Saturday, May 14, 2011

When the Crazies Come Knocking, Will You Be Ready?

"Interrogation" cc  images from
I first became aware of "The Disgraceful Interrogation of L.A. School Librarians" when Neil Gaiman tweeted the link along with the note "this makes my blood boil."  Within hours, my twitter and facebook feeds were full of responses, one of my favorites having to do with how clearly the crime rate in LA must have dropped to something less than miniscule proportions.  How else can you explain school librarians being interrogated like criminals?  Anyway, soon I was led to this blog post that recounts the experience in LA first hand followed by this letter to the editor in my local paper (from a former principal!) which (although unrelated) basically says fixing my state's fiscal woes is easy because we don't need school librarians (or guidance counselors or nurses!) anyway.

Needless to say, it's been a rough week for educators, and for school librarians in particular.  And lots of (really smart) people have been writing about it to express their outrage and frustration.  Unfortunately, however, while this is an extreme example to be sure, it's only one in a long line of beatings that all educators are currently taking from lawmakers and a populous who want to balance state checkbooks without taking any of the blame for mismanaging the funds.  I hate to say it, but I think this is only the beginning of such "interrogations."  While, hopefully, most of us will not be dragged down into a basement and forced to prove our worth under hot, and really unflattering, florescent lights - rest assured, we WILL be asked to prove our worth.

I guess the question we have to ask ourselves now is: can we?

Now is the time of year when many in libraryland start thinking about end of year reports.  And gosh, there's lots of really cool examples out there that showcase the work that goes on in our libraries.   This year,  however, as I put these numbers together, I will be thinking a lot about how to draw the line between the data I've collected and student learning. This year, whatever form(s) my report takes, its ultimate purpose will be to prove that my work is a) the solution to the problems that keep my principal and superintendent up at night b) directly linked to student achievement and c) an indispensable part of our school culture and mission.  More than ever, I think these reports need to take the extra step of bridging the gap between simply presenting the facts and linking those facts to student achievement.

Along those same lines, if you're anything like me, then this time of year also leads to endless prognostications about how I'll do things "next year."  It's funny, but I can remember, being told my first year teaching "not to worry," that after five years I'd "get my groove" - which in this case meant that after 5 years, I'd have a cadre of resources at my fingertips and I would no longer have to create new things every year.  Unfortunately, if that's the definition of getting one's groove, I've yet to achieve this zen like state.  Rather, I'm the kind of teacher who is constantly reinventing the wheel.  No matter how successful or enjoyable or impactful a program/project/collaboration may be, I seem to always be able to think of ways to make it better.  And this year is no exception.

Even as I start gathering together the fruits of this year's labor, I am overcome with thoughts of how I will collect data next year.  I'll be writing about this in more depth later, but for now I think it's well worth mentioning that if I am lucky enough to still have a job next year, I'll be taking extra care to ensure that I collect data that spotlights the impact of my work.  Not only because it's the right thing to do, but because when my seat in the basement is ready, I want to make sure I'm prepared.


  1. Thanks for this, Jennifer! I recently received an e-mail for classes in MLS and I thought 'Heck to the yeah!' and then I realized--I'm in as much peril (if not more) as a librarian as I am as a teacher. All I want to do with my life is get kids as jazzed about books as I was as a kid. Whether it's recommending them, assigning them, or (from my lips to God's--or whoever's, in my case--ears) writing them....

  2. Hey Kirbs,

    Honestly, as much as I loved being a teacher (and I LOVED it) *this* is what I am meant to do. I've never been happier, felt more rewarded or able to do the things that made me want to be a teacher in the first place. That said, it's a tough and exciting time to be a school librarian. Our field is much associated with bespectacled sushers of the past - keepers of the books who care more about the dewey decimal system than about kids. But the times they are a changing. There's a new paradigm in librarianship - a sea change that is bringing with it a new band of library folk who define themselves as instructional leaders, who connect curriculum and technology in collaborative projects while also finding time to make sure every student gets the right book at the right time. If we can just weather the current storm, I know that those who survive will be better and librarianship will be changed (for the better) forever. :)

  3. I teach high school English but for one blissful year I was a K-12 librarian at a private school. As much as I loved it, I couldn't pass up the $15,000 pay raise to go teach at a public high school. It is so sad to see our librarians treated less than equals, because you are just as important as any classroom teacher to our schools & community.

    I KNOW I came across an article a few years ago that linked higher test scores with higher library circulation rates, emphasizing the importance of librarians. Hopefully you have found it & can use it in your data. It's sad that this is what we have to do to prove our worthiness. If it makes you feel any better, I value you & every librarian out there for the time & effort you devote to reading improvement for all children (and staff members, as well!). Thanks for what you do each and every day!

  4. Educators are just beginning to face the situation that other workers have struggled with for over a decade: there is no job security. Justifying one's paycheck is part of working in the 21st century. Call it "personal branding" or "tooting your own horn" or even CYA, letting the people who control the purse strings know how valuable you are is an essential part of earning an income.

    One difficulty for educators is getting the message out to the public. When educators think about the public, they tend to think of folks who show up at the school plays and belong to the athletic boosters club. They don't stop to think about how to reach the majority of voters who have no first-hand knowledge of what goes on in schools.

    I'll give an example of what I mean. My school district newsletter carried an article last month about its program to increase graduation rates and test scores. One accomplishment cited was filling bird feeders outside the first grade classroom throughout the winter. That story may have made parents feel good, but it didn't convince me that the school was improving its educational program.

    I don't think this crisis is going to go away any time soon. The only good that might come from it is some school staff seeing the need to communicate with the public beyond their usual constitutencies—and I think even that is iffy.

  5. I am going to pass this on to the librarians in my district. Every year we wait to see if we will be on the chopping block. Last year we got cut, this year they are after the reading teachers. 0% allowable growth in Iowa this year and a huge debt in our Iowa City district. The tension is very thick here in the midwest. Thank you for the article and for fighting the good fight.

  6. Tracee, Linda and Kelly:

    Thank you all for your thoughtful responses - you've each given me much to think about.

    Tracee: There's actually quite a few studies out there connecting the work of school librarians to student achievement - though some of the "biggies" are becoming out of date. It's always good if you can connect your work specifically to the students growth. Good luck!

    Linda: While I'm not so sure I agree that educators are only just beginning to feel accountability breathing down their necks, I do believe that none of us can afford to wait for a superhero to come swooping in to save the day. It's up to each of us to make the case that we're making a difference for our students.

    Kelly: Thanks for your kind words! I hope things get better in Iowa!