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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:

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? from Joyce Valenza on Vimeo.

What librarians make.  (Or Why Should I be More than a Librarian?)

(Inspired by Taylor Mali and his poem What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If things don’t work out, you can always go to law school

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.

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. Donna Baumbach says

    Oh Joyce! Taylor Mali’s poem has always been one of my favorites and you’ve outdone him. You made me cry! This is beautiful! Thank you, thank you, and THANK YOU!!!

  2. Thank you Joyce, from a respected and valued teacher librarian, who’s proud of who she is and thankful to be making a difference.
    Dr. Bernstein-Do a little research next time you make such accusations. Ask questions. Open your eyes. Oh, I’m sorry. You don’t know how? You didn’t realize it was necessary? Hmm…?

  3. Joyce, truly excellent. Bravo.

  4. well said. A good school principal who understands what a teacher librarian can bring to learning and teaching makes all the difference. Principals and school librarians who continue to think that their job is to manage resources will be the ones to question our roles.
    We need to show what we can bring to the curriculum


  5. Cynthia Peterson says

    Joyce, you didn’t include the fact that you have “made” thousands of teacher-librarians think more clearly about the work they do each day. Thank you for continuing to inspire us, and speak so eloquently of our work.

  6. Joyce, as always you lead the way in announcing to the world how important our role in the school community is and the direction it is going. No job has evolved as rapidly as ours and I admire my librarian colleagues that they are able to keep their heads above water. Each and every aspect of our profession has undergone change and it has been an exciting challenge to say the least.

    Thanks again for speaking so eloquently for all of us and your video and text should be tweeted, published, blogged, youtubed, facebooked and transmitted every wasy possible today and in whatever mode will pop up tomorrow!
    Keep the faith!

  7. Nice, but would be a lot more effective if shortened by a third.

    And Marc Bernstein should be declared a public menace and barred from any position having to do with education.

  8. Teresa Harper says

    Joyce, you made my day! Often when I am overwhelmed I wonder if I lack organizational skills. Now I know that I am just busy! Thanks.

  9. Librarians the world over thank you Joyce. Being a librarian is more than enough.

  10. nice, thanks for sharing.

  11. SherriLibrarian says


  12. What Donna said. “I am NOT an anacronism. I make a difference.” Kudos to you, Joyce.

  13. This is amazing!

  14. Nancy Dickinson says

    Absolutely amazing, Joyce! Thank you for telling Mr. Bernstein what he obviously needs to hear! You have said it all!

  15. All I can say to this is a very loud “Bravo”, Joyce. I am already proud to call myself a librarian, you have given me a huge boost today in these difficult times for all of us – thank you.

  16. Thanks so much for writing this. I’ve been a librarian for 8 years, first in a public library, then in an academic library and I’m about to start training to be a school librarian as I think that’s where my heart lies… your description of the job is exactly what I imagine it should be. Hope I can live up to the picture you’ve painted of it, I can’t think of anything more exciting to be!

  17. Gigi Lincoln says

    Joyce, thank you for speaking up on behalf of our profession with such clarity and passion! You accurately describe your thriving, successful 21st century school library program which is by no means an anachronism.

    We appreciate your willingness to share resources, tools and strategies through the NeverEndingSearch and through other means.

    Your work is an ongoing example of the vital connection between effective school library programs and increased student achievement!

  18. Thank you from all teacher librarians.

  19. And since we have the Internet and thus WebMd I guess we no longer need doctors??? In a world that is information driven who will walk these students through the forest??? and yes I know them by name! Thanks Joyce!
    3 minutes ago · Like

  20. Hilda Weisbug says

    I add my bravos to the chorus. Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to say so eloquently what needed to be said. I understand Dr. Bernstein is retiring. I think he is the anachronism.

  21. Mark Williams says

    Thank you, Joyce, for saying it so VERY WELL!!

  22. BRAVO! BRAVO! This should be given to every administrator, politican and Governor!

  23. Powerful! I can’t wait to share this with…everyone!

  24. A good librarian is worth her/his weight in gold. Write on, ma’m!

  25. Right on! Thank you for being our voice, and our conscience. This is what we ALL want people to know, and you phrased it so well. I am proud to be a librarian – the kind of librarian YOU describe!

  26. Mary Kay Risi says

    Thank goodness we have Joyce Valenza, among others, to offer intelligent, passionate rebuttals to the shocking stupidity of much of the “educational reform” debate out there. Test the kids to death and then blame teachers for absolutely every societal and educational weakness out there – and now, kill the librarians! He is a superintendent of a large, affluent district? Truly shocking. Thank you, Joyce. Phew!

  27. Thank you for what you have said and how you have said it!

  28. Diana Teaford says

    So WELL said. All of us who call ourselves “Librarian” should be so eloquent. Thank You for saying it so well.

  29. This is great. But as usual, we are all speaking internally, to the librarian choir. I found out about this from a LIBRARIAN listserv. It needs wider dissemination or we move further toward the fate of the dodo.

    Please consider sending this to many newspapers, to Ed Week, to parents’ magazines, Oprah, YouTube, Arne Duncan, Ellen DeGeneres, Congress. We need to start preaching this message to the people who AREN’T yet on our side, or who may not even realize that our profession – and the services they need – are in jeopardy. We face extinction unless we shout to the rooftops – of buildings other than libraries.

  30. a teacher librarian says

    By the way, I mean informative mail that tells him what we do.

  31. Doug Johnson says

    Well put, Joycie.

    We’ve certainly convinced ourselves of our own importance.

    The questions is: How to we convince others?


  32. Outstanding rebuttal to the comments of someone who is ignorant of what our libraries have become in response to today’s technology. A warehouse of books? Absolutely not! A center of learning and growing? Absolutely yes!

  33. Well said, Joyce. The term “Librarian” doesn’t need updated. It’s other people’s outdated applications of that word that do. About time all those nay-sayers caught up with those of us in the real world.

  34. Outstanding. I’m a little more inclined to proudly state that I’m a librarian after hearing that. With that being said, Doug’s question is still in the back of my mind.

  35. You go grrl!

  36. Nancy (Smith) Latanision says

    Outstanding Joyce!!!! I applaud you once again. I hope that everyone uses your comments to add to their advocacy collection of ideas.

  37. Barbara Stern says

    Joyce: Thanks for stating so eloquently what all of know is true. You are an inspiration!

  38. Donna Miller says

    Well said, Joyce! Thank you, thank you for serving as an exemplary model for all of us and for always being articulate and courageous in spreading the message about what we do. I plan to forward this to policymakers and movers and shakers in our community!

  39. Laurie Conzemius says

    Thanks Joyce!
    I’m proud to be in your company!

  40. Ruth Lorbert says

    Fabulous & well said! Please consider submitting this as a rebuttal to Newsday, or somewhere else where it will reach a wider audience, besides other librarians.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts so eloquently

  41. Wonderful Joyce, you say what needs to be said, continue to shout it out—-we are all learning from you, following you, and so so proud of you. Thanks for all you do!

  42. Blueangellk says

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am working in a district that is nearly certainly closing it’s HS library. I am new in the position and I am just feeling helpless. Your word really helped me remember why I love this job!!!!!!

  43. Karen Lemmons says

    Thank you, Joyce for making a difference–not only to students, but to our library profession as well. You are an inspiration and an excellent example for all of us!

  44. Great response Joyce.Love all the points but are they listening. We all need to get out there and show the principals, the parents, the communitiy that we do make a difference. We all need to do ift and also make sure people know that wr are doing it and the politicians should be made to feel ashamed by their lack of knowledge.

  45. Today the best thing to “be” in education, is to “be a librarian”

  46. Thank you for being eloquent! You make such a difference. You are a leader and we thank you.

  47. I hope he reads this. But he probably doesn’t know what a blog is. Newsday didn’t print my letter, but they did print a letter from a Long Island school librarian, which, of course I can’t find online.

  48. Michelle Sment says

    Thank you!

  49. Thank you for saying what we all wish we could!

  50. Thank you, Joyce! Very eloquent and well stated! Take that Mr. Berstein….not Dr. you don’t deserve the title of the learned!

  51. Tommy Tatum says

    GREAT! Thank you! I hope you’ll publish this everywhere possible.

  52. Judy Desetti says

    I loved this. I have never been prouder than after I reflected on this piece to know I am a teacher. I am a librarian and I make a difference! WOW! Thanks for putting all my feelings into words so beautifully.

  53. Thank you Joyce for making a difference in defending our vision and mission as Librarians!

  54. Millicent Neff says

    Joyce, thanks for giving eloquent voice to the expansive roles of the 21st century media specialists.

  55. Peter Baumann says

    Such a lovely article. Thanks so much for putting into words so eloquently what we as librarians do each day.

  56. Laura Forgie says

    Thank you for reminding me/us of all that we do and make! We need to proclaim it far and wide to all those nay-sayers. I don’t know what kind of libraries Dr. Bernstein has been in lately, but it seems that he hasn’t been in any of our 21st century school libraries!

    Thank you for your inspiration!

  57. Marcia Porter says

    I am proud to be a librarian and want to thank you for stating with passion and eloquence what so many of us feel.

  58. Lisa Morein says

    I’m passing this along to the head of my school. Thank you for your brilliant response to a not so brilliant question.

  59. Debra Hanbury says

    Thank you for eloquently explaining librarians are much more than book clerks, and they always have been.

  60. Lisa Nocita says

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I had actually just shared Taylor Mali’s “What a Teacher Makes” with 8th graders studying poetry and performing live poetry. I like this version even better!! As always, Joyce, you have a profound way of advocating!

  61. Thanks – this had inspired me and then helped me explain why a budget cut to the library was not the way for the school to go!

  62. Susan Lamothe says

    Having just read all of the article and comments, my request is we send this to 1) Dr. Bernstein and his school library. 2) Governor Cuomo 3) our representatives and if we are part of a union our union. Discussing it amoung ourselves will not bring about change. Joyce’s article was eloquently written and needs to be sharred with Newsweek and the above.

  63. Kim Morgan says

    I have been a teacher-librarian in Australia for more than 30 years and am still working for the love of it at 72. In our 1970s librarianship diploma we could not proceed without gaining a pass in computing and our computerised library catalogue preceded the introduction of computing into the school. I will not be junked by any computer! Thank you Joyce for telling OUR STORY – the way it is.

  64. Thank you for this – it’s truly inspirational, we now have new aspirations and you have breathed new life into my work ethic!

  65. Janice Woods says

    Thank you Joyce. And for you nonbelievers, walk into Joyce’s library. It will only take a short moment to realize she fulfills every part of her poem every day to every student.

  66. Thank you, Joyce. ~:o)

  67. Top-notch post it is actually. We’ve been seeking for this content.

  68. oh wow… thank you so much. as a librarian I love that!

  69. Allison Burrell says

    As always, you have put into eloquent words what so many of us school librarians have wanted to share with the larger community. Thank you!


  1. […] Click here to access article from the School Library Journal […]

  2. […] Shared What librarians make. A response to Dr. Bernstein and an homage to Taylor Mali « NeverEndingSearch. […]

  3. […] by Taylor Mali’s poem, “What Teachers Make,” librarian Joyce Valenza wrote her own poem. Here’s a little excerpt: I am here to introduce young people to a rich world of books and […]

  4. […] you seen Joyce Valenza’s post titled What Librarians Make: A Response to Dr. Bernstein and an Homage to Taylor Mali? This is […]

  5. […] Joyce Valenza has a fascinating post explaining the value of libraries and librarians. […]

  6. […] the heading of why librarian’s are awsome try these links: What librarians make. Or Why Should I be More than a Librarian? from Joyce Valenza. 20 heroic librarian’s who have saved the world Why you should fall on your knees and worship […]

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