School libraries and inquiry learning

A selection of books and other inquiry resources from the library
The school library is uniquely placed to play a key role in supporting inquiry in your school.

What your school library can provide

Your school library can provide:

  • skilled staff who can help develop students' inquiry, information, and digital literacy skills
  • a diverse collection of rich resources
  • services that include collaborations with teachers to:
    • provide resources
    • develop skills
    • create effective connections with students, whānau, and the local community
  • a safe and welcoming space to stimulate curiosity, thinking, and creativity.

Inquiry-based learning, school librarian and classroom collaborations, and learning commons make an unbeatable education triumvirate.
— Wallace and Husid, Collaborating for Inquiry-Based Learning (2011)

Understanding inquiry learning

  • Staff to help develop students’ inquiry skills

    Students develop specific skills when they move through different steps or stages of an inquiry. Teachers and school library staff can model and help teach these skills:

    • questioning — fertile or essential questions to help clarify what students want to find out about
    • information literacy and critical literacy — strategies and tools to find, select (evaluate), analyse, and synthesise information
    • organising and curating information — how to add value by sharing insights about the information they collect
    • ethical use of others' work — including:
      • copyright and plagiarism
      • Creative Commons licencing
      • attribution
      • referencing.

    Digital content: Finding, evaluating, using, and creating it — key skills for inquiry.

    Curating content — a process for gathering and making sense of information.

    Copyright and Creative Commons — the ethical and legal use of others' work.

    Engaging students in inquiry learning with questions

    Good questions can be an effective catalyst for inquiry learning. Constructing and refining questions can help students clarify or define the focus and scope of their inquiry. Many models of effective questions exist, but some to consider include:

  • Staff to help develop students’ inquiry skills

    Students develop specific skills when they move through different steps or stages of an inquiry. Teachers and school library staff can model and help teach these skills:

    • questioning — fertile or essential questions to help clarify what students want to find out about
    • information literacy and critical literacy — strategies and tools to find, select (evaluate), analyse, and synthesise information
    • organising and curating information — how to add value by sharing insights about the information they collect
    • ethical use of others' work — including:
      • copyright and plagiarism
      • Creative Commons licencing
      • attribution
      • referencing.

    Digital content: Finding, evaluating, using, and creating it — key skills for inquiry.

    Curating content — a process for gathering and making sense of information.

    Copyright and Creative Commons — the ethical and legal use of others' work.

    Engaging students in inquiry learning with questions

    Good questions can be an effective catalyst for inquiry learning. Constructing and refining questions can help students clarify or define the focus and scope of their inquiry. Many models of effective questions exist, but some to consider include:

  • A diverse collection of rich resources

    Resources of all kinds play an important part in inquiry-based learning. They can:

    • inspire inquiry — by sparking curiosity and acting as catalysts for developing questions
    • inform inquiry — essential for investigating a topic in depth and developing new understanding.

    Your school library is a storehouse for collections that support inquiry, including:

    • physical resources — a collection of printed materials and objects
    • digital resources — available through the library's online presence
    • local resources — references to sites, places, or events that can support inquiry
    • people — access to local experts whose knowledge and insights can inspire or inform inquiry.

    By developing a diverse collection of rich resources, you actively support inquiry in your school.

    What such a collection looks like

    Resources to support inquiry will be:

    • diverse
      • in a range of formats
      • cover a wide variety of subjects, interests, and perspectives
      • acknowledge and respect the diversity of your community
      • considers mātauranga Māori (a Māori world view, Māori knowledge, and values)
    • responsive
      • reflect teachers' and students' ideas in the selection or creation of resources
      • provide varied perspectives for in-depth study
      • be responsive to the changing needs of teachers, students, and the community
    • accessible
      • meet the needs of a wide range of learners and learning abilities
      • incorporate kaitiakitanga (custodianship) of the resources as taonga
      • be available for easy access either in the physical library space or online.

    Building an inclusive collection

  • A diverse collection of rich resources

    Resources of all kinds play an important part in inquiry-based learning. They can:

    • inspire inquiry — by sparking curiosity and acting as catalysts for developing questions
    • inform inquiry — essential for investigating a topic in depth and developing new understanding.

    Your school library is a storehouse for collections that support inquiry, including:

    • physical resources — a collection of printed materials and objects
    • digital resources — available through the library's online presence
    • local resources — references to sites, places, or events that can support inquiry
    • people — access to local experts whose knowledge and insights can inspire or inform inquiry.

    By developing a diverse collection of rich resources, you actively support inquiry in your school.

    What such a collection looks like

    Resources to support inquiry will be:

    • diverse
      • in a range of formats
      • cover a wide variety of subjects, interests, and perspectives
      • acknowledge and respect the diversity of your community
      • considers mātauranga Māori (a Māori world view, Māori knowledge, and values)
    • responsive
      • reflect teachers' and students' ideas in the selection or creation of resources
      • provide varied perspectives for in-depth study
      • be responsive to the changing needs of teachers, students, and the community
    • accessible
      • meet the needs of a wide range of learners and learning abilities
      • incorporate kaitiakitanga (custodianship) of the resources as taonga
      • be available for easy access either in the physical library space or online.

    Building an inclusive collection

  • Services that include collaborations with teachers

    Library staff and teachers can better support inquiry learning if they work together and share ideas and knowledge. They can work together:

    • developing or adopting a school-wide inquiry model
    • participating in school-wide, long-term planning
    • planning units of inquiry, such as assessment to identify skills or parts of the inquiry cycle that need extra support
    • co-teaching or facilitating units of inquiry to be an extra 'guide on the side' for students.

    Inquiry exemplars and templates has inquiry exemplars and other teaching plans and templates to inspire and inform learning in your school.

    School library staff and teachers can also participate in or lead inquiry-focused learning sessions for colleagues, parents, and whānau. This can help to foster a school-wide culture of inquiry-based learning.

  • Services that include collaborations with teachers

    Library staff and teachers can better support inquiry learning if they work together and share ideas and knowledge. They can work together:

    • developing or adopting a school-wide inquiry model
    • participating in school-wide, long-term planning
    • planning units of inquiry, such as assessment to identify skills or parts of the inquiry cycle that need extra support
    • co-teaching or facilitating units of inquiry to be an extra 'guide on the side' for students.

    Inquiry exemplars and templates has inquiry exemplars and other teaching plans and templates to inspire and inform learning in your school.

    School library staff and teachers can also participate in or lead inquiry-focused learning sessions for colleagues, parents, and whānau. This can help to foster a school-wide culture of inquiry-based learning.

  • A safe and welcoming space for inquiry

    Different spaces help students to use the library for different stages of their inquiry learning. For example, their guided inquiry might use these types of spaces:

    • Open, immerse, and explore stages — collaborative space where the whole class might watch a video together. They could then brainstorm and discuss ideas that spark from the video.
    • Identify and gather — quiet spaces or breakout areas where students can work individually or in small groups to find, read, and select (evaluate) information.
    • Create — collaborative, breakout, or makerspaces where students can work together or alone to build new understanding and express their learning.
    • Share — presentation or collaborative spaces where students can show or celebrate their inquiry findings.

    Designing library spaces

  • A safe and welcoming space for inquiry

    Different spaces help students to use the library for different stages of their inquiry learning. For example, their guided inquiry might use these types of spaces:

    • Open, immerse, and explore stages — collaborative space where the whole class might watch a video together. They could then brainstorm and discuss ideas that spark from the video.
    • Identify and gather — quiet spaces or breakout areas where students can work individually or in small groups to find, read, and select (evaluate) information.
    • Create — collaborative, breakout, or makerspaces where students can work together or alone to build new understanding and express their learning.
    • Share — presentation or collaborative spaces where students can show or celebrate their inquiry findings.

    Designing library spaces

  • Find out more

    • Inquiry: Inquiring minds want to know (pdf, 149KB) — an article by American educator, Barbara Stripling, that explains the role of the library in inquiry. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(1), 50–52.
    • National School Library Standards — an integrated framework for learners, librarians, and school libraries, based on common beliefs, and a set of shared foundations and competencies for learners.
    • Herring, James E. (2011). Improving students' web use and information literacy: A guide for teachers and teacher librarians. London, UK: Facet Publishing.
    • Levitov, D. (2016). School libraries, librarians, and inquiry learning. Teacher Librarian, 43(3), 28–35.
    • Wallace, V., & Husid, W. (2011). Collaborating for inquiry-based learning: School librarians and classroom teachers partner for student achievement. Greenwood Publishing.
    • Wallace, V., & Husid, W. (2012). Learning to the second power. Teacher Librarian, 39(3), 25–29.
  • Find out more

    • Inquiry: Inquiring minds want to know (pdf, 149KB) — an article by American educator, Barbara Stripling, that explains the role of the library in inquiry. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(1), 50–52.
    • National School Library Standards — an integrated framework for learners, librarians, and school libraries, based on common beliefs, and a set of shared foundations and competencies for learners.
    • Herring, James E. (2011). Improving students' web use and information literacy: A guide for teachers and teacher librarians. London, UK: Facet Publishing.
    • Levitov, D. (2016). School libraries, librarians, and inquiry learning. Teacher Librarian, 43(3), 28–35.
    • Wallace, V., & Husid, W. (2011). Collaborating for inquiry-based learning: School librarians and classroom teachers partner for student achievement. Greenwood Publishing.
    • Wallace, V., & Husid, W. (2012). Learning to the second power. Teacher Librarian, 39(3), 25–29.