Friday, July 9, 2010

What happens in the library

After making a quick escape from my first session in order to avoid someone I recognized but did not feel like reminiscing with (based on seeing her in action in the session, I could tell she was pretty much the same as she’d been in college, which was as much as I needed to know), I headed to Ballroom B for the AASL’s Presidents Program, which featured Allison Zmuda. She was a great speaker—lot to take in, and I’m glad she offered to share her PowerPoint slides, as there was a lot to read and take in and I know I missed a lot.

One of the ideas that really resonated with me, however, was the idea that while we may have limited sphere over which he have control, we need to do what we can to really exert our influence within that sphere—in fact, it’s imperative that we do everything we can to exert the influence that we can.

I spent a lot of time at ALA (and in the past ten years) thinking about and having discussions about the education system as a whole, battling the “it only matters if it’s tested” mindset (and that the only way to make something matter is to create a way to test it), the seeming decline in critical thinking, the “no one reads any more/death of print” storyline, etc., and the discussion always revolves around what we can do to change, you know, everything. Which we can’t do. As Zmuda spelled out, there are things we can’t control, things we can influence but not control, and things we can control.

And while I think it’s important to keep having the discussions and exerting the influence we do have on the “big picture” stuff, for me that idea really drives home the importance of being active on the local and state level, even more so than on the national level; that is where our influence is really felt, and that is where momentum builds.

But even more than that, it speaks to the control we have and must exert in our own libraries, particularly when it comes to instruction. You can’t say, “I had to do this project/assignment, because it’s what the teacher brought me.”

Often we do it with the best of intentions—it’s a way to make less willing teachers feel comfortable, it’s easier to coordinate when you don’t have to start from scratch. And oftentimes teachers will come with a fully formed unit plan and just want you to show students “the research part.” Even when the research assignment they’ve written looks nothing like something you would create in order to teach the skills students need to develop. Such unit plans also often keep the librarian out of the creation of the final project; and, as I wrote yesterday, we need to stay involved for the information integration part of the process.

But going along with a. . . not necessarily “bad” plan, but not necessarily a good one either, is a cop out. And I say this with full recognition of the fact that I’ve done this. A lot, particularly in my first year. When you’re new and someone comes to you with a project they’ve been doing for ten years (which, yikes) it’s more than a little awkward to try and tell them to change everything. But if we want to truly be collaborating with classroom teachers—and not just be a drop-in lesson on skills that seem disjointed from the lesson—it means taking ownership and having challenging and productive (if sometimes awkward) conversations with our colleagues about creating and teaching units that integrate information literacy skills.

We don’t want what happens in the library to just stay in the library; the skills we teach impact not only other academic areas, but areas outside the school walls. And if we want what we teach to have an impact beyond the library, we have to take full control of what happens in the library.

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