If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again. Then give up. There's no use being a damned fool about it. - W. C. Fields
I really do know there are times when it is just better to keep my big mouth shut (or fingers still). One of those times is when "collaboration" is being discussed by librarians, as was the case over on the LM_Net listserv this past week. Collaboration, flexible scheduling and an integrated curriculum are sort of the three big sacred cows of the established school library world. And as Gail Dickinson once commented, I tend to commit indecent acts with sacred cows - in public. (Gail, if you are reading this, that was still one of the nicest introductions I've ever received.)
Let me say right off that I have no problem with collaboration. I endorse it heartily when it comes to planning and budgeting and policy-making. Sometimes it makes sense in the classroom. (See Collaboration and Reflection.) But my button is pushed when librarians start sounding like collaboration itself is the goal, not simply a means of achieving one - a sentiment I shared in a column published about a year ago, "Caution with Collaboration."
The following comes from Judi Moreillon, a highly-respected member of the school library profession. I hate getting criticism from people like Judi since she is smart, experienced, well-educated, caring, selfless, and definitely has her heart in the right place. Damn. Here goes:
You don't need to apologize, Doug. You are entitled to your opinion. Clearly, many of us, who have spent a significant number of years in classrooms and libraries teaching students, disagree with you. [For the record, I was a school librarian for 12 years and library supervision has been a part of my job for the past 15 years.]
1. I don't know anyone who views collaboration as a goal. As far as I know, no one has taken their eyes off the prize - student learning and achievement. My experience, the research, and common sense tell me that collaborating with a student's classroom teacher helps the teacher-librarian make a greater different in that student's learning. [Check the studies, like Library Power, that emphasize that a positive result of a library improvement effort is that it contributes to "more collaboration" as though it were a goal.]
It's math. In a school of 350, 750, or 1600, who spends more time with individual students, the classroom teacher or the teacher-librarian? [If the argument here is that when there is one librarian for 1600 kids, I will agree that the only way s/he can have a school-wide impact is primarily by doing staff development. If that collaboration, so be it.]
2. As part of a learning community, we should be interdependent. Non-collaboration assures isolation. Providing poor examples of collaboration does not make your case.
Like all educators, teacher-librarians should be constantly improving their technology skills and teaching practices and helping others improve theirs. We do not want to make students dependent on us. Why would we want to make teachers dependent on us? Learning is social. It's done best in the company of peers. [The last section of my column made this very point - that we need to be interdependent, not co-dependent. I would disagree that all learning is social for all people. A big mistake we make as teachers is assuming everyone learns in the same way we ourselves do.]
3. No, collaboration doesn't make us indispensable. My own career history is testimony to that. What collaboration does is make our work significant and meaningful. I would take that over security any day. [I know you walk the talk on this one and I sincerely admire your conviction. My own career has always been a balancing act between idealism and paying the mortgage. For many librarians I hope that collaboration is just one of things that make their work significant and meaningful, not the only thing.]
But I am concerned for the future of our profession. In Arizona, we have been steadily losing library positions. Being viewed as a critical part of the instructional team - as educators who get results - is the best way I know to reverse this trend. [Here's where my pragmatism kicks in. I always ask myself is it better to have a librarian working with kids in less than ideal circumstances or to not have a librarian at all. And I always come down on the side of having a librarian regardless of the circumstances. When budget cuts come, it is the person with specific mandated responsibilities that survives. It is the math teacher teaching math skills; the reading teacher teaching reading skills, etc. Why should the library teacher not be teaching library (technology and information literacy) skills? We know that best practices show both reading and math should be integrated/practiced/applied throughout the curriculum, but we still retain those teaching positions that have genuine accountability for seeing that the skills are mastered. One way of looking at a "team" is two people doing the job that could be done by one. Collaboration is NOT making us indispensable, as you agree, and after 3o years in this direction we as a profession must try something different or will no longer exist. As Mr. Field says in the opening quote, "No sense being a damned fool about it."]
I wish you would post this to your blog where people can comment in a public forum. Perhaps you have and I missed it. [Judi, if you would like a chance to respond to my comments, I will promise to publish them here sans my editorial comments next time.]
Judi Moreillon, Ph.D.
Literacies and Libraries Consultant
OK, adding my replies probably isn't fair. I WILL give Judi the last word if she replies.
Blue Skunk readers??? Weigh in!