In a few weeks many school librarians will be congregating in Hartford (CT) for the biennial AASL National Conference. I’ve been faithfully going since 1997 (Portland OR) but this time I was on the fence about attending. That it’s now about 10 miles from where I work made the decision easier, ditto the fact that it’s a new school and thus a renewed need to meet with vendors to see the Neat! New! products they have on offer.
As has happened at more than one conference I’ve attended in the past few years, there’s a One Book/One Conference event. Last time it was Quiet and after reading it I had a few reservations but overall, it seemed a good thing for us to at least have a familiarity with. This time it’s 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done and I have even more reservations. Granted, I haven’t read it but I have to ask: who in the conference committee thought this was the best read for us? The author writes a column for the Harvard Business Review and probably has never had a schedule quite like the ones I’ve had since making the move from corporate life to school life (in my per-librarian days I attended a few of the GTD-type programs and they do work… in that world. not in this one). Just look at the Library Day in the Life Project and ask yourself, how many of these people can truly plan their days?
The days I find easiest to plan are those where I have classes booked in all day. Then I know it’s Africa periods 1 and 5a, International Human Rights period 3, Foundations of Western Civ periods 2, 4, 5b and 7, and Economics period 6. From 3:20-5:30, I may be able to get to the other stuff (cataloging new items, shelving, ordering, dealing with e-mail, planning a new project with a colleague, update LibGuides and check student bibliographies and notes on Noodletools). Maybe. That’s if someone doesn’t come in and ask for personal time with me. If I don’t have classes scheduled, well… the time does get frittered away, what with helping students and colleagues, meetings with administrators, and all the other stuff (see above). One of those famous management tricks is to schedule when you’ll check e-mail. I could do that. I could also miss a colleague asking for help finding a resource five minutes before their class begins, or a student asking for help with their research project, or a request for Inter-Library Loan, or an invitation to a meeting that will plan a new curricular initiative. Should I tell a tutor or someone searching for the computer science teachers not to bother me, I have to focus?
Librarians with fixed schedules may wonder why I’m ranting, but I suspect those with flexible (or fix/flex) understand what I’m saying. I work in a two-story space, and the other librarian and I change floors daily. That much I can plan. And yes, 18 minutes could probably get carved out of my day so I can focus on “actionable” tasks (although taking anyone who uses “actionable” in any sense other than legal risks not being taken seriously). The problem isn’t that we’re supposed to now treat our work in a school library the way I used to treat my work as an executive recruiter, it’s that the book so clearly lacks real relevance to our lives (at least we weren’t asked to read From Great to Good!) and the committee, rather than choosing something that might enrich my practice has chosen something that is one more indication that a group of non-building-level librarians (as Wendy calls them, “school librarian types“) is running the school librarian’s association.