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Wisdom from Hartzell and Professional Death Wishes

People who resist change are sometimes right. G. Hatzell

In his usual engaging and humorous style, Gary Hartzell* presented a day-long workshop on library advocacy last Monday. I am not much of a note-taker, but these comments struck me as important. (My remarks in italics.)

Before the notes, I have to get a little rant off my chest here. Out of 500+ school library media specialists in Minnesota, fewer than 30 came to this workshop. Why?

  • Does the school library profession have a death wish? 
  • Do we all believe that some magic thing will step in and save all our jobs? 
  • Are we so personally convinced of our value that we cannot conceive that others may not think so highly of us?

I gotta tell ya, it's damn tough working for a group who do not seem to make an effort to work for themselves. When the next MN school librarian comes to me crying about his/her job being cut, my first question will be "Did you go to Hartzell's workshop and apply any of his ideas?"

Yes, there was a fee to attend. Yes, it's summer. Yes, we have families, obligations, etc. But just remember - nobody picks our priorities for us - so own up to the consequences of choosing yours.

Thus endeth the rant.

From Gary:

Why do we need to capture the principal's support? (Seems like a "well, duh" question to me, but if it were the profession would not be in jeopardy.)
 - The principle controls opportunity (money, staffing, scheduling, space)
 - There is no quality library programs w/o principal support

Advocacy realities:

- School level advocacy is "micro" advocacy with no effect on the entire field and the results are temporary
- Macro advocacy means altering general perception of libraries via teacher and admin training
- Current danger in interpretation of research - asking and promising too much - don't overstate impact of libraries

My sense is that we have to continue to work at BOTH a micro and macro level of advocacy. Working on either alone puts the profession at either short term or long term risk.

50+ years of research on libraries:
- consistent but not compelling (correlation not causation)
- not recognized elsewhere (why not seen other non-library publications)
- can be it strengthened by examining the impact of schools that have cut library programs?

Many of us are beginning to view research with no small degree of skepticism. It's a nice advocacy tool, but HAS to be supplimented with local data and communications.

Research cannot show that
- Libraries have values in their own rights
- Libraries undergird other programs
- Libraries teach skills that are not measured on standardized tests

Read: Karl Weick on small wins, Gerald Lanier's You are not a gadget, and Robert Evans Human side of school change.

Libraries MUST support other programs (People love those who make them look good - we need to make teachers look good)
 - working with gifted
 - special education
 - at-risk (make connection with individuals_
 - counselor
 - new teachers
 - "veteran" newcomer teacher
 - out of assignment teachers
 - changed teacher schedules
 - restructuring teachers
 - staff development

Triangulate support - get teachers and parents to talk to principal about the importance of libraries. YES!

Success flows to the visible. - make yourself visible.  We have advantages - our skills, our resources, etc)

Why do we not now have principal support? Ave age teachers 49 -  age admins mid 50s - lack of experience. knowledge and training about good libraries.

Principals learn about good libraries from librarians themselves.

To get principal's support we must do four things:

1. Get library reconceptualized as investment, not a cost
2. Job understanding - mutual understanding
3. Professional trust
4. Build targeted influence

"This is your 2010 to retirement project."

"Librarians must have an enterprising attitude."

Get positive comments about the library from principal in writing.

How much does eliminating a librarian's position influence class size? Not very much.

* Gary's a friend and has been a big influence on my thinking about school libraries. He's contributed these guest posts to the Blue Skunk:

Librarian-proof libraries? Guest rant by Gary Hartzell

Guest post by Gary Hartzell

and has written a "must read" book for all school librarians, Building Influence for the School Librarian.

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Reader Comments (12)

Some of the problem is exactly as you say--Apathy. Just learned our state had a PD planned for July that was free, and it was canceled due to lack of interest. I didnt even remember it being advertised until someone sent me the details. Then, confession, I dismissed it due to (ego check) feeling I didnt need that (a web2.0 workshop), though there were probably others who did. Attending ALA, our own Upstate Technology Conference, and coming soon our SCETV Summer Workshops, i felt I had my plate full of good opportunities for learning.

I remember my ALA roommate Sally Mays telling me about this opportunity your state had, and how excited she was to be going to that! I secretly wished my state could have snagged Gary Hartzell for a summer PD opp. I would have put aside something--no, I just would have made more room on my plate for the chance to hear him. But that is because I know the name, and realize it would have been great. I would have continuously encouraged friends, colleagues, and other LMS's across my state NOT to miss out as well.

So my question is this. Do school librarians around know who Gary Hartzell is? What kinds of promotional tools other than fliers, a listserv posting, or an addition to a web or wiki was done? A lot of times word of mouth can be more effective in garnering support or interest--simply by tapping the movers and shakers in your state to get on board. Often times, when the seemingly apathetic librarians learn who is going just because _____ is speaking, they will jump on board. Yes that's sad too. But it is true.

Consider this: How many new followers did Jeri Hurd and Leigh Ann Jones suddenly get just because "you" said they were bloggers getting a lot of "your" attention lately? Jeri even blogged about it I think. How many librarians out there think that everything even casually mentioned by the likes of Joyce Valenza, Jenny Lucca, Kim Cofino, Gwyneth Jones, Carolyn Foote, Buffy Hamilton, and more is worth its weight in gold? Now bring that back to your state level. Were those identified as movers and shakers in the state on board and touting the benefits of attending an upcoming state workshop by Gary Hartzell? As a big fan, where was your own post encouraging your state to sign up and not miss out?

Please don't think I'm blaming you. I'm just pointing out in this day and age of PLNs and networked librarians, we must rely on ourselves and not just our organization leaders to promote, push, and advocate for these professional development opportunities. Getting the grassroots movers and shakers on board can have an amazing impact on attendance at such events. It's one of the reasons I strive annually to attend ISTE among other PD events. And I personally advocate these events in my blog, on our listserv, on our ning, and wherever else I can hope to gain support and attendees.

We cannot rely on a few, but rather a community effort to make these events more successful, and not canceled for lack of interest. There is need. Great need. Perhaps those who took charge of advertising are not really seen as movers and shakers after all, which made it easy for the apathetic school librarian to say, eh, not this time. Ooops, another ego check.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

This was a two-part post and I have two levels of comments. First, judging from your notes, it is a shame more librarians didn't hear Gary Hartzell's presentation. I actually reacted to that part of your post first and wanted to stand up and cheer. In my little corner of experience I have seen that the way to build building level support is to use your professional skills as a librarian to be a part of the solution to whatever challenges your school is facing. No matter how busy you are, and how many books need to be shelved, repaired or processed, you have to be there to support your teachers and principals. The extra professional development you set up to help the teachers find resources for the new IWB's, the new teacher you stay after school and help with locating resources, the suggestions you have for parental involvement, the adaptations you make to help each individual student find passion in reading are often the items that matter most in the how much your role in the school is valued. When it is time to cut costs, a beautifully crafted library program still may be sacrificed, unless the classroom teachers, administrators, students and parents believe that they will find their roles to be much more difficult without you.

Now for the rant part. It is true that some people avoid professional development opportunities because they are just apathetic. And as Cathy said sometimes it depends on by whom and how the advertising is done. What I encounter more often is an attitude, based on past experiences, that the professional development won't be worth the time and money invested because it won't be relevant. A lot of teacher librarians feel frustrated and overwhelmed by presentations from leaders that advocates practices and policies they feel are impossible in their own situations. When it comes to advocacy, many may not believe that they can change anything about how they are perceived in their districts. Maybe they should be more confidant and courageous, but it is where they are. When we plan educational experiences for children we make much of meeting our students where they are. Perhaps, if professional development for school librarians is structured, advertised and targeted in a way that encourages the majority to anticipate their perceived needs will be met, it will be more successful.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonna Bills

Hey Doug,
Thanks so much for condensing all my notes and thoughts into something easy to post on my desk so that I never forget to work in this way! I was disappointed by the poor showing at my event, too. I am not sure why it was so small. We used to get a huge showing when we had big name presentations.
Since my work is also my fun, I have no problem paying for my own seminar attendance, but I think many, if not most other school librarians do. School budgets often do not allow for professional development items such as this anymore, but ours was inexpensive. As this year's MEMO president, it is hard to know how to move forward.

Our fall conference has an exciting line up that includes Buffy Hamilton and Cathy Nelson. I sure hope everyone tries to get to this one. I know Buffy and her enthusiasm and knowledge is infectious. I can't wait to meet Cathy because I follow her blog and know she is going to have a ton of great ideas for us. To me, our fall conference is the very best part of the year. At what other time do I get to talk with hundreds of people that actually understand what I do and give me great ideas for my future work?!?
Thanks Doug, you are always so supportive,

Tori Jensen
MEMO President

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTori Jensen

Thanks for the butt whoopin' (your rant)! I need to be more aware of what is going on in Minnesota.
Did attend ALA and rally (does that help???)

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDiana V.

Ok....this post hit home for me in many levels! I'm a middle school librarian in Abilene, Texas. (110,000 pop.) A little background on my school district-- 90% of our public schools in Abilene have certified librarians, which isn't the norm in other cities. The State of Texas does not mandate that public schools have to have a certified librarians on staff, thus many school libraries are run by paraprofessionals.

I am totally on board with Gary's, etc. views on attending PD, being visible, being proactive, and making sure your library becomes a vital part of your school. There is only one librarian on campus, thus we are very powerful. Unlike classroom teachers when there is a bad one, they can hide in the back, we can't.

Since I've gotten my MLS in the 90's, I've struggled with a centuries old problem of librarians/libraries being "a mystery" to the general population on a whole. Of course people believe libraries are important, well up to a point. Yes, my experience is only in the public school arena, but I feel it permeates the whole profession. A few years ago, no amount of great work (my principal and I are a working team) and PR could save the librarians in my district. We were the first to be cut during budget problems. It didn't matter if we where good or bad librarians, we attended PD regularly, that our schools loved us, or our principals thought we were invaluable. The librarians had no true defense to say were where vital. The bottom line is there is no supporting data that correlates what we do in the library and how it affects testing/grades. We all know data drives decisions. Libraries are still a mystery, a gray area.

Bottom line-- librarian's jobs can never been fully secure until a solution is found. I just see our profession wondering "Why we aren't valued 100%?" It is not because we ALL haven't been trying. The roadblock is we aren't directly related to academic outcome and deeply valued by our patrons. Why has there been no solution to this age-old problem? Why does our profession not solve this?? No matter what we do or that we do it well, we are still an endangered species.

P.S. This problem extends to public libraries, too.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartha Magee

Our state department of education offered a free workshop for educators this summer. Part of that was a 3-day workshop for school librarians and classroom teachers. The topic was reading and writing in the digital age. Of the approximately 1200 school librarians and thousands of classroom teachers in our state only 6 signed up to attend. We needed at least 10 for the workshop "to make." So our lack of success was much more dismal than what you describe with less than 30 participants. It is wonderful to participate in one of Gary Hartzell's workshops but, if members of our profession are truly interested in deepening their knowledge base and finding ways of improving their school library program, they shouldn't need a "big name" to entice them to attend.

We read and hear about school library positions being cut and school libraries being closed which is unfortunate and short-sighted on the part of decision-makers nationwide. The question is, however, what are we in the professional doing to stem the tide? The more I read and the more I connect with colleagues nationwide the sadder I become over the professional apathy that is quite widespread.

Professional development is essential for all of us and we have to make the commitment to be intentional about it, even if the district cannot or will not pay for our participation. Additionally, those of us who are responsible for planning the PD must make it relevant for what school librarians face on a daily basis. We talk about making our students' learning relevant and meaningful and connected to their daily lives. That same mindset must be behind everything we offer for professional development. Everything I plan is done with the idea that the activities directly relate to what school librarians do and what they can take back and use on Monday morning. Now I just need to know what kind of hook I can use to get them in the door.

So I join you in your rant, Doug, and then the frustration, disillusionment, and concern creep in and I wonder/worry what our professional apathy will ultimately mean for our students.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartha Alewine

Great post and comments. I am a librarian in a district of eight schools. I am the only one that belongs to ALA, AASL and ISMLA. I am the only one to go to conferences, unless ISLMA is close and then a few more may go. I would like to share something we started a few years ago. Our Assistant Superintendent had us redo our curriculum to match the new standards. It took a year and a half, but we are pleased with the results. After we finished, we went to each school and shared with the staff, what we had done, showing them that we have standards that students need to meet also and that some of them correlate with what they are doing in the classroom. This year we will be meeting with grade level teams across the district to begin creating integrated units. We are hoping that this will get a dialogue going throughout the district. I also just came across the new Core Standards and noticed how much research is included. I am going to bring this to the table with the other librarians and discuss where we want to with this.

I have been a librarian for 15 years, including creating integrated units, and still feel that I need to promote my program and to teachers, administration and the public. It's a part of the job.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathie

Sure Doug. Throw in the picture of Angelina at the end, just to get me to read your post thrice.

Interesting points giving rise to important questions. I appreciate your rant, too. Like Lehmann said in Denver, there's nobody else comin' to save us.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDarren Draper

From Kathie's post:
"Our Assistant Superintendent had us redo our curriculum to match the new standards."

I'm glad that the curriculum has been redone but did it take an administrator to move the department to revise the curriculum? If so, then isn't this part of the problem -- we are waiting for someone else to tell us what to do? Unfortunately we have so many library coordinator positions that have been eliminated that the librarian in the building is alone in having to forge a direction for the library program.

I know so many people who are dedicated and attend conferences and put into practice what they are reading every day, but there are also many who are not reading and learning. For those people who have not yet set up a personal learning network to keep up with the changes in the profession, they will always be behind.

The bottom line is:
Your state organization cannot save your job.
AASL cannot save your job.
ALA cannot save your job.
Like Smokey used to say, only you can prevent forest fires -- and only you can create a library that is imperative to your local school educational environment.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin

"Yes, yes, yes!" As I read your post I was silently shouting my agreement. How true! Coincidentally, before reading this post, I was thinking about my own next post. The topic: Overcoming the Damage Done by the Worst of Us.

I am afraid we all know that one library media specialist whose lack of attention and backward behavior has caused horrific damage to our collective reputations. It seems that no matter how much progress we make, we still are defined by too many in terms of the stereotypical behaviors of the one.

Frankly, I think it is time for the kid gloves to come off. I am tired of the whiners, mopers and complainers dragging down the accomplishments of my colleagues who are innovative and valuable to their schools. I am tired of attending staff development sessions where these lumps belittle all technology education, asking "What does this have to do with libraries?" I am tired of hearing how I am lucky I am because my principal and teachers "like" me and have fought to keep my full-time position at the school. Trust me, it is not my sunny personality that has defined my working relationship with my colleagues, supervisors and parents; it is hard work and -yes- marketing that has brought my success.

So to my colleagues who don't attend conferences because the district won't foot the bill, I say: "No! Duh! Isn't your commitment to your profession worth scraping some money out of your own pocket? This is your PROFESSION, isn't it?"

To those who whine that teachers won't work with them, I ask, "What have you done to show them you have an inkling of their goals? Have you created pathfinders for their units without being asked? Have you handed a teacher WRITTEN proposals on how you and the teacher can address the TEACHER's instructional goals by CO-TEACHING a unit YOU designed? Do you know what the content standards are for each teacher's class? Do you know what classes each of your teachers teach?"

To those who say that their principals don't support them, I ask, "How do you support your principal? Have you made yourself familiar with his budgeting limitations and abilities? Do you provide an SDI service for him or her? Do you make a point to show your principal how you contribute the the professional development of your faculty? Are you a team player?"

To those who say they don't have the support of their school administration, the teachers, the parents, the students, I ask "What do you give?" In the words of Seth Godin "what have you done to make yourself indispensable?"

To my colleagues I say, "If you can't answer these questions, then I think it is time to step aside and allow your job to be filled by someone who can and will make a difference!"

There. My rant is finished. And, yes, I feel much better!

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzie Martin

Two part response to a two part post.
The rant: I see a shift happening around professional development from one time workshop models to long term learning experiences. This hasn't happened on a wide scale yet and probably doesn't explain the low attendance at this particular event. We have to ask if the PD of the past answers the needs of the future. For example, I recently attended a tweetup (face to face meeting of twitter folks in a common geographic location). It was a great experience comprised of a cross section of administrators, classroom teachers, and school librarians. As a result of this interaction one of the Talented and Gifted teachers asked me to present with her at a TAG conference this fall. It happens to be a week after ITEC. If I were to go to one of these should I attend the TAG event and share what forward looking school librarianship can be or should I go to the tech conference? Which one would serve the larger marketing needs of school librarianship? (I'll be at both Doug. Can't miss your visit to Iowa)

Tweetups and other emerging models of professional learning (webinars) have the power to expand the number and kind of educators involved in reflective teaching practice. They probably will drive down door counts for traditional PD models (workshops, conferences).

The work of school librarianship:
The micro should be our top priority. Success at the building level should provide information and examples for the macro. We must be part of the strategic administrative vision of our schools. This will involve action research, more time with teachers for planning and reflection, frequent and honest conversations and planning with principals, and tireless outreach/communication with parents, community members, and other stakeholders. It will also involve dumping stuff that doesn't help us to achieve these goals (we can't do all of the items discussed in this workshop AND maintain practices established decades ago). So ditch book repair, annual inventory, collecting overdue fines, maintaining quiet and control (one class at a time, librarian checks out every book), activities without assessments, rhetoric without results (what does “cultivating a love for reading” really mean? Can we point to the outcomes? It is the research need mentioned in the post).

Thanks for all the thoughtful posts to this thread.

July 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErnie Cox

Hi Cathy,

I think we could/can always do more to promote these events. We sent this out on the state list serve, announced it in our newsletter and put it on the website. (I didn't announce it in my blog but I sent two personal mailings to the professional listserv!) I really don't know if having done more would have helped.


Hi Donna,

Great comments. Thank you.

I think too many of us forget that communicating what we do is as much a part of our jobs as teaching research skills, selecting books and teaching computer skills. Period.

I'd agree that there are plenty of "pie in the sky" presenters, but anyone who has read Gary's work or heard him speak knows that his suggestions are practical. If we are some sort of a cynical death-spiral assuming that all PD is irrelevant, I am not sure what we do.

Again, thanks for the perceptive comments,


Hi Tori,

I appreciate your putting this day together. I agree the cost was reasonable and topic was great. I think, win or lose, we know that we tried to help the members of our organization. But we can't do it all for them!


Hi Diane,

It "counts" if your participation helps you keep your job (and helps keep your job from going away),


Hi Martha,

I wish I knew the answers to your very good questions.


Hi Kathie,

Thanks for sharing this experience. We have a (continuously updated) IL/IT skill curriculum as well and teaching it helps us keep our positions. I loved your last paragraph - promotion for our program IS our job.



Hi Darren,

Yeah, the Angelina picture is a cheap trick. (Can't wait to see Salt this weekend!)

I suppose my little rants do me more harm than good with my relationship with many of my colleagues. But as somebody once said - I'd rather be right than popular ;-)

Have a good one,


Hi Floyd,

I may have to "borrow" your last paragraph. I love it.

Librarians without an official curriculum leader need to form a strong department and lead from the middle. I don't see any other way for these folks to survive.

Hope your summer is going well! My daughter and her family are moving to your neck of the woods this summer. Got the feeling I'll get to know the KC area well.


Hi Suzie,

Great rant! Feelings I've had myself on many an occasion.

I look at spending my own money on PD kind of like buying "job insurance." It's only by having skills that my organization needs do I stay relevant (if not indispensable). I'm guessing many people after losing their jobs may have considered conference fees a bargain.

Thanks for writing - I loved it!


Hi Ernie,

I certainly respect what you say about the need for long-term PD as opposed to (or in addition to) one-shot sessions. For the last year or so, I'd say better than 50% of the schools and organizations that I've worked with have made my workshop a kick-off to a long-term effort. Other organizations have used Nings and other social networking vehicles to help me actually plan the workshop (get input) and continue the conversation afterward.

The problem I see is that such efforts require a lot of personal dedication to maintain - and I see that from a very small percentage of the total population that could be served. Maybe it is because people haven't had enough experience with the model, lack self-confidence or just don't make it a high priority. TBD. And how do you reach people who have not yet learned about these social networking tools. I am always shocked by level of knowledge and skills even today of many librarians when it comes to even basic tools like wikis.

Gary made an interesting point about "micro" efforts. If that is all we concentrate on, he says, we will need to repeat this basic "micro" type workshop every few years since there is such a turn over in staff - librarian and administrators. The long term solution lies in working on a "macro" level with colleges of ed. I am guessing neither alone will suffice.

Thanks for the great comments as always. Go Hawkeyes!


July 21, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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