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How to destroy a school library

In a December 4, 2013 School Library Journal opinion piece, Robin Overby Cox explains how to kill a school library program in 10 easy steps. Her steps include firing the librarians, not being flexible, and convincing parents libraries don't have anything to do with literacy. Robin, I loved the piece and like the way you think. (See Great Minds Think Alike.) Everyone should read it.

I also tackled this topic in 2008 in a column called "How To Destroy Any Library Program." In a Screwtape-esque letter, a big demon advises a little demon to encourage the librarians to do these destructive acts in order to maintain a world that is ignorant and evil:

  • Think of the library as her program where she sets all the rules, knows all the best practices, and owns all the materials.
  • Invite children into the library, but when they actually get there, set rules and expectations that make them feel uncomfortable, even unwelcome.
  • Place more emphasis on getting stuff back and keeping it in order than getting it out and into kids’ hands.
  • Consider the only productive behaviors in the library to be academic in nature. Pursuits of self-interest are simply a waste of resources.
  • Assume that kids who like getting information in ways other than reading are rather slow. Oh, and treat them that way. Let it be known that books are superior to technology in every way, under every circumstance.
  • Spend a lot of time making sure the cataloging meets standards. Stay in the back office while doing so. Don’t let people say “anal retentive” like it’s a bad thing.
  • Ban the copy/paste command. Make students work for their plagiarized term papers!
  • Ban cell phones. Ban mp3 players. Ban personal laptops. Ban games.
  • Block YouTube. Block blogs. Block chat. Block games. Block Google Images. Block joke sites. Set as many rules on computer use as possible. For first time misuse, take away computer privileges for a minimum of a year.
  • Only select and book talk items he likes to read. Make sure he ignores any nonfiction titles. Claim graphic novels are the devil’s handiwork.
  • Make sure her library goals in no way relate to building or district goals.
  • Assume teachers who do not want to collaborate are bad teachers and treat them as such. Assume administrators who do not automatically value the library are dolts and troglodytes and treat them as such.
  • Always advocate for what is in the best interest of the library - not the library user.
  • Never accept a task that she considers beneath her professional dignity - teaching a class, hosting a study hall, monitoring a test, keeping a website up-to-date, or managing a network.
  • Develop an adversarial relationship with as many people as possible. Key are the principal, the custodian, the secretary and especially the technology director.
  • Learn to play good cop/bad cop with the library aide, with the librarian being the bad cop.
  • Make sure she is very, very fussy about her job title.
  • Consider everything a collaborative effort, and take no responsibility for that which could be directly attributed to or blamed on him.
  • Develop a good relationship with parents - after she finds out her job may be cut.
  • Whine. At every opportunity.

Boy, that was fun (and far too easy) to write! 

What both Robin and I suggest, I believe, is that the fate of school libraries is far too important to be left in the hands of administrators, school boards, or legislators. We as individual librarians have enormous influence over the importance, vitality, and permanence of our programs.

And if we stop thinking we have power, we, uh, stop being powerful. 

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