Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whining to Win Friends and Influence People

I've been thinking a lot about advocacy lately.

Who hasn't, really, with the library community in crisis mode over the downpour of pink slips across the country. Except I suspect I'm not on the same page as the majority of school librarians: We're whining too much.

I almost blogged about this a couple months ago when the ALA was up in arms because Obama's Race to the Top program didn't include specific funding for libraries. This reaction smacked to me of the tea-party set, who wax eloquent about the perils of socialized medicine, then threaten bodily harm to anyone who touches their Medicare. Everyone knows there are limited funds to go around, that their needs to be cuts...just not to my particular program.

Don't get me wrong. I am utterly, deeply convinced of the profound contributions library media specialists to schools and to students. I abhor the entrenched notion that we are book jockeys with a degree and an utterly replacable luxury.

But I also think we brought this on ourselves.

Library schools have touted advocacy for years now, if not decades--to little avail if current events are anything to judge by.  Look at any ALA website or catalog, and you'll find a plethora of materials shouting out the library...the importance of the library...the impact of the library.  Excuse me?  I thought it was about the kids?
 Looking at the ALA's Frontline Advocacy for School Libraries page, I ran across this telling phrase:
It’s important that you share the value of your impact as well as the value of your library media center’s impact on student success. 
"As well as..." our impact on students?  Since when did students become secondary to what we do?
Similarly, the ALSC's Issues and Advocacy page starts with the following:
It's more important than ever for youth be able to advocate effectively on behalf of libraries (emphasis mine).

Houston, we have a problem.

Somewhere along the line, I think we confused advocacy with PR.  I've only been in the library for three years, but the one true thing I've learned is this:  REAL advocacy is bloody hard work.  Real advocacy--the knowing every teacher, what they're doing,  how I can make that easier, better, faster-- takes an incredible amount of time, persistence, and sheer cussedness. REAL advocacy--knowing the students, knowing their projects, teaching (often one-on-one) how to run a search rather than doing it for them (which would be infinitely easier and faster) takes more time and patience than I have some days.

You have to be a diplomat.  One of our 10th grade teachers offered his history class the option of NOT coming to me (as all the other classes do) for  search lessons.  Of course, having spent two weeks with me in 9th grade, they now think they can do it on their own.  So now I'm offering daily tutorials to students struggling to find fifteen sources, of which seven have to be primary.  They would rather NOT come to me, because it's more work than just finding the top hits on Google; thus I coddle and encourage and make it all seem fun.  Or try to.

You have to be patient. My first year here, I thought I would have the students and faculty whipped into shape by the end of the year, that I would move the library from a social lounge to a hub of active, engaged learning in mere months.   Three years later, I'm a quarter of the way there.

I could go on, but the point of all this is that none of this has anything to do with circulation stats or monthly updates to admin or that end of the year "state of the library" report I spend ages on, but (I suspect) nobody actually reads.

What it does have to do with is  the sheer hard work of knowing my students, knowing my faculty.  As I tell them both:  My job is to make your job easier.

You want to see some change?  Quit with the PR already.  Just do your job.

UPDATE:  Ha!  And here I thought I was all frontline and edgy on this!  A similar post on School Library Monthly   I love the Gail Dickinson quote.

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