University of Northern Colorado
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
Children’s librarians who emphasize making reading and libraries fun may not think of themselves as literacy educators. But, a look into the profession’s past and three studies reveal both a history of overlap with literacy education in formal schools and informal learning and an overlap in the children’s librarians’ profession today. This dissertation presents two articles: (1) a literature review and comparative historical analysis on children’s librarians’ role in literacy instruction from 1876 to the end of the 20th century, and (2) a set of studies examining children’s librarians’ self-perceptions as literacy educators. In the first article, events in literacy instruction in the schools are shown as corresponding with trends in library services to children. For example, the emergence of phonics instruction in the 1950s was soon followed by children’s librarians resisting being called “teachers” for fear they would no longer represent reading as pleasurable. Moreover, many aspects of informal learning earmark the work of children’s librarians in public libraries. Both easily align with family literacy, the information age, the importance of personal choice, and an emphasis on fun. Today, the three paths of (1) children’s librarians as educators, (2) the evolution of reading instruction in the schools, and (3) the legitimizing of informal learning are converging. Amid these historical trends, children’s librarians can find new credibility and direction as literacy educators. Finally, the author discusses how the future of each path could affect the future of the children’s librarian profession. The second article in this dissertation uses three stages of research to examine children’s librarians’ self-perceptions as literacy educators, identify consensus, and consider influences on the future of the profession. In Stage 1 of the research, an analysis of open-ended survey responses suggested that observable change and strong feelings were associated with the topic. The majority of survey respondents were not comfortable being called teacher, with the issue of teaching roles dividing the responses into three distinct categories: comfortable with a teaching role; uncomfortable with it; and comfortable with facilitating learning, but choosing to use language other than “teach” or “teacher.” In addition, 75% of the respondents felt fun was a critical component of reading and the library experience for children. Stage 2 of the research used a composite case study to examine contextual reasons for discomfort with a teaching role. Lack of preparation to teach, fears of having the same frustrations teachers face in their jobs, and the diminishing of fun were all concerns related to this discomfort. Stage 3 of the research used a multiple case study approach by interviewing children’s librarians who had education-related job titles, exploring whether and how the three concerns showed up in their jobs. Results included several areas needing to be addressed by the field: (1) widespread frustration with the inadequacies of the MLS degree, (2) lack of research on the role Every Child Ready to Read plays in shaping the profession, (3) the continuation of an emphasis on fun, even when combined with learning, and (4) the importance of informal learning for the role of children’s librarians in the future. Everitt Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Theory (1962) was used to inform the process of adapting to change in the field and emphasized the importance of maintaining core values.
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