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On farmers and ranchers and librarians and teachers and tech folk

The farmer and the cowman should be friends,
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,
But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.
Territory folks should stick together,
Territory folks should all be pals.

                                                 Oklahoma! (Rogers and Hammerstein)

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, brewing beyond the musical’s sweet 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.  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 working to bring the same products to town—learning and knowledge.

Our prairie is more crowded, populated with classroom teachers, technology integrators (sometimes librarians, sometimes classroom teachers), teacher-librarians, network administrators, network /tech support staff, principals, central office people, solicitors. On this new territory, specific roles, responsibilities, and specialties are shifting.  We are not really sure what new skills and talents this new land will require of us. And our Web 2.0 landscape has yet to receive statehood.

In schools like mine, ranchers can lobby the farmers to take down some fences in the name of learning. Most times they come down.

But brawls rage at many of our box socials. 

On a current LM_NET thread, Tech Dept. vs. Library, some librarians describe happy partnerships and understandings, or share that they themselves ARE the tech department. 

Others decry:

  • that IT people with no pedagogical background make critical curricular decisions
  • that librarians are granted limited administrative privileges and are being locked out of purchasing decisions
  • that being a squeaky wheel and providing goodies is a most effective way to win over risk-reluctant IT folks
  • that school technology roles overlap and confuse
  • that some technology departments assume czarist approaches in setting policy
  • that too many administrators have too little knowledge of technology.  They cannot make integration decisions that weigh expedience against learning value

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

The compiler of a recent hit allowed me to share her summary of the responses 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.

  • 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 –and to 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 quote from one colleague that expresses yet another divide–that database thing:

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.

Territory folks should stick together.

Are relations OK in your territory?

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


  1. Jane Englert says:

    Hi Joyce,

    During my experience as Educational Resources Coordinator for CLIU21, I literally sang the same song.

    Our regional Access PA group actively met and discussed ideas and initiatives of importance to all of our school library programs. The group often shared frustration over the lack of communication between the various stake-holders in their school settings.
    One vital missing piece to the dialog was our tech and curricular counterparts.

    Most, if not all Intermediate Units in Pennsylvania schedule/organize meetings for the various school groups…Superintendents, Curriculum Leaders, Technology Leaders, Special Education, etc…

    What we developed was at least one joint meeting date where selected groups heard the same relevant presentations, Internet 2, Web 2.0 Applications, I-Safe, copyright and so on.

    The bottom line is that each group shares a very important role in the education of our students. But none of us operate in a vacuum. We just see the same things from a different perspective.

    I’d like to think it was the start of a beautiful relationship…


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