Monday, February 6, 2012

"You're not really a librarian"

The other day I got into an "argument" with a student about whether or not I was really a librarian. His position was that I wasn't a librarian--I was actually a teacher who happened to have an office in the library.

It was a weird discussion to be having. As the conversation continued, it became clear that he was, in no small part, trying to annoy me. But I don't think the original statement was meant just to taunt me. We ended up trying to pull in other students to make our respective cases--his that I wasn't a librarian, mine that I really was. The general consensus seemed to be that I was definitely a librarian. And probably also a teacher.

I was thinking about the discussion I had with him, and with other students, in light of one of the phrases I so often hear when it comes to changing the perception/image of school librarians:

"how do we make them see that librarians [fill in the blank]"


This was not a student I know particularly well, nor have I worked with him a lot. He's new to the school this year. There's nothing I've done to try and "make" him see anything. I've just been doing my job the same way I've been doing it for years, and he came to his own conclusions.

We will never "make" anyone understand anything about school librarianship. We will do our jobs, and people will come to conclusions. It is frustrating that our colleagues, our administrators, and our legislators don't always understand our jobs. But there is no position statement or pamphlet that will truly change that. They are carrying with them perceptions of school librarians formed when they were in school.

If we concentrate on our students, our future colleagues, administrators and legislators won't need to be "made" to see anything. They will carry with them the perceptions of school librarians they are forming right now. Which is why we need to hold ourselves--and each other--to a high standard. Unfortunately, there are school librarians out there who are not doing us any favors when it comes to the perceptions of school librarians students will carry into the future.

I have met librarians who say, "this tech stuff is interesting, but it has nothing to do with my job." Or, "collaborating with teachers just takes too much time." Or librarians who express, in dozens of little ways, their general disinterest in students who don't come naturally motivated when it comes to reading and research.

We don't know which students in our library today are going to be future teachers, administrators, or legislators--but I guarantee their rosters are going to include today's unmotivated or struggling students who don't feel welcome in their school library. And by the time they're adults, there's nothing we will be able to do to "make" them change their perception. The only time we have for that is right now, with the students in our schools.


I don't know what to do about school librarians who are unconcerned with the perceptions their students are forming about libraries. It's a bigger issue than I feel equipped to address. So in the meantime I go to my library, and I do my job. And if my students graduate thinking of a school librarian as "a teacher who has an office in the library," I like to think I've done a pretty good job.

33 comments:

  1. Agreed. We can't make anyone think a certain way about us. But, by doing our jobs well, helping our students and faculty in whatever way we can, and providing them with the information and tools they need, we can hopefully help shift perception of libraries and librarians. In the end, I don't think we need to waste our energy worrying about people aren't open to seeing us as anything other than relics. Let's focus our energy on the people and institutions who are willing to work with us and learn from us. Leading by example is always the best way to change hearts and minds.

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    1. Agree!! When I took over from a previous person it took at least 2 years before kids felt comfortable and welcome in the library! A colleague once said the best advocacy for our profession is to be the best we can be. She's absolutely right.

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    2. Thank you, both, for your comments. I, too, took over my library from a less-than-always-welcoming person. I remember my first year having kids come through giving tours (it's an independent school) and say, "This is the library; I've never really been in here before." Now, they say, "This is the library; I'm in here all the time." That's the best job evaluation I could ever get--and I know if they ever stop saying it that I need to change something.

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  2. LOVE, love, love this post!! :)
    Sounds like you're doing exactly what you should be in the library!

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  3. Many years ago, I remember a middle school student asking me, "When are you going to go to work in a real library?" His statement shocked me. I took a year off from my school system while working on my master's degree in Library Science, and did go to work in a public library. It was fulflling, but not enough to make me stay there. I found that I missed the students during the day because they were at school. I returned to a school library and have been there ever since. I am a teacher who is also a librarian, and I love it!

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    1. I once found (while weeding) a note left in a book that referred to needing to go to the "real library" to do research (in the note writer's defense, our collection needed some serious help, and this was likely pre-database).
      And I agree that being both a teacher and a librarian is the best--I would never want to do this job if I couldn't spend my day with students.

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  4. I say it is never to late to educate...one person at a time...which you are doing.

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    1. I agree--I think all our education efforts (with everyone) need to be ongoing. I also think that the younger the person we're educating, often the bigger impact we'll have.

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  5. I'm curious what he thought a librarian did that you weren't doing, or what he thought teachers did that librarians didn't, or however else he might have had "librarian" and "teacher" defined. Especially since they seemed to be mutually exclusive.

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    1. His definition of librarianship (likely formed long before he met me) was rife with the classic stereotypes--I don't shush people, I don't spend my time shelving books, I spend very little time at my desk (at least not when students are in the library). All of which spurred my thinking about the importance of early impressions.

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  6. Great post! Will share this with as many of my school library media specialist colleagues as possible!

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  7. Thank you! I can't tell you how overwhelming/amazing it is to me that this post seems to have resonated with so many people.

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  8. Great post, KM! The dialog rang so true. Thanks for this very timely post.

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    1. Thank you! I've been completely overwhelmed (in the best way possible) by how much this post has resonated with people.

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  9. Having a student see you that way is SOOOO much better than having a new teacher at your school ask if you need to go to college to be a librarian, school or otherwise! Or students referring to everyone who works in the library as librarians. I'm not about to go around listing off the requirements and qualifications to people, so it's sometimes annoying when people don't acknowledge/realize your status. So you are very lucky!

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    1. I'm not sure how much luck has to do with it (though I am lucky enough to work with great people); I don't think there's any chance I would have had a conversation like this during my first two years here. There's been a lot of educating on my part--but it's all happened far more subtly than me trying to make anyone see anything. Patience is key.

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    2. Post your B.A. degree, your M.L.S. diploma and any other credentials in your office.... nothing need be said. It's all there.

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    3. Actually, I think a lot needs to be said beyond the posting of credentials (and I don't spend enough time in my office for many people to have a chance to see them). Those are just pieces of paper--they say what I'm qualified to do, but they don't say what I actually do. I know people who have the same qualifications I do, but approach the job MUCH differently. Actions speak louder than diplomas.

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  10. I would much rather have my students see me as a teacher first and a librarian second...to me, this means I am doing my job correctly and am not just bogged down in old "librarian" stereotypes. What I dread hearing is the phrase "just a librarian". The days I hate most are the days I spend too much time behind my desk. I want to be out in classrooms, co-teaching and book-talking, and in the labs and library, helping students and classes with teachnology, with evaluation, with research, etc...if that means they call me "teacher", I would take that as a huge compliment. So... BRAVO, for being seen as a teacher, too, and not "just a librarian".

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    1. Ugh. . . "just a librarian." That phrase is the bane of my existence (okay, that might be slight hyperbole). I'm working on a post about just that phrase--hope to finish it tonight.
      And thank you! I agree--the days that I never get the time to sit down at my desk are the best days!

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  11. I'm the only librarian left in our school district. Sometimes I walk into a school only to have someone say, "We never see you anymore." or "Didn't know if you still worked here." I then politely remind the person that there are five schools, five days in a week and only one of me. A majority of my day includes promoting myself and each library. I make myself seen and heard at the campuses which have live broadcasting of announcements. I do send emails but often walk the halls and return messages in person just so the faculty and students see my face! I do have assistants in each school that handle mostly circulation but I just want to check out books and read to students!!!!! =)

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  12. Great post and well stated! I am hoping that at the end of my work days, students feel the same about me! Thanks for the inspiration! Keep up the good work!

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  13. As a librarian's son, I can confirm librarians are more than teachers with a library office. Your profile comment, "Keeping the world safe for information literacy" hits the nail on the head.

    Librarians everywhere are more than teachers, they are guardians of knowledge. Knowledge that is free for those who seek it. Until exposed to a library or librarian, students are learning through trial and error.

    I now use my experience as a children's book illustrator/author and public speaker to inform K-12 students how my library journey shaped my career. One of my favorite stories involves my mother's answers to most of my questions with a code number. Example: "Where do I find art books?" "741!" Until you know the code or a librarian, you'll be lost.

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    1. One of my goals when working with students is to make the structure of information (whether print or digital) a little more transparent. I want them to understand what the structure is and how to navigate it--how to "crack the code" so to speak.

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  14. I my self and not a librarian, but I have had the privilege of working with two amazing teacher librarians. They both worked very hard to promote the library and all its uses. Sad to say there are also teachers out there who are put into the librarian position with no concept of what that means. They can do a great deal of damage to the library.

    Library Tech
    Library

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  15. Considering the extra "hoops" (read that as having to use personal days/sick leave to do fieldwork hours, not to mention the difficulty of finding those fieldwork placements in a state where school librarians are becoming an endangered species) I am having to jump through to get my TL credential along with my MLIS, I want to be very sure my students will see me as both. Thanks for this post.

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  16. I came into a school where only 6 six students were allowed in the library at a time. It changed fast. My new principal just put the brakes on visits because to many students are visiting. Go figure. We have to change with the times.

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  17. Love this post. It definitely falls under the "if I had a nickel every time a student.." categories. Perhaps our changing role is why district's are now using the Media Specialist term over the Librarian label. And the room itself is no longer a library but a media center.
    Alas, the student is no different than the student who is disappointed that we don't have 20 books on sharks (or whatever his pet topic du jour), not every magazine that they see at the newsstand, etc.

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    1. And this is, I think, part of the problem with the term "media center"--it puts the focus on WHAT is there, rather than WHO is in there.

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  18. Librarians in the schools really need to get rid of the "School Media Center Specialist" title and change it to "teacher librarians." We need full-fledged, fully trained teachers in libraries. We need those people to go out to faculty and students and teach information literacy.

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