Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Too Little, Too Late?

We've all see Shonda Brisco's map of self-reported school librarian firings. How I wish there was any other topic that got librarians as energized as the prospect of losing their jobs. To be fair, I know that many school systems are in crisis and looking to save money through whatever reduction in forces they can come up with...but I have to wonder how much that is a reflection of inert library media programs not doing their best to support teaching and learning.

View A Nation Without School Librarians in a larger map

I stopped teaching graduate courses because I was too depressed about that caliber of students going into the profession. I found that the majority of these nascent school librarians were not willing to put forth more than a minimum level of effort. And this was not the case with the students I encountered going into public libraries, but, unlike the school librarians, most of them were not already working in professional positions. And the vast majority of K-12 educators, on the whole, shock me at their refusal to spend a moment on prep outside of contract hours. I've heard this rationalized as a labor issue -- if you do extra, they imply, you are essentially doing what would be someone else's job, and thus removing their opportunity for employment.

But I don't see an equivalent justification for so many educators' failure to invest in their own professional development. A school librarian in our state sent a scathing message to a state listserv after several people indicated planning on going to ALA Annual this summer. She said she would rather spend $2000-$3000 (quite the lavish conference budget!) on library materials. She clearly did not appreciate the librarians in question were funding their own travel rather than using local school money.

I am lucky to be in a state where the budget isn't in quite the dire situations of many others, in a system which is not in as dire a situation as many in the state. Next year's education budget just passed the house without any reduction in state-funded teacher units. It does not provide for classroom materials, technology, professional development, or library enhancement funds. The lack of materials budget has been challenging. I'm writing a review column for Gale, so I'm getting some really top-notch informational books from them.  Nonetheless, I've been averaging around $100 out of pocket each month for must-have fiction and office supplies. Just this morning, I bought a copy of Ellen Hopkins' Tricks for $8 in cash from a sophomore boy. We don't have a PTA, and fundraising is not a real option -- we've had three events year, netting $300 total.  But we still have heavy circulation and waiting lists for dozens of titles, and multiple classes every block. I get to school almost an hour early every day to prep. I work most evenings, too. If I slavishly followed my contract, I could do a lot less, but then I might feel a lot more anxiety about advocacy and keeping my job.

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