Sunday, October 3, 2010

Make Your Library Indispensable: Or Why Professional Development is Not A Luxury.

I wrote this article for the North Carolina School Library Media Association's Media Connections Newsletter AFTER being inspired by the folks behind a recent TLCafe Webinar (Shannon Miller and Gwyneth Jones among others) on how to make your school-library indispensable.

Make Your Library Indispensable:  Professional Development is Not a Luxury
by Jennifer LaGarde

I'm proud to be a part of this publication and to be a part of our profession.
Like so many libraries recently, mine received no funding this year. Even so, I am grateful.
Despite the fact that, when all the cards were played, I was left holding an empty bag, I
feel fortunate to have at least had a place at the table and a voice in the budgetary process
at our school. And it is for this reason that, in a year when even my personal budget seems
to be hemorrhaging red ink, I have made attending NCSLMA’s annual conference a priority.
In my experience, too often, when money gets tight, one of the first things cut is the
budget for professional development. Believe me, I get it. When the dollars start to dwindle,
it only makes sense to eliminate those line items that don’t represent an immediate
need. And yet, given the tough economic times we find ourselves in, I can’t help but think
that by cutting professional development from the “necessary expense” column that, rather
than trimming the fat, we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot.

As I said, even though my library received no funding this year, I feel fortunate because
at least I had a voice in the discussion that resulted in this decision. But more importantly, I
know that I would never have been included in that discussion had my principal not seen
me as a shareholder in our school’s success and as someone whose knowledge and expertise
was needed to determine how school dollars were to be disseminated this year. This is
a role I cherish, but that I must point out was not handed to me on the first day of school
along with my name badge. Rather, the “place at the table” that I am grateful for now was
earned over the course of several years spent proving, to both my principal and the staff at
my school, that I possess the instructional chops, technological know-how and innovative
practice to help make things happen for our students and our school - none of which I could
claim were it not for continued and meaningful professional development.

Now, more than ever, we find ourselves in a position where we must draw a direct line
between ourselves and student achievement. Now, more than ever, we are charged with
leading the way as our schools, and indeed our state, strive, (and in some cases struggle), to
implement 21st century technologies to support and enhance student learning. Now, more
than ever, every day, every lesson, every conversation must be about proving to the world
that we are indispensable members of the school community.

Which is why now, more than ever, our continued growth as learners and professionals
is not an expense we can afford to cut. NCSLMA’s annual conference offers us all the opportunity
to share with and be inspired by the members of our state’s professional learning
community and extended media family. Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time attending,
the contacts, resources and energy you will glean from those few days are, I would respectfully
submit, well worth the price of admission.

So, as we all struggle to make tough choices regarding our libraries and what little monies
we have to provide services to our schools, I hope you will put professional development
back in the “must have” category. Even though, on paper, it may seem as though going to
conference this year is an expense you can afford to cut, it is my strong belief that professional
development is not a luxury. Rather, it is the very thing that, in the end, will help us
save our jobs and our budgets.

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