Going Over the Wall…I am Steve McQueen!

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies which reminds me of where I am now professionally. In the movie The Great Escape, there is a scene where Steve McQueen’s character is trying to escape from a German POW camp and he is doing quite well at achieving this goal. However, at one point he is asked to BREAK OUT of the POW camp, explore the surrounding area and then break back into the POW camp in order to inform the prisoners how to best “go over the wall.” It is the hope of some of the prisoners of the camp that they can use this information to assist in a larger break out….a break out that will help numerous prisoners. Suffice it to say, McQueen’s character is befuddled as he thinks: “Why should I stick my neck out?” Well ladies and gentleman… I am Steve McQueen.I have been a children’s services librarian for over 7 years. Recently, I went “over the wall” and went to work for a wonderful school library. I did this after I spent a mere 6 months at a terrible public library. I should mention that prior to that, I spent 3 plus years at a WONDERFUL public library and would still be there if it were not for my desire to live closer to my family.  My disastrous six month nightmare at this last public library culminated with my pounding my head against a wall and increasing battles with a director that simply was not interested in creating relevant children’s library programming. Furthermore, library children’s programming was viewed as simply not being that important. Oh sure, it was stated that it was important…but when the time came for me to implement the programs the director got cold feet. PLUS, I heard “that wont work here…we’ve never done that before…it wont work” too many times. I was befuddled. After 6 months of this, I decided that I simply had enough. After all, didn’t I just work for over 3 years as at a great library with a great director??!?! Why should I put up with this? I am a 2005 New York Times Outstanding Librarian. I have skills. I have proven myself. I have my pride!! Anyway, I was lucky. I am now very happy as a school librarian. I now LOVE coming to work again. Based on my recent experiences, my point is this: I honestly believe that if we are not careful, too many talented librarians will be shown the door/resign due to shortsighted directors and inept leadership. Children are encouraged to come to public and school libraries, but too often a talented librarian to nurture this love is lacking.Why? Because they left in frustration and were replaced by “Mr. or Mrs. Mediocrity” Simply stated, the passion of many librarians is being eroded by untrained and unenthusiastic “leaders.” Personally, what would help a lot is to bridge the gap and nurture a stronger relationship between public librarians and school librarians-after all, there is strength in numbers. However, so much more needs to be done. How do we fix this problem? There is no simple solution. However, one thing is clear: We are in the midst of a battle…a battle that will have a huge impact on librarians for years to come. If we settle for mediocre services and leadership at any library, we are undermining and diminishing who we are as librarians. We must be willing to dig and risk going out in order to come back in to assist the greater good. At the same time, we must continue to grow and seek out other opportunities to spread our wings.  

Have a good day!

Scott Routsong

Youth Services Librarian

Valwood School

Valdosta, Georgia



Posted on January 15, 2008, in Communications. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I agree that Mr. Routsong, like Steve McQueen, has indeed gone over the top in an all out effort to attract children’s interest to the library. I have known him for several years and found him to be an enthusiastic supporter of reading and children’s innovative programming. I too have often found that while we as librarians here in the southern part of the state have given lip service to “new” and “different” programs for children, few are willing to accept those who think outside of the box. To often, we are told that we need something different but the same old line of thinking continues to re-occur over and over again. The old guard continues to have an iron grip on public libraries and doesn’t really want change. Leadership jobs are too often given to those who are great pencil pushers and bean counters but not innovative or far sighted enough to realize that in order to go beyond the same old thinking, you will need to clear out the cob webs and start over. A clear example of this would be the purchase of “graphic novels” by public libraries in order to attract the young adult crowd. I purchased “graphic novels” at my last place of employment and was told that I should not advertise the purchase in the local paper (as I was told I could do with all my other book purchases) because it might make someone in the general populace upset. When I tried to deviate from the same old traditional type of programming, I also had my creative freedom taken away from me and read the riot act. I was told how, when, where and what my programs would be like (even how long they were to be and what was to be done during the programs) and told not to deviate from that outline or I would be shown the door. When this series of tyrannical programs did not work out, I was shown the door anyway as I was “not doing my job”. To be fair really, I wasn’t, I was doing the job as dictated to me by my boss and never given a chance to present my side of the story to the board (I guess anyone who did not agree with the boss didn’t get to present their opinion even if they had 6 years of experience as a children’s librarian and the boss had NONE). This is typical of the reactionary way the old guard views anyone they label as a “loose cannon”, they show them to the door. I can only expect that now that I’ve chimed in with Mr. Routsong, I too will be lined up against the wall, given a blindfold and shot with the label of “loose cannon.” My only comfort is that the old guard cannot hold out forever and the good old boy network will eventually break down and a few of us loose cannons will win if we continue to butt our heads against the wall of the old guard. To quote a favorite poet of mine, Dylan Thomas, “…Do not go gently into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light…” I plan to rage against the dying of the light that Mr. Routsong and other innovative librarians have shown and those of you who say you value creative thinking should too. Good night and God Bless.

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