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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Assert or Die

Speaking at a conference is always equally an opportunity to listen — to hear from people out in the field. It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that the buzz among librarians on Long Island was: the CCC (common core chaos); DD (digital dilemmas); and BC (budget cuts). At IRA last Sunday one of the organizers of our preconference ended his presentation with “adapt or die.” I didn’t agree with him in that I think teachers (not librarians) need to see ebooks and apps as more like Opportunity to Create, or You Will Be Fine, But Limited. But there is another sense in which I do believe this moment is more binary and more dire for librarians: it is Assert or Die. So much is swirling around both school and public libraries, so many big decisions, so many changes in policies, in public expectations, that the librarian who remains passive is likely to be crushed, swamped in bad — or at least not made-with-her-in-mind — decisions crafted by others. While the librarian who speaks up actually has a chance to expand her role, to take her place as the key actor she needs to be.

For example, on Common Core. I heard of one school that wants to move away from the disliked elementary Social Studies textbook which the district does not have the budget to replace. Instead, they are thinking of using text sets — what we’ve called Clusters. But how to find the books, and in numbers that meet class needs? This is an impossible-to-solve problem unless the librarians in the community, school and public, are in every meeting. I heard of another school switching to IB, where one key teacher said he did not need the librarian’s help, since his students will only be reading Shakespere and Henry James (which is about as misguided a sense of what IB is as I can imagine). And a third school in which an administrator decided to solve the CC switch to NF issue by giving each teacher $200 to spend as she pleased — with no input from the librarian who actually knows the best NF for students at each grade level. You can bet some jobber has arrived with lists of texted carefully marked as CC-Compliant to gobble up those dollars.

And then there is digital. Back at TLA Dorcas Hand, my co-presenter, had mentioned Freading, This is an interesting approach to ebooks for libraries. But so far the big 6 childrens and YA publishers are not willing to put their books on it. We are at the logjam of opportunity and resistance. And that is not the only problem, even with libraries using Overdrive cataloging right now is so daunting and frustrating that many (most?) patrons do not have an easy, intuitive way to seek out one title and find out all of the formats available to them.

Librarians, you need to be heard — in your school communities as CC decisions are made; in your administrative offices as digital purchases are made; by publishers and distributors as digital access decisions are made. You are powerful, you have knowledge, and you have money — your purchases make a big difference. And the alternative, if you are not heard, if you don’t speak up — bad choices, and ulimtately a belief that you are not needed. This is a moment of swirling change without considered leadership — you have the knowledge to step up into that role — do it.


  1. Love this: “We are at the logjam of opportunity and resistance.” So true!