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21 Dangerous Statements


21 Dangerous Statements Librarians Make
Doug Johnson
Head for the Edge, November 2012

I shudder when I hear librarians utter these statements because what is said is often not is what is heard:

  1. But the school has to have a librarian and a library.
    (Subtext: I don’t have to worry about my job.)
  2. The research proves that libraries improve student achievement.
    (Subtext: So I don’t have to.)
  3. Kids can’t come into the library…
    1. because I have work to do.
    2. because I might need to step out and they would be unsupervised.
    3. because it is my library and what I say, goes.
    4. because I need four weeks in the fall and spring to get it ready and shut it down
      (Subtext: Because what I need is more important than what students and teachers need.)
  4. I can’t create a good program because I am in a fixed schedule.
    (Subtext: I’m not a real teacher.)
  5. Having a study hall in the library is out of the question.
    (Subtext: The library program is more important than the needs of the school.)
  6. That’s the technician’s job .
    (Subtext: My professional image is more important than others’ emergencies.)
  7. Correct bibliographic format is absolutely critical.
    (Subtext: Form is more important than content.)
  8. I can’t work with a teacher who does not give at least X days/weeks/months advance notice.
    (Subtext: I am inflexible.)
  9. The library catalog information has to conform to AACR standards and I will spend all my discretionary time cataloging until it is.
    (Subtext: Following a rigid set of rapidly obsolete standards is more important than working with people.)
  10. Computers and the Internet are the bane of reading and rational thought. I refuse to learn about them.
    (Subtext: I am unwilling to change or even consider new ideas.)
  11. Wikipedia, blogs, and Twitter are not an acceptable source of information.
    (Subtext: I don’t acknowledge that crowd-sourced information has any value.)
  12. If only the principal/teachers/parents knew what I do they’d appreciate me!
    (Subtext: People should know what I do without my having to communicate it to them.)
  13. It’s my job to read so if I read on the job others can just think what they want.
    (Subtext: Appearances don’t matter.)
  14. But ALA/AASL Standards say _____________.
    (Subtext: All schools need exactly the same kind of library program.)
  15. That kid has shown he can’t be responsible so he’ll never check anything out from this library again.
    (Subtext: Materials are more important than human beings.)
  16. Computer games in my library?
    (Subtext: It would just bring kids into the library I have to supervise.)
  17. I can advocate for my own program. I don’t need anyone else vocally supporting it.
    (Subtext: I don’t need to build relationships by offering a program of vital importance to others.)
  18. My expertise in children’s and young adult literature makes me indispensable to my school.
    (Subtext: I don’t need to make the connection between what I do and improving reading abilities.)
  19. I don’t need to collect data about my program. My principal loves me.
    (Subtext: Personal relationships trump accountability.)
  20. I don’t teach “computer skills.”
    (Subtext: Students can be information literate without having technology skills.)
  21. The right job title (librarian, media specialist, teacher-librarian, etc.) will make my position more secure
    (Subtext: What I am called is more important than my role in the school.)

OK, those are twenty-one fast ones off the top of my head. And they were probably easy for me to list since I’ve uttered more than a few of these phrases myself in my career as a librarian and library supervisor.

I made a whole mass of librarians shudder about a year ago when I suggested during a panel that our profession could use a good pruning. Yes, some good people will be removed along with the dead wood, but what remains of the profession will be vibrant, growing, and healthy.

Too many in our professional still regard the library as a sacred institution that all schools must have instead of a dynamic, flexible set of services that exist to serve the entire school. Too many in our profession don’t seek new ways to become valuable as the needs of our schools change. Too many of us are constrained by the traditional role of the librarian - a children’s and young adult literature expert and research coach.

I am not convinced that the profession as a whole is in a crisis. But I suspect a lot of librarians (who aren’t reading this column anyway) may be. And rightfully so. And the rest of us who are transforming ourselves into modern librarians should be concerned. The old expression that we are known by the company we keep is true professionally as well as personally. Librarians who fail to change; who have grown complacent; and who don’t put the needs of their patrons first reflect badly on all of us. Principals and superintendents who have had a bad experience with a librarian will hard to convince that libraries and librarians can be important components of an effective school.

And one of them might be your next supervisor.

Most of these columns, updated and edited, can be found in my book School Libraries Head for the Edge. Buy it and I might be able to afford a nicer nursing home one day. Thank you.

Posted on Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 10:58AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson | CommentsPost a Comment

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