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How Will We Save Our Profession? Reflections from a Texas Librarian August 9, 2011

Posted by Jennifer Laboon in Check this out!.

How will we save our profession?  This is the question that I’ve been struggling with more than usual lately, as I plan for two days of Professional Development with the librarians in my district.  I feel obligated to provide them with tools and inspiration to preserve their jobs and, more importantly, the invaluable contribution we make to our students (my own seven year old among the 80,000 kids in our city’s school system).

It’s going to be harder than ever to be positive.  And as I reflect on it, maybe that’s a good thing?  Maybe a little fear will light the fire under those among us who so easily slip into complacency about what it is we do–blissfully getting up each morning to go a job we love, not questioning that it might not be there tomorrow, next week, or next year.  The fact is, with no way to get a firm count, we’ve had many school librarian lay-offs this past year.  Many others had to reapply for a newly titled position with different duties.  And more than ever are now serving multiple campuses.

We also had many successful battles won–librarian cuts were threatened, but positions were preserved in many districts–Austin, Dallas, and Keller among them.  However, we know that the war is by no means over.  This year gives those of us still standing a moment to regroup, to restock our troops with fresh supplies and reinforcements.

What can we use to shore up our defenses? Four things:

1. Our teaching certification.  This is the primary thing that sets us apart from the amazing paraprofessionals many districts are replacing us with.  But stop and assess yourself.  Do you know what STAAR, EOC, CCRS, RTI, or ELARS mean?  What about the new requirements from the state for gifted students?  More importantly, how will you support these in your library program?  Do you find yourself bored and tuning out when these things are addressed in mandatory trainings you must attend?  Or worse, do you find yourself working on something “library related” or even asking to be excused?  I’m certainly guilty of that occasionally.  But now more than ever we must attend, be attentive, and offer our unique skills as they fit in the context of state mandated curriculum and assessment.  If we don’t know what the teachers know, and can’t speak their ever-changing language, our teaching certificates are just a piece of paper sitting in a file somewhere.

2.  Our librarian training.  While most of us in school libraries spend much of our time on the business of purchasing, processing, and mainly circulating books, we must remember that we offer a unique service that we know is needed in our schools–we are certified teachers who are trained to integrate information literacy across the curriculum.  These days there are reading experts and even technology gurus on almost every campus–and we should be their partners.  However, the one thing that we do that no one else brings to the table is teach information literacy.  It is our professional jurisdiction.  It cannot be taught by uncertified staff and it is not in the training of the technology experts.  If you question that this is important, read TEA’s College and Career Readiness Standards or Social Studies Curriculum, or the English Language Arts Standards–you will find information literacy embedded throughout.  Most content teachers are not well-versed in modern research practice, and need us to help guide their students through those standards.  We are the only faculty member with this unique training, and we need to be contacting teachers asking to help them teach it.  If we are not seen using those skills, no one will think about us having them.

3.  Our attitude.  Librarianship is a service profession.  We have to remember that if we’re not providing outstanding customer service, our customers will go elsewhere.  I know in my own district, principals were asked who they could afford to cut from their staff in order to save money.  Some, I know, felt sheer panic when librarians were mentioned.  Others probably thought, “well, she seems like a nice lady, but I don’t really see a lot happening down there.” A few probably thought, “That would be a relief!  She always complains.”.

Be honest with yourself.  What would your principal think?  Does he/she see you as indispensable to the school?  In my position, I overhear many discussions where my program director is counseling librarians who have angered their principals over things that should have never been at issue.  Worse even is when the principal calls him, and he is at a loss to defend the librarian.

For example, are you being made to do before school hall duty?  It’s hard to pop up and say, “but I’m needed to keep the library open to students and staff before school,” if you’re being seen visiting in the teacher’s lounge, in the office, or even still in the parking lot at this time.  Your actions speak for you.

What if you’re asked to help tutor?  Take it as a compliment and opportunity.  Remember, you are a certified teacher, and a paraprofessional couldn’t do this with the skill that you can.  Do say, “Is there a way we can keep the library open to drop-in students so they aren’t denied access?” then suggest how that be accomplished.

The bottom-line here is, are you someone seen as part of the problem, or part of the solution?  Be careful about aligning yourself with the complainers, the ones who are the first to call the union when there’s a problem.  Instead be the one who helps find solutions, offer to help where you might have thought, “but that will weaken my role in the library.” Just make sure that it is doing the more complex things that can showcase your skills as an information specialist, as much as possible:  campus webmaster versus junior class sponsor, for example.

We have heard of districts in the state where librarians weren’t seen as effective, and were cut because of it.  If someone has to cut you, make it hurt!

4.  Our community.  When things got ugly in Austin ISD last year, the librarians fought for their positions, and won.  Not alone, but with the help of the community.  Parents and civic minded people spoke up about how important libraries are to their students’ education.

Last fall, TLA and TASL launched a toolkit for librarians to use to communicate with parents about the importance of school libraries.  Customize these for your school and get the word out about the services you provide to students and parents.  Use the presentation on the K-12 databases to ask the PTA to help raise money to bring them back on your campus if your district or school cannot fund them this year.  When we have spoken to parents at the Texas PTA conference in years past, we are always saddened by how many didn’t know about these.  Now that the legislature has cut these, we have a new opportunity to ignite interest in the community by asking for help with funding.

If athletics, music, or art were on the list of cuts, would parents in your community speak against it?  Of course they would!  Make sure your parents know what you do, understand how libraries educate the whole child by teaching a love of literature and the information literacy skills that are needed to be successful in today’s digital world.  Parents are much more powerful advocates for libraries than librarians are.

Have cuts already set things back for your school or district?  Don’t assume it is over.  There were threats made all over the state that never happened.  In some cases, jobs were reinstated before, or even after, pink slips were issued.

Finally, as you use these tools to restock your supplies for this year, remember what it is that made you leave the classroom and come to the library.  This summer, as my director and I screened candidate after candidate for the 15 openings in our district, I couldn’t help but feel both worried and re-energized.  Worried about these fresh new faces choosing to enter our profession, newly graduated from library school, who, as one candidate told us “had drunk the koolaid.” Were we doing them a disservice hiring them in to a profession that is facing such threats?  I felt re-energized at the same time thinking of my own first year in the library, ready to do all I could to be the instructional resource, champion of literacy, technology integrator, and overall go-to-girl when something needed doing.

If you are feeling more discouraged than you should, think of what is lost to this generation of our students if our profession shrivels up and dies away.  You are the one who must fight and win the battle to keep librarians in schools.  But you are not alone!  If find that you need another sip of the koolaid, visit the AASL, TLA and TASL websites, rejoin the school librarian listservs and stop to read them occasionally.  Read great bloggers around the state like Top Shelf, and Shelf-Consumed.  Follow those amazing librarians like Joyce Valenza and Buffy Hamilton on Twitter and Facebook.  Find funding to attend TLA this spring in Houston–it’s always refreshing to get away and bond with others in a climate of learning.   Don’t forget it’s an AASL Conference year as well, if you can find money to travel out of state.

And remember your first day as a school librarian–so full of promise and excitement!  May this year hold that for you all over again!


1. Rosanna M. Webb - August 10, 2011

Thank you for those inspirational thought, Jennifer! SO beautifully written, and SO true!

2. Rosanna M. Webb - August 10, 2011

Thank you for those inspirational thoughts, Jennifer! SO beautifully written, and SO true!

3. Pam Ferguson - August 10, 2011

Jennifer, we all appreciate your representation, your support, and your candid comments.

4. Judi Moreillon - August 10, 2011

Brava, Jennifer, for reminding us that reflection and self-assessment are important practice for leaders. I believe we can use the five roles specified in Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs to self-assess our work. When we develop goals and objectives to increase our impact on student achievement, we help ensure the future of the profession by making a difference for students, our classroom teacher colleagues, and our administrators. Let’s all recommit ourselves to improving our practice and tirelessly advocating for our profession.

5. Sara Stevenson - August 10, 2011

I also think we need to stress our roles in READING. The new STAAR test is much harder, and students will not be able to pass it unless they are strong readers. Students improve as readers by reading! and we are the reading leaders of our schools. We must be an integral part of our English/LA departments and spread the Power of Reading philosophy and practices of Stephen Krashen throughout our entire school communities.

6. Ken Haycock - August 10, 2011

As well, research from teacher-librarianship suggests that principals value above all self-confident TLs who engage in collaboration with colleagues and offer informal staff development opportunities.
Research from advocacy and influence suggests that the relationship is the message, and commitment and consistency with the principal’s values and beliefs. If they like you, you have a fighting chance, but first they have to know you.
Best wishes!

7. iLibrarian » How Will We Save Our Profession? Reflections from a Texas Librarian - August 11, 2011

[…] Laboon writes about How Will We Save Our Profession? Reflections from a Texas Librarian for the American Association of School Librarians blog. This is a thought-provoking piece which […]

8. Erlene Bishop Killeen - August 11, 2011

Well said, Jennifer. If we don’t have confidence and believe in ourselves and our program, who else will? Go boldly and cheerfully! The students and teachers need good school librarians to make education worthwhile and working!

9. Alice Yucht - August 11, 2011

This should be required reading for ALL school librarians!

10. Gerri Fegan - August 12, 2011

Thank you for being so succinct, clear-minded, and positive in describing what so many of us believe in. I agree with the others – this should be read by all librarians.

11. Pat Hobbs - August 12, 2011

Great article! The bottom line is not only do we need to know “our” stuff, we need to know everyone else’s. We must make ourselves available to teachers, students, and parents – working one-on-one if necessary. We are a “helping” profession. PTL, the days are past when books were so sacred that even librarians did not want them circulated!

12. Hilda K. Weisburg - August 12, 2011

I completely agree with everything you said. What has made me angry is the number of great librarians we have lost because superintendents only had experience with librarians who never integrated themselves into the school community or looked beyond their walls to see what their stakeholders needed and valued.

13. Susan Ballard - August 13, 2011

Thanks, Jennifer – you really nailed it! We can never be complacent and we must be visible and recognized as visibly making a positive difference in teaching and learning in our schools.

14. Cheryl Hill - August 13, 2011

Although, I love the quiet specialized role of the librarian and its unique role of being one of expertise unto itself in that there are inherent specialized skills in the librarian’s role
that no one else in the building possesses. Yet, even though we “know” the wonderful uniqueness of our specialized “one-ness” and what we do undergirds everything in the curriculum; however, the connection of what we do is more implicit and subtle, and so folks cannot seem to wrap their heads around what exactly it is that we do. And in all fairness, there are specialized “must have” skills librarians possess for running/managing their libraries that are “not” must skills for the teachers nor administrators—and that’s the part that gets us in trouble because librarians are not either or and yet we are a little bit of both. In the final analysis, wherever we cannot be categorized as simply either
fish or fowl—they think that we must not be needed.

To that end it is encumbering upon us to translate our role overtly to what everyone else is doing, explicitly and out loud! And keep all that other stuff that we “must know” and that everyone else don’t have to know to ourselves; no one understands it but us, anyway. Typically, our specialness goes right over everyone heads and unnoticed,
particularly by the “Powers That Be”.

I agree, wholeheartedly, we must not forget to use the background of our teaching certificates! Which brings me to my next point, I know many librarians turn-up their noses at the Acceleatated Reading Program—but, having a teaching background in reading is a motivating factor for me to get with teachers to collaborate on how best I can help teach the reading conjunctively with building/growing the reading. In my humble opinion, the Accelerated Reading Program is ideal for doing just that! I love it!
Moreover, in using the Accelerated Reading Program presents an addition opportunity to infuse technology.

I have heard librarians say, “ AR stifles the children’s love of literature.” Well, my circulation went up when using the AR Program and my book shelves were looking pretty bare because kids were doing so much reading; checking out lots of books, returning them, and checking out more books! I even had a 5th grader who after completing 5th grade graduation, with his mother waiting in the hallway to escort him away from elementary school for the very last time, come into the library to take an AR Quiz on one of the Harry Potter titles so he could reach his final goal of having achieved a 100 Points to earn his Gold Star! So, those librarians who look down on AR might need to come down out of the clouds and reconsider.

Forgive me for my digression; continuing with my point about how I made my role as librarian front and center. I wrote the plans for how we were going to implement the AR Program school wide (PK-5) for our school; I solicited input from other librarians and teachers. Upon completing the plans for how we would do the AR at our school, my principal loved it and shared it at Principals’ Meeting!

Additionally, in continuing to use a repertoire of my teacher’s certificate background, I used literature to model good techniques of writing in assisting the teachers as well as to showcase the librarian’s strategy to impact the school-wide improvement plan for improving students’ writing skills especially with 4th graders. My principal selected me, the librarian, as one of the professional staff members to go into teachers’ classroom to assist with holding writing conferences with children in an effort to get them to improve elaboration within their compositions so as to strive for enhanced quality to elevate
writing scores.

For the primary PK-2, reading lots of books aloud with rhyming prose and sing rhyming songs is a best practice for impacting reading skills ability prediction/fluency. As a follow up to listening to or reading a story another best practice is to have children illustrate//draw and/or write what happened in the beginning,middle, and end of story because this is the best prediction for impacting student’s ability to summarize and identify main idea (all grades).

To engage students in a hands-on easy drawing, folding, cuttings to create art following a story, rhyme, or song is a great literacy connection and hands on artsy activity to take with them as they leave the library—also a great way to exhibit activities in support of literacy connected to the classroom and overall school goals is happening in the library!

Some librarians more on the technology side may decide to sell themselves as indispensable as technology gurus as an example I read. I prefer the literacy component within our role so my preference is to sell my teaching background as a reading specialist and a writing specialist.

Whatever, we determine to sell ourselves as indispensable connected with our teaching certificate backgrounds we as librarians have to be cognizant in our due diligence to recognize that the importance of our roles are not neceaarily discernable if our roles do not obviously “look like” they are connected explicitly and overtly to overall targeted goals of the classroom and the school.

Fortunately for me, my librarian’s position was not cut. I received a contract for next year and was in the driver’s seat to determine for myself to stay or leave. Due to my husband experiencing some health challenges, my decision was to retire to be home with him. Because I made a point to exhibit overtly my teaching background infused and aligned to the needs of the classroom and school wide goals, the role of librarian became indispensable for my campus so my position remained open and available for another

15. Grace Hiris Birney - August 15, 2011

Well constructed and your article couldn’t have come at a better time Jennifer. In Papua New Guinea, we are still trying to find strategies of promoting the library profession as an important component of the Information and Communication Industry as well as being part and partial of an educational institution. Our schools are lacking adequate school libraries to facilitate high standard educational learning for our children.

Our schools recognise the importance of school libraries however do not have established financial capacities within school management infrastructures. Librarians are employed under the Ancillary Staff structure therefore are not given much professional recognition.

As stated by Pat Hobbs, the ball is in our courts. We need to know what our patrons needs are. In addition to this we need to market our library services, academic and technical skills in terms of providing relevant information to support educational learning.

Having said the above, the onus now lies with the Papua New Guinea Library and Information Association (PNGLIA) to be the “VOICE” of Papua New Guinea Librarians and Information Service providers to transmit our concerns to our Government of the day.

I thank Jennifer as well as all of you for sharing her thoughts through this forum. There are great similarities in your comments.

Coming from a third world country, I am interested to learn more about how librarians are employed and or how your school staffing structure entails. This will assist me and the PNGLIA to map out a strategy to present to the Ministry of Education and Communication for a difference to be made in our schools.

16. Cathy Caylor - September 12, 2011

Great balance of encouragement with the reality of the times!

17. Clay Reimel - October 9, 2011

In these difficult economic times, it is important to get an education. However those that run universities know how valuable an education is these days and have raised the prices to take advantage. What can the average person do when it seems the choice is between no education and a mountain of debt?

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