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 . . .