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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computer lecture textbookI was a school librarian (AKA teacher librarian, library media teacher…the list goes on) for over 10 years. In California for grades 7-12 that means you are also the defacto textbook administrator. This, of course, is a fulltime job in and of itself with schools of over 1,000 students and each needing their own textbook for each class and some classes changing every few weeks and add to that student transience the job never ends. There is not just the checking out of books there is the ordering, the billing for loss and damage the shelving and unshelving, rebinding, the scheduling for class pickup…suffice it to say it is a nightmare and can take up the majority of your time. Personally I think this is part of the reason teacher librarians have become extinct in the State of California. How can they possibly do their jobs when they are weighted down with all of this clerical nonsense, and yet it continues and pink slips abound because administration, looking for budget cutting measures, do not see the job the librarian is supposed to be doing only the one forced upon them that does not need to be done by a credentialed teacher (and oh yes, the teacher librarian is often the most highly credentialed teacher on campus). The good that could be done is lost on the California school system particularly with the knowledge we have that a library that is well-funded and staffed raises achievement . Just another blindspot that puts more weight on the classroom teacher to be responsible for every single thing that students spit out on the high-stakes tests. The whole thing is ridiculous and I could rant all day on this subject alone but this is just the prelude.

In an effort to combat the high cost of textbooks our governor Scwarzenegger has just decreed that as of Fall 2009 electronic textbooks should begin their implementation, he even wrote a charming editorial that was run in the Mercury News. On its face doesn’t that sound swell? He says that this will be cheaper, easier, better on students backs and the wave of the future. As a former school librarian I wish this was realistic because it could save the jobs of my colleagues who still have positions in schools, heck it might even restore axed teacher librarian positions and allow students and teachers the advantage of having the expertise of this master teacher in their midst. But I am afraid Arnold has not thought this through. First of all California has an adoption process for textbooks. You can’t just choose one willy nilly this summer and implement it this fall. Every 7 years a subject gets their new books and in year 6 the committees convene to go over all of the publishers options. It is a long arduous process that allows textbooks to be purchased that best fit that school district. Okay, let’s say we throw out the time tested system and take whatever e-textbooks come our way because we are hungry for change. How exactly are the students going to read these electronic books? Public education in our country is “free”. The student can’t be told to pay for their textbook, they are gratis to use and are to be returned when class is over for the year, so we cannot make them pay for the e-reader. And please tell me which school district has the funds to purchase and maintain over 1,000-4,000 e-readers per school? I can fix a damaged textbook but an e-reader? I think not. How do you handle loss and theft? How do you keep an extra couple of copies for every class for those students that forget or need one temporarily? I know that I personally cannot afford any of the e-readers out today and I am one single middle class person (and technology loving librarian I might add, oh how I wish I could).

One might say that the publisher should come out with the reader for their textbook. Well, what if each subject area goes with a different publishers e-textbook? Then we have a different reader for each class? And let’s mention how sturdy the reader would have to be. Nothing survives in a 14 year olds backpack, seriously. The joy of the paper textbook is that damage is only surface deep and students are not thrilled with the idea of keeping them so they usually get returned. With a piece of technology that holds their unloved e-textbook (as opposed to their beloved cellphone and/or iPod) there is no end to the tortures that can be imposed. I just don’t see it. I commend the thought but I am frustrated by the lack of foresight.

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movers09 It is that time of year again. The time when Library Journal comes out with it’s annual list of people within our profession that are recognized for their leadership and ability to take our libraries to new levels of performance and responsiveness.

I look forward to Library Journal’s list of Movers and Shakers because I find it inspiring. Now so more than ever, the reason being that I actually know who some of these people are and have witnessed their impact. I also know more about how libraries run and what it takes to make things happen. A few years ago when I was still working in the K-12 system I could only imagine what these jobs must be like and what kind of world allowed these librarians to innovate and advocate in the manner that they were being recognized. The job of a K-12 teacher librarian is misunderstood at best, even Library Journal tends to pass over their leaders and that is because a teacher librarian works in a bit of a vacuum being the only one of their kind on their campus if, at this point in time, they even exist on a school campus at all. But that soap box is for another day. Suffice it to say I love being an academic librarian and I look forward to a long and productive career with further inspiration from those who do what I do in this very big international pond.

Congratulations to all who made the 2009 list! For a great rundown of each new member of this exclusive club and links to their blogs I suggest taking a look at Bobbi Newman’s blog, she did a great rundown.

We all struggle with the same information literacy issues with our students, most importantly, they don’t know what they don’t know yet they think they do. Our students come to us with the knowledge that Google can give them all they need (on the first page of hits) and no one has taught them otherwise. In college we are surprised that they were able to get through K-12 without good information literacy knowledge. Our classroom professors are frustrated by their students inability to do any kind of research with depth. And in K-12 they are so concerned with high stakes testing they no longer see the value in information literacy and are pink slipping teacher librarians because they are not in charge of specifically identified students that can be tracked back to their performance. Here in the good State of California those teacher librarians in grades 8-12 that have managed to keep their jobs are mainly textbook administrators and not really able to use their talents for good at all. It’s a shameful situation indeed.

I come to this little rant today after looking at Joyce Valenca’s blog post regarding a little sit down that will be happening with the new education secretary Arne Duncan . Carol Broos is an educator that will be one of the twelve teachers at this little shin dig and she has been asked to consider 5 questions which she has asked for feedback from the education community on. They are located on The Future of Education Ning . Although I am an academic librarian I am deeply effected by what is not taught in the K-12 schools and I believe that our input would also be useful for the big picture view which is so often overlooked. If you feel the same way consider adding your voice to one or more of the questions being asked.