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Librarians and the scarcity mentality

Many people have what's known as a scarcity mindset or scarcity mentality. In the simplest terms, the scarcity mindset is the belief that there will never be enough — whether it's money, food, emotions or something else entirely — and as a result, your actions and thought stem from a place of lack. - Grayson Bell


In a reply to my last post "6 biggest library annoyances and how to avoid them," Tom wrote: 

My biggest inner conflict lies with wide open access to limited resources. Sometimes the casual surfers/YouTubers co-op resources needed by “academic” patrons. When I try to reallocate those resources, I'm labeled the Unfriendly Librarian. Some days, there's just no winning…

I could relate.

Long, long ago when the earth was still cooling and dinosaurs ruled the land, I was a junior high librarian in a small school in Iowa and my library had a conference room converted into a computer lab. It contained 2 Apple II computers - the only ones in the building. Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, Eamon, Lemonade Stand, and other MECC games were among the most common uses. But kids (and a few teachers) also wanted to use Bank Street Writer and mess with VisiCalc - more "academic" pursuits as Tom calls them. My solution to this was that there could be no games for the first 10 minutes of the period or after school and then if a computer was unused, kids could use it for gaming. If you needed the computer for a school project, you needed to get in and get busy in the first 10 minutes. I thought it a brilliant compromise - those who needed the computers for school work got first dibs, but no computer was left unused.

Times have changed, of course. My guess is even the poorest of schools has more than two computers for student use. Between 1:1 programs, BYOD programs, low cost computer purchasing programs, kids can get to a device to do school work pretty much as needed. (OK, I may be living in a bubble - let me know.)

Yet the scarcity mentality remains, especially among school librarians. After decades of small or non-existent budgets, resources - books, computers, space, supplies -  are viewed as precious commodities that need to be tightly controlled and reserved for "school use only." 

As a result of scarcity ruling our thoughts, books remain on the shelves; computers sit idle; cabinets fill up with unused supplies. And we as professionals are viewed as stingy and controlling. (The hair tightly controlled in the bun is pretty much the stereotypical symbol of this view.)

We need to apply the "it's better to wear out than rust out" philosophy to our library programs. Yes, Books will get lost and damaged. Yes, some books will be unavailable if not returned. Yes, some kids may use computers for personal interests. Yes, we may run out of glue and tape and construction paper at the end of the year. But it is only when these things happen that others become aware that our budgets and resources may not be sufficient to meet our student and staff needs. Rationing implies sufficiency.

Let's be cognizant of when we may be exhibiting the scarcity mentality and strive for an abundance mindset instead.

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Reader Comments (2)

I am trying to think of an adult thing that we adults do during work (not work related) that would would be similar to what students do during school (not school related). My "quest" is to convince others that when a student is playing games, watching a video or sending a text message it is similar to what we adults do during our day.

I know that I might get another cup of coffee, find a recipe for dinner, or visit another teacher just to talk. Neither of these activities take more than a few minutes, but I am not actually "working".

If a student uses a computer for games or the paper / glue / tape for something fun, should that really be an issue?

December 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

I see a lot of teachers check email, text, or surf the web during faculty meetings and inservices!

I know I am guilty of enabling my procrastination tendencies by reading a lot of stupid stuff at work!


December 20, 2017 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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