When you ask most people to define the role of teacher librarians, they will include comments such as ‘keeping the bookshelves stocked’, and ‘reading stories to the children’. However, as outlined by Sharon Bates from Nambour Christian College, Woombye, Queensland, school librarians have evolved to be a fundamental part of all learning environments.
It’s easy to visualise libraries as a place that stock books, so it’s easy to question how valid they are in today’s fast-moving digital world. But with the changing face of learning comes the increasing need to develop children’s digital literacy; to successfully navigate the Internet mine field. Of course, a lot of information on the Internet comes from credible sources, but a lot doesn’t, so today, like never before, children have to learn how to access trusted, safe and credible information.
Taking social media as one example, if you want to share information virally with as many people as possible, the rule is that you should simply ensure it is false. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that false claims were 70% more likely to be shared on Twitter than those that were true.
The problem is not just the presence of factually incorrect information; it’s also the inability of search engine algorithms to differentiate between fake and credible sources. Whether information on the Internet is factual, simply an opinion, false, or at worst deliberately misleading, children have to learn how to differentiate content.
Teaching children to source factual information effectively isn’t just about their learning, it’s also about our duty of care to protect them throughout their lives from potentially dangerous content.
This is where librarians play a new and essential role in our schools.
Ideally, the teacher will brief me on a specific unit of work they are focusing on. If for example this is Australian explorers, I work with the students to show them the safe routes to researching information on the Internet about explorers such a Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills.
I often start by letting the students access the online Humanities and Social Science resource LaunchPacks from Britannica. With 250 years spent providing schools with trusted, researched information this has become our ‘go to’ trusted repository of information.
Once the students have found out the facts, we then go onto the Internet to continue our search and to compare the facts with the diverse content out there.
These activities are great to engage the children in the subject they are studying but it’s also raising their awareness of the dangers of trusting all Internet content.
We also take time to look at the web addresses of each site, the dates of the publication and the publisher and then discuss the distractions of pop ups, the temptation to click on these and the potential implications if you do.
Another free learning resource from Britannica to teach children to assess the credibility of a website, is the “Building Career and College Readiness Skills” whitepaper, which has a useful section that focuses on helping teachers and students to ‘evaluate online sources’. It provides teachers with step-by-step guidelines for introducing the topic and illustrates how students can use the tools provided to conduct an evaluation of online sources. There are also several lesson activities such as ‘The five ‘W’s of website evaluation’, designed to give students the knowledge to identify legitimate, credible learning content.
Another useful free tool, ‘Britannica School Insights’, is a Google Chrome browser extension that enables searchers and knowledge seekers to cut through the noise on the Internet and access trusted information with a deeper context, at the top of their search results page. Britannica School Insights can be added easily with a single click from the Google Chrome Web store.
At Nambour Christian College, learning to access valid information has been recognised as a core part of children’s education and emphasises the increasing importance of school librarians.
Sharon Bates is a Teacher Librarian at Nambour Christian College in Woombye, Queensland.