At our 2021 (virtual) Speech Day last week, our head prefects were very kind to mention me in their graduating address:
“Mrs Straughan can find any book on the library shelves and is the only person who can fix the library printer”.
Sigh. So kind but so concerning.
My initial reaction was a feeling of appreciation followed quickly by a melodramatic “I’m SO glad I went to grad school to have this kind of impact on the upcoming generation!” with eyeroll accompaniment. All to myself of course.
However, like you, much of my time is spend fostering effective search skills, guiding through citation, recommending great books, sourcing elusive information – why didn’t they mention any of that?
But what if I looked at it differently? What if I applied a Seth-Godin-like perspective?
“Mrs Straughan can find any book on the library shelves” may mean that DDC remains a mysterious code for my students. So, do I do a better job at de-coding OR do I finally get over my lack of confidence about “bookstoreifying” our collection? Keeping DDC for retrieval purposes while re-organizing in a way that makes sense to students, with MUCH better signage?
“…and is the only person who can fix the library printer” may mean that as much as I value my education and champion my professional expertise, sometimes what matters to a frantic student is that I am able to do a small technical task quickly at a time when it really matters to them. Hopefully with a reassuring smile on my face.
Let 21-22 find me immersed in a reorganization plan with more patience for that darn printer and less inclination for eye-rolling.
Later this month, the board will share some demographic results from this winter’s planning survey. Thank you to the members who took the time to share their thoughts, especially those who wrote about what AISL has meant to them and how it can stay professionally relevant in coming years. One of the questions elicited an interesting conversation at my school about titles. Teacher titles are more standardized across schools, administrator titles less so. Librarian titles, the least of all. Do titles matter? What do we learn from titles?
In tabulating survey responses to this question, there were 91 unique responses, even with combining some titles like Middle School and Middle Division Librarian into one response. There were 47 different supervisory titles!
Those outside our profession tend not to understand why we care about being named a Librarian over Media Specialist, or Media Generalist over Library Specialist. My own director calls me Director of Libraries though I prefer the streamlined Library Director that’s listed on my nametag.
Perhaps this is the first part of our advocacy outside of the profession, an advocacy that’s so clearly needed about the training an MLIS offers and the ways that a strong library curriculum can enhance the mission of a school. Those who are virtual indicated that it’s become clearer in the absence of physical facilities that many administrators think of libraries more as static places for student supervision and book circulation rather than dynamic instructional and technology leaders.
Thinking back to the high school I attended as well as the one where I work, a teacher who is told they are teaching Geometry or Spanish One has a pretty good sense of what to expect. With changes in education over the past twenty-five years, this is less true for course like Engineering or American Literature, though many goals are still the same. But how similar are the roles of Instructional Librarian, School Librarian, and Teacher Librarian? And let’s tread carefully into speculating the job responsibilities of the Director of Library and Technology Integration, the Director of Libraries and Strategic Research and the 21st Century Learning Coordinator.
One of the other survey questions asked what your administration would say based on their own knowledge if asked to choose the top three roles the library plays in the school. The top three answers provided by members were “collection management,” “reading advocacy and support,” and “student instruction.” That’s a positive statement about their understanding of the library, though it’s less heartening that fewer members chose “faculty instruction” than “I don’t think they have a sense of what the library does.” Even in informal settings, educating faculty and keeping them up-to-date on new trends is incredibly important in the library.
I was curious about this in my own school. While planning this post, I asked my Division Director and Academic Dean to choose three based on their knowledge of my job. I’m happy that each of them chose two of the ones I had chosen for myself.
(For those keeping track, I’d say: Student Instruction, Faculty Instruction, and Technology Support. They said respectively – Student Instruction, Reading Advocacy and Instruction, and Technology Support – and – Student Instruction, Student Supervision, and Faculty Instruction. I’ll take it, especially since they both immediately listed Student Instruction as the top priority.)
In thoughts on advocacy, the plethora of titles got me thinking about a longer plan to collate expectations in job descriptions and share this with the larger educational community. From listserv queries and casual conversations, we’ve all had the sense that what library means at one school doesn’t correlate with its meaning at another. Even basic data collection shows there is no independent school consensus that defines our profession. I’m not suggesting that the job expectations should be standardized, just that we —and our schools —need to understand the variance about what happens in the library.
It wasn’t until I began queuing up my draft that I realized it would be posted today – January 20th, 2021. My planned topic isn’t be very relevant to the occasion; even as a Canadian, this day is looming large. So rather than musing about retirement (not anytime soon, more about that next month), I offer this….
Dear American members of AISL;
Happy Inauguration Day to you all!
Today’s ceremony & celebration will look and feel very different for many reasons. I do hope that every one of you, along with everyone in DC, keeps safe and healthy as you transition to leadership that seems to reflect what we hold dear: honouring education, respecting science, listening to and working with each other towards shared goals.
Once immediate and critical issues impacting your county are addressed, I am hopeful that the Biden administration will be more responsive than the previous to issues affecting school libraries and therefore students, as thoroughly noted in this letter with a particular focus on this “moment of opportunity to shape the future of education for a stronger, more equitable, and just society” (ALA/AASL, 2021).
I will raise my glass to you and yours this evening!