Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

Locations of visitors to this page

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





The Ethical Conference Attendee

Sometime during my library school days, I am sure I was introduced to the issue of being an ethical librarian. I’m sure I learned what I needed to know for the test. Administrators for whom I worked have never seemed to overly scrutinize my professional ethics as a librarian, nor were professional ethics ever topmost in my thoughts as I was struggling to run a program.

Had it not been for a series of editorials by Lillian Gerhardt (1990, 1991) that appeared in School Library Journal, I don’t think that I would have remembered that there is a code of ethics for librarians.

In these editorials, Gerhardt interpreted the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association in its application to the practice of school librarianship and service to children. This business of right and wrong was clarified, and she asked me to think about these issues in my daily work.

Whenever I attend a professional conference, I ruminate about ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement VI: We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

In a school setting, I never get much chance to violate this sixth standard. I’ve never been offered a huge sum of cash or an exotic vacation in exchange for purchasing a grossly inferior encyclopedia instead of the World Book or Groliers. Probably just as well.

But Gerhardt in her comments on this statement also asks if accepting vendor purchased meals at conferences or adding vacation days to out-of-town conferences violates this ethical standard. What about skipping a conference session to attend a “shopping event?” Ever go on a conference tour that had only a marginal connection to your job? How about partying so late at night, you miss (or can’t focus) on the first session in the morning.

These infractions seem to be small potatoes in a world of political “contributions” and school boards being wined-and-dined in luxurious settings by big technology companies, but if your school district is paying your conference expenses and considers your days at the conference as paid contract days, a person ought to think about whether s/he is making the most of a conference.

I am keenly aware that anyone who writes about or advocates for high standards of professional ethics is held to those standards themselves (dammit). And yes, you may have seen me sipping a glass of wine or eating a meal provided by a vendor. I hope, at least, I had a guilty look on my face.

Where and how do you draw the line about free meals or free time at conferences? I need guidance!


Hi Doug,
Earlier this year, the vendor who won the bid for two Opening Day Collections in our system invited the two librarians and our supervisor to see their operations in a mid-western state. The vendor paid for everything–hotel, limo rides, airfare, meals–and although this was set up completely after the contract was awarded, I still felt guilty for going. I felt more guilty when a friend/co-worker told me that she wouldn’t have gone, citing ethical reasons. Your post has me wondering about it and feeling guilty again.

I know this is a different situation than a conference, but I look at a conference the same way I do a regular work day–after my 7 1/2 hours of contract time, anything else I put in is extra. If I go overtime one day, can I take a little back the next? I think that at a conference, I can. Hope this doesn’t open the can of worms further!

Comment by Jann — October 9, 2005 @ 9:55 pm

Aha! I find aspects of the ethical debate everywhere in society. It even showed up in an earlier episode of ER regarding pharmaceutical companies. Makes you think! I have talked to vendors about this issue in the past when I told them I wasn’t a customer or wouldn’t allow a good meal to influence future spending. (Fortunately when your budget is cut in half, discretionary spending opportunities for unethical use disappear.) Vendors insist I am still welcome. My cynicism is always handy. Lately I have found myself selecting items from certain vendors that I can happily “share the brand.” FOr example, I love the NASA stuff that was at conference taking many things for my science teachers, but also asked ABC-CLIO for post-it notes since I no longer purchase them. If you ask at the end of the conference, many will gladly allow you to carry them home instead of them having to pack and ship. I haven’t bought post-it notes since Midwinter in Philadelphia. I was laughing about this once with a drug rep in a hospital elevator and he handed me some post-it notes to use which advertised an anti-anxiety med. Those I used with teachers!

Comment by Diane Chen — October 11, 2005 @ 8:44 pm


Letter from the Flat World Library Corporation

This post also appears as a "cleaned-up" column.

Judging by the plans I hear from vendors at this AASL conference, I wouldn’t be surprised to read this letter in the not too distant future…

October 7, 2007

Superintendent Dennis Wormwood
Left Overshoe Public Schools
Left Overshoe, MN 56034

Dear Superintendent Wormwood:

We at the Flat World Library Corporation can offer you a complete library program at a very attractive price.

For considerably less than you currently pay for your K-12 library program, we can provide a full range of library resources AND library expertise – all online.

For only pennies a day per student, FWLC will:

1. Provide a full range of reading materials (periodicals, picture books, fiction and non-fiction titles), videos and reference sources that are tailored to your state standards, your district’s curriculum and your digital textbook series. These resources are being continuously updated, and are available, of course, in a wide range of lexile ranges to support your differentiated instruction efforts. Our filters allow you to specify access only to the materials supporting your community’s views on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights to evolution. Select from “university community” to “small town Kansas” in your settings.

2. Provide ready reference services, student research help, readers’ advisory service, and curricular planning advice through our real-time connections (video, chat or e-mail) to our experts in Bangalore, India. These highly-qualified MLS certified professionals will be available 24/7 to both your staff and students from school or home. (Do you currently get service from your library staff outside of school hours, in the summer or on weekends?)

3. Allow teachers to submit student work for comment and assessment. Our staff will give each project a grade, check for plagiarism, and provide a report for each child to share with parents about the technology skill level of that student. We can even help your teachers design assignments and assessments so they are free to lecture.

Just think of the advantages:

- No musty books from the 1950’s cluttering your library shelves, driving up your insurance rates. No more lost or missing books. No gum under library desks.
- No library facilities. Turn that old library space into those badly needed special education classrooms.
- No annoying librarians who want more money for materials, support staff, and staff development (or a living wage and health insurance). Our highly-skilled Indian workers are delighted with their $5 per hour jobs!
- Your entire library program can be maintained by a single, semi-competent technician in your district.
- You can justify your district’s expensive, unpopular 1:1 computer/student initiative.
- No ugly book “challenges” since all materials have been “tailored” to your parents’ religious views.

Please read the attached study (scientifically-based research conducted by FWLC’s very own research department) that empirically demonstrates that the FWLC product can dramatically improve student performance where it counts - on high stakes tests. (FWLC has been approved by the DOE for Title II, III, IV, and IX funding – unlike traditional library materials and librarians.)

AND take advantage of our offer by December 31, and we will throw in absolutely free, 50 of MIT’s $100 laptops for families in your district that qualify for FRP meals! Act today!

Coming soon – special pricing for regional and state-wide purchases.

Bob Screwtape,
President and CEO
Flat World Library Corporation
300 Gates Drive
Redmond WA

Will you, as a librarian, be prepared when this letter appears in YOUR superintendent’s mailbox in the next couple years?

(Oh, and please don’t kill the messenger!)


The only saving grace in such a future environment will be that the cost will be a big number - and maybe scare the small-minded buyer. But many decision-makers would go for it without consulting the media/tech folk — that’s the shame of our current situation.

I was very interested to see the Adolecsents Read! newsletter from New York Life Foundation efforts at revitalizing high school libraries. Results like this will have to be highlighted to make our decision-makers see there are other avenues.

Comment by KM Perry — October 8, 2005 @ 8:52 am

Speaking of big numbers… yesterday 9 colleagues and I went to an International Baccalaureate PYP promo at the state dept. of education. IBO staff claimed it was not a “silver bullet.” Have to admit it was a nice curriculum. Pricetag??: The number I’m hearing for 4 elementary schools in our small district is $1,500,000. Hmmmm. Our school board, and administraters are besides themselves to jump all over it. That IB school certification may not be a “silver bullet,” but the higher powers think it’s a panacea. They are hoping it will help market our schools, two of which didn’t make AYP. Hmmmm. (Hope the ditrict filter is set to “small town Kansas” so they can’t see this blog comment.)

Comment by John Dyer — October 8, 2005 @ 10:30 am

More Flat Libraries

Doug Johnson, library and technology guru, has been pondering the impact of the flattening of the world on school libraries. In the very interesting format of an advertising letter for an outsourcing takeover of a school library, Doug Johnson covers ma…

Trackback by Infomancy — October 8, 2005 @ 3:20 pm

Please take a look at Chris Harris’ comments on libraries in a flat world on his Infomancy website. Chris, you’re way ahead of me!

Libraries in a Flat World
Libraries in a Flat World II

On second thought, just put Infomancy in your RSS feed!




Serving the Non-Certified – or Not?

Greetings from AASL in Pittsburgh where I have spent most of Thursday in my capacity of editorial board member for Linworth and in a “think-tank” for Scholastic. At both meetings an interesting question was raised, one which had also come up a year ago at one of our state school library association membership meetings.

“How should we be serving those working in school libraries that may not be certified and have minimal to non-existent training in librarianship?”

It is an interesting and dangerous question, and one that seems to be more important each year, as non-certified library staff (seemingly) replace more and more professional library staff in schools.


Define “certified”. I have my MLS, but I am not a state-certified school librarian (most independent schools do not require that). I would wager that I run as good (if not better) a program as many of my state-certified peers.

Comment by Laura — October 6, 2005 @ 9:12 pm

Since I was very recently one of those “uncertified” I wanted to throw in a few thoughts. I have a masters in instructional technology and am certified in that area. My technology degree involved some credits from a school of library and information science as well as other courses that overlapped with library classes.

I was working as an instructional technology coordinator when, after two failed state-wide searches, I had an opportunity to move into the library world as a school library system coordinator. I immediately began pursuing an MLS and have since then received supplemental (temporary) certification as a school librarian.

Now I will be very open and honest in saying that there were those who felt that I should never have been hired. This wasn’t a case of an organization choosing to “downgrade” their services by going with an uncertified person, but rather an inability to find a certified candidate.

My commitment to finishing my MLS and receiving full certification is making my life rather difficult (not whining, it was my choice to take a job that would include receiving two additional advanced degrees). I appreciate the “support” I am receiving as I work towards this. I actually have it a lot easier than others, though. In New York State, in order for a teacher to become certified as a school librarian she/he is going to have to take an UNPAID 2 month leave of absence from their job. And yet, I see a lot of cases where uncertified teachers are stepping up to the challenge because they want to be fully committed to meeting the library and information needs of their students and school.

Providing support to non-instructional staff that are serving as “library managers” is another issue entirely. I struggle with that as well, but in the end I probably come down on the side of not cutting off my nose to spite my face. I hate that districts are forced to do this (and hate even more when they just decide to do this), but I also don’t want to hurt the students because of “bad choices” by others.

Comment by Christopher Harris — October 7, 2005 @ 11:31 am

There are two distinct camps on this issue. If we provide training, professional membership and support materials to these folks, we are enabling these sorts of displacements. Are we, in other words, directly contributing to the demise of the profession by helping create minimally functioning replacements for those of us with MLS degrees?

The other camp says, “Face reality. These folks exist, they are NOW serving our kids, and for the sake of the kids they work with, how can we not give them all the skills we can? Our children’s interests must supercede our professional pride.”

Man, this is a tough one, and one that goes to long-term and short-term best interests of kids. And I am undecided, believe it or not.

I did explore this topic in a “banned” column back in 1995.

Love to hear your opinion on the topic. Support the non-certified or not?