Monday, February 13, 2012

I'm not "just" anything

I have been kind of completely and totally overwhelmed at the response to my most recent post; it's amazing to me that something I wrote could resonate with so many people. What's been even more gratifying is the conversations I've been able to have with people about the role and perceptions of school librarians. 

In that post I hinted at--but did not make entirely clear--one of the two words that bothers me most when we talk about images of libraries and librarians.

That word: make.

The point I didn't make clearly enough in that post is that I have no problem at all with the doing what we can to help educators, administrators, and legislators understand what we do and why it's important. I think we should demonstrate, I think we should teach, I think we should share, I think we should tell. I think we should be very deliberate and purposeful about taking our lights out from under the bushel. But those are not the words I most often hear--the word I hear more often than not is "make"--and as a reader and recovering English teacher, I know that verbs matter.

I know, of course, that other parts of speech matter, too. Which brings me to the other word I hear again and again in these discussions, and that bothers me even more.

Just.

As in "more than just a librarian." Or "more than just books." That we need to "make" people see that we're more than "just" librarians.

I am often described by colleagues as being "more than just a librarian" and while I know they're trying to be complimentary, it always makes me cringe. Is there something wrong with being "just" a librarian?

It just seems so. . . dismissive. As if being a librarian isn't much to be impressed by.

It seems that people are looking for a term that encompasses more than traditional, stereotypical definitions of what a librarian is. In school libraries in particular, they seem to want a word that encompasses both teacher and librarian--and the term they most often go for seems to be "media specialist." For the record, I hate the term media specialist. I think it makes me sound like a PR consultant. Not that there's anything wrong with being a PR consultant--it's just not what I am. 
 
We seem to be in a bit of a "redefinition phase" and I think we need to be really thoughtful about the roles we're playing as people make up their minds about the terms they use to describe us, and the definitions attached to those terms. The dictionary definitions of librarian are vague enough that it's really up to us. And beyond the dictionary, it really is up to us as librarians to define who we are and what we do; we won't be able to "make" anyone have a particular definition of librarianship, but our actions will determine the limits of that defintion.

I really hope that the end result of these growing pains is not a new name for what I do, but a new definition of the term librarian. I don't want the idea of librarianship to be limited by "just"; I want to expand the limits of traditional definitions.

I worry, too, about the use of the word "just" when we talk about being about "more than just books." Even though what I do extends far beyond paper books, I don't think that the work I do with connecting readers and books (no matter their format) is anything to be dismissed; it's important work, and it's work I love.
  
I've heard other school librarians use the term "more than just a librarian" too (usually in the context of "how do we make them see we're more that just librarians). I always find this a little dispiriting--if we won't own the title, how can expect anyone else to?


I don't want a new name for what I do. I love being a school librarian, and I think that title fits perfectly for what I do and who I am.  Rather than looking for a term that means more than "just" a librarian and encompasses all that we do, I would love to see us broaden the definition of librarian to include all that we know librarians do.

I am not "just" anything. I am a school librarian. No more, no less.

12 comments:

  1. Libraries and librarians, both, are going through a redefinition phase--I agree. What's hard is that patrons/publics seem to have a very narrow definition of librarianship, however broad the dictionary's definition is. When it comes to changing that definition, I guess "make" might sound more appealing to us than "beg & plead." If we want to broaden the definition of librarian, we need to talk very publicly about full range of what we're doing. And when we do that, to say that this is what a librarian does. Not Librarian+ or Librarian 2.0. But we have to remember that we're working with their (mis)perceptions of "librarian" and not our own understanding of what we're about.

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    1. "And when we do that, to say that this is what a librarian does." Exactly. I wonder if our own fishing about for new terms muddies the issue for the public; if we can't speak with one voice on who we are, how can we expect people outside the profession to understand?

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  2. AMEN! I love this post and I'm going to share it with everyone. I hope we can all help redefine what it means to be a librarian, especially in our schools.

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    1. It's up to all of us--individually and collectively--to help this redefinition happen. But if there's one thing that's become really clear to me over the past few days, it's that there are A LOT of us interested in redefining public perception of librarians.

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  3. Preach it!
    We are Librarians - and Librarians do lots of cool things like ... teach, blog, tweet, read, empower students and teachers, learn

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    1. Your comment gave me a total "Song of Myself" moment. :)
      We contain multitudes.

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  4. I am enjoying your posts alot and glad I just discovered your blog. Keep up the great work!

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  5. When I started in the field I was a Library Media Specialist, then became a Library Media Teacher. Like you I hated these titles as the media aspect just seemed so nebulous and not very descriptive in the work i did. Yes I know how to use technology and yes I can teach you to use it as well. Now I am a Teacher Librarian. Proudly so.

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    1. Yes! I'd much rather the emphasis be on what I DO, rather than the tools use--whether that be technology, print, etc.

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