One meets many interesting people when attending an international conference and Croatia was no different. Darryl Toerien’s keynote resonated with my views of how to prepare our students to be effective members in their world after leaving basic education and entering any new adventure, but particularly those going to some form of higher education.
Once an academic librarian was invited to speak to my university school library management class, and when I introduced him as “my fellow school librarian,” he was aghast, almost unable to give his brief presentation, a great surprise to me and indication he really didn’t know what school librarians were supposed to be doing.
I mentioned this scenario at a conference for all types of librarians when I was asked to introduce the library director at Harvard, and he and I laughed together. When I didn’t say those words in my introduction, he started his presentation, “My colleague and fellow academic librarian, Blanche, was supposed to introduce me as her fellow school librarian because we both understand that the only difference between our students is the time from their graduation from high school in June to entering my university in August.”
To prepare our students every step of the way from beginning school to graduation means we have to take full responsibility for their academic achievement, to work with teachers to collaborate and teach together the curriculum units from preschool through graduation. Yes, we do need to encourage them to read and research, but we must demonstrate to them and to their teachers that we can help our students learn how to learn, how to take responsibility for doing what it takes to learn on their own. Once they leave our classrooms, the faculty in higher education feels less commitment to spoon feed students. These faculty anticipate students know how to be independent learners, able to go to the library and find what they need with only advance direction from academic librarians. Students must be competent learners outside the classroom. Since many if not most of our teachers continue to spoon information to students and then test to see if their careful articulation of what should be learned is in fact learned, you, the school librarian, may be the only teacher in the school who can move students beyond that spoon feeding to pick up their own spoon and choose which bowl to test first. You see, we are there to help all our students master the content they are faced with in every classroom, and to do this, we must be a part of the planning and teaching of that content and we should be helping them learn how to take responsibility for their own learning. You see, we really are academic school librarians.
Thank you, Blanche, for this profound insight into the nature of what we do, or are supposed to be doing.
From Jacques Ellul I learned that history is the consequence of ideas.
So where, and at what point in the history of American school libraries, did the idea of the school librarian as essentially an academic librarian emerge from (or is this worded too strongly)?
And was it then the school librarian as academic librarian who gave shape to the school library as academic library through what they did? Or did the demands of the school library as academic library give shape to the school librarian as academic librarian?
Crucially, how then does the education and training of the school librarian as academic librarian come about? For example, you mentioned in your email to me that Peggy Sullivan was able to join you for the Louisville Symposium on 14 November, and that she was the first full-time faculty member hired to build a program for school librarians at the University of Pittsburgh. When was this, and were programs for school librarians in place at other universities by then, and were these programs for school librarians as academic librarians, or did that develop later?
I ask these many questions because we find ourselves in a moment when the idea that will produce the next chapter in our history of school libraries is emerging, and my great concern is that not all ideas about school libraries will produce a history that actually includes school libraries.
Furthermore, I am more convinced than I have ever been that the central idea upon which the future of our history of school libraries rests, and around which all other ideas about the school library must cohere, is the idea of the school librarian as academic librarian.
Finally, a confession … I recently got hold of School Librarianship: Past, Present, and Future(Alman, 2017), which includes a chapter on the development of school libraries in the United States (Weeks & Barlow), and I also have your Timeline of School Libraries from the draft of Symposium of the Greats: Wisdom from the Past & A Glimpse into the Future of School Libraries(Loertscher & Woolls, 2019). So, on some level, and given sufficient time, I imagine I could answer some/most/all of these questions for myself, but those answers would lack the insight that comes from your direct and personal experience. Please, therefore, do not take my questions as evidence of laziness.
Alman, S. W. (Ed.). (2017). School Librarianship: Past, Present, and Future. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Loertscher, D. V., & Woolls, B. (Eds.). (2019). Symposium of the Greats: Wisdom from the Past & A Glimpse into the Future of School Libraries. Salt Lake City: Learning Commons Press.
Thank you Blanche for the inspiring post. I think you have cut to the heart of one of the main barriers that librarians face in terms of identity. We can be limited by how others see us, but we are also limited by how we see and describe ourselves. I know you were focussing on school vs academic librarians, but I was really struck by your sentence:
“you, the school librarian, may be the only teacher in the school who can move students beyond that spoon feeding to pick up their own spoon and choose which bowl to test first.”
A major issue we have, certainly in the UK where there is no tradition of the teacher-librarian, no teacher training as part of librarianship courses and the majority of librarians are not qualified teachers, is that we do not self-identify as teachers – and certainly subject teachers would not describe us in that way. I am in the slightly odd position of having previously been a subject teacher in the secondary school where I am now a librarian and every now and then (often when I have just finished teaching or team-teaching a lesson with them) a subject teaching colleague will ask me whether I am ever tempted to ‘go back into teaching’. I understand exactly what they mean because my job as a librarian is very different to my job as a subject teacher, but I think it is an indication that there is a sense that even though we do teach, we are not regarded (and often would not regard ourselves) as teachers. Changing the way we think, speak and write about ourselves may be an important first step in realising our potential in our schools.