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Doug Johnson (Part 3)

A.B. During the Summit, you were in on my 21St Century challenge group. The word collaboration came up several times. Why is this word the one word participants used to explain what needs to be done for the 21st. century library and learner? Are there other words/terms you came away with after the Summit?
D.J. "Gee, I thought it was MY 21st. Century Challenge group, but you are welcome to your illusions.

To tell the truth, I have a real difficulty with how the library profession tosses the word "collaboration" about like it is the Holy Grail. What everyone seems to forget is that collaboration is just one means (sometimes not the best one) of achieving a goal, not the goal itself. Too many library studies, say "such and such" led to greater collaboration. Big whoop. Did it lead to more measurable student learning?

If I am a principal or teacher who worries about literacy rates, I DON’T worry about my teachers being collaborative – I worry about them doing what needs to be done to raise kids ability to read.

Too often our rationale for collaboration is not advancing common goals, but creating a codependence that might insure job security. (The teacher can’t do this without me!) I personally have not seen this ever work. Most people dislike those on whom they feel codependent. We have more strength in the long run if we teach others how to do a thing (especially with technology) than if we do it for them. I’ve always argued we should be people who empower others rather than being wizards who keep many dark skills to ourselves.

One of the texts I always use in teaching library management classes is Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Reading it now, 16 years after publication, it may seem like a collection of tired clichés (think win-win, start with the end in mind, paradigm shift, etc.), but as far as I know, Covey invented these now widely used terms. An overarching theme of the book is for people to move from dependence to independence to interdependence. Covey states that we can’t achieve interdependence without being truly independent – which to me argues against the whole job retention through wizardry approach.

So yes, collaboration is fine if we have a higher purpose for working together, if we have clearly defined roles in a project, and if it the most effective means of achieving a worthwhile goal."

A.B. You mention…"Dispiriting to see that after 7 years, we are still debating these old issues of what do we call ourselves." Why are these issues of "what do we call ourselves?" still so hotly debated? Is there an answer to this question?
D.J "I have assiduously avoided entering into the "what do we call ourselves" discussions. Job titles like "librarian" are more symbolic than descriptive, and symbols work on an emotional or unconscious level rather than a rational one. That’s why the topic is hotly and endlessly debated. Symbols have very different and very legitimate meanings to different people. (Think of how a cross can have a different, quite sincere meaning to a Christian, Muslim or atheist.)

The reaction to "librarian" says more about the person with the reaction than about the title itself. As I was growing up, my experiences with librarians were very positive. They were the people who helped me find interesting things to read, helped me answer questions, were in charge of an environment in which I felt comfortable and welcome. Our high school had a well-respected male librarian that boys were quite confident was heterosexual since he was married to one of the school’s English teachers (important to us at that time). So I have always felt quite proud to be considered a librarian. Yet other individuals have had very different experiences. Librarians to them were unreasonable authority figures who demanded quiet, had anal-retentive attitudes toward "their" materials, and may have been scary or mean. In other words, many people react to "librarian" like I react to "lawyer" or "proctologist."

Complicating the issue is that "librarian" is associated primarily with women over the past 100 years. Having no sexual orientation issues myself (I am north by northwest), that hasn’t bothered me, but for some guys might feel compelled to adopt a more "manly" job title. Women have also been historically more disenfranchised in society than men. If we as a profession want to establish our importance in the school culture, giving ourselves a title firmly associated with a powerless class may not seem wise to many practitioners (hopefully on a subconscious level since no one would EVER be so sexist and misogynistic in this enlightened era.)

Yet there seem to be few good alternatives to librarian as a job title – either symbolically or descriptively. Technologist conjures up taped-glasses, high-water pants, pocket protectors, a lack of social skills, and an abnormal affection for things made of plastic and silicon. Media specialist is confusing since "media" is sort of confusing non-word and "specialists" tend to be despised in education. Cybrarian is just plain goofy and sounds like something from a Robert E. Howard pulp. Chief Information Officer (CIO) will get you laughed out of the teachers’ lounge. Teacher-librarian – well, who wants a hyphenated job title, really? Sounds like the married name of a Universalist-Unitarian. (Hi, my name’s Bob Librarian and this is my wife, Mary Teacher-Librarian.)

I say go with what makes you feel comfortable. Maybe the perfect job title will saunter down the path one day. But I am not holding my breath. In the meantime, it’s in our best interest to respect whatever moniker people place on themselves. Nobody likes being teased about one’s name."



  1. Heya¡­my very first comment on your site. ,I have been reading your blog for a while and thought I would completely pop in and drop a friendly note. . It is great stuff indeed. I also wanted to there a way to subscribe to your site via email?

    • Hi Melaine, thanks so much! I will check on that and get back to you. We are in a bit of flux right now with this new blog software, so it may take some time. Be well. Amy