A few days ago, Joyce Valenza posted a video and script of what she called a School Library Story. Both are a testimonial of sorts. A response to the continued cuts to school library programs across the country, but specifically in Philadelphia, where there are only 15 school librarians left to serve their 250+ schools. It's an accounting of what happens in school libraries and, more importantly, of what kids who don't have access to a quality school library program are missing out on. And because it's Joyce's work, it's very well done. What's more, I've had several conversations with other librarians who have watched the video and read the script and we all came to the same conclusion:
If every school library looked like what Joyce is describing, our profession would not be on the endangered species list.
Unfortunately, however, as my good friend Jennifer Northrup says, there's still a lot of bad apples in libraryland. And while I recognize that there are a lot of factors, (some of which are within our control and many, many others that are not), that result in professional paralysis and instructional inertia, I've gotta tell you, folks, the why of it doesn't really matter. That fact remains: one bad apple really does ruin the bunch. (And we've got more than one to worry about).
That said, it would be bad enough if Philadelphia was the only place where school library programs are in grave danger of becoming a thing of the past, but we all know that's not true. The reality is that I've run out of fingers and toes to count the number of district and state level leaders who have told me that they're considering cutting school library positions. And I'd need a calculator to add up the number of districts and states I've visited where those cuts have already begun.
It's time for all of us to ask ourselves some tough questions relating to the focus of our work and the impact it has on kids. It's not enough to just work hard. It's not enough to be exhausted at the end of the day. The hours we spend with children must matter. The work we do on behalf of students must result in measurable outcomes.
We can't just be busy, we have to be significant.
I suggest using Joyce's work as a starting place. The script from her video would make a wonderful self assessment tool for school librarians to use to take stock of their current work. Take a look at the categories she identifies and ask yourself: Am I doing this? Am I doing it well? Can I produce evidence to prove that this work makes a difference for students? If you're not sure of the answers or, you are sure, but you don't like what you see, it's time to make some changes.
To that end, in thinking about Joyce's video and the reality that so many see our profession as outdated and unnecessary, I started to visualize a plan of action. To me, it's simple. The perception that library programs are unnecessary exists for one of two reasons: Door #1: the work being done really IS unnecessary or Door #2: the work being done is not being shared effectively. After that, it's just a matter of fixing the problem. This is how this process looked in my head:
Click here for Hi-Res image for download.
And, listen, I know change is hard. But unemployment is harder. And knowing that our kids are missing out on the fundamental and democratizing role that libraries play in their lives and in their education, well... that's much harder still.
I was recently told that every complaint is really a request. For example, if I complain that my husband plays too much golf (actually, he's never picked up a set of clubs) then what I'm really requesting is that he spend more time with me. Anyway, if that's true, and if we think of every proposed cut to library staffing and services as a response to the complaint that the services we currently provide are not cutting the mustard, then it may be useful to identify the requests behind those complaints. In which case, saying school libraries are unnecessary is really just a request that we shift our focus to what matters to those whose decisions matter a great deal to us.
Of course, these requests will vary in as many ways as our schools and students vary, but there's one thing that's true for all of us. The time to close our eyes and wait for things to get better has passed. The clock has run out. We must all act now. Before it's too late.