Monday, January 30, 2012

Why do we do anything?

It's hard to think about the future of libraries, even worse when you think about the future of education. At times it feels like we're on runaway train that's about to jump the track into the void of obsolescence. Discussing this in class, it's hard to not get weighed down by the discussion of the future, the job market, the increasing lack of respect for the profession, and the general state of the world of education; on the other hand, it gives us the opportunity  and the impetus for change. Yes, a petition to the president asking him to support quality school libraries seems ridiculous, but then I look at the Arab spring we just had, where Twitter was a key component in overthrowing corrupt governments (let us not dwell on the fact that they may have been replaced by equally corrupt governments). The fact is that we are not the only ones feeling inadequate. Educators in general are feeling overwhelmed and under-appreciated and, at least in this country, we are rapidly moving towards the breaking point. These feelings, according to incidental research done by talking to friends and looking at my Facebook feed, are not just in the education field either. The change in the world that has occurred in the past decade alone blows my mind.

I'm going back to David Lankes the so-called "new librarianship", which views our situation as one of opportunity as opposed to obsolescence. Our circumstances are not going to change; we are always going to need to fight for our roles to be recognized. What we can change is our attitude.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What am I supposed to do again?

With budget cuts, changing technology and educational reform, the role of a librarian is changing drastically. How do you justify your role as librarian in a place that may not understand that you can be a valuable member of the instructional team, or that your role can be more than shelving books, laminating all the things*, and providing a space for faculty meetings.
To me, there are three specific ways in which you can position yourself as a member of the instructional staff, rather than as a member of the paraprofessional assistants.
First, know what you are responsible for (what is defined in your job description)and be really flexible. As discussed in the Knowledge Quest article, Developing the Vision: An L4L Job Description for the 21st Century, the librarians job description has changed dramatically in the recent years, and the new role embraced by AASL includes leadership in instructional matters, as well as in the library setting. Honestly, reading the sample job description is rather overwhelming, how could I possible do all those things and be really effective? Especially when you consider the practice of having librarians go between schools (I was reading a post on LM_NET about a woman who was in charge of seven elementary schools, that's not librarianship, that's administration). Sometimes doing the best job (or even preserving the job at all) requires sacrifices. So, if it's the choice between having no librarian at all and managing more than one school, the answer seems less daunting. The flexibility of the role is

Second, pick your battles. Yes, we want to be agents of change, as discussed in the Harada and Hughes-Hassell article Facing the Reform Challenge: Teacher-Librarians as Change Agents, but we also need to realize that change takes time, building trust and mutual respect, and can't be forced upon people. I saw this recently at the schools I'm working at. Both are implementing changes in the grading/assessment. The first one introduced the change in a professional development course, where no one had heard about it beforehand and had no time to adjust to the ideas presented; they reacted poorly. The second one has introduced ideas at every faculty meeting, discussing possible changes they can make and how the can implement these things on their own. Clearly something is coming down the pipe, but the faculty has been given the time and information to prepare themselves for the change. By planting seeds of evolving instructional and technological practices, school librarians can begin to implement the educational reform that is so desperately needed. Sure, they aren't going to succeed every time, but they can help change minds, and one mind changed will help others to change, and eventually we'll have a new generation of teachers who will demand the reforms that we need.

Third, be a lifelong learner. The theme that goes through all the articles we read was that we have specific duties and we can't let them fall by the wayside. We need to be constantly evolving our practice, improving our instructional techniques, and modeling the lifelong learning behavior that we want to see in our students. In order to do this, we must participate in professional development, read relevant material (journals, books, etc.), and interact with fellow school librarians to learn what  is and is not working. Being an expert, as described in the classic How People Learn, takes continual practice. In the book  The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell it is proposed that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. As a second year student in a SLM program, I have nowhere near 10,000 hours. It is going to take years of practice, learning, and new understanding to become a good school librarian, and that only happens if I continually work on my skills.

Overall, it can be rather daunting, but it can happen. I know I have the motivation and the desire,  now I just need the patience to know that it won't be perfect all the time, and I won't necessarily succeed at everything.

Original comic from, Template from

Speaking of Mission Statements

If you don't know what is, I suggest you go check it out immediately. I follow their blog, partially for their daily deals, partially for their flash in the brainpan game recommendations, and partially for information such as this gem about writing mission statements. It's tongue-in-cheek mostly, but it makes some good points about making mission statements in the real world.

from the blog post, the difference between a mission (saying it out loud) and a spy (not saying it out loud).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Skyping is the future of Education

While it wasn't preferable to be sick, it was interesting to Skype into class. With distance education becoming increasingly popular, it was interesting to be in the position of the student and whether or not it's effective. Having Skyped in to classes twice now, there are definitely pros and cons, but it could be effective, if you have a teacher/professor who calls on you (otherwise it's really awkward because there's no way to virtually raise your hand). Anyway, that's not really what we talked about in class.
Fixed vs. flex, as if we must choose one or the other. I find debates like this in education (and the world in general) all the time, as if it's black and white and one side is wrong while the other side is right. In all honesty, I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Yes, students need to be in the library on a regular basis if you want them to use it; yes, we should encourage them to come on their own (because they want to be there); but there's usually only one library and a lot of kids in the school (the place I'm working this semester, there's one librarian for 2 schools, each with 1000 students). It's not as if the librarian can go to each staff member individually and work with them one on one to develop ways to integrate the library into their curriculum, that's just not feasible. On the other hand, strict fixed schedules, where the librarian has classes coming in one after the other, with little or no time for preparation is definitely not the answer. So, it's somewhere in between; Option C: no you don't have to come in every week on a fixed schedule, but you do need to come in at some point.
Rating the importance of tasks was eye-opening. I less put them in order of importance (did that make any sense). Here they are, for you viewing pleasure:

  1. Creating a nurturing culture for students.
  2. Creating an intellectually rigorous culture
  3. Student access to the physical library outside of the school day
  4. Developing collaborative practices with students
  5. Ethics and Digital citizenship
  6. Citizenship
  7. Love of reading
  8. Free reading
  9. Collection development
  10. Shelving of materials
  11. Teaching web site evaluation
  12. Teaching web site searching
  13. Teaching opac/catalog searching
  14. Professional learning communitites.
  15. Collaborative teaching
  16. Being a school-wide curriculum leader
  17. Taking a lunch break with colleagues
  18. Incorporating technology and Web 2.0 skills
  19. A web presence for you schools
  20. Cataloging
  21. Weeding
  22. Reading contests and promotions
  23. Book Clubs
  24. Teaching the Dewey Decimal System
  25. Creating PR materials
  26. Bulletin boards promoting the library
  27. Planning author visits
  28. Selling school supplies
  29. Laminating of materials
  30. Overdue notices and fines
Why are overdue notices last, well, because we're in a school library. Honestly, any library should be pleased you have a book out, whether it's late or not, as long as you return it sometime. Sure, at the end of the year you should have it returned, and maybe we'll remind you when you check other books out, but it's not of utmost importance.
I presented a short (5 minute) talk at a student run conference yesterday about Customer Service skills and this relates to how I feel about those tasks at the end of the list. No, I didn't get a Master's degree to laminate things for you or make bulletin boards, but if laminating something for you on occasion or helping you make a bulletin board is going to get you into the library, then I am going to do it. Being nice, gracious, happy to help, that's going to get you further in the long run.

Finally, a mission statement. I agree that the library shouldn't have it's own mission statement, but I, as a librarian, would have my own. Maybe it should be a personal motto, as opposed to a mission statement.  Mine: As a school librarian, in conjunction with teachers, administrators, lawmakers, community members, and parents, I am responsible for instilling in future generations of students with the information literacy skills that help them construct an understanding of how the world works, what their role can and should be, and what resources and tools are available for their use. I can provide this by working with the instructional staff, curriculum directors, administrators, parents and students to gain basic information literacy skills upon which they can construct further understanding.

Right, probably too long for a motto.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The flexible line between educator and administrator

Flexibility within teaching is essential, educators need to be able to work quickly when lessons don't pan out as expected, throw new lessons together on the fly, and generally be open to change. However, the environment they are working in is anything but flexible. School days are planned carefully, sometimes down to the minute, with specific timeframes set out for specific activities. So, the question is, how can we be flexible within an inflexible environment?
In Kathy Hribar's article A Journey Towards Inquiry, she confronted this same question. The answer, as found by her, is to make small changes in your lessons. Big changes aren't necessary, small and simple steps, with time and patience will make the greatest difference. Doug Johnson takes a bit of a different tact, but comes to a similar conclusion, in his article Make Your Point-It's Good to Be Inflexible. As School Librarians, we are constantly being asked to prove our worth as both educators and members of the administration, how can we do this when teachers can choose to never take advantage of the services offered? We are forcing teachers, who might already have biases against the necessity of school libraries, to choose to go to the library amongst their already packed schedules. If we made it a natural part of the education system, where time was always set aside, we allow teachers and students the opportunity to explore what the library has to offer.
This flexibility of a school librarian is helpful when considering the role they can play with the administration of the school. Because they exist on the line between educator and administrator, librarians can present the outside eye on how scheduling works, but they also can work with a bigger cohort to help flesh out this perspective.
To me, this duality of roles is the most attractive part of being a school librarian. As a classroom teacher, it was particularly difficult to get outside of my classroom or department to see how the rest of the school worked. As a librarian, I hope to get outside this box and explore how the school works as a whole.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NCLB, standards, and the current face of school libraries

Standards are important, but how are we monitoring them and who is dictating what is important. I remember when No Child Left Behind was passed and how there were two main reactions: the supporters  who wanted school choice and reform and those who want reform, but not with massive standardized testing as the measuring stick.
As was discussed in Chapter 2 of Wools book (readings form the first week), when we rely on standardized testing, we are putting the future of education into the hands of the test maker. We are also handicapping our school systems into using assessment tools that aren't necessarily effective.
Despite this, there are parts of NCLB that I like and think are incredibly effective, if they are done properly. First is the idea of Highly Qualified teachers, also discussed in Wools the first week, there was a point in time when teachers were pushed through simply because we needed someone in the classroom with the students. Rules were bent or broken to accomodate the influx of students, and when the influx waned, we had tenured teachers that weren't necessarily qualified to teach. Of course years of experience should count for something, there wasn't the pedagogical or theoretical foundation for these impromptu teachers. So, yes, making sure that your teachers are prepared and capable of implementing commonly accepted standards and practices is a good thing. Also, making sure that the person teaching English has more than a degree in underwater basket weaving is preferable (man, I wish that degree existed and provided a good job, I would be all over that).
After break we turned to discussing the e-book School Libraries: What's Now, What's Next, What's Yet to Come. It's a collection of essays from librarians, students, school librarians, and others (including a furniture manufacturer!) about the future of school libraries. My particular favorite was by Elizabeth Friese called School Libraries and Run-On Sentences, One of the most powerful ideas is the following excerpt:
People often ask me, why do we still need school libraries? We are just about books, and (so they say), books aren't essential anymore...right?

As we look to the future of school libraries, I see us as a run-on sentence of sorts.

People outside librarianship are often so anxious to box us in, to define us. They want to apply their grammar to the library - a place that is, at its heart, artful, authentic, and inquiring.
At times it is easy to get caught up in the "or" questions others pose. Are we the curriculum or student interests? Are we books or digital resources? Are we words or pictures? Are we questions or answers? Are we teaching or learning?

I refuse those choices. I refuse to box school libraries in with the word or.

The school library is all about and. We are passion and knowledge, rigor and laughter. We are study and sharing, talking and listening. We are content and choice, paper and pixel. We are what our community creates, and what we share from elsewhere, and connecting all of those resources together to form a place that both reflects and contributes. In the future, we will continue to welcome and incorporate new technologies, ways of communicating, and modes of meaning. Like one long breath of freedom and air, we will break new ideas open into all the colors you can imagine.

School libraries are the and in the educational community. By being and, we multiply.

I firmly believe in this idea that we can be more than the shelvers and shushers of yesteryears, that if we are open to new ideas, new technologies and are constantly evolving our strategies, then we can face any challenge.

In addition to this, I feel like we go into the system and want to change it dramatically overnight, which is impossible. Things happen slowly, over time, with gentle nudging, not by telling the involved parties what they've been doing for years (perhaps even decades) is entirely wrong and always has been.

It's definitely daunting to try and grasp all these things at once, straddling the line between teacher and librarian, but it also provides a unique perspective and opportunity to see the problems and solutions from multiple angles.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Standing for Something

I've heard of the term Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) before. In fact, I have previously worked at a place where BHAG's were commonly put forth by employees (it was a management company for a franchise of KFC's, their goals were clearly and constantly stated, truly one of the best companies I have ever worked for).

At another previous employer, we discussed having a creed, a written description of our beliefs and values. Writing this creed was an eye-opening and, ultimately, rewarding experience. I was forced to think about who I was, what I expected from myself, where I was going in life, and why it all mattered (on a side note, it was that job that largely encouraged me to go back to school). BHAG's and creeds inhabit the same space for me, in the sense that they are written descriptions of who we are and what we stand for. They are, and should be, ambitious, forcing you to think outside of your current capabilities and inhabit a new space where you are challenged. What better place to encourage ambitious, innovative, and mentally stimulating goals than at a school library?

Our jobs as school librarians, in my mind, is to help students break outside of their normal box of thinking and doing, and inhabit the "what-if" spaces. Exploring and daring the world around them to challenge their thinking and perceptions. Granted, this won't necessarily succeed with every student, every school, in every situation, but if our mission statement, clearly stated, helps others (i.e., teachers, administrators, parents, etc.) to step outside their comfort zones and try something new, then we've succeeded.

Some would argue that mission statements are tripe, put forth by administrators and executives who have too much time on their hands (which is true in some cases). School libraries should have mission statements that align with the school to clearly state who they are, why they are important, and what we should expect from them in the long run. We expect students to be define their long-term goals, why should we expect any less from ourselves?

If you're wondering why I don't share my creed (which is me really assuming a lot), it's because I've saved it somewhere on my computer and can't find it. I need some sort of cataloging schema for my files.


I realize we're supposed to comment on class, the problem is I did not attend class, because I was at a meeting about student teaching. Yes, student teaching, which I will be doing this semester at a middle school (7-8) and intermediate school (5-6).

Let me say, this is not my first foray into student teaching, hence I was somewhat annoyed at the prospect of sitting through 4 hours of information session about what to expect, how to deal with mentor teachers, and the really fun portion where you talk about the signs of child abuse (I wish that was not necessary). However, it was partially what I expected it to be, but also much more. The best part was a professor who did not mince words about student teaching, the job hunt, and avoiding failure. I feel like there's this tendency in academia to hold your hand and tell you that you're doing a better job than you really are. Some people would like this, I, however, hate it. I would much rather you told me straight out the good and the bad and then I wouldn't be surprised when something doesn't work out. I also appreciated the straight talk about job hunting. I have friends who have applied to every job that they could possibly qualify for, whether or not they would want to work there, because they're concerned they won't find anything at all. I understand this (talk to me about mountains of debt and having no job to pay for it some other time), but I can't imagine being in a job that I really didn't want to begin with. Their advice was to be open to the fact that you probably won't get a job until the third week of August.

It's a lot to process this semester, trying to do school, student teaching, applying to jobs (I'm going to a job fair at the beginning of February and I'm terrified), working a little on the side (only 7 hours, so it doesn't really count, right), and the regular social activities that cannot be sacrificed (Monday night trivia at Conor O'neils). Overall, though, I'm actually really looking forward to it (check back in a month and see if I feel the same way).

Monday, January 9, 2012

Standards standards everywhere, what is one to think?

The evolution of education in America has been a tricky process. As Blanche Wools discussed in her book The School Library Media Manager, "American education has been, is, and always will be in a state of change.  New theories are developed, refined, implemented-usually before they are tested adequately-then discarded in a cycle that finds educators reinventing wheels". Education is a constantly evolving process, with the outcome either being students who are prepared for life (or continued education) or who are incapable of entering the adult world. It's a high price to pay, hence we have developed standards, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, that set forth accountability standards that have long been overlooked by desperate administrators who needed a staff to teach the burgeoning number of students. 

School librarians can be the benefactors of these standards, or they can be lost in the shuffle (like so many other programs before them). With focusing on reading instruction and the necessity of preparing students with valuable information literacy skills to succeed at required standardized tests, School Librarians can and should play an essential role in the education system. 

Standard systems, such as the AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners, go a long way towards establishing the basic skills that librarians are working towards imparting in their students. These skills aren't necessarily measurable with a standardized test, but they are dispositions in action that are usable across curriculum and subjects. These are preparation for real life, not just for passing on to the next grade. 

Standards are valuable tools for defining where we want to end up and should be used as a starting point, or framework, for our instruction. The idea being that our instruction will teach these skills in the naturally progression of a class. Maybe it doesn't always work out as planned, but it does save us from constantly trying to reinvent the wheel and ensures that students are receiving a fair chance at education.