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« Digital Rights | Main | Never, never assume... »

Guest post from Connie Williams

This response to "At Whom Should Our Anger be Directed" from Connie Williams, a librarian in California who is very active in both state and national library associations, is so thoughtful it deserves its own post. And Connie gave me permission to make it one. Enjoy.

I certainly agree that advocating for a "library curriculum" will be more effective than advocating for a "library program." (See here and here.)  Anyway, Connie's experiences are well-worth heeding. No simple answers here, I'm afraid. But please, share your ideas!

 Oh, some other very good comments were left on At Whom post linked above - worth revisiting. - Doug 

You’ve done it again – set the stage for a fabulous conversation. There’s much to think about.

It’s the mandate thing.  Your words from 2003:

“I don’t think I am overly idealistic in my mandate-free approach to keeping library positions. Two years ago, our district formed a “choice” elementary school of about 90 students. It’s a model for many new schools we are seeing here in Minnesota - very small, project-based, hugely individualized, teacher-led. The first year they chose to staff a .1 media specialist position. The next year they decided they did not need the position. When they struggled that year with many tasks that that person had done the prior year, they reinstated a .25 media position this year.”

I believe that you are (were) indeed overly idealistic in your mandate-free approach to keeping library positions. I have discovered that often, no matter how wonderful a librarian is, how much an integral part of the learning community he/she is, after he/she gets budget cut, the position rarely – very, very rarely – gets reinstated. Schools acclimate to their new situation and then as the years go by, they forget, or they may pine for the “old days” but other priorities take precedence.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years building advocacy actions. Working with colleagues in different venues I’ve helped to create “action advocacies”; I’ve written hundreds of letters, visited hundreds of legislators, produced a CD of library stories. Working again with colleagues I helped to create the California Campaign for Strong School Libraries.  Each and every one of these actions was designed to help others grab onto something and take it to their own local decision makers and lobby on behalf of their students. Because “all politics are local” we thought that by creating local advocacy programs, we could convince decision makers to keep us on.

Through all this, what I discovered:

  1. The reality is: When the line item for “libraries” is noticed during the budget meeting, it doesn’t matter how integral the librarian is to the school learning community. When cuts need to be made, the library line item is easy to cross out.
  2. To make change, the people in charge have to want that change themselves. Which is why advocacy has to be created in such a way to create the desire for change by those in charge.
  3. It takes a special administrator to buck the easy way out of a budget crisis and not cut the librarian. There are many examples of exemplary administrators who have found creative and effective solutions to keeping their libraries not only open, but administered by the library team of librarian and support clerical assistance.

The question of a mandate is not “just” about making sure that every school has a librarian. It’s about creating the kind of schools where the library is the biggest classroom in the school where kids learn not only how to create important things, but how to learn and how to keep on learning long past their school days. It’s about making that shift from “the mandate is to keep librarians in every school” to “the mandate is that every child will have access to a strong school library rich in materials and solid instruction by a school librarian.

Budget cutting a school librarian should be the same kind of difficult decision for an administrator as whether to cut an English teacher or a Science teacher or a Math teacher.

And it’s about defining and spreading the concept of “strong school library” as a library that is staffed with a school librarian supported by clerical assistance with money for materials so that kids, faculties, administrators and parents reap the benefit of a well-administered library.

We keep talking about the “library program”. I suggest that we talk about the “library curriculum”. This is an especially important shift now as we move not only into Common Core [the library should be the ‘core’ of Common Core in every school] and as mandates [their word not mine!]  are coming in July requiring every school to prove that they are teaching positive digital citizenship.

Schools will save money keeping their librarians on staff. Doing so allows the entire teaching staff to receive daily professional development, if needed, in technology, lesson design, research skills, media literacy, digital citizenship and literacy. Schools save money by having their very own teacher on staff to instruct students on digital citizenship, advise on great reading, and provide the knowledge and well organized space for creative learning. Keeping their librarians on staff also means that there will be a ‘big picture’ person on district and site committees, someone to teach parents about things like helping their kids with homework, finding online classes, getting great reading ideas for themselves and their children and helping them work with their children in setting their FaceBook privacy accounts.

All of this…. and administering the library, choosing the important books, databases and digital resources for kids, teachers and parents! Its really a deal. No more pre-packaged “one shot” professional development, cybersafety assemblies, and other ineffective activities.

So… yes. I believe strong school libraries should be mandated. I believe it’s the only way that librarians won’t be cut by administrators who don’t understand, care or are ineffective.

The mandate should, in my opinion go along with other school reforms as part of a bigger push for effective education.

Working with legislators within education, our unions, and other decision-making institutions we must be a part of education decision making by participating on Department [state, local, national] committees.

It certainly won’t happen soon. But by creating the opportunities for us to nudge our way into these committees, persistence and good faith in the process will help us make the inroads we need.

In the meantime, we definitely need to do what you’re saying: to be worthy of attention: be there. Show up to all things educational. Bring handouts. Bring booklists, or bookmarks, or cookies. But be there and put in the work.

You ranted:  here’s mine. :) We want the same thing, really. I guess I’m crazy enough to believe that librarians won’t be kept as long as it’s possible to not keep them. And unless we unite and take action, we won’t be around for very long. California is proof of that.


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Reader Comments (2)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; each librarian at each school needs to make sure he/she is indispensable at that campus. Each district library director needs to ensure that every single librarian in that district is the go-to person on their respective campus.

Every school librarian must take full responsibility for the visibility, viability, and effectiveness of his/her position, staff, collection, and overall program. When we blame campus administrators, district administrators, state budget cuts, or any other factor in the cutting of a library position or program, we shift the blame from where it belongs; on the professional librarian who ran the program into the ground in the first place.

My campus library budget was doubled this year. We asked the principal for more money and told him where we'll be spending it, and he gave it to us. He knows (because we make dang sure he does) that we are the instructional center of the campus. We work our tails off doing many essential tasks that are not strictly our jobs (announcements, website, e-news, sponsoring clubs, after school tutoring, AV equipment support, mentoring, etc.) and he appreciates that.
Is becoming indispensable hard work? Yes. Does it require extra hours and effort? Yes. Is it worth the time and effort? Of course!

Do I have librarians in my district who don't work half as hard as me? Yes. I cannot control (or even really influence) what they do, so I worry about my own little corner of the world. Is their indifference and lack of effort going to affect me? Probably, when their principals all get together with the superintendents to decide what is going to be cut next, the slackers' principals' voices might be louder than my principal's voice.

All I can do is work hard, try to be a good influence on my coworkers, and toot my own horn whenever I can.

Promoting the value of school library programs while we still have librarians who are not worth a bucket of warm spit is akin to rooting for the Cubs. It makes you feel good, but deep down, you know they are destined to lose.

June 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLen

HI Len,

Strongly worded, but so true. I think we share a common POV on this issue! Thanks for writing.


June 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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