JP of 8bit Library once again inspired me to write a post. The title of the article was Why are there still libraries and the questions he asks are both realistic and chilling. You can read it here: http://blog.8bitlibrary.com/2011/02/21/advocacy-maybe/
He speaks about how librarianship has slowly deflated from a proud and powerful field to one reduced to defending itself at every turn. Sometimes it feels like being a librarian is about nothing but defending libraries. But as JP said, are we just defending our jobs or defending something worthwhile?
Instead of rehashing JP's article, I would like to take a different spin on it. Why are there librarians? Specifically school librarians?
I was just discussing this very question with someone the other day. I attribute it to a domino effect. First we had functioning school libraries, complete with a librarian and a library assistant, or two. This is the ideal. The assistant focuses on the day-to-day running of the library while the librarian is free for curriculum mapping, teacher collaboration, and resource building for research projects. The librarian is free to attend professional development opportunities, and read up on the latest and greatest in the field. The librarian is also free to constantly implement new changes in policy and update the library's collection and functionality.
Then, budget cuts happens. The librarian loses the assistants. Now the librarian is confined to the library, forced to check in and check books out all day. There is no time for development. There is no manpower for shelving new books. The librarian simply drowns in clerical work. This is where the tragedy happened, and my guess, is what happened to librarians in the previous generation. This is the current stereotype: that librarians do nothing but dewey decimal and circulation. This is why people ask "Why do librarians need a masters degree?" I admit that when I started this degree my father asked me that same question and I couldn't for the life of me answer him. I was embarrassed and defensive and it honestly took me years of coursework to answer him appropriately. That's because I was a product of that same stereotype - a world of school librarians without assistants.
Now let's move forward to the present. Now we have school libraries that have been faithfully held up by solitary masters-degreed librarians, struggling to keep the library running while still performing their REAL duties of collaboration and curriculum enrichment. Then budget cuts happen again. Schools make the decision to hire librarians without degrees, or worse, get volunteers to fill the positions. So then we get un-informed people, also born of the stereotype that libraries are nothing but book vaults, running our school libraries.
Granted, these people do the best they can! Many of them are absolutely excellent at keeping our libraries open, despite devastating budget cuts. Some of them are the only reason some districts have resources for our kids at all. However, they aren't information professionals. They are managing the library, but not using it to advance student learning through evidence-based practice. They do the best they can, but without more than one body in a library, one of them with an MLIS, it's just a giant shelf.
So now we have a series of rooms with books in them and volunteers or lay people doing little more than guarding the books. When you have this exact situation is when people ask "Why are there librarians" and people can honestly answer, "I have no idea." When you have libraries where students can't talk; libraries where teachers aren't collaborating; libraries with collections that are 20 years old, quite frankly - there's no point in having them open at all.
Out-dated resources are harmful to our students. It's all or nothing. If you don't have a modern facility with a modern collection, and a degreed librarian with an assistant, chances are high the school library is not functioning as a hub of interactive learning. Instead it's basically a book store.
And this is the state of affairs we newly graduated school librarians are stepping in to. We are asking to be paid monies appropriate to our schooling and expertise. We are asking for the resources necessary to make dynamic libraries focused on student-learning. We are asking to make our libraries what they were always supposed to be, and instead we're forced to be gatekeepers and shhhers because schools can't afford it. And they can't afford it because they too assumed that libraries=book stores and made the logical conclusion that they are unnecessary.
It's no wonder people are asking, "Why are there librarians?"
So what do we do about it? We write blogs! We speak out! We educate! We continue to live by example and publish papers on the topic. School libraries should be the glue that keeps the curriculum together. In short, Why are there librarians? Because there are students!