V., & Todd, R. J. (2003). We boost achievement: Evidence-based practice for school library media specialists. Salt Lake City: Hi Willow Research & Publishing.

Maitland-Smith, A., Twitchett, L. and Davey, K. (2009). Inquiring minds: Evidence-based practice using the guided library inquiry model. FYI : the Journal for the School Information Professional, 13(1),10-13.

Todd, R. J. (2002a). Evidence based practice : The sustainable future for teacher-librarians. Scan, 21(1), 30-37.

Todd, R. J. (2002b). Evidence based practice II : Getting into the action. Scan, 21(2), 34-41.

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