In January of 2019, the Texas legislature convened its constitutionally mandated biennial session. Top on the list of objectives was a serious look at school financing, initially including a $5000 pay increase for classroom teachers, but specifically excluding librarians. Before the bill came out of committee, Texas school librarians and the Texas Library Association embarked on a campaign to contact their State Senators, explaining that school librarians were indeed full-time teachers and describing their complex responsibilities. The result? Senators on the finance committee amended their bill to include librarians in the proposed pay raise, with several mentioning that they had no idea that school librarians were required to have two years of classroom teaching experience and that most held a master’s degree. It was a great moment for the political power of a collective voice, but a sad one in that those elected officials, and their staff and consultants, who are responsible for funding the state’s educational programs, had no concept of the value of school librarians.
If, as I suspect, this situation is not unique to Texas, then as librarians we have our marching orders clearly outlined: We have to tell our story. The question is: What story are we telling?
This question brings to mind an observation Texas State Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath, shared with school library administrators during their annual conference in July of 2018. He said that as educators we are often known for our compassion rather than our cognition. This observation makes me think: While compassion may trigger affection, cognition demands respect.
If it is respect we as school librarians want, then how can we parlay the cognitive part of what we do and who we are to the larger society? First of all, we can show that we have valued credentials by displaying our degrees and creating email signatures that reflect those degrees as well as other accreditations, such as badges indicating computer proficiencies, we’ve earned along the way.
Still, telling what we are qualified to do is only half the picture. We must show what we do, and paint those activities in a light that reinforces the thinking behind them. For example, when using social media, do we depict ourselves simply dressed in a dinosaur costume promoting the latest book fair, or are we also mentioning the strong correlation between book ownership and reading proficiency? When we post an adorable picture of youngsters involved in story time, are we also including long-supported data about the importance of reading aloud to children? We don’t have to get deep into the educational weeds when we describe our programs, but we do have to convey that student activities, whether programming a robot or listening to a book, are more than diversionary amusements; they represent true, focused learning.
Consider the periodical newsletters we post to administrators, faculty, and community members. Do we stress the fun in activities, such as literacy nights, or do we link that enjoyment with its educational benefits? At open house, do we simply show parents around the library, or do we hand out bookmarks, with, for example, tips on reading aloud or information such as the Beers and Probst report on the value of adding minutes to a child’s reading day?
Rather than simply record annual statistics, couple these data with their possible impact. Look, for example, at the 2016 South Carolina report on the importance of school libraries, that correlates thirty-five student circulations per year with increased English Language Arts scores on that state’s annual assessment instrument. This kind of information is powerful; we must use, and even reuse, it.
Yes, for us as librarians these links are obvious, but what is obvious to us is not necessarily so to our parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Reminding them that we are grounded in solid educational practices only solidifies our importance in a school. But, let’s don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Librarians are far from emotionless individuals mechanically marching through a litany of educational objectives. We care about our students, about their reading lives, and about their journeys to becoming independent learners. Yes, let’s show that compassionate part of us, but let’s also temper it with our real educational value.
Anderson, Richard C, and others. 1983. Becoming a Nation of Readers, p. 3. Accessed March 11, 2019. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED253865.pdf
Beers, Kylene and Robert Probst. 2017. Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. New York: Scholastic, p. 137.
Gavigan, Karen and Keith Curry Lance. 2016. “SC Study Shows Link Between School Librarians and Higher Test Scores.” School Library Journal. Accessed March 11, 2019.
Miller, Donnlyn and Colby Sharp. 2018. Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids. New York, Scholastic.
Thornblad, Corey. 2016. “You think you know what school librarians do? Sorry, but chances are . . . you’re wrong.” Bubble Up: Empowering Kids to Read and Write. Accessed March 11, 2019. https://www.bubbleupclassroom.org/home/you-think-you-know-what-librarians-do-sorry-but-chances-areyoure-wrong