Monday, June 18, 2012

Was I THAT Unclear?

It's taken me a couple of days to respond to Doug Johnson's post criticizing me (among others) for, basically, being a petulant whiner.   I'm both closing out the library and packing to leave Mongolia, so it's been busy.

But I'm here now.  And let me start by saying I stand second to no-one in my respect for Doug and all he has done for the profession, but I was really surprised by his response.  He either misunderstood my point(s), or I was more unclear than usual.

Doug stated,  "What I am hearing is that if I can't play in the game, the game ought not to be played at all. If the solution to a problem doesn't include me, let's just let the problem remain unsolved."

That, of course, is not what I meant at all.  And I implied--though could have stated more directly--that it would behoove the FCC to work with librarians (collaborate, even!), rather than implanting an expert who knows neither the students, the faculty, nor their skill level, who would bring in a cookie-cutter program, when there is a local expert already in tune to the school's needs.

 I would be--and am--thrilled to work with anyone to promote any form of literacy, digital or otherwise, and it is not whining to protest being cut out of the loop, especially for a program that, as it stands, is a mere addition the school's programming.  Doug, of all people, knows these skills need to be embedded;  a couple of after-school workshops are not going to do much towards addressing student needs.

More to the point, Doug is being disingenuous when he rather snarkily suggests that the complaining librarians expect the ALA to "save our butts,"  that "good" librarians (with it's implications that the complainers must be "bad" librarians), will "carve out roles for themselves," and just buckle down and "do their job."

Good librarians, librarians who are progressive, and collaborative, and open, and document everything, are being laid off in seemingly-historical numbers. I even referenced the recent cuts to Buffy Hamilton's program as an example, and no one rational could claim she is anything but collaborative, transparent and transformational in her program.   As budgets become increasingly tight, administrators, despite the proof right before their eyes, see cutting librarians as an easy way to save some cash without directly cutting the curriculum.

So, yeah, I find his "just do a good job and be proactive" a bit patronizing and naive. I didn't bookmark them, or I'd like, but I've seen far more than one article about award-winning library programs being cut.

Moreover, nobody expects the ALA to ride in on a white horse and save everyone's job. Nor do I think anything I said supports that interpretation.  I DO expect them to inform and educate  policy-makers, to promote the role of school librarians to the people I cannot. All of the program documentation I could do in the world isn't going to affect the national budget-deciders. But the ALA might, and I expect them to work at that and explain the process, even if it's after the fact. Otherwise, what am I paying dues for--20% off the ALA Store?  I don't think so.

What I HAVE been thinking lately is re-envisioning this whole advoacy thing.  A little preview of an upcoming post (once I'm home and over the jeg lag!):  I taught an English class this year, and had the interesting experience of collaborating with myself.  Here's the thing:  when kids were researching for a project, the English-teacher me actually thought "I don't have time to do the whole research lesson" rigamarole.  How's them potatoes?  It really has me wondering whether trying to get teachers to "jump on board"  the library train is the right approach, or whether we need to go a different route.


  1. I love this post and I thank you for writing so honestly. It has me thinking...what is that other route? "I don't have time for the whole research..." comment is exactly what I deal with and I often feel like I'm running myself into a brick wall. I look forward to reading your follow up and starting a conversation about that other route.

  2. Hi Jeri,

    I can only say that I fervently hope my remarks have not cost me a friendship (or two). I will admit I am blunt and probably don't know all the facts and my word choices could have been more specific. I certainly did not mean to state or even imply that you (or anyone) specifically was not a good librarian.

    I will, however, stand by a couple points:

    1. We should welcome efforts by the FCC to increase digital literacy whether we are seminal players or not. What if this were a "literacy" improvement plan rather than a "digital literacy" plan? We must have half a dozen programs - from Title One to Adult Basic Education to Volunteer Reading Corps - all working to improve reading skills in our district. Why should not a similar approach of lots of efforts, each contributing, to digital literacy not be welcome? And why don't classroom teachers and reading specialists feel threatened by this?

    2. I am not as convinced as you are that progressive librarians are being laid off in historical numbers. - at least around here. Most of the layoffs in our area can be attributed to severe over all budget reductions in schools. And when the choice comes to class sized of 40+ and a librarian or smaller class sizes, i put my parent hat on say "cut the librarian" especially if the librarian has not made a public case of what he or she contributes to the child's learning experience. I need to ask Buffy if her program was the only one cut or if it was part of broader reductions.

    3. There are indeed "bad" librarians practicing today. I wish I had not used "good" and "bad" but "effective" and "ineffective" or "proactive" or "reactive." As a profession, we need figure out how to either improve or weed out these folks who are hurting by association the librarians who really are doing an outstanding job.

    Some of my reaction, Jeri, certainly stems from personal frustration in seeing us trying to solve our profession's problems in tired old ways that just don't work (like national advocacy programs.) I'll take one parent or teacher at a school board meeting who is willing to speak to the efficacy of my program over a whole blizzard of ALA posters and brochures.

    Don't be so mad at me you stop talking to me - even if it is to disagree!



  3. grin--Now, Doug. I admit, I was getting more annoyed as I wrote, but if friends can't have a public debate on important issues, who can? I do take your point about welcoming all players to the table, though I also think teachers aren't up in arms because most of them don't see tech as their bailiwick. I bet if you asked a tech teacher, as opposed to an English or Math teacher, they'd be more "threatened." So I stick to my guns on that one: bring them in, but working with the library, not separate from.

    And I absolutely agree with the "tired old ways." I've only been in the library for 5 years, but already I see that the same old advocacy doesn't work. At least, not entirely. I still believe it's important to do, but it's not reaching teachers. (On the other hand, I could just suck at it!) I have teachers who swear by what I offer, and others wouldn't dream of giving up so much control as to collaborate.

    Though I'm starting to wonder if I just talk to them personally, then let them work with the students, instead of trying to insinuate myself into their class, if that might not slowly bring them around.

    And of course there are bad librarians; I didn't place my modifier very well above, and I didn't mean to suggest that great librarians are being laid off in epic proportions. Just that librarians are, as a whole, and there are a fair number of good librarians among them.

    Obviously, as a profession, this is an important conversation to be having, and the greater the variety of voices, the better. We all need to have our thinking pushed into new, uncomfortable areas!