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About farmers and ranchers and librarians and tech admins

In the classic musical Oklahoma!, a community social descends into a brawl between farmers and ranchers as actors mockingly sing one of the show’s refrains: "the farmer and the cowman should be friends."

According to Wikipedia, this subplot beyond the musical’s lovely romance, reveals the:

tension that comes from the farmer’s desire to protect their crops with fences while the cowmen prefer the freedom to move cattle over a wide open range.

A similar turf battle rages in schools today.  As we settle new territory, achieving an appropriate balance between safety (student and network) and freedom/creativity is not as easy as it once was.  Pioneering is risky business. 

Our academic prairie is a bit more complicated.  But maybe it shouldn’t be. Here, we are not sacrificing crops for cattle.  We all should be bringing the same product to town–learning.

Our prairie is more crowded, populated with classroom teachers, technology integrators (sometimes librarians, sometimes classroom teachers), librarians, network administrators, network /tech support staff, solicitors, principals, and central office people.  On this new territory, we are no longer sure of our specific roles, responsibilities, and specialities.  We are not really sure of what new skills and talents this new land will require of us.

In schools like mine, we can lobby the farmers to take down the fences in the name of learning and most times they come down.

But it looks like a brawl is raging at most of our socials.  On LM_NET under the thread title, Tech Dept. vs. Library, while some librarians describe happy partnerships or share that they themselves ARE the tech department, others decry:

  • that IT people with no pedagogical background make curricular decisions
  • that they are granted limited administrative privileges and are being locked out of purchasing decisions
  • that being a squeaky wheel and providing goodies is the way to win over risk-reluctant IT folks

On our Pennsylvania state list, the question of how the Classrooms for the Future (CFF) Grant (a major one-to-one laptop effort) will affect the library program resulted in responses that revealed tensions between tech departments, technology coaches, and librarians.

The compiler of the hit allowed me to share her summary relating to fears that CFF will marginalize the library program:

Basically, my question was what to do with teachers who feel the library is now unnecessary for research. I was overwhelmed with all of your responses. So many of you wanted to be let in on what was said but I got so many that I’ll summarize:

  • Some said that there was no support from administrators, other teachers the tech department or the CFF Coaches, and that some districts were even taking measures to phase out some of their district’s librarians.
  • Some are being proactive and taking measures by inviting themselves to the training sessions, into the department meetings, school board meetings, etc.   The consensus of those responses felt that it is imperative to become familiar with the process/program, and to make sure that the Coach understands the need for the librarian to work with everyone involved –andto BE involved.
  • Some felt that their place is IN the library and they wouldn’t leave to go out of the classroom, some felt that push-out is the way to go — taking carts to the classrooms, teaching the online databases and other research methods IN the classrooms. [nb, for those of us without aides, that’s  tough one].

The compiler of the post shared a specific quote from one her colleagues:

"I have also been asking to be on the agenda of after school department meetings trying to promote higher expectations from students and getting them to require students to use database information and not just web sites. The CFF grants might be putting the classrooms into the future but they have put libraries in stone age."

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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