Infomancy n. 1.The field of magic related to the conjuring of information from the chaos of the universe. 2.The collection of terms, queries, and actions related to the retrieval of information from arcane sources.

SL2.0: Setting the School Stage

January 12th, 2006 by infomancy

65% – that is why School Libraries must take a long, hard look at School Library 2.0 (or whatever we want to call it, as I said yesterday, I think the 2.0 designation starts to fade quickly when taken out of the Web 2.0 context). 65% is one of the more visible symptoms of what some would say is fast approaching a “do or die” time for schools in general and school libraries in particular. 65% is an altogether too powerful rallying cry for a fringe element that wants to eliminate libraries by forcing schools to spend 65% of their funding on student learning in classrooms. Oh, and libraries aren’t classrooms according to them.

Please, if you can disagree with me on this I would love for you to do so. It would certainly make me a much happier person to know that I have got this all wrong and school libraries are doing okay. Keeping in mind the same disclaimers from yesterday though, my perception of this is we are in some serious trouble. This post will introduce a couple of main trouble spots that I see, but please stay tuned for some possible solutions over the next two posts as well.

The Issues

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – Lets just get the elephant right out in the open where we can talk about it in a sensible way. Good? Bad? It’s an elephant. NCLB is one source of some of the less manageable problems we are facing. This thing is here to stay for the near future, and seems poised to grow in its power and impact. One of the concerns that I keep hearing from the librarians I provide services to is that they are feeling increasingly marginalized by testing requirements. The concerns that haven’t hit enough librarian radars yet are potentially more damaging in the long run.

Lets face it, testing is the new black – and “accountability” is the belt pulling ever tighter and tighter around the nec..err..waist of that black outfit. Students scored well this year on the math exam? Congratulations. Now next year, an entirely different set of students with entirely different starting points and learning needs will have to do even better than this years batch or you will get “labeled.” You do NOT want to get labeled. Under this pressure, schools are often focusing more on those subjects that are being tested. Library and information skills are not being tested and thus are suffering along with things like art, music, PE, and to some extent science and social studies. What I find ironic is that if you really wanted to teach to the skills of passing a test – information evaluation, finding key points, etc. – then librarians are the only teachers that have a wonderful curriculum all set to teach to the test. The problem, though, is that librarians aren’t teachers.

Don’t shoot the messenger, but rather look to your NCLB definitions. Librarians aren’t teachers, or at least not enough of teachers to have to be highly qualified teachers. The highly qualified teacher requirement applies to “All teachers teaching in core academic subjects” (NCLB) where core academic subjects are defined as “English, reading/language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography” (NCLB).

This is where the 65%’ers came up with library media centers not being classrooms where students learn and thus not eligible for being part of the majority of school funding under their plan. Being an infomancer, and not afraid to share ideas so we can logically refute the crap they are based on, please feel free to head on over to the FirstClassEducation website to see what they are proposing. On the site, you can clearly see their view of a media center – that’s where you house propaganda press releases based on a twisted newspeak. You can also check out their very 133t “Blogger’s Corner” full of anonymous posts. American Libraries has a nice piece on this “idea” that is a must read.

Let me take a deep breath and try and get back on message. We are in trouble. NCLB is setting up a number of situations – focus on testing/tested subjects, not seeing librarians as teachers, not seeing libraries as classrooms – that make this a time for some deep reflection. The kind of reflection that leads to labels like School Library 2.0.

Reading (First/Recovery/Instruction/Remediation/Etc.)
I actually had a principal talk to me about looking forward to hiring a new reading teacher who would help them organize their Reading Recovery book collection in an empty classroom so the teachers could have better access. I looked at her for a while, and then did a quick check for understanding. Did I really hear correctly that she was going to take a room, and fill it with bookshelves, and put lots of books on those bookshelves, and then hire a person to organize the books and help people find the books and help people take the books in and out of this room? And wasn’t that kind of like a library?

An offshoot of the NCLB issue above, the push for NCLB’s Scientifically Research Based (SRB) reading programs has made Reading First and the like the next big thing in elementary schools. I have heard of some librarians being told they can only buy books that are on the leveled reading lists that accompany new reading series adoptions. In other districts, school-wide committees are meeting to look at boosting reading scores and refocusing on reading without involving the librarian.

This exclusion is only likely to increase with new changes to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reauthorization that adds the new twist of Response to Intervention (RTI) to the special needs classification path. The International Reading Association has a more technical paper on this, but the basic overview is that with RTI, the only way a student can be classified as having a learning disability is through failure to respond to intervention. That intervention, however, must be a scientifically research based program taught by a highly qualified teacher. Libraries are not scientifically research based under NCLB, and librarians are not even considered teachers.

I know librarians teach to read, not how to read. But when librarians are no longer any part of reading, we have a problem.

The Google Effect
Do we need librarians if we have Google? I hear that question more and more. It isn’t a malicious question, just an uninformed wondering on the part of administrators as to the value added of libraries full of books when they keep hearing about all the cool things on the internet. This is why I keep harping on about libraries needing to be careful about being identified as “book places” as opposed to “information places.” Walt Crawford, as part of his very interesting review of Library 2.0, expressed a dislike of the idea of libraries as “information places.” Instead, he wants to place the focus on libraries as “narrative places”, which I could go for except that for Walt narratives seem to only come in paper books.

School libraries are different. They are information places. More than that, they are very carefully constructed information places with a specific focus on the curriculum of the different grades and classes they serve. In a way, they are more like business or medical libraries than public libraries (who serve a very broad variety of interests) and academic libraries (who focus on wide topics with areas of great depth and a tradition of archiving past thoughts). Business libraries are more directly focused on very specific customer needs to assist the company in meeting their research and other goals. School libraries provide curriculum based resources (including fiction as part of ELA and other subjects) to help students meet specific learning goals.

If you look at modern medical libraries though, they tend to be some of the most digital libraries out there. They have made the “Digital Shift” that recognizes that information can be stored in paper books or information can be stored in a variety of electronic formats. Maybe instead of School Library 2.0, we can call this new idea a Digitally Re-Shifted School Library. That brings in not only this idea, but also the Web 2.0 elements of digital interaction with students and staff to provide them with the information they need in the most appropriate format while recognizing that school libraries have long used digital resources.

Yes books are still the most appropriate format many times; I am not saying get rid of the books. What I am saying is that if school libraries fail to make a digital re-shift, they are going to loose relevancy in the world of digital information. As David Warlick reminds us, today’s information is networked, digital, and often overwhelming. We are still needed, perhaps now more than ever, to serve as guides through the digital chaos.

The ALA was worrying about this back in 2001, saying that “the rush to Internetize all schools, particularly K–12, adds to our downward spiral. ” But if you talk to educational technology people, many of them will tell you that librarians led the rush to “Internetize” the schools based on a long comfort with electronic resources. The Digital Re-Shift is getting over the hurdles to come into harmony with the new web.

I will let you take your own trip down memory lane to judge for yourself, but I wonder if we shouldn’t be distancing ourselves from statements like these. Remember, today’s high school students never knew schools without the internet. Google and the internet will never replace libraries, but they may just obsolete them.

The Favor Theory
The final issue I want to bring to the table is something I have begun calling the Favor Theory. After being present for quite a few transactions where teachers approached librarians to ask them to “do me a favor” by pulling resources, I began to wonder about the choice of words. I finally realized that in many cases the teacher didn’t mean “as part of your professional duties, could you please help me out by” but rather something more along the lines of “since this is totally unrelated to your job, would it be a huge bother if I asked you to?” These teachers don’t view the selection of resources for a lesson as the curriculum defined, expert, scientific process that it is, but rather as a favor. There is a fundamental misunderstanding that this “favor” is actually the professional duty of the librarian who has spent rather a few years learning how to be a library scientist. They don’t get that this same librarian, like other scientists, spends countless more hours every year staying up on the latest curriculum changes and new resources. They just don’t get it.

We can blame NCLB for failing to define librarians as highly qualified teachers – though they are in fact highly qualified teachers while also being full time highly qualified librarians. And while it is always easy to blame an elephant as large as NCLB when something is broken, I am not sure all the blame can be pinned there. Some of it stems from the Google effect. Teachers think they can do some of this themselves, so what more do we do differently? I think we also need to do a better job of marketing school librarians as professional information scientists. Sorry Walt, narratives are nice and fluffy, but there is no more budget for fluff. We can demand our rightful cut as information professionals who regularly provide a high quality and much needed service for other professionals within schools. We are happy to do you a favor, but we do a damn good JOB at it too.

Not All Doom and Gloom
I don’t mean to come across all doom and gloom, but I wanted to take the time to lay out what I see as some serious new issues facing school libraries. This leaves out the constant issues of long-term funding, time constraints, teaching full loads while still running full-time library programs, and more. I don’t want to get caught up in the negative, but rather put some serious issues on our collective table so that we can collectively address them.

The next post will include my thoughts from my perspective on how the concepts of Web 2.0 as seen within a Library 2.0 framework may somehow extend to School Library 2.0. As always, I welcome your feedback and the wonderfully different viewpoints that come from different library situations.

6 Responses to “SL2.0: Setting the School Stage”

  1. David Warlick Says:

    There is a real problem with applying formulas to education, such as

    65%(funding) -> classrooms = better learning.

    It works well with industry where assembly lines are controlled environments. But in classrooms, But classrooms are a cacophony of of dozens of life experiences, mastered and unmastered skills, behaviors, goals, and needs. Where our children come from and where we want to help them go, can’t be counted.

    We think that we can prepare children for their future by harnessing the resources/content. This is wrong. We need to learn to harness our audience, leverage our classrooms into learning engines. This can only be done by skilled and talented educators (teachers & media specialists), not by technicians.

  2. walt Says:

    Fascinating and, I think, important post (series of posts).

    Could I correct one little thing: I do not, in fact, believe that narrative comes only in print books. I think that narrative comes in almost any medium (I can’t think of an exception right offhand) and can come via almost any delivery system.

    I do believe that print books are particularly well-suited for certain kinds of long, relatively linear, narrative. But that’s only one kind of narrative.

    Unfortunately, part of the sloppiness of my portions of that special issue is that I was insufficiently clear about my remarks applying primarily to public libraries and, to a somewhat lesser degree, to academic libraries. And, for that matter, I wasn’t saying that public libraries should not be information resources (they should be, and are)–only that “information” isn’t what they do best (in my quite possibly wrong opinion) and that they have never been the first or most important place for most people to fulfill everyday information needs. And that stressing “information” undersells what public libraries (in my opinion) do best.

    School libraries are different animals. So are special libraries (thus, in commenting on TScott’s comments, I did note that since he’s a medical librarian, “information” as the core value was exactly right). “The library” is a wholly artificial construct… as opposed to “this library” or “my library” or “the nearby public library.”

    As to the overall theme here–which I’m unlikely to comment on elsewhere because I don’t feel I can add much value: Might I suggest that uniform national requirements are once again proving to be perhaps not such a magnificent idea in the U.S.? (There’s something about the camel’s nose and unfunded mandates too, but I’ll let it go at that.)

  3. Christopher Harris Says:

    David,

    Yes, yes, yes..and thank you for phrasing it better than I could. This is a serious issue that is being touted as a “Good Thing” for kids but is really a policitacl attack on public education.

    Walt,
    Thank you for the clarification. I was concerned by the comments in C&I, but this helps me see what you were meaning. The idea of libraries, especially public libraries, as being more than an information (or narrative) source is important. In the rural part of NY where I live and work, I think school libraries need to look at how they can be more than curriculum supports as well. Many of the public libraries in our small towns are only open about 30 hours a week and transportation to and from the libraries for students is an issue given the distances involved and a lack of public transportation options. Thank you also for the clarification, both here an on Walt at Random, regarding support for narrative in other formats. I will also be a bit of a bibliophile, but it upsets me when people dismiss my preferring to actually read my books using my handheld.

    Thanks for the feedback!

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