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Librarian-proofing library programs

If a librarian cannot lead his or her learning community, perhaps that librarian really is obsolete. - Joyce Valenza

Librarians are the last gasp of an educational system that believes in information gatekeepers, master archivists who work like priests. It's about time we did away with these intermediaries to the words and ideas of people like you and me, and helped everyone accept information literacy as their own personal responsibility (oh, I wanted to write "saviour" but it wouldn't fly...). - Miguel Guhlin, (much tongue in cheek)

Become the thing that replaces you. - Kathy Sierra 

oldlib.jpg(This post started as a reply left to Joyce Valenza's blog posting, linked above and here. You should read it now if you haven't.)

I've been finding my hope for the future of the school library field rises and falls in direct relationship to the last librarian with whom I've talked. When I visit with Joyce Valenza, Adam Janowski, Ron Darow, the librarians in my own district (especially my lovely wife), the leaders at AASL Affiliate Assembly, and other progressive, smart professionals, I know the future for school libraries is limitless. But when the last librarian I talked to is negative and reactionary, I wonder how we survived this long, and tend to think much more like Miguel in his quote above than I'd like to admit.

My question is: How can we remove the individual as a factor in whether the library position in a school is in jeopardy? You get a bad science teacher, you don't eliminate the science program. You get a poor reading teacher, you don't stop teaching kids to read. Tell me one position in the school - not guidance counselor, not PE teacher, not art teacher, not custodian, not vice-principal, not even tech director - that the person in the position is routinely eliminated by eliminating the position itself.

What do librarians do that is so damned important that school will not go on were the position not to exist?

In the column The M Word, I suggested that our librarians and library staff were less vulnerable to cuts because:

  1. Our district’s elementary librarians teach and assess a required part of the state standards and give grades to all students on information literacy, technology skills, life-long reading behaviors, and appropriate use.
  2. Our district’s elementary media specialists cover prep time.
  3.  Our district’s media specialists are the webmasters for their buildings.
  4.  Our district’s media specialists have network administration duties.
  5.   Our district’s media specialists are in charge of Accelerated Reader in the buildings that use it.
  6.   Our district’s media specialists do staff development in technology.
  7.   Our district’s media specialists serve on building site teams.
  8.   Our district’s media specialists go to PTA meetings.
  9.    Our district’s media specialists serve on curriculum committees.
  10.    Our district’s media specialists meet each year with their building principals to make sure they know their buildings' goals and work with the building leadership to make sure the library’s goals and budget directly support the building goals.

I would suggest that if things REALLY got bad, only items 1 and 2 will really save positions, even in our district. The rest of the list is great to do since it adds job security, but does not make the job indispensable since others could take these roles on.  I would encourage all librarians to find, articulate, and be held accountable for a piece of building reading initiatives (like item 5). I don't see that happening.

Using fix schedules as a means of achieving permanent positions in schools is demeaning if it is only seen as babysitting by the rest of the staff. Fixed schedules alone should not be why librarians are employed.

To me that leaves one main area that we need to continue to develop: having a mandated curriculum that we are responsible for teaching, assessing and reporting. If our roles did not exist, our kids would not get these skills - yes, much like being the math or reading teacher. (I've explored this idea before.) I am fighting for mandated IL/IT skills at both a state and national level. I'm doing this primarily because it is right for kids who will need these skills to survive in the 21st century economies. But I will happily accept job security as a side benefit.

A good question to ask ourselves is what do we do as librarians that justifies having us on the job, the cost of which results in more kids in a classroom, less technology, older curriculum materials or lower taxes? If the offer were made to your classroom teachers to have a couple fewer kids in class or better technology or a new reading series or a professional librarian in the school, which would they chose? What would parents choose? What would your principal chose? And most importantly, what would your kids choose?

You can build all the lists you want about why librarians are important. But in the end it comes down to "Why are librarians important in MY school?" I visited with library guru Mike Eisenberg last week. He believes we all need to be important in our own ways in meeting the needs of our individual buildings and teachers. Some schools will want a reading specialist, some a computer geek, some a Chief Information Officer or uber-reseacher, and some an information literacy teacher.  Be what your school needs you to be, he recommends. Good advice.

If you won the lottery and retired tomorrow, would your school replace you - and why? Is your position librarian-proof?

Image in this post is from the Library of Congress American Memories project. 


Caught in the RSS feed

Now and then I need to clear out those saved entries from by Bloglines RSS feed. Welcome to my scrapbook...


Two of my favorite bloggers have lately taken to commenting on the size of their blogs. Personally, I think this isize.jpgs unbecoming and invites Freudian-like speculation about what these gentlemen may be compensating for. Big cars, big boats, wives with big, big... hairdos, big antlers, and now big blogs. Guys!

A more interesting question than "so just how big IS my blog audience" is "so just what percent of educators actually read blogs?" One can have a number one education blog but if fewer than 5% of all educators read blogs (my guess), so what?


David Warlick at the 2 Cents Worth blog challenges librarians to share their 30 second elevator speech about why schools need them. Mr. Warlick has become a genuine advocate for school librarians lately (I like to think after visiting our MEMO library conference here). Shoot a message his way to say thanks.

"My job is to make sure all students have the information, technology and critical thinking skills they will need to thrive in a post industrial world, and that they don't just know how to learn, but love to learn."

That would be mine. Today anyway.


 bLaugh - the (un)Official Comic of the Blogosphere is clever in a nerdy sort of way. Feel guilty about spending too much time online if you get the jokes.


I've really been enjoying Pete Reilly's Ed Tech Journeys - probably because I can identify with many of the same issues he writes about as a tech director. Always insightful. Add it to your aggregator.

I'm linking to his Christmas story right here so I don't lose it.  I am also linking to Joe Poletti's Cherokee Wisdom on his Haulin' Net blog. I am a sucker for a tale with a message.

Librarians, if you are not reading Rob Darrow's California Dreamin', you're missing out. 


Need photos of old technology? Check this at Kathy Schrock's  blog. (I'll start writing the name out when she makes it easier to spell.) The rate of change graph on John Pederson's pedersondesigns is a keeper.


Interesting entries that talk about ISTE's adventures into Second Life:  by Minnesota's Tim Wilson at The Savvy Technologist; by Singapore's Jeff Utecht's The Thinking Stick; and by Australian librarian Judy O'Connell's HeyJude. The owner of Thinking Out Loud chimes in too. A bit mixed, but generally positive reactions. Of course after the LWW reads Joel Stein's (very funny) "My So Called Second Life" column, that environment may no longer be an option for me.


 I first encountered Seth Godin's ideas when writing a talk about marketing and stumbling across his concept of The Purple Cow (What is it about your business that makes it stand out from all the other businesses?) For some reason it has taken me forever to find and start reading his Seth's Blog. He probably has more original ideas in a week than I'll have in my lifetime. Pop, pop, pop.

I liked one of his recent entries, Levels of Effort. (He asks that people not blog about the entry, but puts it on his blog?) He lists four levels of marketing effort, ending with "No (Apparent) Effort." I had always thought I was just too lazy to actually market my speaking, writing and consulting services. As it turns out, it's just a "zen" thing. Of course it's easier to look nonchalant about getting such work when it is mostly beer money, not the mortgage payment.



Did you know Al Bell?

I always thought Al Bell had the best job in the world. When I was a little boy growing up on the prairie back in the 1950s and 60s, our small school would bring in an Al Bell Production once a year to give an "assembly" program. This is how I am guessing Mr. Bell made his living. Bell and his wife would take a very nice vacation somewhere exotic each summer. Now in small town Iowa circa 1960, "exotic" might have been interpreted a little differently than it is today. I remember some of the places Al traveled were Calgary in Canada, Mexico, Washington State, and Ireland. Anyway, the Bells would go to a place, take some slides, buy a native costume (the more outlandish the better), and couple music recordings. From these materials, he would spend an hour combining his slides, jokes, dancing, and a touch of mania on a stage in front of 500 delighted elementary school kids (and grateful teachers) in a gym or auditorium, in different schools every day throughout the school year. I'm guessing he charged maybe $50 a show, two shows a day. In the late 50's, working even 50 school days a year would have made him a rather nice income.

Does any one else remember Al Bell? I know he existed since I found reference to his programs in school histories on the web. I remember hearing that his home town may have been Menlo, Iowa. Let me know if you remember an Al Bell production - they always started with a ringing school bell.

I thought of Al Bell because I gave a short talk to my Kiwanis club today on my Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu last November. Heavy on slides, a little trivia (there is a depiction of the Last Supper in the Cuzco Cathedral where guinea pig is being served), and a straight account of the rigors of the hike. It was well received, and I thought, I've finally gotten my chance to be Al Bell!

Sometimes accomplishing the small goals are just as satisfying as accomplishing the big ones.




Update: May 2008 Thanks so much for all the responses and memories shared. Keep them coming! This photo came to me via blog reader. She attached a Christmas photo of the Bells from about 1958. bellfamily.jpg

There has been a great interest shown in finding and preserving the films and memorabilia from Al Bell's school programs by those of us who fondly remember him and appreciate the influence he and his wife had on our lives. They infused some wanderlust in many an Iowa farm kid! At some time, I will approach Iowa Public Television or the Iowa Historical Society with the this blog entry and all the interest shown, and hope they will pick up the ball. It may not happen until I retire - a mere 9 years away! In the meantime, if you'd like to leave a comment, sharing you memories of the Bells and leaving information about how family members might be contacted, please do so. Doug

Update: May 2008

Jim Calkins from West Branch Middle School is working on putting together a list of Bell's topics and schools at which he spoke. If have specific information about either of these things, please e-mail Jim at conn53victor (a) Thanks!

Here are a some newspaper articles from Wright County and Estherville about Al's visits.


Update: March 2010

Another Al Bell post here with a link to a Des Moines Register article about the Bells and a Facebook Fan page.

Update: August 2010

An Al Bell Film Festival, Sept 12, 2010 in Stuart, Iowa and a movement to restore his films!