Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Petition Tornado

Photo Courtesy of wwarby
Wow! Who knew librarians could be so controversial?

If you haven’t followed this petition dialogue, let me give you a little background. Check out this post by Buffy Hamilton and this post by Doug Johnson. The hubbub is in regards to a White House petition. The petition was located here, but has now expired. According to the website, if a petition secures the required number of signatures, the president will consider the issue. Here’s the nugget from the petition that has everyone talking:

“Any school receiving Federal funds should be required to have a credentialed School Librarian on staff full time with a library that contains a minimum of 18 books per student. Failure to have a school library open to all students and/or failure to have a credentialed School Librarian to run that library should be punishable by a immediate withdrawal of all Federal monies.”

Of course this sounds like a no-brainer at first, right? But after giving it some thought....

Here are my two issues with the petition:

First, I have a problem with the knee jerk reaction to call on the federal government to solve local problems. We’ve seen time and time again that a federal mandate doesn’t solve problems, but create many more (NCLB). How can someone in Washington DC really have any idea what works best for a school hundreds of miles away. Each state, each city, heck even each county has its own set of issues related to schools. Shouldn’t the school districts and towns decide what’s best for them, not the bureaucrats in DC?

Okay, so maybe your local districts have issues. You can solve those by means that are appropriate for your students. But some districts are doing just fine. Perhaps they don’t require federal intervention, thank you very much. And if you can’t do what you need to in your own district. Go somewhere else. That’s the great thing about having 50 different states. We have such a variety of places to live our lives.

Second, mandates are too closely related to tenure for me. I know this will make a lot of people mad. But teacher tenure isn’t always a good thing. I’ve heard teachers say, “What can they do, fire me? I’m tenured.” Yes, I’ve heard that exact phrase. That phrase does not inspire confidence in me that a person like that will continue to learn, grow, and make learning better for their students.

In regards to librarians, I’m going to say something that you don’t hear spoken aloud too often in library circles. Librarians have a lot of freedom in the sense that they can choose to create a vibrant exciting program or they can do the bare minimum to get by. (or anywhere in between)

Each library program is a direct reflection of the librarian. Libraries vary widely in schools. Librarians have a huge spectrum of services they can offer. Teachers and administrators base their opinions of the position of librarian based solely on what their librarian is doing.  It’s every single librarian's job to advocate for themselves by showing their administrators, teachers, and communities what they can offer and why they should keep their jobs.

Doug said it perfectly here:
“I have absolutely no doubt that most librarians who figure out how their programs can support their schools' goals and develop a strong communication and advocacy program will not just survive, but thrive. Might some good librarians' positions be cut? Of course. But over all, those who remain will be great. And students will be the beneficiary.”

Finally, If you are advocating and you do all you can to create a thriving program and yet your school or organization still decides to cut you. Don’t talk it personally. There are many other schools or organizations where you will be appreciated. Maybe that’s harsh. But I would suggest you read Linchpin by Seth Godin. Be creative and make yourself indispensable.