Pedagogy, School Libraries, Work Stuff

Irreconcilable Differences

I’m just starting to work this through, so bear with me…

I’ve been at MPOW for two years, and in that time I’ve implemented some changes. My desk has been moved, we’re weeding/updating the collection, there’s a massive change to our staffing structure, etc.. One of the biggest – and first – changes was to announce that we were no longer going to pull books for research projects.

A little background: prior to my arrival, Teacher would tell Librarian “My class is doing research on ___” and a book cart would appear in time for the students to use the resources.

Several teachers were unhappy with this, suspecting that students were not learning several important research skills (evaluating/finding resources).

Some teachers have been unhappy with this change, and have stopped using the library because they perceive the time the students take looking for items in the catalog, going to the shelves, and determining whether this really is a good resource to be a waste of the students, and the teachers, time.

One of my staff is equally unhappy and I’ve spoken to her many times about allowing students to find, or fail to find, on their own. It’s important growth for them, but that’s not how she perceives it.

As I consider the implications of a strategic planning process, I see this method as both a strength and a weakness. I see my staff member honestly having the best interests of the customer at heart, but not realizing why this really isn’t a step in the right direction. Tonight, like some delayed tidal wave, it hit me: she embarks on this from the position of her original training – that of a public librarian. Even after starting work at our school, for years she worked in the local public libraries at their reference desks over the summer, and then came back to being a school librarian once school restarted. “Reference Librarian” is her self-descriptor, not “School Librarian.”

Two very different methodologies and paradigms. School librarians want to teach our patrons how to be independent learners, to find information for themselves and have the tools to evaluate it on many levels. Public librarians want to help their patrons find (quickly) accurate information. My staff member is afraid that if we truly foster this independence, “they” won’t need us. “They” won’t come to the library. The reality is, they will. Because they’re still learning and we can help them on that road. But they may not always ask us for our help, and that’s ok.

In a public library, that’s not ok. Reference questions asked/answered are part of the data collected. Patrons that feel welcomed and helped will come back – circulation may increase. Funding often rests on these things. Not so in my world. In essence, if I do my job right, the public librarians job may suffer.

(NOTE: VERY simplistic analysis – remember, I’m just starting to mull all this over and figure this out!)

How do I help her reconcile these disparate identities? How do I help my students understand that we are helping, without overhelping? How do I win over the teachers?

4 thoughts on “Irreconcilable Differences”

  1. Let your people talk to some college teachers and college librarians. We want the kids who know how to do research!!!!!!

  2. I don’t honestly know the answer to this, though I find it a fascinating thought.I know for myself that books were never pulled for us; I had to find the information on my own. I am really independent when it comes to locating books or information.However…When I do get stuck, I appreciate the kindness, patience and willingness of the librarian to help me when I need help. I don’t know if this will help you at all, but I thought I would share in case it generated further thought.

  3. Aravis, I’m not suggesting we stop helping people. Far from it! I’m saying, let’s teach our students the skills necessary to do their own work, but be there (like a safety net) when they run into problems. The issue here is whether or not they should be taught, or spoonfed.Guess which side I’m on?

  4. I knew what you meant, and I was saying that this is the method I prefer: teach me how to look and I’ll do it. When I need help, I’ll ask. Not meant snidely. If I get stuck, I find the librarian. :0) I think all students should at least know how to get started. In other words, I’m agreeing with you. :0)

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