Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Get active!

Posted by lpearle on 6 November 2011

For the past couple of days, I’ve received several requests in my inbox and social media feeds.  For those of you who aren’t au courant, there’s a petition over on WhiteHouse.gov and a Twitter effort to influence our Senators. With qualifications, I’m endorsing them (and yes, I realize that my voicing my concerns/qualifications is a bit like airing the dirty laundry in front of the help).

The Petition (note: you must register to add your signature) states:

So, what’s my quibble? “… a library that contains a minimum of 18 books per student.” I hate prescriptive numbers! Why? They don’t take into account relevancy and currency, which is critical to a good library collection. First of all, do the math. At my last school, we had 823 students, with the petition mandating a collection of 14,814. The reality was we had more than that but pre-2007 the average age was 1971 and many books on the shelves had been there for several decades (examples? The 1980 edition of The Harvard Dictionary of Music and The twenties : American writing in the postwar decade c.1962). Not terribly useful for today’s students, right? Now, what if the school was much larger, say one of those 4,000-student schools in New York City? That’s a mandate of 72,000 books and there’s no way that administrators are going to give over that much space to a collection. The petition makes no mention of digital books either. Many schools are changing from print reference to digital, which decreases the number of physical books but could exponentially increase the number of actual resources.

Another reason I dislike prescriptive numbers is that they often don’t make sense. Over a decade ago I was doing research for an AASL presentation (Indianapolis, for those that care) and came across a requirement for school libraries to subscribe to “a minimum of 25 periodicals” (I forget which NAIS-affiliated agency had the requirement, but none have that now). In a 9-12 environment that’s great, but K-4? I remember a KQ Editorial Board dinner where I mentioned this, and we brainstormed how we could get to that number, as there weren’t 25 age-appropriate periodicals available. One esteemed – and irreverent – member of our library community suggested “Playboy” (you could teach anatomy).

If you’re wondering, I signed the petition as Signature 1,110. Go forth and do likewise because it is a well-meant petition.

Monday’s Twitter Bomb Effort is in support of the upcoming ESEA debate:

Again, a very good idea but… why not get our non-library friends involved? I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that regular people like my family, my high school friends and other non-library workers, let alone members of the school community also add their tweets to our efforts. School librarians want funding and mandates for school libraries? Quel surprise. But if my electrician brother-in-law wants the same, it’s a whole different story. So let’s mobilize all our networks – advocacy from outside our ranks will speak volumes. (pun intended)

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