How Did We Get Here?

Teacher Librarians pioneered the introduction of technology in schools and still play a critical and leading role today. In this blog post Teacher Librarian Deb Robins looks back on 30 years as a Teacher Librarian and her key role in implementing technological change and ensuring equitable access for all students. She considers what the future might hold if this role ceases to exist.


Theories are sometimes all we are left with– and never just one. Perhaps all or none contribute to my quandary. “How did we get here?” I’m sure none of my experiences provide the whole answer, but one thing I’ve learned and not only from the Rolling Stones… you don’t always get what you ‘deserve’( to the tune of “You can’t always get what you wa-ant”?

If technology was supposed to be our downfall it makes sense to start with that particular fallacy. I recall, and I was there - we are surely the earliest IT adopters of any in the educational profession.

If everybody can access and operate computers today, is the Teacher-Librarian and the school library redundant?

I’ve been a Teacher Librarian for nearly 30 years. We might have started out as Teacher-in-Charge but most of us studied to be TLs for job security. My training was done in my own time and at my own expense, while I worked as a Teacher-in-Charge of a library.

Teacher Librarianship was recognised as a qualification never a promotion. I was a mother to three boys by this time. I worked five days a week, nights and every Sunday afternoon on library matters, and so my Grad Dip in Applied Science took me four years plus holiday schools. Nevertheless, it energised me to show both students and staff the path to information, literature and global citizenship long before they became buzz words for other educators.

A decade before, I was amongst the first secondary students in Queensland to learn basic programming when only one computer of enormous proportions could be found in Brisbane. We never saw it. Our command coded cards bundled with a rubber band, in sequence ready for the hopper, would be returned to us weeks later with a printout. Our Biology teacher, Mr C., used the same cards as answer cards and the computer marked our exams. I wasn’t inspired, nor a believer in the machine taking Australian jobs – computers seemed very cumbersome and slow.

Early Days

Our first computers in libraries were very basic but soon, for the cost of a small car, came a new breed of user-friendly Macintoshes and CD Roms loaded with interactive multimedia, talking stories like “Grandma & Me”. Personal computers were still rare and the only modem in the school was in the office. I begged access for a course project. I had to preface every line with one or other command – that’s if we could successfully connect. Characters OnLine was one of the most rewarding projects of my TL student days.

Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash

Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash

I’d like to think hundreds of children believed they were writing to the Troll from the Three Billy Goats Gruff. I became that Troll hidden inside a magical device and I ensured that each reply was constructed not only to suspend disbelief, but to demonstrate either a new fact or ethical standpoint.

Our modem connected us north through Darwin and out to the wide world participating in international web quests. Our bytes didn’t bounce around the country first - and I recall it was comparatively faster than our school broadband up until recent years. Back then, only library professionals we were using computers to print our catalogue cards and sprocket-hole printers, and later order catalogue records on 5¼ floppy disks.

Our precious Macintoshes gave us multi-volume Encyclopedias on just one CD Rom, but you needed a carrier cartridge to house the CD before inserting. We began to acquire IBM servers that were becoming more affordable – still the price of a small car. We barely had time to appreciate the advance in searching our catalogue with far less mental effort and seamless cross referencing. The logistics of automating a library and school-wide resources, took up all our spare energies and some closed down their services and non-contact lessons to achieve this feat. We worked with Library aides so many of us could do both.

I was privileged to oversee the automation of two school libraries. Computers no longer generated our catalogue cards. Our database held the information and students searched on an OPAC – the card drawers were for back-up and when we were confident, we’d throw them out or repurpose them.

Libraries were the single place in schools teaching students to use computers for real life purposes

We were the early adopters of technology and while there were many teachers beginning to take an interest in educational games for engagement, libraries were the single place in schools teaching students to use computers for real life purposes – keying in an inquiry and being handed the end result to take home. Perhaps this is still largely the case in a practical sense. Before the emergence of the internet our TL network began to share our regional resources more efficiently by combining and commissioning a federated catalogue on a single CD Rom. We sought to save time and money by sharing our resources between schools.

Article first published Education Views - July 7, 2016. Used with permission.

TLs were asked to help teach computer skills

After command driven operating systems, came the windows point and click interfaces we know today. Students and teachers quickly became proficient at using the devices and TLs were asked to help teach computer skills and maintain and circulate them in greater numbers. We bolstered staff by pushing every international project and webquest their way.

As the reliability of the internet grew, we started buying less information books and more online databases and services. We ventured into audio books long ago and ebooks more recently – integrating them seamlessly into our Library Management Systems and 24/7 catalogues. We are still grappling with the problems of hoaxes or post-facts, striving to make problem solving less haphazard by selection and criticism - sorting reliable sources of information and drilling into areas of the web beyond standard search indexing before taking pot luck with Google.

Teacher Librarians are needed more than ever to model practical applications and critical analysis of any problem, whether by the selection of tools or by communication and collaboration. There will always be a technical underclass, who do not have all the information or the skills to take full advance of it, but as Teacher Librarians, we are always available to change this.


Taking a broad sweep, I maintain that TL’s are still the only stewards of egalitarian environments in schools where access, ease of access and support is a given, there for the taking without fear or favour, without finishing first or jumping any arbitrary hurdle. With only one expectation – responsible use. As information specialists, technology is old hat to us but we are no longer allowed to bring the full force of our experience to this new IT arena – we have to watch the “right people” without TL training, reinvent the wheel.

It is perhaps only ourselves who see the irony of abandoning school libraries and labelling their Teacher Librarians and trained technicians as musty old bookworms. Technological tools truly flourished under our embrace.


In the course of navigating health, justice, or indeed any public workplace, I continue to notice that we school librarians with our technology cap, literature cap, research cap, citizenship cap…indeed so many caps to rival Slobodkina’s peddler in that classic picture book “Caps for Sale”…attempt with dwindling staff and budgets to serve our patrons far more frenetically in any given hour than just about any workplace I have visited – yes, we don’t always get what we deserve.


Deborah Robins is a graduate of Griffith Uni, Mt Gravatt CAE and QUT. The 80’s were a time of classroom teaching and raising a young family with her husband. Since 1990, she served as the Teacher Librarian in a handful of secondary, primary and high-top school libraries in regional Queensland. In 1995 she was awarded an Excellence in Education in the Outback award, affectionately known as the “Old McDonald” award.