What is the Role of the 21st Century Teacher-Librarian?

Teacher-Librarian as Instructional Leader

While many other roles and responsibilities for teacher-librarians are identified in the literature, it is apparent that the 21st century teacher-librarian must first be a qualified teacher (Asselin, 2001; Church, 2008; Hay & Todd, 2010; Mikalishen, 2001; Mokhtar, Foo, & Majid, 2007; Oberg, 2003, 2004, 2010). Equally important, according to much of the literature reviewed here, is that teacher-librarians need to have extra qualifications in the specific field of teacher-librarianship in order to be the most effective in their positions (Asselin, 2001; Doiron & Davies, 1997; Kirkland, 2010; Miller, 2004; Mokhtar et al., 2007; Oberg, 2010; Todd, 1995; Whitehead & Quinlan, 2002). In fact, Asselin, Branch and Oberg (2003) note that not only are teacher-librarians “qualified teachers with additional training and expertise in school librarianship and information literacy,” (p. 7) but they also note that “a minimum of two years of successful classroom experience” (p. 84) is necessary for the role of teacher-librarian. Additionally, Kirkland (2010) suggests it is a teacher-librarian’s professional duty “to be informed and knowledgeable about the great shifts that are taking place in the technology and context of information today” (p. 74). It is for these reasons that all subsequent uses of the term “teacher-librarian” in this paper will refer to a teacher-librarian who is a qualified teacher, has additional qualifications in teacher-librarianship and has at least two years of successful classroom experience.

It is important to note that it is through the process of obtaining additional qualifications that teacher-librarians become instructional leaders in the school. In fact, teacher-librarians are expected to take on a leadership role in schools with regards to using best practices and proven instructional strategies (Church, 2008; Hay & Todd, 2010; Killeen, 2009; Kirkland, 2010; Mikalishen, 2001) such as collaborating, co-teaching and co-planning (Asselin, 2001; Church, 2008; Doiron & Davies, 1997; Hay & Todd, 2010; Killeen, 2009; Kuhlthau & Maniotes, 2010; Mikalishen, 2001; Oberg, 2003, 2004, 2010; Riedling, 2001) and integrating technology (Asselin, et al., 2005; Doiron & Davies, 1997; Hay & Todd, 2010; Killeen, 2009; Oberg, 2003).

Teacher-Librarian as Expert on Inquiry and Information Literacy

Qualified teacher-librarians also take on a leadership role with regards to inquiry-based learning and information literacy (Ekdahl, 2010; Hay & Todd, 2010; Kirkland, 2010; Kuhlthau, 2010; Kuhlthau et al., 2007). Teacher-librarians are experts in the ways in which to teach students to be information literate for the 21st century (Branch & Oberg, 2001; Church, 2008; Doiron & Davies, 1997; Hay & Todd, 2010; Killeen, 2009; Kuhlthau et al., 2007; Kuhlthau, 2010; Mokhtar, et al., 2007; Oberg, 2004; Riedling, 2001). “School librarians have the state-of-the-art technical and pedagogical expertise to engage 21st century learners through Guided Inquiry” (Todd & Gordon, n.d., p. 3). This expertise is leveraged by teacher-librarians to enable students to master information literacy skills and essential 21st century skills through the inquiry process.

Asselin, et al. (2005), in their examination of multiple Canadian studies about the instruction and assessment of information literacy, noted that “teacher-librarians need to reposition themselves as leaders of the new literacies required for … the Internet and ICT. In particular there is a strong need for instructional leadership in . . . assessment and evaluation of all aspects of the new literacies of the Information Age” (p. 13). Hay and Todd’s (2010) study on 21st century school libraries supports this assertion, finding that the teacher-librarian “was identified as a key person in leveraging emerging technologies – trialing, taking risks, modeling and mentoring teachers and students” (p. 15). The authors then recommend that teacher-librarians “recast their primary role and function as supporting student inquiry and engagement with critical literacies” (Hay & Todd, 2010, p. 43).

Teacher-Librarian as Professional Leader

Teacher-librarians of the 21st century are professional leaders. As a professional leader, the teacher-librarian provides professional development for teachers, administrators, parents, and other teacher-librarian colleagues on key issues relating to 21st century learners, essential 21st century skills, information literacy, guided inquiry and often on the use and integration of technology or web 2.0 tools (Anderson, 2000; Asselin, 2001, 2004; Branch & Oberg, 2001; Church, 2008; Doiron & Davies, 1997; Hay & Todd, 2010; Killeen, 2009; Oberg, 2003; Riedling, 2001; Zmuda & Harada, 2008). Teacher-librarians who are considered professional leaders usually belong to or are involved in professional organizations (Asselin, 2001; Branch & Oberg, 2001; Killeen, 2009; Riedling, 2001), and are active members of leadership teams or committees at the school, division, and even the provincial level (Anderson, 2000; Asselin, 2001; Branch & Oberg, 2001; Hay & Todd, 2010; Killeen, 2009; Riedling, 2001; Zmuda & Harada, 2008). These teacher-librarian leaders often stay abreast of current research. They may even engage in action research and put that research into practice (Branch & Oberg, 2001; Hay & Todd, 2010; Riedling, 2001). A teacher-librarian who is a professional leader is an agent for change in the school, division or province (Hamilton, 2009; Oberg, 2010; Zmuda & Harada, 2008).


How is information literacy defined in the 21st century? Through my review of selected literature, I found that information in the knowledge age of the 21st century is no longer static, nor is it something that someone can own or necessarily trust. Information is ever changing and highly contextual. Furthermore, seeking information has become a process by which the seeker experiences greater transformation from that process than from the attainment of knowledge. Similarly, literacy in the knowledge age has moved well beyond reading and writing. To be literate in the 21st century one must be able to access, comprehend and communicate with digital media as well as print media. “Although information literacy figures prominently in descriptions of 21st century education, other ‘new’ literacies are integral to new school library programs as well, thus creating a ‘literacy of fusion’ ” (Asselin & Doiron, 2008, p. 10). Information literacy is consequently transformed in the 21st century to a fusion of multiple literacies needed to function and succeed in the 21st century.

What is unique about 21st century learners? Many authors agree that students in the 21st century appear to be technologically savvy. However, a number of articles and studies I examined suggest that these things do not contribute to 21st century learners’ information literacy. Students are often ill prepared for the information demands of college or university, often unwittingly put themselves at risk online and are often unable to effectively evaluate the information they find and use.

What skills are essential for success in the 21st century? According to the literature that has been examined and highlighted, the following interrelated and interdependent categories will be imperative for 21st century learners to master: basic literacy; information skills; critical thinking skills; creativity and innovation skills; collaboration and teamwork skills; multimedia skills; technology skills; ethical thinking skills; and skills for lifelong learning. These categories cross all boundaries in the fusion of literacies that has come to be defined as information literacy.To become successful in the 21st century “students will not only need to master reading and writing, but also learn how to communicate – to compose, to problem solve, and understand” (McPherson, 2008, p. 37).

What is the role of inquiry-based learning in information literacy programming? A number of authors reviewed in the literature review have indicated that the inquiry process and inquiry-based learning are excellent ways to teach both information literacy and essential 21st century skills such as those listed in the above noted categories.

What is the role of the 21st century teacher-librarian? A teacher-librarian who is qualified can most effectively become an instructional leader by utilizing and demonstrating best practices and current instructional strategies. This instructional leadership that many qualified teacher-librarians exhibit extends to an expertise with inquiry-based learning and teaching 21st century skills to 21st century learners. Additionally, I found that qualified teacher-librarians are often professional leaders who share their expertise in the areas of inquiry and 21st century skills with colleagues, allowing all members of the school to benefit from said expertise through collaboration on inquiry projects or through professional development provided by the teacher-librarian.