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Librarian-proofing library programs

If a librarian cannot lead his or her learning community, perhaps that librarian really is obsolete. - Joyce Valenza

Librarians are the last gasp of an educational system that believes in information gatekeepers, master archivists who work like priests. It's about time we did away with these intermediaries to the words and ideas of people like you and me, and helped everyone accept information literacy as their own personal responsibility (oh, I wanted to write "saviour" but it wouldn't fly...). - Miguel Guhlin, (much tongue in cheek)

Become the thing that replaces you. - Kathy Sierra 

oldlib.jpg(This post started as a reply left to Joyce Valenza's blog posting, linked above and here. You should read it now if you haven't.)

I've been finding my hope for the future of the school library field rises and falls in direct relationship to the last librarian with whom I've talked. When I visit with Joyce Valenza, Adam Janowski, Ron Darow, the librarians in my own district (especially my lovely wife), the leaders at AASL Affiliate Assembly, and other progressive, smart professionals, I know the future for school libraries is limitless. But when the last librarian I talked to is negative and reactionary, I wonder how we survived this long, and tend to think much more like Miguel in his quote above than I'd like to admit.

My question is: How can we remove the individual as a factor in whether the library position in a school is in jeopardy? You get a bad science teacher, you don't eliminate the science program. You get a poor reading teacher, you don't stop teaching kids to read. Tell me one position in the school - not guidance counselor, not PE teacher, not art teacher, not custodian, not vice-principal, not even tech director - that the person in the position is routinely eliminated by eliminating the position itself.

What do librarians do that is so damned important that school will not go on were the position not to exist?

In the column The M Word, I suggested that our librarians and library staff were less vulnerable to cuts because:

  1. Our district’s elementary librarians teach and assess a required part of the state standards and give grades to all students on information literacy, technology skills, life-long reading behaviors, and appropriate use.
  2. Our district’s elementary media specialists cover prep time.
  3.  Our district’s media specialists are the webmasters for their buildings.
  4.  Our district’s media specialists have network administration duties.
  5.   Our district’s media specialists are in charge of Accelerated Reader in the buildings that use it.
  6.   Our district’s media specialists do staff development in technology.
  7.   Our district’s media specialists serve on building site teams.
  8.   Our district’s media specialists go to PTA meetings.
  9.    Our district’s media specialists serve on curriculum committees.
  10.    Our district’s media specialists meet each year with their building principals to make sure they know their buildings' goals and work with the building leadership to make sure the library’s goals and budget directly support the building goals.

I would suggest that if things REALLY got bad, only items 1 and 2 will really save positions, even in our district. The rest of the list is great to do since it adds job security, but does not make the job indispensable since others could take these roles on.  I would encourage all librarians to find, articulate, and be held accountable for a piece of building reading initiatives (like item 5). I don't see that happening.

Using fix schedules as a means of achieving permanent positions in schools is demeaning if it is only seen as babysitting by the rest of the staff. Fixed schedules alone should not be why librarians are employed.

To me that leaves one main area that we need to continue to develop: having a mandated curriculum that we are responsible for teaching, assessing and reporting. If our roles did not exist, our kids would not get these skills - yes, much like being the math or reading teacher. (I've explored this idea before.) I am fighting for mandated IL/IT skills at both a state and national level. I'm doing this primarily because it is right for kids who will need these skills to survive in the 21st century economies. But I will happily accept job security as a side benefit.

A good question to ask ourselves is what do we do as librarians that justifies having us on the job, the cost of which results in more kids in a classroom, less technology, older curriculum materials or lower taxes? If the offer were made to your classroom teachers to have a couple fewer kids in class or better technology or a new reading series or a professional librarian in the school, which would they chose? What would parents choose? What would your principal chose? And most importantly, what would your kids choose?

You can build all the lists you want about why librarians are important. But in the end it comes down to "Why are librarians important in MY school?" I visited with library guru Mike Eisenberg last week. He believes we all need to be important in our own ways in meeting the needs of our individual buildings and teachers. Some schools will want a reading specialist, some a computer geek, some a Chief Information Officer or uber-reseacher, and some an information literacy teacher.  Be what your school needs you to be, he recommends. Good advice.

If you won the lottery and retired tomorrow, would your school replace you - and why? Is your position librarian-proof?

Image in this post is from the Library of Congress American Memories project. 

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Reader Comments (12)

For the record, that was a tongue in cheek statement on my part!!! I lack the intestinal fortitude to own those words without some qualification...which you left off!!!

Sigh...misquoted again.

Miguel Guhlin
Around the
January 31, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin
A kinder, gentler librarian isn't a chameleon librarian...more here:
February 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin
What's interesting is that so much of the mandatory curriculum we are seeing is an attempt to "teacher-proof" teaching. On some level, there's something lovely about the idea that librarian positions are built around the people who inhabit the position. (I know... not exactly your point, but one of the lovely things about being the librarian is that it *is* about who you are.)
February 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChris Lehmann
Hi Chris,

I know what you are saying. All great teachers have something unique and special they bring to their subject matter, too. That's one of the things that scares me about "teacher proofing" education with so much programmed reading and math instruction going around.

I appreciate your thoughtful comment,

February 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson
Why don't we get rid of the science program when there is a bad science teacher but we get rid of the library program when there is a bad librarian? I'll tell you why --and in so doing I think that Doug's conversation with Mike Eisenberg is part of the reason why: People really don't know what we do. We wear many hats --depending on the school, depending on the last librarian....and, we library teachers also don't know what we do -- because we are so much a part of the changing landscape of education. We need to become part of the mainstream conversation about change and education. When the term "information literacy" is mentioned in a Time magazine article, then in the next sentence let's see a demand that library media specialists help in that area....will that ever happen?
February 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Anthony
Was just skimming your blog. Thanks for the kind words. I absolutely love what I do! I am reading a to-be-published book on developing websites attractive to teens for a book review for SLJ and I am feeling both inadequate for what I haven't done and applauded for what I have already done. The book has excellent ideas for all high school and public libraries. Need to work on the review! As always, I am behind, because I am so busy working with my own students!


February 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Janowski
Dear Doug,

I hope you have seen my post today to LM_NET about "This too shall pass." I had whined to LM_NET a couple of years ago about our new principal was totally research driven. Out went the sustained reading program. Well now we have a new principal who values free reading, research be damned.

We are having great fun! Students are coming in and asking for books recommended by their peers. This is what is all about!

Lovin' it!

February 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Janowski
Hi Adam,

I did indeed see your post yesterday. Your enthusiasm and competence are why I mentioned you in the blog posting.

Been some interesting follow up posts to the "librarian-proofing" entry!

Thanks again for the comment and congrats on getting an enlightened principal.

Oh, if the argument comes up again about the effectiveness of SSR, you might have the administrator read Stephen Krahen's Power of Reading, 2nd ed.

All the very best,
February 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson
An obvious reason for being able to get rid of the librarian and the library facility as opposed to a rotten science teacher and science lab is the fact of sheer numbers. Often the LMS is the only one operating in a school. It's easy to lop off the single member, particularly if that person does not see a certain number of students on a daily basis.

I've thought about this issue a lot and certainly think your list is excellent. The more I reflect on the direction of our profession, the more I am convinced that it is the individual in that building that makes the LMC program an indelible part of the educational process. As much as I would like to believe that research, common sense, and tradition will be enough to keep the profession going, I don't believe it much any more. It is up to each individual in his/her building to develop an incontestable connection between LMC services and the success of teachers and students in a building.
March 8, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin
Hi Floyd,

I understand your point. But it places a terrible burden on the individual to be charismatic, I think, holding on to the position by virtue of personality as much a competence.

When you become AASL President, I DO expect you to have all the answers!

Thanks for writing in,

March 8, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson
Well. You told me. I was what I was supposed to be. Also the best cleaning specialist in any inustry. I know every way to take away chewing gum. I know gum is bad for books as a melodic mantra I teach the kids. I have cleaned the space with every substance known to science and made the library livable. I have moved heaven and earth to redesign the space to humanize it into something friendly and even, yes, frangrant. I spent big bucks all of my fifteen years on the job that are completely unacknowledged. In fact, the library took on its own life as a "house." I went to my "house" at eight every morning to do work with the children, and they appreciated and understood in a tacit sense that the library was the one room where academic and visibly academic work need not always be the highest motive of existence. Rather, the library, my house, provided the only breathing space in the building. In fact, the lovely lilac trees in front of the building had been brutally cut down years before, and amenities like water fountains were inactive, there really was nothing left but the library for civil recreation. Civil recreation, yes, that is what my library provided.
That is all gone now. A private industry actually purchased the space and is providing a new school and with it a new librarian. My particular proposal for reorganization has been carefully consulted because I freely donated my copy to the new administration ... what the hell, can't hurt, might help, right? I know I won't be there any more. It was a marvelous gig while I ran it. Everyone thinks so. But the new people have different views.
April 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGloria Drucker Aman
Hi Ms Aman,

I am sorry if you took personal offense at this posting. My work is all about figuring out ways to make sure libraries become an indispensable part of schools. And some of what I do on this blog is simply thinking out loud.

I am also sorry that your personal situation with your school did not work out better. I hear stories like yours on too regular a basis.

I am positive the students you served appreciated your efforts, even if the appreciation was never given voice.

All the very best and thanks for writing,

April 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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