Monday, September 12, 2016

Not quite Marian, Madame Librarian

When I worked at TCS, I ran the library along with teaching my classes.  At the time, I only had three periods in which I taught, so running the library the rest of the day was my main responsibility.  I enjoyed it.  Most of the students who spent time in the library were readers, so they were fun to talk to.  Plus, I became pretty skilled at recommending books to both avid and reluctant readers.  Since I also had to order books, I got to know vendors, recommended reading lists and new authors pretty well. 

I always thought that I’d like to go back to school and get a master’s degree in library science so I could work in a school library full time.  Returning to school hasn’t happened yet because my life keeps getting in the way.  I’m aware of the fact that librarians don’t make very much, despite the education that they must get to earn the title of “librarian.”  The librarian jobs are also rapidly disappearing, due to funding cuts and the fact that librarians are slowly becoming less necessary.  So if they’re still around in the next few years, maybe I’ll go back to school and get that degree.
In the meantime, I had to keep the TCS library going.  That meant hounding students to return books, keeping up with inventory, billing parents and students for missing titles and trying to help out the English teachers with what they needed.

What I found was that the library is a microcosm of the school district.  However, administration handles the library, and the librarian tells you how the district feels about its employees and student population. 

Allow me to give a few examples.  Schools today are hell-bent on adding “technology” to the classroom.  We hear the words “technology” until our brains begin to melt under the weight of it.  The first place you should see evidence of the school’s commitment to its use of technology should be the library.  Some may say the computer lab, but the fact is, computer labs are part of the library anyway, or they should be. So if you walk into your school library, and you don’t see any computers for student use, the district isn’t that interested in technology.  They’re paying lip service to “technology.”

How is the librarian treated?  Does she have time to assist the teachers and students?  Is s/he given time to work with students who need help, or finish inventory?  When I was in charge of the library, I was constantly being pulled to substitute in other classes, or worse, house the ISS students in the library.  This meant that the library stayed closed most of the day because I wasn’t given a classroom in which to hold my regular classes.  My classroom WAS the library. 

Our school was so proud that we had an actual working library.  The problem was that students couldn’t use it most of the time.  The principal was so pleased that we had a real library that he would hold job interviews in there, administrative meetings and whatnot.  In fact, he liked to show the room off to visitors, frequently while I was in the middle of holding classes.  I tried to carry on as if he wasn’t there, but it was hard to do when he was talking so loudly to the visitors that my students couldn’t hear me.

The biggest problem I had was that no one seemed to think we needed more books.  They’d see books on the shelves and say, “You’ve got lots of books!”  Never mind the fact that some of these titles were more than 10-15 years old, and the students were completely uninterested in them.  Or the fact that many of them were class sets that had been ordered years before and were no longer part of the curriculum, but it seemed wasteful to throw them away.   Those books packed the shelves, and the newer ones we had quickly were stolen.  Our actual collection shrank every year, but the principal insisted we had "lots" of books. 

After two years of running the library, I decided to gracelessly bow out and just teach.  My school said I was so good at what I did, they wanted to keep me in the stacks full time and give me a generous pay cut.  I said no, and the job of running the library went to an administrative assistant whose idea of “running it” meant keeping it closed because, according to her, students tended to get “out of control” in the library.  I still ponder over what she meant.  I hope that the students were breaking into song and dance numbers, a la High School Musical.  They probably weren’t, but a bitter ex-librarian can dream, right?