Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name

The image above is my response to Joyce Valenza's Action Figure Meme.  It's gone through a lot of changes since I created the first version, as people share more and more school librarian synonyms for me to include. At this rate, I'm going to need a much bigger chalkboard - which got me thinking about all the different monikers we wear. 

As a profession, are school librarians in the midst of an identity crisis? I don't think so.  Rather, I think we're experiencing an expectation crisis.

Since I joined this profession (just under 5 years ago) my title has changed three times.  I began as a school librarian, was switched to a media coordinator and am now a media specialist. Or maybe I'm a school librarian again.  I can't remember.  Oddly enough, my name has changed, but my job really hasn't. 

I've had this conversation with other residents of library land before and I've come to the conclusion that all this name changing has nothing to do with trying to decide who we are, but is rather an attempt to change how others view us or, more specifically, to redefine our role as something more exciting and, let's face it, more valuable than the bespectacled stereotype of librarians past (and unfortunately, in some cases, present). 

One of the most common complaints I hear from other librarians is the oft lamented fact that people (particularly those who control the purse strings) "just don't understand what we do."  Truth be told, there *is* a lot of that going around, but I don't think renaming our profession is the answer.  Think about it.  We could take the list above, add a hundred other ideas, form a focus group, discuss, debate, weep, wail and gnash our teeth until one name emerged victorious and, in the end, it would still be incomplete.  Bottom line: we're never going to find one new word or phrase that perfectly encompasses all that we do. 

So... instead of continually looking for a new name, why not change what people expect from our old one.

Just recently I had the opportunity to introduce some of my colleagues to a long time library friend.  I introduced her in the typical way, I guess, by name and then by saying that she was the school librarian at such and such a school.  Later, she said, "you know, I really have a problem being called a school librarian.  We're just so much more than that."   Although I didn't say it at the time, I disagree with my pal.  In the end, I think the real problem is that people don't expect more from librarians.  

Librarianship is suffering from a case of terminally low expectations.

Sure.  You or I may feel the pressure of some pretty high expectations within our own buildings or districts.  And I've no doubt there are plenty of other individuals out there who work with students/teachers/administrators who have come to expect a lot from them - but to the general public, librarians and superheroes are not synonymous. 

Your principal might expect you to use student data to design library programs that meet targeted instructional goals, but in general, people don't expect librarians to impact student learning.

The teachers you work with might expect you to help them use technology to expand the walls of their classrooms in order to help students become responsible global citizens, but in general, people don't expect librarians to be on the cutting edge of the constantly changing technological landscape.

Your students may expect you to know exactly the right book for them at exactly the right time, but in general, people don't expect librarians to change lives.

And therein lies the quandary.

How do we take the successes that so many of us have built within our schools and districts and expand them to our profession as a whole?  How do we get our teachers and principals to stop seeing us as the exceptions to the rule and to start expecting what we do from all librarians?  How do we parlay individual victories into a global change of expectations?

Although I can't remember the name of the session now, (I'm getting old), I attended a workshop led by Doug Johnson last year in which he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) Twitter and the digital divide aren't going to save libraries.  He's right. 

We need to figure out a way to change what people expect from librarians. 

And then we need to prove them right.


 

7 comments:

  1. Love it - exactly what you said.... we need to raise the bar of the expectations ... as I am about to embark on the final term of what has been an extremely challenging year in trying to do just that.... it is not easy- it is a long term planned commitment with much head banging with small successes and progress along the way ...

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Dianne. You're right, this does not happen overnight and we do have to build on small victories.

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  3. Just brilliant, Library Girl! And I totally agree! It's not what we call ourselves but how we define ourselves and our job! If we don't make that digital shift - expanding our own definitions of our profession added with full transparency the expectations will stay the same. We have to not be afraid to shout what we do for our most important customers, the kids, from the school rooftops.

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  4. I love all your librarian synonyms. For too long we have quietly gone about our jobs being happy to exist behind the scenes. Gwyneth said it already, "We have to not be afraid to shout what we do for our most important customers, the kids, from the school rooftops!"

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  5. This post is just wonderful! Thank you for not raising the bar, but trying to make others aware of where we have set the bar!!! Sending this link to my principal. Thanks for sharing this...

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  6. Thanks so much for all of your kind words. I am very interested in figuring out a way to apply individual librarian success to overall expectations for our profession. I certainly don't know the answer (yet) but it's wonderful to be able to "talk it out" with all of you.

    Cheers!

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  7. I'd like to add that this perception is not just in schools. I was a public librarian (I left to have a baby and an adventure in Japan, but am looking to get back into the gig now) and although we librarians expected a lot from ourselves, nobody else did. There was a lot of effort put out to try and change our image, and I'm sure there still is, but it seemed like those efforts only reach other librarians and library workers and failed to reach the general public. I'm not sure what the solution is, but I do find it interesting that this is not just a public library phenomena.

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