In the September/October issue of Knowledge Quest, Buffy and Kristin coauthored an article that suggested that there was a widening gap between the standards and expectations AASL promotes and the reality many of us face in our schools (even those of us in well-funded independent schools not tied into e-rate funding/filtering, with 1:1 iPad programs and not required to undergo state testing). As I read it, my head nodded as I recognized challenges that I and others have experienced.
Let’s look at the first question they pose, “What does it mean to be great?” By AASL’s standards, the programs I’ve worked with are failures. Collaboration and co-teaching with every teacher hasn’t taken place. Even worse, I don’t insist that teachers work with me on every project! Of course I’m open – but if they can’t, or if a project gets cancelled (for example, due to too many snow days) or truncated, I do the best I can and move on. Those projects may not be as deep and inquiry rich as they’re supposed to be. Sometimes students graduate without having done any deep research at all. And then there are the non-integrated information/research skills classes, ones that may tie in with an ongoing project but are fix-scheduled and year-long, so the content doesn’t always have a curricular match. I take on non-library related work (like overseeing the online bookstore set-up, or proctoring lunch in the cafeteria while leaving the library unattended). Leadership in tech? That might step on our computer science teachers and tech integrators toes, let alone the Director of IT’s position on where the school is going.
Do I feel like a failure? No. I aspire to what AASL considers “excellence”, keeping that as a potential goal while looking at the reality of the situation on the ground. Only one or two projects that go further than a 3-5 page paper with bibliography? Great. Bring it. I can work with that and aspire to building a stronger connection with others in that department or in the school that lead to deeper inquiry. Need me to take on a fixed scheduled class? Ok. Let’s see what I can do to bring skills into the class even if there’s nothing curricular to work with, like evaluating information about current events or finding credible resources on topics of personal interest. I can aspire to moving to a flexible schedule, or to integrating (slowly) with what the classroom teachers are doing.
Then I read Judy Moreillon’s response to the article. I think she missed the point. My reading of the article wasn’t, “let’s get rid of the standards and the expectations and the high bar, instead let’s focus on how to help librarians in schools do the best possible job with their situation.” She’s dead right about the fact that for some, meeting with every class, every student for deep inquiry-based projects is simply impossible due to the student/librarian ratio (at my school, it’s 160:1; at my cousin’s selective high school, it’s 450:1; and at another NYC highly selective high school, it’s 1506:1). But this paragraph made me cringe:
Working with these educators and students should be a priority for school librarians who will continue to serve other students on an as needed basis and work with teachers who engage in cooperative planning and schedule the library in open times that are not being used for in-depth learning. (If the library is large enough, multiple classes can use the library space at one time, but only those teachers who have planned with the librarian and scheduled the librarian’s time as well will have the benefit of her/his expertise.)
Really? Maybe in a public school where the union can protect you but at my school? If I told teachers that they could come in, but I was only going to work with the ones who have collaborated with me beforehand on the project creation? I’d be looking for a new job, not to mention having an incredibly empty library space as the teachers stayed away in droves. Last year we had one week where we had 10-13 classes in every day (there are only 7 periods in a day) and we worked with every one of them as the teacher needed – none of them did the level of collaboration that I aspire to, but hey, maybe next year. Let me build the relationship, slowly showing them how I can add value to their projects and becoming a partner with them. I’d rather be overwhelmed with students asking me questions despite a lack of integration into the class than sitting there at the information desk listening to the crickets.
I could go on, but you get the point.
Here’s the thing about aspirational librarianship: we know where the goal posts are, and we hope to some day get there. But for now, in the real world in which we work, we need help and guidance on how to do our jobs better without alienating teachers and without insisting that if we’re not adhering to what AASL says we should be doing/being we’re just not being valued or doing a good job. To my mind, it feels like the equivalent of being the old-fashioned shh’er: my way and only my way in my library. Thank you Buffy and Kristin for raising the question.
So, what answers do you have? To what do you aspire?