Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quality vs. Quantity

Evaluation and assessment. Essential to any fully functioning program. But how do we evaluate the school library program? And what happens if we don't assess it, are we going to get cut? This is what Wools tries to tackle in chapter 13.

Assessment of our programs is hard, for several reasons. First, we as humans hate to admit when we're wrong. It's painful to admit that you're not doing the best you can. So, we tend to avoid assessment, especially in the world of education.* Second, it's incredibly difficult (nay, impossible) to quantitatively assess a library. Actually, let me restate that: we shouldn't be quantitatively evaluating a library, because, as Wools said "collections may meet an arbitrary numerical count, but be out of date, in poor condition, or of no value to the current curriculum." This sort of counting of services and systems can be helpful, but it's very one-sided, and doesn't take into account the real humans and preferences they hold.

So, we need to qualitatively assess our library programs, systems, and services to get an accurate picture of where we are succeeding and failing. This is really hard, because it can be very subjective and it is difficult to accurately identify the problems that lead to failure. As Wools suggests, we should compare "what it is" to "what it should be," using accepted standards and practices as our guide.

Then we can delve into staff assessment, which is a touchy subject. It's touchy because administrators typically only assess teachers, which means they're not necessarily equipped with the right understanding to evaluate librarians. The requirements of running a school library are much different than the requirements for running a classroom, although they do overlap. I think the best way to assess whether you're doing a good job (or your assistant is doing a good job), is to compare you actions against what is required in your job description. In fact, we could apply the same logic used in qualitative analysis: what are we doing vs. what should we be doing. Hopefully, everything aligns.

Let's talk for a minute about collection evaluation. I love that Wools is so open about the fact that, although a collection should be evaluated every year, it probably only happens every five years. Even then, I don't think it happens as often as that. Especially in my current experience, I don't think the  libraries have been weeded in decades, if the books from the 40's and 50's are any indication. Of course, just because a book is old doesn't necessarily mean it's useless. However, we have a responsibility to our educational community to provide them with accurate and useful materials, so where does a book from 1973 on the future of lasers fit into that?

So, we've evaluated our systems and services, now what do we do? As Terrence E. Young Jr. says in Better Data, Better Decisions, we should "identify goals for improving the library media center program," "inform principals...and other stakeholders in order to gain support/advocacy for your library media center program," "secure additional funding," and "develop an action plan." In short, we collect data so we can implement the changes it suggests. Why would we ask the question if we just ignore the answer? I also see this as a huge part of advocacy. Document, document document (or as my undergrad history teacher said, cover your a**), if you want people to support you, then you need to show tem why they should support you. If you have a program that works, flaunt it! If you have a program that's broken, show how you can fix it!

This brings me to the most important, and most difficult, part of assessment: evaluating student learning. How do you assess whether students have learned when all you might get with them is a one-off lesson? And how do you take the information literacy skills from wrote knowledge, to something that is demonstrable in a test or assignment? Jan Mueller, in Authentic Assessment in the Classroom...and the Library Media Center, suggests that we can help students demonstrate these skills. We need to start by collaborating with teachers, evaluating ourselves and our assessment tasks, and then designing our student assessments to meet these needs. In order to effectively assess our students learning, we need to have more than just a standardized multiple choice test. It may mean we give them a test, it may also mean we evaluate a final product according to a rubric or checklist. Either way, it's going to be individualized to our students' experiences and needs.

*I personally think this is why there is so much backlash against teacher evaluations. If we're doing a good job, then we shouldn't be worried about being observed. Although, there are other political situations that most likely incite fear as well.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Web evaluation without a checklist

For the first 2/3rds of class, we were able to conference with Debbie Abilock about how we do web evaluation without having a checklist.  I think our final thoughts were, it's pretty impossible to commit everything that you need to know about web evaluation into a short checklist. There are too many grey areas, and subjective elements to have hard and fast rules about what should or should not be on a website. It's also difficult because one page might be fine and another page could be problematic. For example, the New York Times website has plenty of news stories, but it also has a lot of blogs, and it's difficult to tell the difference between the two. There was also some talk about vocabulary, I am now and always have been a big fan of calling things what they are, even if kids are too small to understand. Yes, they may not fully understand at the beginning, but we can't call the same thing by different names and not have that cause confusion.
After that we talked about budgets, which brought up an interesting ethical dilemma. If we're running out of money or our budgets are getting frozen, do we spend everything we have to make sure we can get the materials we need? I for one would hesitate to do this, but that might be my father's influence (he's an accountant). If we want school districts to be fiscally responsible, then we need to be an example. What I worry about, though, is frozen accounts that are because of political maneuvering, and not necessarily because there isn't enough money. I guess it all goes back to personal preference and what you would be comfortable with. As a favorite archives professor once said (in response to how we decide what to keep and what to throw away when creating an archive) "prepare for the long dark night of the soul" (I'm fairly certain he stole that from someone else, not sure who though).

Friday, April 6, 2012

The bottom lines

Budgeting

As Doug Johnson said in his blog "It is ethically irresponsible not to have a budget." If you work at a public school, it might even be illegal. I've always felt that having a budget gives you a tool to show not only your value, but also the value of the services you're providing. Also, we shouldn't be afraid of showing this, if we are providing excellent services, then our budget will show this. If not, then maybe we shouldn't be in that job (or we should reevaluate what we're doing). It also gives us an idea of what we need, where we can cut back or improve (save money!). Then in Wools The School Library Media Manager, we talk about planning and proposals. It's like any other management job, planning beforehand can and will save you in sticky situations in the long run. Also, I'm a big fan of documentation. Document your planning, your procedures, your successes, your failures. Document it not because you need to prove your worth, but because as a manger and leader, you need to keep these records for yourself, your program, and your successors. And my favorite piece of advise about budgeting comes from Dave Ramsey, a budget is not a goal. Budget for what you need, have a list of things you can buy when you have extra.

Personnel

There are many different areas of personnel management that teacher librarians need to think about. First, they must manage their own time, teaching, managing the library (equipment and personnel), budgeting, planning, collaborating, etc. Speak to your administrator and define you role, where you belong, how much they expect you to teach, what your role is within the school, budget, personnel, everything about your job and responsibilities. Get it in writing, be on the same page. Then plan your job (as much as you possibly can) around this, evaluate yourself, and be evaluated by your administrator. Set goals and meet them. And, let's be honest, this is how any job is/should be.
Second, managing the library staff (if you're lucky enough to have some), what are their responsibilities, what should they be doing and when, how much decision making freedom do they have, etc. Have defined job descriptions and talk about what is expected. Everything that you do with your administrator, you should be doing with your assistant(s)
Third, parent volunteers. This is especially important in elementary schools, where parents tend to be more involved. It's a good way to meet parents, and have them feel more connected to the library. Don't let parents think they own the space, and if they aren't helping, then they shouldn't be there, but also invite them in and let them do the work that neither you nor your assistant have time for (shelving, cleaning, moving things, etc.), do not give them jobs that your assistant or you should be doing, or you risk making yourself obsolete.

Professional Associations

As Blanche Wools says in her chapter Leadership and Your Professional School Library Association, "What 'the association' can do is limited only by the ability of members to make things happen." Oh goodie, something else the librarian has to do, but only if you want to keep ahead. It's a question of participation and priorities, which isn't to say that if you don't want to participate or become a leader, then you're an inadequate librarian. No matter what you do, you're choosing one thing over another, so choose the place where you feel comfortable. Also, we keep talking about these things as though we need to do everything, for everyone, everywhere, the minute we walk in the door. We don't, nor are we expected to (and if we are, we don't want to work there anyway, seriously). What we are expected to do (and what we should expect from ourselves), is to make a plan, continue to learn and grow, and improve ourselves. Start from the bottom, join a committee, help out with something, make friends, network, and then, when you're good and ready, do more.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Everything is Really Difficult Right Now

Throughout our class on Friday, especially our discussion following Addie's visit, my Mom's voice kept popping up in my head saying "life is tough, get a helmet." 
Life is really hard, we have a crappy economy, a clearly broken education system, social upheaval, anger, violence, wars, rumors of wars, and a whole list of other problems that I choose not to think about. Not because I don't want to recognize them, but because I choose not to live my life in fear of what could happen and chance missing out on what is actually happening. I think that is our biggest problem right now, in the world of school libraries (and by extension, the world in general) we are living in a state of constant fear. Fear of budgets, parents, offending someone, losing our jobs, losing our houses, moving, staying in the same place, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
So, what do we do? We can't control the world, we can't sit on a hiring board and hire ourselves to a position, we can't tell people what they should think or do (much to our dismay, at times),  we can't raise every child, and we can't expect that everyone we come into contact with will have the same understanding of the problems the world is facing right now. What we can do, what we can control, is what we do on an individual basis. We can be examples of what we want the world to be, by implementing the personal and professional networks that we have talked about, aligning our teaching to our values and principles as school librarians, reach out to our school community, advocate for more inquiry-based lessons that are academically rigorous, and create a library or media center that provides a home for those who want to explore the world around them. And we still might lose our jobs, or, worse, not find one at all. We'll probably work with teachers who don't care to teach. We'll definitely come into contact with parents who are closed-minded or lack adequate parenting skills. But, we know where we stand and what we believe, and sometimes you have to fight for that.

Yes, life is tough, there is no doubt about it. I choose to wear a helmet.