Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

The Culture of Inquiry in School Libraries

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

The Culture of Inquiry in School Libraries

Article excerpt

A culture of inquiry is emerging from research-based information literacy instruction that takes place in school libraries. An ethnographic approach views the culture of inquiry through two lenses: (1) cultural anthropology and an emerging theory of evidence-based information literacy instruction, and (2) Tylor's anthropological definition of culture which serves as a framework to examine the knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, and customs of instruction. An emerging theory of information literacy instruction unique to school libraries identifies constructivist learning theory as the knowledge source and evidence-based practice as the underlying belief. The art of teaching in this culture is described in ten corollaries to the theory. Morals and law emerge from 21st century initiatives that re-define the purpose of an education that is relevant to a dynamic information environment. Ethnographic research traditions mold customs that characterize a self-reflective school library community of practice motivated by self-improvement as well as the improvement of society. Such a culture drives decisions about best practice, as well as directions for future research.

Introduction

There is nothing so practical as a good theory. Kurt Lewin

The purpose of this paper is to develop a holistic view of the culture of inquiry in school libraries in order to determine directions for future research, as well as best practices that are research-based. What does such a culture look like in the everyday practice of school librarians? What are the issues of practice that drive a school library researcher's questions? How do these questions inform the methodology of school library research? What are the underlying theories that support and sustain ongoing research, often informing its methodology? An ethnographic approach constructed in this paper views the culture of inquiry through two lenses: cultural anthropology and an emerging theory of evidence-based information literacy instruction (Gordon, 2009a; 2009b). Culture was first defined anthropologically by Tylor (1871/1958): "Culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" (p. 1).

Such a definition is useful as a framework for developing a rich description of the culture of inquiry in structured learning environments such as school libraries. The knowledge relevant to school library research resides in the domains of library and information science, cognitive psychology, and social psychology. The underlying belief is evidence-based practice that informs teaching decisions. The art of this culture emerges from the application of knowledge about school library inquiry, resulting in a creative pedagogy that elicits creative learning outcomes. Morals and law are dictated by scholarly traditions, legalities of information use, and imperatives set by 21st century educational reform. Research-based practices unique to school libraries establish the customs that characterize a community of practice that engages in a culture of inquiry. A rich description of the culture of inquiry as seen through this anthropological lens is not only a metaphor: It is also theory-based.

Evidence-based Practice as Cultural Belief and Research Paradigm

Evidence-based practice in school librarianship is the overriding concept for continuous improvement of practice. It is guided by the belief that evidence is the currency for performance improvement of learners and educators. Educators are empowered to direct their professional growth as learners to become their own best critics. Todd (2001) described three sources of evidence: evidence for practice, or the research that supports best practice; evidence in practice, or the expertise of professionals as they define their practice; and evidence of practice, or the evidence generated by practice. …

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