Houston, We Have a Problem


Pointing fingers and calling out our profession isn’t something I do well or often, but sometimes I figure it needs doing whether anyone pays any attention or not.

That said, we do have a problem and it’s a pretty serious one at that.

By “we” I mean librarians, media specialists, information technologist, or whatever other dolled-up title someone wants to put on a name tag that doesn’t get one dime more in salary for the trouble.

By “problem”, I mean an image problem. Did you know that it seems the average teachers don’t like us very much? I’ve heard the term Book Nazi, Copyright Nazi, Video Nazi, and several other “blank” Nazis. My papa spent four years in Europe fighting the real Nazis. One of his brothers nearly died in a POW stalag.

I don’t like being associated with Nazi anything.

Maybe I’m crazy . . . no, scratch that, I’ve got papers to prove I’m crazy. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but if I don’t, I doubt anyone else will — the Nazi name callers may have a point. Boom, I said it.

It’s simple really. I see post after post on my state association’s listserv discussing the problems inherent in being a librarian or media specialist or whatever name makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside today. I see posts questioning every little detail of copyright. I mean, does anyone out there really think that RIAA is going to come SHUT YOUR SCHOOL DOWN because you demurred and let the band director get away with playing more than 30 seconds worth of popular music at a pep rally? Nope. It’s not going to happen, but I’ve seen more than one librarian (henceforth, that is the only term I’ll be using. Don’t like it? Oh well. It’s my bloggy and I’ll call myself what I want to ooooo) create a tandem axle dump truck load of ill-will from faculty members by drumming on the same old copyright drum over and over.

I had a teacher who moved to my school from a district farther up in the state, near the border of our neighboring state, seems the district had a 2 in the name. Anyway, this teacher came in to the library and needed a book RIGHT THEN for a lesson that had come to her in the car on the way to work. She looked like she was going to the firing squad when she asked me. I walked over to the shelf, pulled the book down and handed it to her, and told her good luck on her lesson. She looked stunned and said, “You mean I don’t have to check this out?” I told her, “No, just drop it in the slot at the end of the day.”

Her planning period was last period and she came into my office where I was working on a book order and sat down. She told me that she’d never been able to grab a book at her old school. She said EVERYTHING that went out the door had to be scanned and the librarian or her aide would come around at the end of the day to pick up all the equipment that had been loaned out but not returned before 3:15. As she went on, she talked about how it took an act of God to get a DVD player from the library and it finally got so bad that most teachers quit bothering with it and just bought a cheap DVD player and hooked up to the TV on the wall. It wasn’t the best picture quality, but it beat having to face the “library lady.”

I’ve had kids come to me from other schools, some in my district and some not, who would stand in nearly open mouthed disbelief when I told them they could check out three books at a time. They’d never heard of such. My wife is a teacher in elementary school and she wrote a check to her librarian for $13.75 so one of her students could check out a book again because the little lad had lost a book the previous year and the librarian refused to let him even look at books in the library until the debt was paid.

I’m not making this crap up, folks.

I listen at conferences at the way some librarians talk about students and teachers and administrators. If some of the conversations I overhear are to be believed, we know everything and if librarians could just take over the school and run it, test scores would skyrocket, discipline would improve to Utopian standards, and the Golden Age of Education would be ushered in. Right.

We want “collaboration” but if a teacher needs something that doesn’t fall under our beloved Policy and Procedures for the Media Center Program Manual, we’ll, he or she is just S.O.L in too many of our schools. I’ve got a news flash for all the self-righteous librarians out there who think that Information Power is Scripture and Keith Curry Lance is right under the Trinity in importance: “GET OVER YOURSELVES”. If your teachers can’t stand to be around you because you are one big rule after another, if they basically refuse to talk to you any more than absolutely necessary because you always look put out when they ask you for something . . . well, they aren’t going to collaborate with you. In fact, they are going to stay as far away from you and the library as possible.

If kids see the library as a place to get yelled at, they won’t come in. If they see computers they can’t touch unless they are doing something “academic” with their class, they won’t come in. Guess what? The Sun will still come up tomorrow if a child surfs the Internet on one of your precious library computers and doesn’t complete some sacred “project” in “Web 2.0”

As the preacher said, I’m winding down now, but we gripe and wring our hands because of funds being cut from libraries. Well, who makes those decisions? Politicians who in all likelihood had one or more experiences like Dr. Scott McCleod write about in an entry of his blog Dangerously Irrelevant.

If too many politicians recall traumatic experiences from the libraries of their past — regardless of how long ago and currently outmoded that past may be — they aren’t going to be swayed by our pleas, presentations, and spreadsheets. Furthermore, are we inculcating those same traumatic experiences into a new generation of future politicians and in the process, making things hard for our future colleagues?

So, take a look at your rules, your personality, and your general approach to the business of being a librarian. As yourself, does it have to be this way? We talk about stress, but how much of our stress is self-inflicted? Finally, I’ve heard lots of librarians pitch a fit over the librarian action figure with sensible shoes, spectacles, and a bun, but I say if the stereotype fits . . .

12 responses »

  1. O.K. Do you feel better? I hope so.
    Now, some of what you say is funny. Some of what you say is absolutely true. Some of what you say is informative. But, to me, in my opinion, not connected to anyone else, I think you are very frustrated, upset, tired, and need a break. I hope you find relief. I really do.
    No, we should not be the police, the Naziis, or anyone else. We are librarians (yes, or whatever fancy name you use now). We are purveyors of information. Some of that information comes with limited access due to the ages of our patrons and safety concerns. I don’t feel the need to apologize for being concerned about the safety of the children I serve daily.
    I understand your frustration, but am concerned by the amount of anger that is evident.
    If you are trying to collaborate with folks put your best foot forward… lead the way…. start ahead of them if you need to with preliminary plans, and they will jump on board sooner or later! Hopefully sooner.
    If we advocate for ourselves, things will improve. If we want to provide a loving, enjoyable, peaceful environment, “just do it” (as they say.) I like my flat shoes and my attempt at tidy hair. I like my floppy hats and my skirts with socks…
    I don’t mind being stereotyped if I fit the picture.
    Being a librarian for children means that sometimes we have to treat the adults we work with just like the children we serve. Plaster a smile on your face, do the best that you can, stay within the law, make good choices, and you can relax at the end of the day.

    • Thank you for not only a thoughtful and erudite reply but also for backing up much of what I said in my post with good examples.

  2. Pingback: Perusing Past Posts: A meme « “Granny Beads & Grocery Store Feet”

  3. I loved reading this. It is what I think about on a regular basis. I wish there was a way to get the word out to everyone. Keep up the good work.

  4. Hey Shannon! Well put. Especially the part about GETTING OVER YOURSELF. As my friend in the restaurant business would say when an order is called back into the kitchen “heard”.
    When it comes to copyright I give teachers the handout from SDE and tell them that I am only CYA’ing and that they aren’t my laws. I usually finish with, just don’t ask me to do anything illegal.
    I consider my role in my learning community to support teachers and students, and while I am not a doormat or a babysitter, I do my best to participate in and inspire the learning process.
    We need to be the change we seek. Thanks for putting that so eloquently.

  5. Testify, brother! I really appreciate what you have written and your wonderful way of putting it. While many of us strive to NOT be “that” librarian, I think we all need to be reminded from time to time that it is not our personal space. In truth, our space belongs to everyone and it’s never too late to exercise a little southern hospitality! As my mama always says, treat your guest like family. You better be thankful that people want to come see you!

  6. Thank you for articulating the 2008 version of Pogo: we have seen the enemy, and they is us!
    School librarians need to remember that the library needs to be an active and integral part of the teaching process, not merely a mausoleum of “policy-protected publications.

  7. Well said. While I frequently call the library “mine,” everything in there is made to be used by the students, teachers, and community. I’d be thrilled if all the materials were utilized and not sit on shelves or in closets gathering dust.

    As for not letting students check out books due to fines, I always had “good intentions” of being the proper librarian who denies students who have too many books out or high fines. However, I’m just happy they are reading and/or wanting to check out books that I overlook the fines or book limit. I’ll let the bookkeeper worry about that instead.

    I don’t mind students coming to the library to “surf the web,” but I still have to abide by district policies. The IAUP basically state that non-school related activities are not allowed. I “allow” students to search for pretty much anything that interests them – all in the name for self-improvement and knowledge inquiry. Hey, they have to know how to choose the best wireless plan for them and/or find those good deals on Nikes! But I do have to follow the no email, chats, lyrics, games, etc. *sigh*

    I will say I try to influence teachers and students to use information ethically (part of our jobs!) which includes copyright use. However, I don’t consider myself the copyright police, instead I recommend alternatives. If students use copyright images/music in projects, I remind them to cite their sources – while inside I’m just happy they actually turned something in! I’m an advocate for modeling the behavior I want our students to pick up. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to have a cow or go on a rampage if they use popular music at the pep rally. And I’ve been guilty of using popular music at our graduation ceremony a time or two (or three!), but that was before we started selling the videos.

    The only time I worry about copyright is when it’s going to be viewed by more than just my school. The only time I worry about materials/books/equipment is if I know that Johnny or Mr. Johnny isn’t that trustworthy, but that doesn’t mean I will stop him from checking out what he needs/wants.

    I figure it’s all about common sense. Just do what you feel is right for you and your school. I want students (and faculty and the community) to WANT to come to the library, not dread to come to the library.

  8. Bravo. Amen, brother! I’m not a media specialist/librarian and our media specialist/librarian (lucky for us) isn’t one like you described, but I have witnessed the very same experiences. Never did understand their thinking. Never understood why they felt like it was their stuff and not the school’s.

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