Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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We need to do better

Posted by lpearle on 22 January 2013

As I prepare for ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, I’ve been reading my e-mails and checking twitter links for documents and information I need to pay attention to in order to be an informed member of ALA.  Two proposals/petitions on the WeThePeople.gov site, promoted through various e-lists, have caught my attention.

One asks for a reexamination of how we are preparing people with the information literacy skills needed to succeed in today’s workforce.  A few months ago there was a huge flutter about how librarians were being left out of this conversation, and this petition doesn’t mention them at all.   In some ways, it makes sense: librarians should not be the only teachers/trainers involved with imparting information and digital literacy skills.  Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to ensure that skills actually mean something and translate from the library to the classroom to the workplace. And can a reexamination of how we’re doing this be a bad thing?  The problem is more that this is too vague a request, filled with jargon.

The other petition is in many ways a rehash of Carl Harvey’s petition, this time asking for a mandate ensure every school has a librarian.  Carl’s petition got a very bland response, with the usual “oh, we love libraries and agree they’re important and we’re pushing to pass ESEA reforms” but nothing that said concretely that action would be taken. I don’t expect that the new petition will have any effect either – merely getting a response does not equal action on the part of the White House or the Department of Education.

Both petitions made me think of Doug Johnson’s Indispensable Librarian and the post about the Disposable Librarian on the AASL blog (apparently so controversial that AASL removed it!).  In chatting with my friend Courtney, I mentioned both petitions and here’s her response (reprinted with permission):

Yet ANOTHER mandate? I agree with you that if more librarians began being indispensable rather than doing studies about what impact they have, I imagine they might not have to have as many mandates. Is this what happens in a profession where the members are traditionally quiet? Is it because our job is so often defined by a physical place and we are sometimes trapped there by schedules, etc.? Does this seem like the best time for a mandate? I mean, gun control v. librarian mandate? Iraq war v. librarian mandate? Marriage equality v. librarian mandate? I’m not feeling it, but maybe I’m complacent in the independent school world.

At a time when school districts are looking for ways to cut budget dollars, do we really think that a mandate for a librarian will work?  There are wonderful librarians out there and their schools and districts are fighting to keep them.  But the dispensable ones, the ones who rely on studies and shushing rather than the quality of their work and professional relationships with students and faculty – they should worry.  What needs to be mandated is quality control, not sheer numbers.  Then perhaps we wouldn’t have to submit petitions.

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