Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Librarians Are Ready, Are You?

Having not been able to shake the "I had no idea librarians could do this!?" reaction I received at last week's Teaching Fellows Conference, I decided to create a flyer that I could share with program administrators at both the K-12 and collegiate levels - something flashy and fun that might, if nothing else, plant the seed that school librarians are more than just book hoarding shushers.

Making these flyers is always fun.  However, the entire time I was putting this one together, I was keenly aware of the fact that I was once a classroom teacher who thought school librarians were irrelevant - until someone proved me wrong. During my ten years in the classroom, I worked with 4 different school librarians at 3 different schools - add those numbers together and it might double the number of times I took my own students to the library during my entire tenure as a classroom teacher. To this day, I have no idea if the librarians at my schools wanted to collaborate with me. While I knew they were all smart, funny and charming people,  I couldn't tell you if they were master teachers, technology innovators or even reading pied pipers.  They may very well have been all of those things too, but if they were, I didn't know it.

Looking back on it now, I can see several possible reasons why I didn't get the message that, as a profession, school librarians were not only capable of working with me, but they also very much wanted to.

  1. Teacher Isolation:  As a classroom teacher, I was deeply entrenched in my own world.  I spent so much time worrying about what was happening inside my classroom, I sometimes forgot there was a world spinning outside of it.
  2. Teacher Education #Fail:  If my own teacher education program emphasized instructional partnerships of any kind, I forgot to sign up for that class.  Collaborating with other professionals was not a skill that I was taught in teacher school.
  3. Librarian #Fail: This message was not being sent by the school librarians I worked with.  Or if it was, not very effectively.

Whatever the reason, however, the bottom line is I had no idea I could and should be working with school librarians - and a result, regardless of how great I was, my students missed out.

Again, it all boils down to this: I was once a classroom teacher who thought school librarians were irrelevant - until someone proved me wrong.  No flyer, regardless of how fabulous it is, will change the minds of those who see us as outdated and ineffective. For me, it wasn't until a dear friend of mine decided to leave the classroom and wander into the library that I started to think about school librarianship differently.  What's more, it wasn't until he started to share with me the things he was doing with teachers/students that I began to see myself in that role.

As much as this graphic is a love letter to new teachers and principals (and anyone one else who might see it), it's also a reminder to those of us who live in libraryland already:  Just about all of us will encounter someone this year who believes, for whatever reason, that school librarians are irrelevent.  Are you and your practice ready to prove them wrong?

I hope so.

View more documents from Jennifer LaGarde

As the attribution information suggests, I took inspiration from Carl Harvey's work in Library Media Connection.  (Without question, there are aspects of what we do that I missed.  However, with limited space and a desire to not overwhelm my target audience with info, I tried to capture the aspects of librarianship that the future teachers I worked with last week seemed the most shocked by.) What's more, I don't think it's possible to be a librarian who creates comic style flyers and not, even subliminally, be inspired by Gwyneth Jones - so, big juicy thank yous to both those folks.

Finally, as always, everything here is licensed under creative commons so please feel free to take, share and make better to your little heart's content.


Thank you so much Donna Baumbach who transformed this flyer into a collaborative document using ThingLink!  I am unbelievably humbled and inspired!  PLEASE scoot on over to her newly created wiki and contribute to this fabulous collaborative effort!  #ihavethebestjobever


  1. Great stuff Jennifer, have been thinking about a welcome package to staff this year. I will be including your poster along with some other fab things I have picked up along the way. With 13 new staff, I need to be pushing my wares so that none of them think I am irrelevant!

    It is so great that we are no longer on Library island, and we can share so many good things via twitter and other places with educators off the island.

  2. This is excellent. Great post and timely. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. It's inspired me to get out there and sell myself better to the staff in our school who might have forgotten how useful I can be to them. I especially like "all of us working together to meet the needs of today's students." Yes we are. All of us! But sometimes we forget to market ourselves to the very people we are there to collaborate with.

  3. As someone who worked in a technical job in industry before teaching, I can tell you that your first reason is a big one. I always told my friends from that world that there were two big things I missed in the "other work world" outside of education. The first was that I couldn't go to the bathroom when I wanted. The second was collaboration. The isolation one experiences in education is still after 20 years of teaching, stunning to me. As a "special subject" teacher it is far worse than that experienced by classroom teachers.

  4. I had taught for 23 years before I was finally made aware of ALL of the services the school librarian could provide. And this is only because this school librarian sought me out and offered to help.

    I need to remember this as I head into yet another school year. I am planning on preparing a welcome back packet for my teachers (and want to include your beautiful flyer) but it will only be through one on one interaction that I will make library converts, one teacher at a time.

  5. I am so moved by each of your comments. I used to think I was the only one who found teaching to be an isolating profession - it's one thing they NEVER tell you in teacher school (well, that and school librarians are ready to collaborate with you!) The truth is, I loved almost every minute of my 10 years in the classroom, but I'm so grateful for the connections I now share with so many wonderful educators! Thank you all so much for contributing to this conversation.

  6. Jennifer:
    this is brilliant! I'd like to use your post(er) and Donna's interactive version as the intro for my grad course for new/wannabe school librarians. It will certainly shake up any stereotypes they may have!
    Alice Yucht

  7. Alice:

    Yay! I'm so glad you can use it! Let me know how it goes, will you? Tootles!


  8. Thanks Jennifer, very good stuff!

    I'm experimenting with various online tools today and created a wordle using your blog (hope that's ok). You can find it here: http://www.wordle.net/delete?index=5336406&d=MTOS