Implementing a Guided Inquiry Approach – the Role of the Teacher Librarian

Guided inquiry is at the centre of a dynamic learning environment that meets the democratic demands of 21st century students to be active participants in their learning.

Teacher librarians are ‘vital agents’ (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2012, p. 15) in guided inquiry learning as they enable learning through innovative practices. For example, by turning the library into busy “centres of inquiry” (Hay & Todd, 2010, p. 40) where collaborative teams deliver cross-curricular guided inquiry learning projects to develop students’ information fluency skills (Lorenzo, 2007, p. 2) through meaningful engagement with each other and selected resources. It takes time, effort and trust to develop collaborative relationships and modelling collaboration through sharing of knowledge is an important aspect (Montiel-Overall, 2005, pp. 39-44) throughout the four step journey of implementation.

The first step an inspirational teacher librarian takes is to make themselves visible to the principal and create a shared understanding of the goals and objectives of and vision for their innovative library program (Shannon, 2012, p. 19). This includes providing evidence demonstrating how a guided inquiry approach improves the quality of library services and student learning outcomes (Hartzell, 2003, p. 21). When convinced, the principal potentially becomes the “chief catalyst for collaboration” (Farmer, 2007, p. 56) providing necessary time, funding and advocacy aimed at developing a school-wide culture of collaboration.

The second step is to share knowledge with colleagues and here an understanding of the school’s teaching culture and styles will determine the best approach, e.g. personal contact, presentations, using guided inquiry learning as a medium for professional development, or a combination thereof.

The “Exploratorium” (Abilock, Fontichiaro, & Harada, 2012, pp. 3-17) is a good example, where a teacher librarian led team successfully engaged teachers in the process of guided inquiry learning by exploring and researching authentic ideas. Personal experiences of dealing with the frustrations described during the Information Search Process (Kuhlthau, 2004, p. 82) and their zones of intervention (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2012, pp. 200-28) equip teachers well for supporting students through the process. Also, the opportunity to form research teams with colleagues marks the start of cooperative relationships (Montiel-Overall, 2005, p. 40) potentially creating collaborative teams almost by default.

The third step is to share knowledge with students, which includes resources and instruction. To identify and meet the educational needs of all students effective communication, cooperation and collaboration, face-to-face and electronically, with all school community members is essential (Lamb, 2011, p. 28; Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2007, p. 48). Teacher librarians who view themselves as essential ‘nodes’ in student’s learning environment integrate pedagogy and technology in what is known as the practice of “embedded librarianship” (Hamilton, 2012, p. 6). Thus, they provide access to a broad range of carefully matched physical and electronic, information and communication, resources and tools as well as point-of-need interventions to improve the information literacy skills of all students.

The fourth step, which completes the circle, is to share knowledge of evidence-based practice collected through diagnostic, formative and summative assessment and evaluation strategies, such as the SLIM toolkit (Todd, Kuhlthau, & Heinström, 2005), recorded observations and rubrics, with the principal to ensure continued support, with the teams to improve programs and with the wider school community to provide accountability.

By focusing on knowledge sharing, the teacher librarian becomes instrumental to implementing a guided inquiry approach.


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Todd, R. J., Kuhlthau, C. C. & Heinström, J. (2005). School library impact measure S*L*I*M: A toolkit and handbook for tracking and assessing student learning outcomes of guided inquiry through the school library. Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries at Rutgers Univerisity and Institute of Museum and Library Services. Retrieved from




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