If a librarian cannot lead his or her learning community, perhaps that librarian really is obsolete.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
(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:
- 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.
- Our district’s elementary media specialists cover prep time.
- Our district’s media specialists are the webmasters for their buildings.
- Our district’s media specialists have network administration duties.
- Our district’s media specialists are in charge of Accelerated Reader in the buildings that use it.
- Our district’s media specialists do staff development in technology.
- Our district’s media specialists serve on building site teams.
- Our district’s media specialists go to PTA meetings.
- Our district’s media specialists serve on curriculum committees.
- 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.