Nine Months into Retirement

WVLA (1)     I just renewed my membership in ALA/AASL and joined YALSA.  This is most likely not typical behavior for one who has retired, but after nine months, I must admit I haven’t got the hang of it.  I am pretty sure I don’t want to be retired from a cause that I fervently support.

At any rate, I have been quite busy since last December.  I stepped up my part-time work at a public library throughout the summer.  I continued to teach adult ed courses (smartphones, usually) in the evenings, and facilitated and help write courses for WVLearns, online professional development offered by the West Virginia Department of Education.  I have stayed in touch with my county library coordinator and tried to keep her apprised of significant school library developments, as she is not a librarian.

I planned and executed a school library workshop for our state’s school librarians.  Former AASL past president Leslie Preddy attended, and I believe it was her presence and influence that garnered our association enough membership to become an AASL affiliate.  I found someone to replace me as chair of the School Libraries Division.  I guess I can say I am stepping away from my role as chair with pride.  I am profoundly greatful to all who have supported our struggling school libraries division for so long.  Hopefully the division will continue to expand under new leadership.  I most likely will be on the sidelines, watching and waiting to be asked for help if needed, and cheering everyone on.

I intend to purchase the new standards and get the advance discount.  I want to share these with my former colleagues.  I want to share them with school boards, administrators, and elected officials.  Retirement gives me that freedom.

With all this I have not forgotten the National Board candidates for whom this blog was intended.  I hope to be a better mentor to all.



Maybe We Need A Friends Group

I get angry with my colleagues that refuse to stand up fo themselves.  Even when they are at a hearing to eliminate their job, many don’t defend the valuable work we do.  In all fairness, it is hard to fight for money and a place at the decision-making table when you are constantly in fear of losing your job.  Maybe we need a Friends group.

Advocacy for school libraries is hard work and requires planning and political savvy.  We know what needs to be done but lack the influence to create action.  Parents and community members have that influence.


More Reflections on the Name Thing

Recent conversation:

“Suzie is a wonderful librarian,” said the principal.  Turning to me with a horrified look on her face, she said, “I’m sorry.  A wonderful media specialist.”

“I am a librarian,” I replied.

“That’s right,” agreed the principal.  “When you started you were probably still called librarians.” (Uh, no, but nevermind that…)

“But I am a media specialist,” said the newbie Praxis school librarian, “because I do other things besides just books.”

Before I had chance to give the elevator speech, the principal was off directing workers, an the “media specialist” was off setting up her book fair.  I am still shaking my head, but no matter that.  What matters is the sheer lack of ignorance of our profession even by those who attempt to practice it.  Before I get to the real point, let me take a minute to catch everyone up.

The term media specialist evolved to signal that school librarians were now responsible for infusing the wonderful world of audiovisuals into the curriculum.  In 1982 I was charged with cataloging A/V as part of my student teaching assignment.  This new term “media specialist” was coined to cover the additional job description.

But here’s the thing: librarians have always evolved to meet the community need. We have cataloged scrolls, runes and art.  We have cataloged and preserved vital documents and diaries.  We have lent toys and tools, audiobooks and DVDs. No name change was necessary.

Here’s is another thing:  everything is a medium, from a pencil to a book to a database.Every tool, from a crayon to a laptop is technology.  It is not important what it is; what is important is what it does. While the form may change, the function has not. Librarians still catalog and facilitate the use of all media.

I don’t need a name change to describe what I do; I catalog and facilitate the use of all media.  I am a librarian.   I don’t spend my time reading books and magazines; I spend my time assuring these resources are used in an equitable manner, available for all.  I am a librarian.

I don’t need a name change to describe what I do.  And neither do you.

I think we degrade ourselves by seeking new terms for what we do.  If people stereotype us, then they have not had the opportunity to be inspired by a super librarian. Blow their socks off.  And remind them that is what librarians do. And don’t ever apologize for your career choice!

There are, of course, many different library specialties, or which being a school librarian may be the most all-encompassing.  We are library directors, subject librarians, electronic resource librarians, reference librarians, catalogers, collection specialists, and teachers. But first and foremost, we are school librarians, and we will adapt to what ever the future of educational technology throws at us.

I am a school librarian.

You are a school librarian.

Say it.

Be it.

Own it.

And don’t apologize.


An Open Letter to Mary Downing Hahn

Dear Ms. Hahn:

I recently read Took to my fourth and fifth grade classes.  They loved the book, as I suspected they would.  I told the children many times how you were my favorites children’s author and have been since I read Wait Till Helen Comes. They loved the chapters where Auntie was talking and shivered with every mention of Bloody Bones.  This book was just what I promised them it would be.

And a little more.  Little did I know that I would be using this book to teach about prejudice and stereotyping.  How disappointing that this wonderful story reinforces the negative stereotypes and bad jokes that we West Virginians have been battling for decades.  I am certain that your story will reinforce a negative image of my state in our youngest generation.  Shame on you!

There was a lot of accuracy in your depiction: the rundown town left nearly vacant as coal mining jobs have dwindled away.  The lack of jobs that forced the father to take a low-paying job at Home Depot.  The kind bus driver.  The neighbors who jumped in to help strangers.  The clothes the children wear to school, jeans and tee shirts, were accurate, although you described them as if this were derogatory, rather than a personal preference or perhaps a fact of the economy.  How dare you make light of those who have suffered hard times?

The most glaring indication of your lack of knowledge of West Virginia was your depiction of the schools, with the antiquated equipment, rigid teaching strategies, and no children’s work displayed.  How far this is from the reality of West Virginia schools!

Are you aware the West Virginia has led computer integration in schools since the early 1980s?  In 2003  West Virginia was one of only two states to receive an A in technology integration.  We take pride in the strides our state has made in our schools.

Our teachers take pride in providing a safe, nurturing atmosphere where all children and their work is celebrated.  Just as teachers do in other states, we work hard to provide the best differentiated strategies for all our students.

West Virginians and other southern Appalachian citizens seem to be the only people it is socially acceptable to stereotype.  We are accustomed to the ignorance portrayed in your book, such as the reference to people marrying their cousins.  We see it all this time in network television shows, sportscasts, and cinema.  We take umbrage at such references, but you have taken this to a new level:  you are perpetuating falsehoods among children.  Shame on you!










For the Last Time – I am NOT a Media Specialist!

I take umbrage at being called a media specialist.  This puzzles the person who is speaking, because I am sure she thinks she is complimenting me by not calling me a librarian.Here’s the thing:  I AM a librarian!

Those in my position have had numerous titles passed around as we try to define ourselves in a world that resists seeing us a modern, information-technology literate professionals.  Yet those defining us wouldn’t want to offend us by calling us old-fashioned librarians, as that word connotes wire-rimmed glasses, bunned hair, and a spinsterly demeanor.  But for me, the term “media specialist” connotes another negative image – a middle-aged woman in a jumper with sensible shoes pushing an AV cart or carefully mended a 16MM film.  That’s not me.  My library has not housed AV equipment for at least 15 years;  And I don’t own a jumper!

Our profession has been caught in the conundrum of deciding on a name that actually defines us.  The term media specialist evolved in the 70s when district level materials centers closed and librarians assumed this responsibility of cataloging, housing and integrating multimedia. Still, this is inadequate, and now often inaccurate, when describing our multi-faceted roles.

Proposed names have run the entire English language spectrum, it seems. Some prefer the term “teacher-librarian,” a title I have no problem with, since it does reaffirm that we are teachers first.  I am a teacher first, then a librarian.  Others don’t like this term, I suspect, because it does not acknowledge our role in information literacy and technology integration.

Some prefer the term “school library media specialist.”  I don’t know why this term doesn’t bother me, but it doesn’t.  Probably because the term librarian is present.  AASL has adopted the term “school librarian” as our formal title.

As for me, I have introduced myself as the “Goddess of All Information, Both Real and Imagined,” but generally speaking this moniker was ill-received.  I found that it encompassed all my responsibilities rather nicely.  But since folks don’t want to call me a goddess, I prefer that the call me something else that encompasses all of my responsibilities – a librarian.

I earned my MLIS when my kids were  little, balancing a full-time and a part-time job, school and their dance classes.  I spent countless hours thinking and rethinking about teaching to achieve National Board certification. And I put in 320 clock hours to become a Technology Integration Specialist even though real school librarians were technology integration specialists long before someone cleverly coined the term.  I did all this to become what I am very proud to be:

An ALA card-holding LIBRARIAN.  I don’t apologize and won’t let others condescend by calling me a “nicer” name.






It is difficult to believe I have just completed my 20th year at Brookhaven Elementary and my 28th year as a school librarian.  (A total of 34 years as a library professional, for those keeping score.)  Obviously a lot has changed during that time in terms of technology and philosophies of service within our profession, but I think maybe the biggest changes have been within me.

When I began my library service, I didn’t truly understand the concept that school librarians are teachers first.  I saw my role as  a provider of resources.  It seemed logical to me that students should intuitively grasp the concepts of library arrangement — after all, I did.  I took a long time for me to reconcile myself with different learning styles.  Also, I have come to recognize with the vast array of materials available to my students, it is not necessary to teach how to use a specific tool, but it is extremely necessary to teach them a process for finding the information they need.

The advent of additional library technologies certainly has expanded the library’s collection and has caused me to rethink my position on collections of fiction and nonfiction alike.  What information is reliably found online?  What is provided by state or district databases?  What will my students most likely access online?  Again, my assumption ran smack dab into reality, as I realized that my students don’t readily gravitate to the digital format.  As teachers embrace these digital materials, more students adopt the digital as well.

My biggest transition by far has been from being a librarian who taught to being a teacher who has a wealth of information and resources at her fingertips – and who knows how to use them.  I have dug deeper into the aspects of pedagogy and curriculum, but I have backed these up with the commitment to public service that sprung from my library school background.  I don’t walk the line between these two worlds;  I have integrated librarianship into my teaching.

I am still committed to providing students with the best information and experiences I can possibly find.  Universal Design for Learning is not a difficult concept for one who wants to assess learning, as opposed to assessing the ability to do well on a textbook vendor-supplied test.  In 2016 we should not be beating students with the same stick.  It is a lot more work, but we must provide be prepared to provide on-demand content in all curriculum areas.

I will not be working in school libraries for another twenty years, and I cannot envision what changes might occur.  In roughly three years, I hope to transition into part-time public library work and full-time school library advocacy.  Perhaps I will work on my Ph.D., just to stay in touch.  There will still be school libraries 20 years from now.   The question is, who will run them and what will they be called?  It is up to all of us school librarians to make sure the transition to having a library run by the untrained not take place.


Lack of Library Training Programs a Problem

This past Thursday I went to a dinner in honor of two good friends who are retiring after many years of service to my school district. I will truly miss Jackie and Michele.  They brought a lot to our program, and I learned valuable lessons from both of them.  They were two I could always count on attending our unpaid professional development sessions and two who counsel I regularly sought.

Replacing these ladies are two wonderful women who will work hard to continue the programs they inherited.  I have worked with Meghan this year and found her a delightful, dedicated National Board Certified teacher who is devoted to her students’ learning.  It was my pleasure to serve as her mentor this year, as I served as Gina’s last year.  Today, I met Jackie’s replacement, Wendy.  She was my cashier at WalMart, and as we were chatting, I discovered she would be the “new Jackie.”  I liked this woman and her attitude immediately, and discovering I would be working with her was a true delight.

My county will be welcoming two additional, brand-spanking new library media specialists this year, and I look forward to meeting them as well.  But I have reservations.  All of the media specialists who have been hired by my county in the last three years have received their certification by means of passing the library media Praxis exam.  In other words, they have received certification without taking a single class.  The circumstances leading to this is that West Virginia has only one higher education institution that offers coursework in school library media.

While I have no doubt that these women are excellent teachers, as Meghan has exhibited by achieving National Board Certification, I am concerned about a lack of foundation in the library profession. I try upholding the documents of our profession  to the fullest extent possible.  I know the precepts of the profession, the Code of Ethics, the Right to Read, etc.  When I stray away from these documents, I have an awareness that causes the decision to be uneasy and not likely one to repeat without intense scrutiny.  I know when I have strayed from a standard, from the sisterhood, if you will.  Will others lacking these foundations be as unwilling to stray?  Will they know when they have strayed?

I am excited to work with these women and will help them all I can.  I will do my best to make sure they are aware of the professional documents and understand their responsibilities to uphold them to the fullest extent possible.

Other concerns I may have about cataloging and other matters are easily taught and learned.  Basically, everyone learns mostly on the job, anyway. It’s not the mechanics or teaching that worries me; what worries me is the potential fading of the soul of our profession.