An Uncomfortable Truth.


This isn’t going to win me any friends in my chosen profession, but anyone reading this blog or who knows me personally will realize that’s never been a big deal. If I was just a little bit easier to get along with and used just a tiny bit more tact, I’d probably be making a lot more money doing something much easier, but what fun would that be. Someone has to go through life kicking fire ant mounds and throwing rocks at wasps’ nest and since it seems no one is lining up for that job, I may as well be the one.

Having said that, here’s the sentence that will likely get me banned from librarianship for life . . . I’ll be the Pete Rose of media centers. School librarians are unnecessary in more schools than they are necessary regardless of how much we want to think otherwise.

Oh my gosh, I’ve sent a tremor through the Force now. Since I’ve tied myself to the stake, I may as well stand the course. Here’s what I mean. Under the present educational paradigm, which worships at the altar of testing with all the zeal of a new convert, school librarians aren’t needed because few teachers have time to come to the library and still “cover” all the standards needed for the almighty AYP garnering or losing TEST (cue ominous music).

Now I know that people out there can bury me in copies of Information Power and the vaunted Colorado Study by Keith Curry Lance and I’m not going to argue. I’m not going to change my point of view, but I’m not going to argue either. See, we all want to believe that libraries are essential to the school. We all want to believe that we librarians can help improve test scores. We want to believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. Unfortunately, belief counts for nothing in education.

Fire will burn you whether you believe it or not. Water will drown you whether you believe it or not. Stand in front of a train and shout “I don’t believe in you” and they will bury what they can find of you in a Ziploc baggie. The hard fact is that, once again, under the present educational regime, testing is king. Specifically, testing in ELA is king and testing in Math is the co-regent. Libraries don’t contribute MEASURABLY to either discipline. Sure, we can teach phenomenal lessons in research skills, information literacy, and comparing information sources. Unfortunately, none of that is on THE TEST (cue the Vader music.)

I know people will argue this and write me ugly comments and maybe emails, but research skills and information literacy as they are defined in sacred library Scripture like Information Power ARE NOT ON A STATE BUBBLE IN TEST! You simply cannot reduce the art of research to a multiple choice question and if you can, it won’t take an MLIS institutionally trained, card carrying ALA member to teach it. ELA teachers can do just fine and it will take fewer minutes out of prime instructional time if they do. All libraries, or rather the computer labs formerly known as libraries, are good for in this educational climate of winner take all testing is for providing a place to boot up drill and practice software masquerading as video games.

Now, I made all those audacious statements to get everyone’s attention and now that I have it, what smart cookie out there can tell me the point I’m trying to make? Do we need to get rid of libraries in order to focus on better testing? Wrong, you go to the back of the class.

What I’m trying to say is we need to quit wasting energy fighting FOR libraries and redirect our energy fighting AGAINST testing as the end all and be all that it is now.

Folks, I’m not making this crap up. I know what the books say and what “the studies” say. I know what the “advocates” say. Then I know what I SEE when I walk in to my so-called underperforming middle school every day. I see a slew of students who cannot READ on anything that approaches grade level. What good is trying to do a “Non-Bird Unit” research project going to do their teachers? That time can’t be spent in the library. It has to go towards remediation in basic reading skills. My ELA teachers can’t come to the library except to check out books for Sustained Silent Reading because they are MANDATED by our administration (who are very supportive of me, by the way) to cover every standard in the state guide just so we as a school can at least say “well, they’ve ‘seen’ everything that will be on the test.” To ensure this happens, each teacher has a copy of his or her subject’s standards turned into a pacing guide with a checkoff system for each standard taught.

I heard that gasp and see those shaking heads, but if I’m lying I’m dying. It’s the truth with my hand up.

The spectre of AYP is causing administrators all over my state to LOSE THEIR MINDS. The apparent dictate is “all that matters is that damn test.” Therefore, the mindset has become “raise test scores AT ANY COST.” One of the costs is the expanded research project of any kind, bird unit or no bird unit.

Y’all, this breaks my heart on many levels. First, my heart goes out to my principals who are getting so much pressure from the top to raise test scores or find new jobs. I ache inside for the teachers who are having to abandon many of the techniques and much of the content that they enjoyed teaching and THAT REALLY MATTERED so they can devote more time to remediation, “covering” standards, and slowly burning out in the process. Most of all, however, I feel the pain of a generation of students who have been born into one of the richest periods in educational potential in all of history and yet are forced to bend all their energy to passing one god-forsaken test in one week of one month of their year.

I realize this may not be a problem in affluent districts where the students come to school reading and who have vast educational resources at home, but it’s an elephantine problem in Title I schools and other poor districts that are serving the underfunded, underfed, and misunderstood. The students who could benefit most from a rich educational experience complete with extensive library activities like I see modeled every year at conferences are the fartherest behind THE TEST measurements so they have to pay for what they did not seek to purchase by being force fed test taking strategies and rote skills that will help them pass THE TEST while at the same time burning out at the roots ANY love of learning and literacy they may have had at one time.

So, to close, libraries aren’t needed as long as THE TEST is all that matters. So, if you are dead set on advocating for something, please, quit begging the legislature for a million dollars for more books for students who can’t read. Instead, focus all the letter writing and representative calling on overthrowing the dictatorship of THE TEST and free our students to learn again.

11 responses »

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

  2. This may be exactly the information that I have needed. I am working on collaborating with teachers that are spread over 65,000 square miles. Getting them to recognize what the library has to offer is difficult on a normal basis, but when we are spread so far apart, it becomes a greater need and challenge. This was my goal for the year. I have become so mired in library set up, that I have lost sight of what I need to do. Thank you for your post.

  3. Pingback: Collaborate and They Will Come? Exploring Obstacles to Collaboration « The Unquiet Librarian

  4. I am so glad I came across your post…I just had this conversation with several fellow high school librarians this week. Believe you me, I am doing everything and more to try and show our faculty and admin the difference our library can make and how we are supporting the standards. However, when you don’t get a response from any administrators about your monthly reports (10 pages long) in which you have cited data and created a map in which you have documented how your collaboration has supported the performance standards, you get the feeling your services may not be as valued as you would like.

    Over and over teachers state that the testing and all the fallout that comes with it is hindering them from doing more project based effort. While we can certainly make the effort to collaborate, you can’t collaborate if people aren’t willing to play with you.

    Keep up the eloquent and honest writing!

  5. I’m so glad that Doug J. pointed to your blog. It’s very thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I’ll subscribe. I hope you get lots of readers. I’m in the state to the north of you but AM serving the children of the wealthy — not what I intended to do when I became a librarian, BUT as you yourself point out, reality trends to step in, and one needs a job. I look forward to being able to retire and serve another population then, because my heart is and always has been with ordinary and more needy people. I was blogging about my LIBRARY until the powers that be changed it to an “Information and Media Center” and made it necessary for me to get rid of hundreds (or more) books. It took some wind out of my sails, and I’m trying to recover and figure out what I’m doing. Keep up the good fight, and please keep writing!

  6. While I see your point I agree with Heather we need to work with the content standards that our teachers are held accountable for and embed our standards into their lessons. This is sometimes a very difficult job and will not happen overnight like Cathy states. But for the good of our students and our future we need to keep moving forward. You never disappoint, thanks for your no nonsense approach, honesty and humor.

  7. I would like to add to this discussion another dirty little not-so-secret. To my knowledge, technology integration doesn’t even have a Colorado study to justify the time and money spent on gizmos, gadgets, and networking magic. Why, then, are libraries/librarians more expendible than those in educational technology? I dare say most of us wouldn’t even have a job if we didn’t shoulder most of the ed tech responsibilities, especially in smaller school districts.

  8. Well said.

    The reality is that the test isn’t going away anytime soon. Until it does, in addition to the efforts to “overthrowing the dictatorship of THE TEST”, we need to do the best we can to make sure we are invaluable to our teachers and students. We have to find ways to teach our students what they need to learn (info lit skills, media literacy, etc.) by working with our teachers. This means WE have to become experts in the content standards and SHOW teachers how we can HELP them integrate our standards into their existing lessons or craft new ones.

  9. Thank you for stating so eloquently what I have been saying privately for the past 18 months. You brought up some very valid points. Sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in our own world, we forget to look at the big picture and see what is happening outside the doors of our library.

  10. As a fellow “ant hill kicker” I applaud your courage and tend to agree.

    I would amend you statement to: “Not all schools need librarians, but all students do.”

    Hope your entry gets some well-deserved attention!


  11. Make sure you add Scott McLeod’s Dangerously Irrelevant to your reader. Oh yeah and Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed. I swear you must be related to them. How do we address this? No small feat. Divide and conquer. Through project based learning, many standards (from ye great new pacing guide) can be “covered” so that kids LEARN instead of just “cover” content that just might be on a test. Our job is to embed ourselves into their curriculum. If that means pacing guides, sigh, that means pacing guides. We must make ourselves irreplaceable and absolutely critical to our schools’ successes. So the question is not what do we do to salvage our jobs, but rather what can we do to make ourselves a VITAL component. It starts with a C. Collaborate. Start small. Is this the answer? Certainly not all by itself. C’mon my man, glass half full. Oh yeah, one more thing. It won’t happen overnight. Or in one year. Or perhaps even in one presidential term. Sigh.

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