Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My new job

While I was finishing packing to go to New York at the beginning of June, I got an email from a colleague with whom I'd been corresponding about the upcoming construction project at her school. She had decided to retire, and was I interested?

By the time I'd landed, I'd gotten emails from the principal and assistant principal. I'd be back on Tuesday, so perhaps a talk Wednesday? I printed out a list of interview questions I'd put together for a former assistant principal of mine who needed to hire a librarian.

I really intended to find someone good them initially. As when my colleague Carolyn Starkey left the school recently, I tried to get in touch with the better candidates I knew, but they either had positions or didn't want to make a change.

Meanwhile, the other district grew irresistible. I was particularly impressed with the principal and the vision he had for the library as a center of the entire community. It was obvious they were seeking someone exceptional who could really bring some fresh ideas to the project and the library. The district was a small, well-funded one with really progressive technology, I knew the instructional technology specialist through the Alabama Best Practices Center 21st Century Fellows. I'd had my eye on them for a while because the superintendent was my homeroom teacher in high school before she became principal at our neighborhood school. She had graciously written me a letter of recommendation when I applied to Buckhorn a decade before.

I began to realize much of the frustration I experienced in my job at Buckhorn was the result of the nature of the district. There are enormous schools and tiny ones, one school for one grade or eleven grades in one building, schools with resources (often federal) and those without. They are all the same under district policies. I often talk about how school libraries offer more autonomy than public libraries. I am learning that is doubly true in small districts.

After many weeks of conversations with the school and district administration there, I decided to take the job. I think the clincher were Madison County's response to the news of a 1:1 initiative and digital textbook program in the local schools. While I really don't think throwing $22 million at Pearson is the answer, I do feel as if I have to keep teaching with technology to keep up in the 21st century, and that was getting more and more difficult in year four without state funding.

I am interested in the experience from an academic point of view as well. After the demolition this winter, I won't have a real facility for eighteen months. How do I develop a program given those constraints? Will I be able to replicate my success in the different, more academically-oriented environment? What about working reference and readers' advisory without all my materials? And what about walking away from all the thousands of books I'd reviewed or bought myself? Also, as it isn't a strictly lateral move, I'll be getting a supplement to coordinate the librarians, which is something new there and new for me. How do I do that? And, perhaps most pressingly, would the other librarians resent me, the interloper?

Everyone I've met in the new district, librarians included, has been incredibly kind and welcoming, and even the school board policy manual is a refreshing work of common sense. I am worried about learning names and faces, and about the almost-an-hour drive there each way, and about my resulting carbon footprint. I keep thinking about books on tape, but know it will more likely be the righteous indignation and hypertension resulting from NPR. I feel guilty about leaving a more racially and economically diverse school for a more homogenous one. I worry that a district like this, where a good number of students are paying tuition, is too close to the sort of educational colonialism undermining public schools. I worry about community norms and intellectual freedom. But I was feeling the anxiety of a larger school with more subgroups, more transfer students, increased anonymity and animosity in both students and teachers. I am hoping this switch will be a balm to that and will enable me to focus on being a librarian.

(And, fingers crossed, this will be a great setting for my dissertation research.)

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