“Huge Discussion” Triage

Through my Google Reader, there is a “huge discussion” among school librarians that has been brought to my attention. (Starts here, goes here and here, and onwards to here, and a nice summary of it all here). In talking with Buffy (The Unquiet Librarian) about it, I am now going to probably stick my nose into a debate I probably shouldn’t get involved in. However, I hope this offers the participants an objective third party assessment of the discussion.

I think the one thing that both sides of the argument should do is concede to two specific certain points.

First, there are school librarians who will (for whatever reason) not incorporate technology into their instruction and library environment. Their passion for books and their profession is not without merit, but it is not valid rationale in the current school library setting. It does not behoove the present educational parameters of teachers nor prepare students for their academic research future. They do their more technological colleagues no service by continuing to carry their educational Luddite ways. These librarians should take it upon themselves to find other library employment or be gently bumped from the field.

I’m sure some people will read this point as harsh and, well, it is. I’m sorry, but the people who hold this concept of school librarianship are in the wrong library field. School librarians have instructional access to students in their academic formative years, a crucial time in this information technology age, and it cannot (and should not) be wasted. It is not the unusual request of any parent that their child receive an education that prepares them for the world, including web tools and computer based research techniques. Today, such knowledge is a life skill of modern civilization.

(For those still not convinced, let me ask this same issue another way: exactly how out of date would you like the treatments and techniques of your personal health care professionals to be at any given point in time? I’m going to guess they don’t all have to be cutting edge, but there is an expectation that they at least stay current.)

Second, there are school librarians who are ready and willing to learn but have not been able. Despite the vast amount of contact points (e.g. training, online, social sites, list servs, etc.), they have not been able to connect to the resources. Call it bad luck, bad karma, bad timing, missed chances, no opportunity to take advantage, lack of funding, lack of support; it just has not happened for these individuals. There might be some incredulity to such an assertion, but there must be a willingness to accept that these individuals have been lagging behind through no fault of their own. (From Blue Skunk Blog, I know there are people who are just trying to maintain order, nevermind teaching anything. My heart goes out to them and suggest they take a page from Joe Clark.)  In order to reach these librarians, it will involve a continuously widening publicity net and the unconditioned acceptance of these ‘lost sheep’ librarians. Bring them in, get them going with toolkits and how-to guides, and guide them through to the 2.0 promised land.

Now that we’ve eliminated the top and bottom groups in this conversation, the real debate for the center begins. This middle group of librarians, in various states of acceptance of training, technology, and implementation, are truly the ones at stake in this discussion. These are the librarians where the majority effort needs to be placed; and they also raise the most important questions in the discussion. Such as:

  • What will it take to get these middle people on board?
  • What will it take to get those board to be able to train, use, and instruct 2.0?
  • Do they have the support (“the buy-in”) from administration and faculty to make it work?
  • How can I encourage them to go the next step and use [insert whatever 2.0 thing]?
  • Is there an acceptable level of 2.0 use? (In other words, what’s a reasonable amount of web tools and resources that a school librarian should be offering to students.)
  • What is a fair amount of time for school librarians to catch up? (You can’t do this forever. There has to be a cutoff point.

(This last portion of questioning is more artfully covered by Carolyn Foote’s post, but I have the sinister ‘dooms day’ question at the end.)

4 thoughts on ““Huge Discussion” Triage

  1. As an online friend and colleague of Buffy and Doug Johnson, I have intermittently followed this conversation through their blogs. I’m not a school library/media specialist (which is the common vernacular around here) but I do think library/media specialists need to be in a close partnership with technology people (like me) to best address the needs of students. After all, it is 2009!

    As I’ve shared with Buffy, I think the larger issue has to do with the lack of visionary leadership in out schools. I come to this viewpoint after being a high school science teacher for 13 years and a technology coordinator since 1996 and seeing positions directly associated with libraries being on the chopping block year after year. Despite the profound need to have highly qualified adults to work with teachers and students on matters pertaining to all types of literacy, decision makers seem to think these are not essential positions. My view is also bolstered by my observation that many principals and school leaders don’t really “get it” when it comes to what we need to be doing in schools in the 21st century to prepare students for their futures. Schools are facing monumental challenges and I’m sad to say I don’t think we are doing a very good job developing insightful, talented administrators.

    I’m not trying to diminish the value of any of your points. I think they’re valid and worth discussing. I know there are many dedicated and talented educators, in libraries and classrooms, working their tails off, trying to make a difference in the lives of students. We owe it to these champions of education to have exceptional leaders in all of their schools. Without that, we have too many “pockets of excellence” and not nearly enough cultures of learning.

    • “Buy-in” is huge. Just like with public libraries, having staff on board to sell a service helps tremendously. You need to demonstrate to staff how something can be useful to them before they can market it towards the public. The same should be true for school administration. (Guessing here.)

    • I think there is more time wasted about the bottom and top half of the conversation when it is the middle that matters. Even within the middle, you have a spectrum of users. If I was in your shoes trying to win over the middle, the process in my head would look like this:

      – Showing how the tool or site works (for the individual user)
      – Showing how the tool or site can work for the school library (in the context of education)
      – Showing how the tool or site can work for the school library to adminstration and/or faculty (demonstrate a benefit to the school as a whole)
      – Implementation (putting it into effect)
      – Instruction (teaching the students/faculty/adminstration to use it)

      Easier said than done, for certain. But this middle is the current majority in the school librarians and it from there that support for other bigger changes (like relaxation of filtering, greater technology reach, and the new hallowed ‘transliteracy’ education) would materialize from. Right now, there needs to be a series of targets for school librarians in this middle to see as viable goal; and I say series to reflect different levels of comfort and implementation.

      Maybe someone with a better idea of what it takes to run a school library can come up with a roadmap for people to get to current.

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