Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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A tale of two divisions

Posted by lpearle on 16 July 2013

There’s a lot of talk about replacing qualified librarians with volunteers or paraprofessional staff.  In part this is due to budget cuts, in part it’s due to a lack of understanding about what libraries can and should be, and in part it’s just silliness.  Silliness that affects people’s lives and livelihoods, but silliness nonetheless.  It’s been very interesting watching two divisions response to this situation, and very instructive.

School librarians (most of whom are  AASL members) take the approach that the only appropriate person in a library space is a certified librarian (and by “certified” they often mean “someone who has an MLS and who has jumped through the state’s hoops to get certification”, thus cutting out anyone in an independent school, as most librarians there do have an MLS but don’t have state certification, or anyone who has state certification but an NCATE accredited degree) .  Their response to the idea is usually one of shock and dismay, as well as “how can the school do this to the students?” and “look at all the evidence that schools with strong library programs are better than other schools”.  Some refuse to help or work with those in another library, because they have a degree that says they know all about cataloging, or collection development, or programming – and to train an aide or someone else somehow devalues that training.    Now, I’ve met fabulous librarians who run incredible programs but who don’t have an MLS… and I’ve met people with an MLS who couldn’t catalog to save their lives and who run really poor programs.  So AASL’s stance seems to value a piece of paper over quality, and please, whatever you do, don’t help the poor person trying to do their best for the students because they don’t have that piece of paper.

I compare that to YALSA, where in a meeting at ALA the idea of creating a database of resources for paras and others who are not young adult librarians (those who work with young adults, not young adults working as librarians!) .  The goal?  Give the people the best possible services – with the hope and goal that the professional position can be restored.  Granted, public librarians often have fewer duties (no cataloging, no instruction, no lunch supervision) but still, the change in attitude is striking.

The idea that if there’s a semi-competent  (or fully competent) para or aide working in a library leads to the permanent loss of a professional position is one I understand.    And it’s realistic to be concerned that without a qualified person in a position, the quality and standard of the program will sink.  I just worry that by digging our heels in, by being adamant that without us a school will fail (when there’s no evidence – state studies to the contrary – that will, in fact, happen) and by ignoring the fact that in many places, something needs to change (due to budget cuts or current, qualified librarians who are either old-fashioned or incompetent) we’re doing ourselves more harm than good.

Why not try to help the poor person thrown into the library, giving them instruction and training while making it clear to the administration that without that instruction and training, things would be going less well?  Why not as a division reach out to these people and work with them?  It can only help both our standing and our students.

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2 Responses to “A tale of two divisions”

  1. Wendy said

    Laura, do you think the lack of support is due to the conflation of library and self, something almost explicable whenn you are working alone, or as the lone professional, as so many school librarians do? I feel like there is a focus on “my library” rather than “all libraries” running through the profession. While we cannot speak for other institutions, we need to focus more on embedding advocacy for access to information through ALL libraries into our work, rather than just limiting our concern to our own situation.

  2. lpearle said

    Wendy, you know, that might be the case. If it’s “my” library and “my” program, then having someone unqualified doing the work is somehow devaluing me and what I do/have done/ know how to do. It may also explain why so many librarians stay in situations where they are unhappy, because “their” school and “their” students can’t possibly get along without them (and why so many, even when they’re retired, continue to work tirelessly for professional organizations – not that they aren’t welcome! – because they just don’t know who they are sans library role).

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