What are we missing?
You may recognize that title from a flurry of emails that have been posted on the LM-NET listserv. It started with one seemingly innocent email from a media specialist wondering why – in spite of advocacy, in spite of studies showing an impact on student achievement, in spite of increasing our visibility – we find ourselves fighting the same budget battles every single year. Good question. Why, indeed?
Let’s start with advocacy. It is a part of our job. I didn’t become a school librarian because I wanted to be politically active but I will remain a school librarian ONLY if I continue to be politically active. We provide a service to our school community that is almost invisible if we’re doing it really well. When we co-teach, it is the classroom teacher who gets the kudos when test scores improve. When we are able to put our hands on the perfect resource that a teacher or student has requested, it is the patron who looks good for using a valid, current, and accurate resource. When we administer a meager budget yet still manage to keep a quality collection of resources and equipment it is the school that is viewed as being on the cutting edge. Anybody remember the old Joni Mitchell song that said “don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone?” If you are doing all of what your job requires but you don’t advocate for yourself or your program you’re missing a key piece of the puzzle. I’ve heard the arguments about how that’s not fair and we shouldn’t have to do that. On the first day of class in Reality 101, you learn that fairness doesn’t matter and that we all have to do things that we really shouldn’t have to do.
Now we get to student achievement. Yes, studies show that a fully funded library media program managed and operated by a highly qualified library media specialist (or teacher-librarian or school librarian or Information God/Goddess) has a direct and positive correlation to improved student achievement. But how many of us really know where and how that impact is being felt in our own schools? Do you know that the lesson you just taught has a direct correlation to GPS and that GPS has a direct correlation to a CRCT domain? If so, fantastic! If not, you’ve got some homework tonight. Are you speaking the language of data with your classroom teachers and your administrators and then backing up the talk with the walk? If so, great! If not, you’ve got a little more homework. Are you looking at test data, down to the specific domains that address information literacy, and using that data to drive instruction when you collaborate with your classroom teachers? Okay, you know where I’m going here. I know there are degrees of implementation and some are further along the spectrum than others. That’s not an indictment but a call to action – if you’re not there yet then at least commit to moving in that direction.
Finally, let’s address our visibility. I want you to ask yourself if you are seen as an information specialist in your school. Ask yourself if you are seen as one of the vital resources in your school (not the books, not the DVDs, not the cameras – YOU). Are you on your school’s leadership team? If not, don’t lament your exclusion – go to team meetings, grade level meetings, or subject area meetings and find out what’s going on in the classroom. Once you know what’s going on in the classroom then you can use your professional resources to let teachers know what’s available to help them teach those subjects or units. I’ve walked into these meetings before and the principal looked up and asked “What are you doing here?” I just smiled and said I was really interested in what was going in the classroom so that I could support my teachers. Suddenly I needed a sweater because it got a little chilly… Think about how you can make yourself more visible to the parents of the children you serve. If you can get their support through a full understanding of the value you add to the education their child is receiving then you’ve got a real ally. Let them know what’s going on in the legislature when our funding is threatened – parents are heard in a whole different way by the politicians who hold our purse strings. Invite them to your library, teach classes or conduct seminars that speak directly to parents, help them learn new ways to help their children, and make sure they know about your media committee and opportunities for them within your center. You’ll reach some and you’ll miss some but it’s worth doing anyway. Lastly, if you’re doing some amazing things at your school (or some pretty good things – I’m not asking for perfection), share it with principals, APs, counselors, and school board members. If you’ve presented at a library conference (COMO, GaETC, AASL), consider applying to present at a conference for teachers, principals, or other administrators and alter the focus to help them understand what’s in it for them. We spend an awful lot of time preaching to each other – let’s bring others into the fold!
Will all of this make a difference? Honestly, we could do all of this AND do all of it really well and our legislators could still take away our expenditure controls (thus most, if not all of our funding). We could be library rock stars and still find ourselves in a precarious position when those in charge are trying to decide who’s next on the chopping block. None of it provides any kind of guarantee. Except for the personal knowledge that YOU did all you could to spread the news that you are valuable to your school.
Before I close I want to clear something up. When I have posted such articles or comments in the past I have invariably gotten a few emails expressing dismay at the implication that I blame the library professional when his/her job is cut. That could not be further from the truth. It is a sad day when a library staff position is cut or library resource funding is cut or libraries have to shut their doors or be staffed by parents or volunteers or untrained clerks. My only point is that we are ultimately responsible for speaking up for ourselves and I challenge each of you to do so no matter how uncomfortable that may be. We are ultimately responsible for knowing when legislation is on the table that will directly impact our programs. If we do not speak up for ourselves then we have no one to blame but ourselves for not speaking up. Shout it out, folks – we matter.