School Librarians Are Heroes

Since October, I have been working with a group of school librarians from the Rochester, NY area. I created and taught a Five Weeks type course for them called Library 2.0 Leadership Institute. The idea was the brainchild of Chris Harris who is, in my opinion, doing more for school libraries right now then anyone else. He designed a collaborative catalog and web page system for schools in his area, from scratch, with a team of two. The program is called Fish4Info and I think it looks fabulous, but that review is for another time.

This experience has led me to realize that, of all the librarians in the United States, school librarians get the shortest, saddest, under-appreciated end of the stick. They have more hurdles to overcome than any of us. No one has room to complain compared to them.

The thing that shocked me the most was their lack of access to technology. These wonderful people we were expecting to teach our children about information can not even access the information themselves. The system is broken almost beyond repair.

I am not talking about individual website blocking, which is bad, but platform blocking as well. Google Docs. Pbwiki. Any wiki for that matter. Blogger. WordPress. What are these districts afraid of? Collaboration? Scary! People talking and such!

I asked some of the participants in the institute what the process was for getting a website unblocked. Most of them are from smaller districts and their answers varied, but more than a few of them had an answer that floored me. They have to send a formal request for each site they want unblocked to the Superintendent of their district. You did not read that wrong. The Superintendent of the entire district has to approve the unblocking of each individual website that a librarian, not a student, wants to look at and use. This would be the equivalent of me submitting a written request to the President of my University for permission to look at Wikipedia.

After a few choice words, I asked them how this made them feel. They said like “children.” These districts have no respect for their librarians and teachers as smart individuals teaching the future of our country. They might as well require that they ask to go to the bathroom. Do these districts think that this treatment will empower and instill trust with their staff? I wonder how many of the people making decisions about what is a “safe” website even know what half of the websites are that they are blocking. The most common reason for blocking a website, according to the librarians, was because it might contain porn. Porn. What a lame excuse to block Google Docs. It does not even make sense.

At the end of the 6 week program, each librarian was to come up with a proposal to use one of the 2.0 tools at their school. For many of them, their decision was based not on what would work best for their students or teachers, but what was not blocked by their filtering system. That is no way to make technology decisions. It is irresponsible on the part of the administrators to force their teachers and librarians into this position and only encourages bad or no technology use in our schools. This situation benefits no one, except perhaps companies selling filtering software.

On the bright side, they came up with some really great and unique ideas despite their limitations. The projects ranged from class projects to useful information for teachers. Even though some of them had ridiculous odds stacked against them for learning, they persevered. I think that any school librarian that perseveres and continues to search for new technology avenues for their students and teachers despite idiotic PTBs and rules is a hero.

It was fun to be a part of another project where people are in charge of their own learning. It is amazing the extra lengths that are taken when people are empowered by the process instead of hindered by it.

Chris hopes to replicate the institute and have the librarians who have already completed it be the mentors and teachers. Hopefully, with some lessons learned and some great new leaders, this program will be something that will help many more librarians in the Rochester area.

–Jane, is proud of the librarians in the program