Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« Head for the Edge, 2011-12 | Main | A "must read"? (thinly disguised self-promotion) »

At whom should our anger be directed?

de·us ex ma·chi·na noun 

1. a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot.

2. any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot.

Librarians were upset at life's unjustices this week. My friend David Loertscher was incensed over an article in EdWeek about a teacher's (Justin Minkel) attempt to help children in poverty build home library collections. He wrote to the AASLForum:

Have you read: [The Home Library Effect] and if you can't read the article, you can check my tweets.  I am davidloertscher on Twitter.

Anyway, this teacher discovers that each kid that has a home library of forty books makes extraordinary gains in reading. And all the comments gush over what a great idea this is. There are at least twenty glowing responses.  I don't subscribe to EdWeek. Perhaps you do and there could be a comment about the school library.

After all these years, I am still wondering how many kids and teens have unlimited checkout privileges from the school and public libraries? And, is there a book bag program in K-2 that sends two or three books home every night of the school year with one title to read to someone else and one title to have read to me?

Does every teacher in the building have a rotating classroom collection from the school and public library?

Do we link every child and teen into summer reading programs?

Is it me or what?

Just how can we claim we make a difference if we are totally invisible?

David, why should I be angry about ANY effort that helps kids succeed? And if we are invisible, who should be held responsible for that sad state?

Not only is the world dissing the role of libraries in reading it seems, but in teaching "digital literacy" as well. As I am following this, Fran Bullington's post "Calling School Librarians to Action! Another Attempt to Undermine Our Jobs!" took the FCC to task for wanting to implement a program designed to help close the digital divide in communities by creating a "Digital Literacy Corps." And heaven forbid, the FCC did not realize we school librarians were already doing such a swell job of this task. Buffy Hamilton's anger spilled over to ALA for not compelling the FCC to include librarians and Jeri Hurd despaired about the fate of the library field as a whole. Buffy sums up much of this:

It’s insulting for the FCC to say that they don’t need the services of librarians, but they’d love to hire someone else to utilize our learning spaces for this endeavor.  Do you think we only check out books?  That we’re not already teaching digital literacy?  That librarians aren’t qualified to be your digital literacy corps?   Why not use this funding to elevate and grow libraries and schools as partners in cultivating digital literacy for their communities?

There's a whole lot of angst going on - and I don't get it. What I am hearing is that if I can't play in the game, the game ought not to be played at all. If the solution to a problem doesn't include me, let's just let the problem remain unsolved. How parochial, how selfish, how short-term. And this coming from a field that is supposed to be all about collaboration? Hah!

Jeri writes:

Why, despite years of promotion and government lobbying by the ALA, does the country at large still not get it?  Why is it still so hard to convince some teachers of our usefulness?  That we can make their jobs easier?  Obviously, whatever we're doing isn't working, and we need new ideas, but I'm at a loss. 

Here's my idea, Jeri. Let's stop assuming or even asking ALA or AASL or anybody else to save the butts of invisible librarians. Good librarians (aka those who are locally proactive and are not expecting a deus ex machina intervention from ALA or a state mandate or the Jedi Council) are working on ways to support programs like Mr. Minkel's instead of feeling threatened by it. These librarians are happy to hear about a digital literacy corps since they know that they alone can't offer all the services needed to train entire communities about these vital skills and know that they will personally, individually carve out an important role for themselves and their libraries in these kinds of efforts. 

Were I FCC or EdWeek, I just might borrow Coco Chanel's old line, “I don't care what you think about me. I don't think about you at all.”  Nobody likes to be ignored. But to get attention, you have to be worthy of it.

End of rant. Have at me.


EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (13)

Amen, Doug!

I've been watching all of this from the sidelines but, despite several attempts to involve me, have (until now) stayed out of the discussion.

I understand why librarians feel defensive. It's been a tough few years and after taking enough punches, it's only natural to want to swing back. I know that feeling all too well. However, I feel we'd all be better served by exploring a) the reasons why we've been left out of initiatives that seem right up our alley and b) how we can change whatever perceptions/realities constantly seem to keep us from having a seat at the table. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I don’t think there’s a worldwide conspiracy afoot to keep librarians from doing the work they are most qualified to do. Rather, I think the world either a) doesn’t know what we do or b) they don’t believe we can really do all the things we say we can. Either way, that puts the ball in our court.

Besides, all that "angst" only ever seems to impact us. We (and I include myself in this group) get all fussy, we wring our hands, jump up and down, shout, cry and write, write, write! And the result? WE end up exhausted while the rest of the world continues not to listen. Don't get me wrong, there's a time and a place for angst. What’s more, I have a lot of respect for all of the people you mentioned in this post. When they champion a position, it’s worth considering. But having spent much of the last couple of years feeling pretty angsty myself and having experienced very little fruit from those labors, I think we'd all be better served by letting our GREAT WORK shake things up for awhile instead.

Thanks again for the thoughtful post. :)

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

As a Library Paraprofessional it's hard for me to feel sympathy for most librarians for feeling unappreciated and un-included. I have been insulted often by "certified librarians" who look at me as the down fall of their profession. I am flabbergasted at how I am treated by people who call themselves professionals. So, honestly it doesn't surprise me that Librarians aren't considered to be partners in any of these initiatives- for the most part many of librarians I know don't want to be progressive nor take on new tasks or even mentor someone like me and help me see the benefits of going for my MLIS. And it doesn't surprise me that their response to not being included is to tantrum about it. Librarians, the ALA and state school library associations have stood by and watched Library Programs be dismantled and instead of advocating for programs that serve kids they advocated for Certified Librarians. BUT I do think we could use all the talk about the Tech Core as a place to show what we are doing to help. Personally I feel that I am positioning myself to be part of the tech core we need and I will be able to do both. I am a trainer for a program called Tech Goes Home. I train parents and children on using the web and google apps. At the end of my class each family gets the option to purchase a new net book for $50.00 and most are also eligible to get reduced internet access. I have also signed up for a new program my district is offering where we will be trained in Adobe software over the summer and will complete multi-media projects with our students next year. Both of these programs one must opt into, spend personal time going to classes to get trained etc. But to me that is what an educator is supposed to do- constantly be learning new things to help our students be prepared for the world they will one day work in. I don't think most librarians are positioning themselves in the same way.

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMO2L

I don't see the reaction as necessarily parochial or selfish. It appears that the FCC is either ignoring or ignorant of the personnel and infrastructure already in place to cultivate digital literacy. Setting up a new government program will expend scarce funds that could be directed towards schools and libraries to achieve the desired ends more efficiently.
Minkel's project is admirable and should be supported. The FCC project is an example of politics over public service. I wouldn't conflate the two.

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphb256


Kristin Fontichiaro and I and some others had an interesting discussion about this at TASLA (Texas Assoc. of School Lib. Admin) after her session there yesterday. Kristin had a very interesting take on library services; she discussed the idea of being the frog in the well, looking up and seeing only that thin slice of sky that was our view, and that perhaps we need to expand our view to be just a part of the whole. She commented that we spend a lot of time feeling badly or trying to get teachers to collaborate and that perhaps there is nothing wrong with teachers going in their room and teaching. That we need to listen to them about how they need to learn. (Her session was actually about how much we can impact students by doing more PD with teachers.)

Anyway, I found her presentation very thought-provoking. It was followed by a panel including a principal, an administrator and librarian (and although I missed this session) apparently they laid it on the line honestly about the sorts of things they did or didn't hear as far as libraries go. I believe Kristin was going to blog about it, but evidently it shifted some perspectives.

Kristin's concern was that as librarians we spend a lot of time feeling badly--because we don't collaborate enough or because we aren't doing various things or we are doing activities that perhaps evidence doesn't show make an impact but that wear us out. As I said, a very interesting perspective.

I fall into that sense of frustration myself sometimes that you mention above, but Kristin's frog in the well comment was a good reminder. It isn't really about us. It's about children. Whatever means help them become more literate, whichever help them read more--that's what we have to focus on. That we have significant skills to help in these areas, I totally agree. That it's aggravating that the FCC is taking on this endeavor while not including key players is frustrating because it's wasteful, but it's certainly not the first time the federal government has overlooked key players and redone some effort that another group already does. ( In fact, I'd say that's almost status quo.)

Do you think that our fear of our profession fading sometimes drives us to focus on fighting for it? I do think we cannot think of ourselves as victims that are singled out to be ignored. WE have to believe in what we do enough. But I also find myself falling into that "well" Kristin describes sometimes--feeling disheartened because of not being included or collaborated with. Sometimes it makes me really angry. Then I'll walk into the teacher's room and I'll see what an excellent teacher she is and I'll think that I need to examine how I am approaching the situation because it's not that she has an intent not to include me. That's probably why I found what Kristin said so compelling and thought-provoking.

In these times, part of me thinks, WE also have to BELIEVE our profession will survive and evolve. Not just convince others--but really BELIEVE. But the pace of change is picking up and we need to be responsive to it.

I hear and see the points on both sides, and I think Jennifer's comments were spot on. But I think I agree with you and Kristin. We have to shift our perspective. Our principals and administrators and leaders aren't going to care if we feel left out. They are going to care how we help solve the problem.

I respect all of the people who have posted on this subject, but this lies at the heart of what is complex about the current state of our profession. It does warrrant our discussion so thanks to all of you.

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

I just read a post from Kevin Pashuk that made me think more about this issue. The name of his BLOG is Turning Tech Invisible, like that's the goal. If librarians do their jobs well, and I mean really, really well, they are such an integral part of the school or community or organization that they just make things work--without flash, dazzle, or a lot of drama. I am lucky to work in a school where my principal, superintendent, curriculum and instruction, and technology people can recognize that and, as a result, work effectively with me. Conversely, I get what they do well enough to understand their frustration and need, and have managed, so far, to insinuate myself into the gaps well enough to retain my job. My point? I am lucky enough to work in a place where people value substance over image.

The thing that really bothers me about the FCC project is that it seems to me that the people who make policy in this country at the moment have never taken the time to do a little research and find out how things work before they create dazzling solutions to problems that may or may not exist. This is not unique to libraries by any means. True change happens on the ground by the people doing the work, not by wasteful government programs which is why I, too, have trouble comparing what Minkel is doing with the FCC's digital literacy corps. If Minkel's idea is impractical, it will collapse under its own weight, UNLESS policy makers with money and power force its implementation.

I think this issue is so complex that we can talk about it for a long time, but one thing I know for sure. I am sick to death of being made to feel it is my own fault if people don't value libraries. I think scoffing at the value of libraries says way more about those people and about our culture than it does about me and the job that I do. Good libraries have a proven valuable impact on student learning, and you have to have good highly trained people to have a good library. We have spent the last fifteen years dismantling our school libraries. Where that has happened something beautiful, rich, and valuable is gone forever.

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartha House

Like Jennifer - aka Library Girl (and Library Journal Mover & Shaker 2012) said "I think we'd all be better served by letting our GREAT WORK shake things up for awhile instead" There's a big difference between being invisible and transparent! Or as Hulk would say: Invisible bad - Transparent good! (for more on Transparency Google: Transparency is the New Black! for my post & Slideshare)
Thank you always, you're our voice of reason.
Love ya, mean it!

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGwyneth Jones

I have been a librarian and a classroom teacher and I agree with lots in your post. I have been surprised by librarians who don't like classroom libraries because then kids don't check out library books as often. Or by people who don't like a program because it isn't theirs. I think books and learning belong everywhere. Homes, classrooms, school libraries, public libraries, museums and more all play a part in a child's literacy. I know many students who can't get to a library in the summer because of working parents, no transportation, etc. Much of our work as teachers and as librarians is to support literacy and learning in a variety of ways. I think by respecting what others do and seeing the ways in which these pieces can all fit together for a child is a far better way to spend our time than to worry about whether we are being recognized for our part. In my 25 years, I have learned that every person in a child's education is critical and every role is different. This work isn't about us--it is about what works for each child we work with. Anger and defensiveness never seems to work, no matter our role.

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFranki

Hi Jennifer,

Coming from you, this means a lot.

When "advocacy" keeps getting trotted out as the solution to all librarians' problems, I can help but think of Einstein's definition of insanity - doing the same things over and over but expecting different results.


Hi Maura,

Thanks so much for your perspective. There is no reason in the world to think paras are the reason for diminishing library professional numbers. Good grief. (I've known quite a few that were a lot better than the professional for whom they worked!) Here's my take:


Hi phb256,

The feds launching a plan without getting all the facts is certainly not unheard of it. Personally, I would never assign malicious intent to something that could be simple ineptitude. Getting a bit close to paranoia if one doesn't.

Appreciate your POV,


Hi Carolyn,

Thanks much for the observations. If Kristin blogs about this please let me know. I love the frog in the well analogy!

I do think that we as a profession tend to focus too much on self-preservation, when if we spent the same effort in serving kids, teachers and parents - and communicating to our local communities how we do it - we would not have the problems we do.


Hi Martha,

Thanks for adding to the conversation. Great points.

I do think librarians need to make a firm commitment to go communications about their program to parents, admins and teachers. I'm not sure invisibility should be a goal, but I understand your point about being an integral part of the educational process.

And I COMPLETELY agree with your points about federal programs. I'd like Washington completely out of the education policy making business.


Hi Gwyneth,

Great minds think alike. See:

Good to hear from you. See you at ISTE???


Hi Franki,

I love your perspective. Thank you for writing this!


June 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Doug---my chief complaint is that it made no sense for the FCC to spend money in adding staff to provide the very services and training librarians (and everyone seems to have overlooked the fact I spoke on behalf of public librarians as well as school librarians). My question was does it make sense to turn to an external digital literacy corps rather than using that funding to add additional librarians who already have the skillset the FCC has in mind--is that the wisest course of action the FCC could take? And since the training would be outside of the school day, what collaboration do you envision would exist between school libraries (those that actually have one) and this volunteer force? I have no problem sharing the "toys" or "ownership", but at this point, the FCC is not framing the Digital Literacy Corps as an entity that would utilize library and school space, not a collaborative partnership; for schools, this would be done after hours and not as an official part of the school curriculum or school day. As it turns out, the FCC does not see this as an opportunity to teach children, but rather their focal point is providing training for the "general public." Going back to the public library piece, yes, I am absolutely an advocate for lifelong learning and learning in many spaces in our communities, but again---the concept of a Digital Literacy Corps as framed by the FCC doesn't seem to be inclusive of utilizing the expertise of librarians.

Regarding Jennifer and Gwyneth's comments about "letting our GREAT WORK shake things up for awhile instead" and "transparency", at first blush these seem like obvious action steps that would effectively address these challenges the profession faces. However, the reality is that great work, while admirable, is not enough to "shake up" the educational landscape to the point where we can think that is the cure-all solution to these challenges for our profession. Some of the most respected people in the profession who do amazing work and share that work very openly have been on the receiving end of disrespectful and marginalizing behavior by administrators---many times that great work is seen as "disruptive" to a model of "school success" or may be threatening to others in some ways. Does this mean we should not continue to do quality work and to share it? Of course not, but doing so is no guarantee that you'll get the kind of positive change or impact you would expect.

There are many talented school librarians who have been regularly sharing their work with their schools, their communities, the larger world of education, and with our profession. Yet that qualitative and quantitative data has been ignored by district administrators who make the budget decisions because it is just easier to use an arbitrary measure of "fairness" like student enrollment or seniority rather than actually hold librarians accountable for the quality of the work and to actually evaluate people, programs, and the targets of cuts based on the quality of work. In many cases, a quality program and/or librarian gets sacrificed in spite of the quality of work because of these shallow criteria of "fairness." ; consequently, mediocre librarians and library programs continue to be enabled.

I speak from personal experience this year--in spite of the generous body of data I have shared openly with my district and the rest of the world for a number of years, it was not enough to prevent staffing cuts to our library. The data that included student and teachers voices {in print and in multimedia format, I might add} on how the library instruction impacted student learning and professional growth for teachers. And yet when it came down to making cuts to staffing, our district went solely by FTE numbers. Not only was the staffing cut at my program, but it was also cut at one of our sister high schools---both of us, by the way, were recognized in 2010 and 2011 as the top exemplary high school library media programs in the state of Georgia. We were even recognized by our school board for this excellence, yet they are going to approve a budget that eliminates a 2nd full time librarian in our schools for the upcoming school year. Excellence was clearly ignored, and I know for a fact that fellow school librarians in Georgia who have more than demonstrated superior work and made an effort to be a team player in the school community have also been the victims of cuts this past year. I am pretty confident what we're seeing here in Georgia is not unique to our state.

I am pretty sure most people who know my work would not classify me as an invisible librarian, nor do I expect anyone to save the profession---we all must certainly exercise responsibility in advocating on our own behalf. But I DO expect that when I'm paying membership to an organization and donating my time and service to that organization to be have a solid grasp on the kind of work we are doing and to be clear in its communications about that work in the advocacy work they are doing.

This brings us back to the earlier points about great work speaking for itself. If the stories (which in my case have been told by the very people I serve---teachers and students) and data we are providing aren't a compelling narrative to the FCC, the school board, or other stakeholders whose funding decisions could help grow our ranks and help scale out those narratives, then WHAT kind of work and narrative of that work and its impact will be?

Respectfully, Buffy

June 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Hamilton

Hi Buffy,

Thanks so much for the direct, detailed and honest reply. Probably better than I deserve. Like you, it seems, I probably have more questions than answers. Some of mine are still..

Why do librarians (and classroom teachers) not react so strongly when multiple efforts to increase (print) literacy (Title One, Early Childhood Initiatives, Adult Basic Education, Reading Volunteer Corps) use our schools and libraries? I see all these different efforts each playing a part in educating a community and meeting specific needs. Is there no way to see the FCC's efforts as a needed supplement to libraries efforts rather than some sort of dismissive action?

Were the library cuts the only one made in your district or were they part of an over all budget reduction? When huge budget adjustments are made, is there ever a point where cutting a library position is in the overall best interest of students? How do we keep an ineffective senior librarian from wiping out an entire district program because of tenure? (and how do weed ineffectual people out of our profession?) Why would an administrator cut his/her own throat by cutting a library position if he/she knew the library was instrumental in helping meet important school goals?

Why aren't ALL librarians sharing their data and experiences with their admins? When I suggest this at workshops, it's like I've recommended to medieval doctors they start washing their hands and stop using leeches. There is still a huge sense of "the sanctity of libraries" that our profession seems to rely upon rather than making a case for efficacy. We are only as successful as how successful we make our schools.

You have only my greatest respect and when many of us heard of your budget problems and cutbacks, we wondered what hope there was for us mere mortals! Your last question is frightfully important:

If the stories (which in my case have been told by the very people I serve---teachers and students) and data we are providing aren't a compelling narrative to the FCC, the school board, or other stakeholders whose funding decisions could help grow our ranks and help scale out those narratives, then WHAT kind of work and narrative of that work and its impact will be?

All the best,


June 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

One answer to your question, Doug...

1. Scalable
2. Rigorous
3. Cost-effective
4. Assessment driven

June 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdebbie

With the wonders of site analytics, I was led to this posting. My blog, TurningTechInvisible was mentioned in a comment and while I enjoyed the discussion, I felt I should weigh in for clarification around the concept of "transparent" vs. "Invisible".

I derived the name of the blog from reading Jim Collins' book Good To Great. All of the companies profiled leveraged technology heavily, but NONE of them would attribute technology as the key factor for their success.

When you combine this thought with the changing face of the world we work in, the tried and true business models for the delivery of technology are being impacted by forces that will make IT departments obsolete, or cause them to adapt to be of value.

So I began a quest to "get technology out of the way", to make it "invisible like oxygen", critical for life, ubiquitous, but not thought about much until it isn't there...

That meant creating an IT organization where technology ceased to become the perceived gatekeeper, killer of great ideas, and controller of all, to a group of people who understood the needs of the organization and could actually provide high value for the organization to do things better, or do new things they couldn't do before. I took the focus off technology, making it invisible, and put the focus on the delivery of strategic services.

There is no sense fighting for the old model.

The people that approve budgets won't fund what they think is unnecessary.

They will fund things of value (as defined by the organization, not IT). So as an IT leader, I needed to frame the value of my organization in terms of value they would understand.

Has it worked? I've been able to secure operational budget increases in the double digits over the last 3 years.

My sense is that libraries are being impacted by many of the same forces as IT. I've blogged about it in a recent post "Why School Libraries are More Important than ever".

You have a lot of work ahead of you, but your success is dependant on your ability to adapt. Just like IT.

Thanks for hearing me out.

June 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Pashuk

What gets my goat is that while there are lots of different organizations educating the public, and we are all proud of the little lebowski urban achievers, the FCC are doing something a bit different. Most of the programs that offer help with literacy, Title One for example, are supplementary and are not a new organization whose charter mirrors to a good degree another organization.

Wanting to remove the ineffectual people out of the profession is understandable, but not practical, who would decide who is ineffectual? One would trust in the com

petencies of the directors to weed those people out bad hires before they become bad furniture. But how big a problem is that really?
Unless there are statics proving the ineffectual librarians are the problem, bring them up only reinforces the tendency to go off topic. The issue (for me) is why did the FCC and others feel the need for creating a Digital Corps instead of beefing up libraries? You can’t say “because some librarians are ineffectual”, plenty of people in government are ineffectual, like congress for example.

Questioning why librarians don’t share information with admin means you are probably in a good spot. Most of the librarians admin I have talked to (I grant you only a handful) like a lot of ideas that get to them, but are too broke and/or don’t have enough staffing to follow up on ideas. Most libraries keep in house stats and the like, but when it come to the goal that the FCC are interested it there are serious funding issues, not issues of talent or will.

An interesting data point would be just how did poor library funding play a role in the problem the FCC now finds so important to correct.
The Digital Corps would have to be trained to do the same job that librarians can do now. Librarians could train volunteers to achieve some of what the FCC and others want done. Efficiency doesn’t mean cheaper, it is a question of how effective something is given what was invested in it and I seriously question if it is more efficient to create a new organization to achieve the same goal as investing in an existing organization.

June 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterM. Bear

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>