What is your title at work? Do people understand what you do by your title? Does it matter? Controversy abounds in the world of school librarianship.

When I began my work experience as a librarian in the K-12 education system I was a teacher. In fact, as time went on I was often the most credentialed teacher on my campus with as many as five credentials under my belt. Interestingly, my own instructional colleagues often did not know that I was a credentialed teacher with all of the same rights and benefits that they had even though I attended all faculty meetings and even taught research skills to their students. I was not alone in this strange no mans land of misunderstanding. As a member of the California School Library Association (CSLA) I watched the membership grapple with this conundrum from one end of the State to the other. I think part of the problem was a lack of proper understanding of what the lone school librarian was doing in that big book and computer filled space. I believe the thinking was that if the name was more descriptive things would change (does that ever really work?).

Frankly, upon entering the profession I thought my title was “school librarian” because that is the term I had always known for this position. However, I was quickly informed that my title was “library media teacher” because that better explained what I did (although I found it a confusing mouthful). I was told that “Librarians” were all about books and we were so much more now that technology was such a large part of our lives. Additionally, it brought the word “teacher” into our title which was a pitch for more understanding about our standing with our campus communities. Apparently I was not alone with my feeling that the “library media teacher” moniker was clunky. A few years ago the CSLA’s legislative committee was able to get the name officially changed on the government website and related documents to “teacher-librarian” which is what you will find today.

And that should be the end of the story, no? Actually, no. We have a new twist. At the national level of library associations there is a group called the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). In my opinion they are the big dogs of school library land. They make the national decisions which naturally means the States should follow their lead. Makes sense right? CSLA may not feel that way. Although “teacher-librarian” is clearly preferred here in California AASL had other ideas. They recently pronounced that the official name for the profession is going to be “school librarian”  (mon dieu!). So now we have a bit of a schism…who is to be called what? Canada prefers “teacher-librarian” so the AASL was not looking for world-wide continuity. Some in the profession (outside of California) are baulking at the AASL and saying they will continue to call themselves by a name other than “school librarian” due to its passive and outdated inference. Is it okay to go by whatever works in your work environment even though the government documents do not support you? Or is it better to go with the nationally recognized standard? Some people really do have a dog in this fight. However, I have to ask myself why?

As for me, I have gotten out of the K-12 political system. I am a “librarian” at a college. Yes, I am a tenure track faculty member. No, most faculty and staff do not realize that I am also a professor. We are well respected and seen as a vital part of the academic community all the same and that’s good enough for me. Perhaps there is too much emphasis on the title in K-12 , perhaps the interest this kind of thing generates should be moved into the realm of advocacy at the local level to educate the public about what they do and save their jobs.

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reading bugI was recently given the latest statistics regarding school librarians in California. We have 1,255 of them in a State with approximately 9,800 schools . Meaning that roughly 15% of our schools have a credentialed librarian.

It is true that I am a former teacher librarian (aka, school librarian, library media teacher…a rose by any other name…) I worked in the K-12 schools for over 10 years. During those years I was increasingly frustrated with the lack of knowledge regarding what a teacher librarian should be doing in those hallowed halls. Do you know what a school librarian does? (The answer is NOT check-out books). Unless you are one you probably don’t know either. This is what I have found to be an unfortunate truth. The fact that people do not know does not mean it is not an important position to maintain on campus. Heavens, does anyone really know what a vice principal does? And yet we know we need them.

My current position is as an academic librarian at a community college in California. If I were to put my finger on the one refrain that I hear most often from the widest gamut of undergrad professors it is “these students have no idea how to do research!” (Often followed by “and they can’t write!”). Somehow California students are able to graduate from high school without the ability to answer the most basic research question with any authority. And I mean basic, say, does this website come from a credible source? Forget real academic research, if it is not a natural language question they can put in a Google search box there is no way they can retrieve it or analyze it. Let’s take a step back and start with narrowing a topic. Just having the ability to get a topic down to a size that is manageable for a short research paper is very difficult for a majority of our newest college students. These are not skills to be taught in college these are skills that should have been taught in K-12 by a teacher with a librarian. Of course, the teacher librarian also deals with the purchasing and pushing of books and we know that the more a student reads the better they write.

What happens when you replace the teacher librarian with a volunteer or a clerk? You get no instruction. The teacher librarian often has the most teaching credentials and education of anyone on campus and knows what projects are going on in every classroom. This person is an instructors instructor and has their hand in, potentially, every students education. There is plenty of research there that proves a well staffed and funded library raises achievement . And if test scores are all we care about anymore than there is your proof on that front that the teacher librarian is a necessary part of the equation.

But no, instead we pink slip these teachers because they do not have a classroom of specific students assigned to them. And those that do get to keep their jobs become text book administrators because the schools can’t come up with clerks to handle them (and librarians are supposed to handle books, right?…oy!). Textbooks have become such a big issue for teacher librarians that they are finding their jobs being questioned because they have no time to do the work of a librarian what with 2,000 students who need 6 to 8 textbooks each and some that switch every few weeks and let’s not forget the billing for loss, theft and damage…oh and the transient students who need books throughout the school year. It is ridiculous.

If you ask me this would be another large reason that California is so poorly represented academically. Just ask any Freshman English teacher what their students lack. Solving this problem is only rocket science for those who make the decisions in the K-12 system. Shame on them.

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I have written previously about the studies that have been done regarding a well-staffed and funded school library raising achievement . That was in my response to Governor Schwarzennegar’s call to change all textbooks to an electronic format. Now an administrator at a school in Boston has decided that paper books are absolutely unnecessary.

This reminds of the “heated debates” I used to have with a technology teacher in the mid 90’s who fought against teaching students keyboarding because we would all be using speech-to-text technology within the next few years. We see how well that prediction panned out.

As an academic librarian I see students all day who can not write and have no clue how to start a research paper. We know that the more you read the better writer you become. We know that the more you read in sustained periods the easier it is to work for sustained periods. And we know that when reading is electronic, particularly off of our laptops, that have constant visual updates and reminders we do not read for sustained periods of time, we attempt to multitask. We know there is still a digital divide.  We know that students and schools (including the one in this article) can not afford enough e-readers to supply their students. We know that e-readers are relatively fragile (the polar opposite of anything you want to give a child). We know that strong school libraries have high book check-out numbers and higher test scores than the norm. But who needs facts, right? Out with the proven and in with the shiny shiny.

They will be sorry. In the meantime I am sorry for them and mourn the loss of learning for their students.