In last Thursday’s post “Not your grandma's librarian,” I complimented the work of the tech integration specialists at the International School on Bangkok, Justin Medved and Dennis Harter, for their postings on Dangerously Irrelevant about the approach they are taking in teaching 21st century skills in their school. But I also asked, what’s taken you so long and "where has your school's librarian been in your lives that you are just now figuring this out?!”
Both Dennis and Justin left comments on the post which are well-worth reading in their entirety, but they also left me with a compelling question. Dennis writes: “While I am glad to hear that librarians have "understood this for at least the past decade", I do wonder why it remains largely un-integrated into classroom teaching and in the way that schools do business.” He asks if “librarians [are] holding on to ownership of these ideas?”
Justin observes: .
I have had the opportunity to work with some fantastic librarians in my time but I would argue that their success in embedding these "new literacies" was closely tied to "who" they were as people and the soft skills they possessed with dealing with teachers not their status as "librarian". You take this away and suddenly that part of the school and the skills that were taught from it fall to the wayside.”Before I get to the business at a hand, I apologize for calling Justin and Dennis “techs” when, as they point out, they are “tech and learning coordinators” – teachers, not technicians. I knew this and my shorthand for this sort of position is sloppy, but not meant derogatorily. Like we've shorted “library media specialist” to LMS, could one refer to the “technology and learning coordinators” as TLCs? (What a nice acronym!)
I have fussed before about the quality of the library program being too dependent on the interpersonal skills and personality of the individual librarian. I have to reject the idea that librarians are trying to “own” the idea of an integration of technology and information literacy skills – I believe our frustration lies in not being able to effectively share these ideas and have them accepted by others. But I do agree that we as a profession have not done a good job in the past decade in getting a truly integrated, effective, and universally taught technology and information literacy in place in most schools.
If we take an honest look at what we as librarians have done since technology has come into our buildings, as painful as it is to say, we have dropped the ball – big time. Why?
Why have school librarians not had a bigger impact on information and tech literacy integration?
Ok, let’s just start out with the one reason that will get me in the most trouble. Our profession is comprised of over 90% women. Brilliant, dedicate, hardworking women, but women subject to the same subtle (or not so subtle) sexism that pervades education (and U.S. society as a whole.) I cannot help but think that ideas coming from the field of librarianship are not given the same attention and seriousness because the majority of its practitioners are women. Guys rule school administration, and as technology came into schools, its implementation was turned over to the guy math teacher, not the female librarian. I look at our district even today, 6 out of 6 of our secondary principals are male; 4 out 4 of our secondary librarians are female. At the elementary level we are slightly better, only 5 of 10 elementary principals are male and 7 out of 8 of our librarians are female. Who gets heard?
Even our own profession often seems to have a gender-bias. When AASL closed a recent conference with ““a panel of leading figures in the school library media field,” all five were men. What has the ratio of keynote speakers at your library and tech conferences looked like over the last decade? What gender are instructional technology's most influential writers? Speakers? Consultants? There are noteworthy exceptions, of course, but really…
Has the subtext in education, been “don’t you librarians worry your pretty little heads about technology and such, just leave it to the guys?”
(Just remember "Political Correctness is a doctrine fostered by a delusional, illogical, unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.")
The school library field divides itself pretty cleanly and clearly between the childrens/young adult lit people and the research people. Sorry, but it is true. And to a very large extent, the lit people are very much those who lead it.
The Nov/Dec 2007 issue of Knowledge Quest is a telling example. I was very excited to learn that the theme was “Intellectual Freedom 101.” But I was very disappointed in reading it to find that the majority of the issue was devoted to book challenges – not Internet censorship and filtering problems. What does this say about the librarian’s role in technology integration when we still seem to be more concerned about a few cranks wanting to strike a couple fiction books from our shelves than we are about an entire generation of children losing access to a broad range of online information sources and tools? One of the things I have always been most proud of about the library profession is its anti-censorship stance. But the world has moved on in this area and we have not. The teachers I talk to don't worry about kids getting access to Harry Potter, but to Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs and wikis.
Until our profession sees its primary instructional focus as teaching information and technology literacy skills, we will lack both credibility and voice in technology implementation efforts.
Dennis’s question are “librarians [are] holding on to ownership of these [integration of technology and information literacy ideas?” illustrates how we as a profession have used the wrong strategy when it comes to collaboration, planning and leadership.
If librarians had a coat of arms, collaboration would have to be one of the biggest symbols on it. Our profession has books, articles, standards, workshops, and probably t-shirts and coffee mugs all devoted to collaboration with teachers (and to a lesser degree, principals) in designing and implementing good information literacy and technology experiences into the curriculum.
But the emphasis has always been one-to-one, never the kind of systematic, whole-school collaborative approach that Justin and Dennis describe:
We had to create a shared understanding of what 21st century learning is and why it's important. We had to allow them [teaching staff] to help frame the context in which this could work at ISB. With that individual, personal input, you can achieve buy-in. Then you can challenge them by asking, what are we going to do about it?Do we need to ask ourselves if the library field has put the cart before the horse, working with individual teachers before there is a school-wide understanding of information and technology literacy in place? Should we have been “collaborating” with our curriculum committees, our leadership teams, assessment coordinators and our staff development committees instead - and first? Without whole school buy-in, we will have amazing successes with the few individual teachers, but not impact the entire learning community.
Is it too late for us to re-strategize? What should we be learning from our TLCs?
Ok, this ramble has gone on too long, I am not sure I totally believe everything I’ve written myself, and every criticism I’ve made can be applied to my own district and its library/technology program – for which I’ve had responsibility for 15 years. But if librarianship as a profession is to survive and thrive, we need to have some hard conversations about who we are, what we do, and how we do it.
Thanks again to Dennis and Justin for raising my consciousness more than a little. I’ll end with Dennis’s advice:
…librarians need to speak louder, be more active in curriculum building, and/or let go of ownership of ideas related to information.