Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is This School Library Heresy?

Here's a question for you:  If they took away your books and your budget, would you still have a library program?

 I thought about this the other day while reading about yet another school media personnel layoff.  I wondered, what if they kept the LMS, but zeroed out the budget?   Now, granted, most of us cost more in salary and benefits than losing our budget would cover, but go with me here.

But a brief side-trip before I develop that idea further.

Doug Johnson asked a question in my comments a few days ago that I've also been thinking about. As librarians, we talk a lot about collaboration. Whether it's in library school, our professional journals, or the conferences we attend, the "cutting-edge" librarians, the ones who are "with it,"  all promote collaboration with teachers as our raison-d'etre.  We read articles on tips to improve collaboration ("Hang out in the staff room!"),  articles on documenting collaboration, attend workshops on "Collaborating with the Science Dept!"  There are even ALA awards for examples of the best classroom/library collaboration.

So here's what Doug asked the other day: Should the library program need or have goals other than making sure teachers meet THEIR goals?

In other words (and correct me if I'm misinterpreting, Doug) Is collaboration REALLY our ultimate goal?

I have to admit, I always thought it was, whenever I thought about my ultimate goal. I'm always telling teachers and students "My job is to make your job easier!"  I even felt that was kind of noble.
The more I think about it, though, the more I realize it's mistaking the trees for the forest.

Collaboration isn't the goal, it's the means.

I've been reading Lankes' Expect More, and highlighting like crazy.  A couple relevant quotations:

If you threw out the books and the buildings and left a dedicated group of library professionals, you could invite the public in and and they would construct the future.

Too many librarians...are stuck in a sort of professional conservatism that favors what they do over why they do it (emphasis mine).

Bad libraries only build collections. Good libraries build services...Great libraries build communities.

Our goal isn't collaboration.  Our goal is learning, and learning happens through conversation, with teachers, with friends, with ourselves.  Thus, as Lankes' states above, our goal as librarians is to build and empower communities.

Now, collaboration is one way to do that, as is maintaining a good collection. These are both important parts of our job.   But the point of my question above is if we are REALLY focused on that goal, we could lose our entire collection and all of our budget, and still be able to run a meaningful program, because it's about our patrons, not our tools.  Collaboration is what we do;  we need to think more about why we do it. We need to ask  ourselves not "How can I better collaborate?",  but "How can I better facilitate learning? How can I build a community?"

Collaboration isn't always going to be the answer, and certainly not collaboration at the faculty level.

True story:  Last fall, I was talking to our MYP coordinator.  In IB lingo that means the guy in charge of ensuring all the 6-10 teachers are on board with the program and that students are on track.   I had been struggling to get some of the teachers using  my services, but in this case I was talking to Dave about a pathfinder for his Humanities class.   In the process of conversation, he said, "These are great. I need to tell all of the teachers to talk to you first before doing any research projects."

Wow.  In one fell swoop, I had the entire MYP faculty on board by mandate.   No matter what we do, some teachers are just NOT going to get on board, but they have Department Heads, or supervisors, or principals,  who tell THEM what to do, and THOSE are the people we need to be "collaborating" with, because they set policy.

So ask yourself that question above, and figure out what you do that isn't about tools, isn't about the collection,  but IS all about connecting students and teachers with each other and with their own ideas.  What do you do that allows them to create? That gives them voice?

THAT is your library program.


  1. Hi Jeri,

    Your comment, "Collaboration isn't the goal, it's the means." sums up my thinking on the topic very nicely. See: and be sure to check the date of the column.

    I am stil thinking about whether the librarian or library should have separate goals. Most of us have a mission of creating independent, motivated readers, good information problem solvers and skillful technology users of our students. But whether this mission needs separate goals or not, I don't know.


  2. HI Doug--Good post, as always. Though I do take issue on one point. On the whole, I think you're absolutely right about collaboration and moving teachers to independence. EXCEPT...

    As an example, I co-taught a book-creation unit with the Design Tech teacher this year, mostly in my capacity as an English teacher, but still. I taught the kids how to write the poetry for the book. The unit was great and will be an ongoing project each year, but I'm gone. I gave the teacher all the materials, etc., but most of what I did is based on 20 years of teaching and learning. I can teach him the ideas, but he's never going to be able to replicate what we did without yearly collaboration.

    Also, sometimes, teachers don't want to take over. Collaborating gives them a bit of a break, and frees them up for other things and there's nothing wrong with that. It also provides variety for students and a different perspective, both of which are good.

    So, yeah, absolutely, I'm on board with moving collaboration off the raison-d'etre table, but it definitely does have a place in our skill set.