Making a Difference or Copping Out?

Ever since AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner was released in 2007, I have been pondering the wisdom of asking for a fixed schedule.  I know – what I am saying is heresy to those who have fought so hard for and been denied the flexible schedule. To you I apologize but ask you to hear me out.  Even I can’t believe I am putting this in writing.

I have been in my elementary library job for 20 years.  At the beginning of the second year I asked my principal to consider flexible scheduling.  I wasn’t in the related arts rotation, so this was not an issue.  His concern was that teachers would feel I wasn’t doing anything if I didn’t have a fixed schedule.  I explained to him my concern that half the teachers forgot their scheduled library time, which was a waste of my time and a loss for their children.  With a flexible schedule, kids could come as many days a week as their teacher would let them.  As there was no set library time, all teachers had to do was call and see if there was a conflict before they brought their classes.  Teachers could schedule research or skill lessons as needed without worrying that it wasn’t their “time.”  My principal acquiesced, with the warning that he didn’t want to hear that I wasn’t occupying my time properly.  I assured him that if teachers embraced this schedule, I would be so busy I wouldn’t have a choice.

And so my library ran on a flexible schedule, with vary little variation, from 1997 to present. For the first 13 years or so, I was able to collaborate with teachers and work with the children on some very cool projects.

But then the noose that was NCLB and now Race to the Top began to tighten, leaving teachers no time for “frills” such as research.  Even the teachers that still did want to collaborate did not allow me the time to teach notetaking, paraphrasing and other valuable skills.  I could see that the kids really were not getting much from their projects, and I felt I was sending them on unprepared.

Around the same time we experienced an explosion in our digital collections.  Kids could have 24/7 access to many resources.  For me this meant that time spent on research would not necessarily take away from the reading program, if time was structured properly.  Students would be spending less time finding information and more time using it, as the information was readily available in most cases.   Locating obsolete information, my chief objection to “library skills” would be minimized.  Real world information literacy could take place.

And so I read Standards for the 21st Century Learner and all AASL’s accompanying literature.  I perused the Crosswalk to the Common Core.  And I made mock yearly outlines in the event I was called upon.

This summer, after one of my library programs, I was talking theory with my assistant principal.  The talk turned to digital citizenship and information literacy, and I said, “You know, sometimes I almost with information skills was part of the related arts rotation.”

The next day, it was a done deal, and this fall I will be teaching grades one through five on a daily basis, implementing what I have learned during these past few years of study.  Singlehandedly, I have turned my back on the flexible schedule so staunchly promoted by AASL and school librarians everywhere.  And I am okay with this, as I have come to realize, slowly and stubbornly, that my job has more in common with my teaching colleagues than those at the public library. Once I accepted that proposition, I realized I had a lot more to give.

My challenge over the next few weeks will be to recruit adequate volunteers to help keep the library running up to my expectations while I embrace teaching as a full-time, structured role.  I will have to be at my most organized to pull this off!

I will write more later about this shift in philosophy, and I won’t be afraid to tell you if I made a huge mistake.  It will be interesting.

A word of warning, though: It may be best not to talk theoretically with your assistant principal!

One Bad Apple Does Spoil the Whole Bunch

I had the opportunity to talk to a high school teacher yesterday at my state tech conference.  After sometime we reached the subject of school libraries and librarians.  She told me that her school librarian was “good, but didn’t really like kids.”  I told her that I thought those two ideas were incompatible.  What did she mean when she said that her librarian was good?

Well, of course, she meant good in a stereotypical sense.  Her librarian kept the library neat and organized. These are not bad qualities, I told her, but they are the least important aspect of our jobs.

I welcomed the opportunity to explain to her the five ranked roles of today’s library media specialist: leader, instructional partner, information specialist, teacher and program administrator.  I suggested that if she ever wanted to see a real high school library in action, she should arrange to visit a particular library in a neighboring county, and I briefly explained that librarian’s philosophy.  She was very impressed with what I had to say.

And that’s the problem.  Library media programs such as the exemplary one I described should be closer to the norm than the one in this teacher’s school. Unfortunately, teachers and administrators only expect what they have experienced.  If all they have experienced is the archivist school library prototype, they have no reason to demand more.

Yes, I just hung an unknown colleague out to dry.  And I am not the least bit sorry.This bad apple does endanger the rest of us. Her lack of initiative to provide high quality library services and her clientele’s lack of expectations makes us vulnerable to job cuts. This is unacceptable.

As a profession we need to demand more of each other.  Nurturing only works with those who wish to be nurtured.  When that fails, it is time to call out those who are bringing us down. Further, if we cannot convince the librarian to step up her game, we need to inform her colleagues as to what they should expect. Carl Harvey II, a former AASL president, developed a list of attributes that teachers should expect of their school library media specialist. This is available in the February 2005 edition of School Library Media Connection.  The publisher grants permission for copying and distributing the document in the school in which you work. Use this to let your teachers know how valuable you are and can be. Then share the link in your newsletters and with your school and district administrators.

Harvey has also written a similar list for principals, but probably the most accessible information for principals is written by Doug Johnson.  Johnson’s work includes a  13 Point Library Media Program Checklist for School Principals that is a bit dated but still useful. Share this with your principal. Share it with your district office folks.

As a profession we have an obligation to educate our principals, teachers and parents as to what our roles in our children’s education actually should be.  And we need to call out both the librarian who falls short and the administrators who allow that to happen.

Have Computers in Education Become Part of The Problem?

I had made up my mind that I was going to write today.  I had no idea what I was going to write about, until I happened upon a tweet/retweet from Doug Johnson and Donna Baumbach, two library influencers whom I deeply respect.  Their tweet led me to a post by Audrey Watters, who asks if it is time to give up on the idea of computers in the classroom.

Watters offers the premise that computers once were renegade, that they could democratize education.  Now, she argues, they are part of establishment, a means of control and surveillance.  They are part of an ever-growing industry that aims to make the white man big bucks.

I can hardly disagree.  Each year we sign a contract designed to protect us, our students and the school system from bad choices made in an Internet gone amok.  Our computers are locked down to the point that we cannot use the webcams for collaboration as our software may have intended.  We cannot use wikis and blogs without imperial oversight.  Everything teachers want to do that is creative must pass through administrative channels.  Our choices, then, are to risk asking permission and being refused, or to claim ignorance and ask forgiveness.  I choose plan B.

Our schools employ Technology Integration Specialists whose job is to help teachers find resources and employ them with their students.  Much of their time, however, is taken by “administrivia-” setting up grade books, maintaining web pages, attending meetings about the upcoming test, implementing the practice sessions for the upcoming tests, and of course, administering the tests.  They are not invited to grade level planning meetings where they could offer expertise to classroom teachers or even offer to help.

Don’t get me wrong:  I strongly believe in computers in the classrooms, and I support the Technology Integration Specialists initiatives as vital to today’s education.  But I do admire Watters for boldly stating how such an innocent initiative has become a tool of the corporate world and the education machine itself.

Certainly, computers in education (technology in education) is not the only part of education that has been commercialized to the point of insanity.  The whole standards-based testing movement has become a huge industry that benefits no one in education – not administrators, teachers or students. But someone is making big bucks, or these initiatives would have been discarded.

How do we get off this merry-go-round?  Certainly not by getting rid of computers in the classroom, but perhaps by adopting the renegade spirit that brought them to education in the first place.  Do what is right and engaging with the tech tools you have –and ask forgiveness.

Lessons from Smokey and the Bandit

Lessons from Smokey and the Bandit

I will be the first to admit that my taste in movies is of the fast food variety.
Smokey and the Bandit is one of my all-time favorites.  While it may not have won critical acclaim, I find  the wisdom in this film helpful in troubling times.  This is especially true in regard to our plight of disappearing school libraries.
Towards the end of the film, the Bandit tells Cledus, “l don’t like  this any more than you do, but we ain’t gonna make it, son. We’re gonna hang it up.”
Cledus is morally outraged.  “Negatory. Negatory.  We say we’re doing a job, we’re doing a job!”

There have been many times, especially in the last few school years, when many of us have felt like the Bandit.  We have done a remarkable job against incredible odds (without benefit of the black Trans Am), and we feel we just can’t do anymore to help our profession.    When someone like the Bandit says it’s time to hang it up, that no one knows we exist – or that our importance to the general education picture is ignored, how fortunate we are for the Cleduses of our profession who boldly proclaim that it’s time to “introduce ’em to the boy!”  With that, the Bandit and the Snowman made it to the Fairgrounds in time and saved their hides.

We need more Cleduses, and I am urging all school librarians or friends of school libraries to be one.  I realize that because of our isolation within our schools we are often too intimidated to draw attention to ourselves.  But when all we library media specialists band together and tell our collective stories, our value and prestige will be difficult to ignore.

Be a Cledus.  Here’s how:

  1. Never miss a chance to blow your own horn.  No one else will do it, because no one else has a clue what our jobs entail.  Talk information literacy standards and how you are helping your students be ethical and savvy users of information.
  2. Blog about your daily experiences.  And keep blogging.  Your blogs may be sporadic, but when you have something to say about a day in our profession, say it.  You may think no one cares: it could be that no one cares until you tell them what they need to care about. Blog.  And blog some more.
  3. Connect with other school librarians via Nings, Twitter, conferences and any other medium available.  Don’t stop connecting.  We all have different challenges, even within the same counties, even within the same states.  We need to know what is happening with each other, so that hopefully we can all devise meaningful ways to help.
  4. Never miss a chance to impress your supervisor and his supervisors.  I recently was troubleshooting a laptop/tv setup for an administrators’ meeting in the library.  Once I had everything connected, I said, “Oh, while you’re here, let me tell you about the ebook bundles the PreK-5 librarians selected to support the Common Core.”
  5. Be recognizable by your school community.  I have a library Facebook page.  I use it to post about curriculum, as well as to advertise upcoming events.
  6. Give back.  Seth Godin calls this generosity.  Doug Johnson calls it being indispensable   Whatever it is, give back to the community you serve in a professional capacity.  I have open library nights every Wednesday, where the parents are welcome to come in, read with their children and supervise their taking of Reading Counts quizzes.  Do I get paid for this?  Well, my parents generously support our two book fairs each year.  The least I can do is let them experience the library in action.  If I am ever involved in another staff cut situation, you can bet your last dollar I will have plenty of parents that come to my defense.
  7. Collaborate with teachers at least on a monthly basis.  Seek them out.  Go to them rather than expecting them to come to you.  Ask what you can do to help them meet their goals and standards.  Be willing to teach from their classrooms rather that relying on their classes to come to you.  Reach out!
  8. If you are faced with staff cuts, don’t stand in front of the Board and cite the research.  The only people who care about the research are those who have money to spend.  If a school board wants to cut your job, they don’t have that kind of money.  So, what should you do?  Tell them about how you use evidence-based practice in your school to contribute to student achievement.  Show them the data.  Get testimonials from parents. Show how your library actually saves the district money.  Stay positive and focused.
I challenge us all to be Cledus Snows.  Start by responding to this blog and contributing to (or challenging) the conversation.  There is no need to be shy.  We all have professional experiences to share.
(This post was originally published in Random Thoughts <;  I decided to repost it here in hopes of reaching a different audience.

The Learning Commons Mindset

In the tough times facing our profession, despite our huge potential to impact learning, it is nice to see a school district that is “getting it right.” Kudos to West Vancouver schools.

Students at West Bay Elementary School Students at West Bay Elementary School

I walk into almost all of our schools in West Vancouver and very often the first thing people want to show me or talk to me about is the changes happening around the library.  Or more specifically, schools are taking great pride in their learning commons spaces that are developing.  While the physical spaces are exciting, the changes to our mindsets are far more powerful.  We are not destined for new schools in West Vancouver anytime soon but the rethink of the library has been both a symbolic and concrete shift in how we think about space and how we think about learning.  The school library – a centre piece in schools – is now the modern hub for learning.

I like the library metaphor from Joan Frye Williams (shared in this blog from Joyce Valenza):

Our libraries should transition to places to do stuff, not simply…

View original post 561 more words

So What’s the Answer?

I recently posted a link to an editorial is the Parkersburg, WV News and Sentinel that criticized the West Virginia League of Women Voters’ attempt to secure stable funding for our state’s public libraries.  The writer maintained that public libraries are vital to our communities but the method proposed by the League – mandatory funding from the county school aid formula and by the county commissions – is wrong-minded. The editorial stopped short of offering any alternatives.

As a school library media specialist and a lifelong user and former employee of public libraries, I find myself in a philosophical conundrum regarding this issue.  I want to see public libraries thrive. I want the employees to receive higher wages than the meager pay pervasive in these libraries.  I want the materials budget to expand to offer current, useful collections to the community.  Finally I want expanded services to children, teens and adults.

But I do not want to see school libraries suffer.  As it is, five counties in West Virginia have no school library services.  I know of no county in our state – including Monongalia and Kanawha, two of our most affluent counties – that have full-time library media services in every school. At this time Wood County is threatening to eliminate the jobs of  two library media specialists.  School libraries, which are mandated but not funded by our state code, are a target every time cuts to funding occur.  The policy of the League of Women Voters would certainly impact the provision of school library media services in some counties.

Many see library services as irrelevant in our current information society when tough decisions have to be made.  I maintain that with the overload of information and myth-information, students and the public need library media services more than ever. Students need help sorting through the excess and locating accurate information.  They need help drawing conclusions when confronted with conflicting information.  They need help navigating complex copyright laws in order to be ethical, contributing users of information.  They need help developing these skills so that they are the information literate citizens our employers and future employers desire.  Classroom teachers, with all the ever-changing mandates pushed down on them, are not equipped with the knowledge or the time to help students develop these skills.  School library media specialists have both the knowledge, and ideally, the time to help students make sense of the information puzzle.

School libraries and public libraries must be fully funded, developed and maintained.

I mentioned the editorial in the News and Sentinel stopped short of providing a solution to this conundrum.  So what’s the answer?

I am sure many will disagree with my point of view, but I have two ideas that I feel could provide a solution to our problem:

First, let’s capitalize on the oil and gas boom in our state to more fully fund our public services.  We need improvements to our roads, our technology infrastructure, our physical infrastructure, our schools, and yes, our libraries.  West Virginia has given away its coal resources.  Let’s find a way to make the Marcellus and Utica expansion in our state benefit it’s people by increasing the severance fee on these resources.

Second, let’s demand that the federal tax dollars spent on education in West Virginia actually go to supporting our local school needs instead of focusing on “research-based” programs and initiatives that have done nothing but lower our students’ achievement.  Let’s distribute these monies to the counties without the strings attached by the U.S. Department of Education and  allocate money to things that work: reduced class size and school libraries.

With these fixes, the League of Women Voters’ plan to fund public libraries is feasible.

The Leader: The Number 1 Role of the School Library Media Specialist



One of the titles on my summer reading list is Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (AASL, 2009). I had purchased the book when it was released and skimmed it many times. This summer my goal was to read and reflect upon its ideas and develop some sort of action plan for implementation. Of all the ideas in this book, the idea that struck my greatest was the five roles of the library media specialist. I was surprised to see that the number one role of the SLMS is that of a leader. What follows are my reflections of how I have evolved in that role across the span of my career.

LeadersLeader: The SLMS is charged with infusing 21st Century skills throughout the school. “Leadership requires increased professional commitment and thorough knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing the profession.”

Being a leader is a challenge for someone who is a committee of one in her school. It is especially a challenge for a 23 year-old who lacks experience in the world of education. When I took my first job I didn’t express my opinions on education. I really didn’t have any. After I had my baby two years later, I became a better teacher, but I remained very deferential in the patriarchal school in which I was employed.

In my next teaching job I felt bullied by the hostile forces around me. I was hired as a planning period teacher, but I did not understand that at the time. I did not understand how building a quality library could not be important to the teachers who were not willing to give up the very meager library allotment that they had historically spent because there was no library or librarian prior to my being employed. The principal was a very nice man who told me, yes, I could spend the allotment. He told the classroom teachers they could spend the same money I had already encumbered.

After a year and a quarter of unbearable isolation and tension, I retreated to the public library, where I was nurtured and encouraged. I took on many special projects and most importantly earned my Masters in Library and Information from the University of South Carolina. Though I never stepped foot on campus, I believe I felt more rapport with my professors and colleagues through this early distance learning experience than I ever did in face-to-face college classes. The support and encouragement I received during this time is fundamentally important to the professional I am today.

Degree in hand, I left the public library and took a position as the library media specialist in my daughters’ elementary school. The principal was phenomenal and handed me the responsibility of building both our school’s library and technology program. I put in a lot of hours, but I developed a plan and vision for what our students should have. The happy faculty at this school trusted my judgement and adopted new measures even with hesitation.

My daughters are now 29 and 26, but I am still in the same elementary. The principal retired and was replaced by two other wonderful administrators who both empowered me and trusted my vision. I have grown tremendously under their guidance.

I think overall these stories of my career have two tracks of opposing conditions that contrast young me from the 55 year old that is writing for you now. The first, less imposing condition is inexperience versus experience. No one can help you gain experience but yourself.

The second, more important condition, isolation versus nurture, is something I can do something about. I can lead and be supportive of our younger colleagues and give them opportunities to grow and eventually become leaders in my district.

Developing leaders is essential for the continuation of our profession. My goal is to decrease the isolation and develop a sense of importance in each LMS I meet. Not only do I want them to feel secure in their jobs, I want them to trust their visions on a national agenda for school libraries. Our kids are going to need strong librarians to support their rights to intellectual freedom.

For the past year I have served as chair of the West Virginia Library Association’s School Library Division. In this capacity I have had the opportunity to reach beyond my district. I am anxious to form coalitions with my colleagues to strengthen the school library programs for all West Virginia’s children. A huge lesson I have learned over the past 30 years is that I cannot accomplish my vision on my own.

Will you join me?

Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs. Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians, 2009. Print.





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 353 other followers