Beck, D. (2015). The online school librarian: Roles and responsibilities. TechTrends, 59(3), 77-84. doi:10.1007/s11528-015-0856-8
In this qualitative study, the researcher interviewed two online school principals about how they were filling the role and responsibilities that typically belong to the school librarian in a traditional school setting. The author cited studies showing that academic achievement is higher in schools where a school librarian is active in teaching information literacy and technology and participates in curriculum development, so he was curious about who was filling that role in online K-12 schools. Unfortunately, he found a dearth of research on the topic.
To begin his research, he selected a principal from a cyber school with enrollment over ten thousand students and another with enrollment less than one thousand. The two schools employed the same curriculum but were structured differently within their organization. He developed his interview questions using the ALA/AASL Standards for Initial Preparation of School Librarians.
The author found that the responsibilities outlined in these standards typically fell to several groups within the online school structure. Designing and delivering information literacy lessons became the role of the teachers, but those lessons primarily focused on discrete digital tasks like uploading files, creating presentations, and formatting documents. Three other groups also played a role in integrating the ALA standards for information literacy: the curriculum department, the professional development team, and professional learning communities. The curriculum department used a variety of digital information sources to update lesson plans and curriculum continuously, the professional development team provided training to teachers on how to teach effectively in an online environment, and the professional learning communities gave teachers the opportunity to share ideas on how they had successfully integrated technology in their lessons.
The principals admitted that it was hard to keep track of individual students progress in information literacy learning from year to year, especially if students entered the online school as secondary students. The online schools did not provide information literacy instruction to students beyond middle school.
The author also found that the principals encountered many issues that that “were out of their control” when it came to online learning and information literacy instruction. The principals expressed frustration about inequitable access to computers and online resources. One of the principals received three times the funding per student of the other and was able to provide every student with a computer and an internet subsidy. The students at the other school who lacked computer access at home had to rely on the limited computer time they were allowed at public libraries. The schools also had to rely on public libraries for access to some texts for classes. This made me wonder what innovations could bring these issues under control with a bit more research.
After reading this study, I was left with the feeling that it did not examine the day-to-day operations of the online schools closely enough. It is one thing for a principal to speak on how they are integrating information literacy into their curriculum, but another thing entirely to hear from the stakeholders involved in implementing it. I have heard idealized plans voiced by principals that were not at all in line with what was actually happening on the ground in their schools, and the virtual distance between administrators and their staff could exacerbate this.
This would have been a more informative qualitative study if, in addition to interviewing the two principals, the author had interviewed a member of each of the groups mentioned above as well as a student and a parent to hear from a range of voices on how the integration of information literacy education was playing out in reality. I was disappointed that the author did not further enquire about why information literacy instruction ended after eighth grade. I do, however, agree with the author that a lot more research needs to be done on how students are acquiring information literacy skills in online education, because these skills are vital to preparing students for the future.