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What librarians make. A response to Dr. Bernstein and an homage to Taylor Mali
In his Newsday article last week, Dr. Marc Bernstein, Superintendent for the Valley Stream (NY) Central High School District, suggested Steps to Take Now for our Schools; What Cuomo Can Do to make NYS Education More Efficient and Effective.
Among the several steps Dr. Bernstein suggested Governor Cuomo take in this Internet age is,
eliminating the antiquated requirement that all high schools have at least one full-time librarian and a minimum number of books.
Dr. Bernstein has written at least a couple of other pieces questioning the relevance of school libraries:
- School Libraries: An Anachronism?, EdWeek 3/2/10
- Is the School Library a Sacred Cow. American School Board Journal 197(4) April 2010. 68–69.
Bernstein’s feelings about school libraries and school librarians got me thinking about Taylor Mali’s poem, his response to a dinner party question, regarding What Teachers Make.
Inspired by Mali, I give you . . . .
What librarians make. (Or Why Should I be More than a Librarian?)
He says the problem with librarians is that they are antiquated.
The problem with libraries is that they are anachronisms, sacred cows.
Sometimes, when I am introduced, people refer to me as more than a librarian because I write a blog or speak at an occasional conference. Because it is not impressive enough to be a librarian.
In polite company, I bite my tongue when I hear them ask:
“You’re a librarian, Joyce,” they say. “Be honest. With all the information available for free on the Web, what exactly do you do?”
They ask me to be honest.
And, you see, like Taylor, I have a policy about honesty, especially when it has to do with equity for kids. To be honest, I believe that all children deserve strong school libraries with professional teacher librarians.
And, if you ask for my honesty, I have to let you have it.
I am not an anachronism.
You want to know what I do? You want to know why I am here?
I am here to introduce young people to a rich world of books and literature, options they can select themselves. I am here to see the joy on a kid’s face when she shares that she loved the book she borrowed last week. The one she stayed up all night reading.
Recently saw that joy on a kid’s face when he borrowed his first e-reader.
I have a library collection that includes everything the modern literate kid needs-ebooks, audiobooks, open source software, streamed media, flash drives, digital cameras, tripods, laptops, digital storytelling and digital publishing tools, cookies and pretzels. My collection includes and validates the writing, the art and the media that my own kids create.
I am here to help learners ask important questions.
I am here to help learners understand that when they ask questions, they have a rich search toolkit available to them and that toolkit reaches beyond one big search engine and that that toolkit offers them access to high quality databases and ebooks and blogs and tweets and magazines and newspapers and wikis and scholarly journals and primary sources and media of all sorts.
As it continues to shift, I am here to organize the information world for my teachers and our kids.
To help them efficiently access the stuff they need through the websites and pathfinders I create and maintain. I model for our kids and our teachers how they might organize their own information worlds and networks.
I am here to help learners question and critically evaluate, to triangulate the authority of information and media in all formats. My kids can evaluate a website before they even visit it.
I am here to teach kids strategies so they can effectively and efficiently find the information they need. I am here to teach them search tricks, tricks that have legs, special tricks that give them special searching powers.
I help students build knowledge from the information they gather. I help them analyze and synthesize and make meaning. So that they can use information to solve problems and make decisions.
I help learners communicate and collaborate using the tools of their time. I help them become writers and producers and storytellers and networkers and sharers of new knowledge.
I help them discover that what they create should have meaning and audience. That it should make a difference.
I teach kids to be solid and proud digital citizens. I teach them to be kind bloggers and tweeters and networkers. I help them understand their digital footprints, to build academic digital footprints.
When my kids build media, when they remix, they know how to respect the intellectual property of others.
They know about the Creative Commons movement. They are beginning to attribute Creative Commons licensing to their own work.
They know the rights and the limits of Fair Use. They know how to attribute credit, how to cite, how and when to quote.
I am here to work with teachers to build instruction, to build projects and assessments that focus on creativity and meaning using the information tools and strategies of our time.
Our library is more libratory than library. It is the center of our school. It is often a little noisy. You can hear the sounds of podcasters and video production and storytelling and presentation.
Library is not merely a place to get stuff. It is a place to invent, to create, to make stuff, to collaborate on stuff, and to share stuff. It is more kitchen that grocery store. More transformational than transactional.
I am here to ensure that all my students have equitable access to the tools they need to learn and create. I know that access to these tools is an intellectual freedom issue.
You want to know what I make? You want to know why I am here?
I make kids smile and laugh and think.
And I make them work hard. “Don’t waste my time with anything but your best.”
And I make them read.
I make them plan and write and produce and communicate.
I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them search.
I make them analyze and evaluate.
I make them take a stand.
I make them defend their stands with evidence.
I make them tell stories.
I make them invent.
I make them create.
I make them collaborate and share.
And I celebrate their best.
Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
My classroom is the largest classroom in the school and I know the names of nearly 700 kids and I greet as many as possible personally each day.
Our library is everywhere. Our virtual library is ubiquitous. It is open day and night.
My kids do well on their bubble tests. But I am also here to ensure that our kids become information and media literate citizens. I am here to ensure they become transliterate.
Our library is not a sacred cow. It is a growing, vibrant, central element of my school’s learning culture.
If you want evidence, come for a visit. Ask my kids. Ask our graduates. I can share the research if you like. Check out the Impact Studies collected at the Library Research Service site or scan the collected body of literature in Scholastic’s document School Libraries Work
I make a goddamn difference!
I am not an anachronism.
And there is no need for me to be more than a librarian. Being a librarian is more than enough.
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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