Teacher Librarian as Leader: Lessons from the Literature

As you may be aware, my recent experience as a learning designer contributing to the development of a new, fully online MBA being offered through USQ has led me to consider how Teacher Librarians (TLs) might take advantage of leadership literature emerging from the field of business to enhance their own professional practice as leaders.

In this series of blog posts, I will introduce the concept of TL as leader, and discuss a number of different examples of how TLs might draw upon business literature (which is often required reading for school principals) and apply it within the school library context.

In this first post, I will reflect upon the role of the TL, and how it embodies both management and leadership.

Teacher librarian as leader

We often hear the position of the Teacher Librarian (TL) mentioned in the same breath as leadership. TLs are described as leaders in curriculum (ASLA & ALIA, 2001), learning leaders (AASL, 2017) and leaders of information literacy (SLA, 2016). They are also responsible for managing the library resource collection and the library space, which is no longer simply a repository of books, but also “a cultural hub, a social space, a centre for wellbeing and a learning centre” (Softlink, 2017 p.8). TLs are regularly required to lead the school community to embrace new and changing technologies, and to stay abreast of educational initiatives so that these may be effectively resourced (Merga, 2020). As one of the few positions who works across the whole school, TLs are well positioned to lead professional learning, sharing their expertise and awareness of educational and technological developments through professional learning communities (Dees et al., 2010). Although TLs are only sometimes recognised formally in the school’s leadership structure, successful fulfilment of the role requires a capacity for leadership. 

Leadership is inherent in the role of the TL.

Leading and managing as a TL

Although sometimes conflated, there is in fact a difference between leadership and management. One interpretation is that “managers manage things. Leaders lead people.” (Kruse, 2013, para. 5). TLs are called upon to do both. As a leader, the TL guides and inspires teachers and students as they build a culture of reading, model appropriate use of technology and innovative pedagogy, and scaffold information literacy knowledge and skills. As a manager, the TL ensures the library space is used effectively, develops the collection in an informed and balanced way and oversees purchasing and budgeting. While this list of tasks is far from exhaustive, it offers evidence that both the leadership and management components of the TL role are equally important, and require different, yet complementary skill sets. 

TLs lead and manage in equal measure…but how much of their professional learning is directed towards leadership development?

Professional learning opportunities for TLs often focus upon the skills and knowledge needed for the management of the library. However, professional learning about leadership may be less accessible to TLs and may not be pursued by TLs who feel vulnerability in how their role is perceived by the school community (Merga, 2019). This means TLs may feel less confident enacting the leadership aspects of their role. Engaging in professional reading drawn from the field of business may go some way to alleviate this situation. In the forthcoming posts, I will present a brief introduction to some key concepts derived from the business literature, offering a taster of what TLs might derive from professional reading in this field.


American Association of School Librarians (AASL). (2017). School librarians as learning leaders. http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/fles/content/aaslissues/advocacy/AASL_LearningLeaders_Admin

Australian School Library Association (ASLA), & Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). (2001). Learning for the future: Developing information services in schools (2nd ed.). Victoria, Australia: Curriculum Corporation.

Dees, D., Mayer, A., Morin, H., & Willis, E. (2010). Librarians as Leaders in Professional Learning Communities through Technology, Literacy, and Collaboration. Library Media Connection, 29(2), 10-13.  

Kruse, K. (2013). What is leadership? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2013/04/09/what-is-leadership/?sh=378c985c5b90 

Merga, M. K. (2020). School Librarians as Literacy Educators Within a Complex Role. Journal of Library Administration, 60(8), 889-908. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2020.1820278    

Merga, M. K. (2019). Do Librarians Feel that Their Profession Is Valued in Contemporary Schools? Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 68(1), 18-37. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/24750158.2018.1557979    

School Library Association (SLA). (2016). The role of the school librarian. Retrieved from https://www.sla.org.uk/role-of-school-librarian.php 

Softlink. (2017). The ongoing importance of school libraries. Retrieved from https://www.softlinkint.com/downloads/The_Ongoing_Importance_of_School_Libraries.pdf 

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