The summer and fall went by much too quickly and December provided a much need break.
I’ve been struggling with posting here. It is not for a lack of content and ideas. Rather, I’m not sure I can write meaningfully about certain topics or issues publicly. I watched the withering away of a good number of “new librarian” blogs and I’m wondering if everyone’s feeling the same way.
I’ve had a number of frustrating experiences that have pushed me to the point of reassessing my desire to work in libraries. Those low moments have served as reminders that evaluation and reflection is crucial in career and life. I’ve also realized it’s crucial not to over-identify with your profession. There is a lot of negativity and navel-gazing in librarianship right now that’s pretty off-putting. I’m trying to focus on being productive and positive in my little piece of library land.
Some of my professional accomplishments this past year include publishing an article in Feliciter, being elected to the executive of a provincial association, and leading a successful community event in October that included attendance by the mayor.
In 2013 I will be investigating further education opportunities and devoting time to a much neglected writing project.
A number of news stories have surfaced about cuts to school libraries. One of the reasons cuts can happen is because those in charge don’t see any effect to the cuts. If you are a non-user of libraries, your attitude will be ‘who will miss this library?’ Recently, the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board in Ontario made a decision to close all libraries, lay off all library staff (39), and ‘disperse’ the library collections to the classroom. The superintendent, Jamie Bumbacco, stated “that was an area that we felt, as a senior administrative team, that would have little or no impact on student learning.” Despite evidence to the contrary (school libraries have been proven to improve student learning), the board made this decision without consultation. While budgets are tight, it is difficult to make cuts, but this is surely a short-sighted decision with the potential to be more expensive in the future; how many specialists/consultants will need to be hired when test scores drop and reading levels fall? A second superintendent commented “teachers are turning to scholarly journals found on the internet.” Well, how did those teachers access the content? This kind of statement shows that this superintendent has never actually conducted research online (successfully).
It comes as no surprise that this decision is now being ‘reconsidered’ due to the overwhelming negative, national press and outcry from both parents and students. The board obviously wasn’t aware that the library IS important to many.
An issue I take with some of the coverage is that often the reason offered for keeping libraries is rooted in nostalgia. Nostalgia is a dangerous justification for libraries because it is the same reason for making cuts in the first place. What can the quaint quiet library offer today’s amazingly techno-savvy students? Save the library because it’s so quaint and quiet and I loved curling up with a book when I was a child!
The key point in the Windsor Essex decision is that the administrators thought that relocating the books to the classroom would be an unnoticeable change. Again, this notion is rooted in thinking that the library is just a place for housing dusty books. Thankfully, some well-balanced pieces (Kate Hammer and Ian Brown in the Globe and Mail) were also published that highlighted the role of librarians in a digital world.
We can only save libraries by advocating for the services and resources provided by librarians, technicians, and other staff, and not for the nostalgia factor of curling up with a book.
In the U.S., the Department of Education announced it is cutting all federal funding to school libraries. In California, L.A. teacher librarians have to actually prove their qualifications to teach in court. This reporter still felt the need to include this unintentional insult:
“Sitting in during two court sessions this week, I felt bad for everyone present, including the LAUSD attorneys. After all, in the presence of a school librarian, you feel the need to whisper and be respectful. It must be very difficult, I thought, to grill a librarian.”
A hilarious and tragic image was provided to me by a relative: the kids’ school does not have a librarian so the library is staffed by the gym teacher. The gym teacher actually blows his whistle to stop reading time. How’s that for quaint and quiet?
***cross-posted from the CACUL Re:Generations Blog ***
Engaging the disengaged
As I finish my second year as a librarian, I can say that I still have most of the optimism I had leaving library school. However, there will always be days when it’s really, really frustrating to have a handful of people show up to something I’m really excited about, and it’s challenging to work with students who don’t appreciate the range of services and resources offered to them, because they can get by without the library.
I think one of the central tenets of librarianship is accepting that we will always be much more excited about a new database feature than, well, anyone else. Our users love the library – the helpful staff, the study space, the technology, though they may not be aware of everything we have to offer. But, what about those that don’t even make their way through our doors? The dreaded “non-user”. How do we engage the disengaged?
Last week I was part of a wonderful conference for faculty spearheaded by the new Vice President Academic. The number of registered faculty was well above our expectations (more than double the anticipated turnout) and the level of engagement of faculty to help plan ‘new directions’ in the college was very positive and inspiring. One part of event had faculty fill out a quick ‘compass’ survey – inspired by CBC’s voting compass – to gauge the direction and willingness toward change among respondents. One category, the Stoic (or, the Disengaged) received, unsurprisingly, zero respondents. Of course, the truly disengaged would have deleted the email invitation without a second thought.
So, should we just plod forward without the disengaged?
For the library, we offer faculty sessions by academic division to highlight new features and services, and it’s always the regular library users who attend. At library sessions for students, it’s the eager, straight-A students who show up and take notes, while everyone else has skipped.
So, should we harass the students studying at the pub instead of the library and knock on faculty office doors until we get answers as to why they don’t like us? (A side note, I keep bugging students to ‘like us’ on Facebook and I cringe every time). Gill (2010) discusses the challenges of surveying non-users at the Newport News Public Library System, conducted in order to create a specific marketing strategy toward the non-user. This type of survey would be easier to handle with a defined college community, but how to pull it off without seeming so desperate?
We’ve made changes to the library related questions on the college-wide student survey and have included questions probing further from the response ‘I don’t use the library’. We’re very curiously awaiting the results.
Gill, K. L. (2010). Surveying people who don’t use libraries. Marketing Library Services, 24(2): 1-7.