FCC

Dear FCC and ALA: Do You Really Not Get It?

So I get up this morning to find this story in my inbox courtesy of Bobbi Newman, a fellow member of the ALA/OITP Digital Task Force.  My initial reaction to the content of the article isn’t fit to print here, but I have a few thoughts I’d like to share:

  • This is the year 2012.  Digital literacy should be an essential literacy integrated into inquiry and content area study in grades K-12 by school librarians as well as classroom teachers. School librarians do more than check out books; we do our very best to collaborate with classroom teachers and students.  At a time in which school librarians are being cut from public schools, does it not make more sense to use the funding to  increase and grow a digital literacy corps of school librarians to meet children at their point of need where they already are?
  • The economic crisis of public schools combined with existing misperceptions of what contemporary school librarians should be doing to contribute to their learning communities has resulted in unprecedented erosion of the profession of school librarianship.  For ALA to not advocate with FCC to utilize and grow our ranks as people who already have this expertise is incomprehensible.
  • The concerns raised by school librarians was never about thinking our jobs were being “usurped.” Instead, we questioned why the FCC would not utilize an existing corps (school librarians) and expand it at a time in which we are being hacked down left and right as public schools grapple with budget cuts.   Why should children be asked to stay after school to learn an essential literacy in isolation?
  • Our public librarians are also an existing corp of digital literacy experts.  Again, why not provide funding to grow their staff and services to build upon their existing efforts to work with learners of ALL ages?  Or to help public and school libraries develop partnerships to do community outreach to parents?
  • It’s insulting for the FCC to say that they don’t need the services of librarians, but they’d love to hire someone else to utilize our learning spaces for this endeavor.  Do you think we only check out books?  That we’re not already teaching digital literacy?  That librarians aren’t qualified to be your digital literacy corps?   Why not use this funding to elevate and grow libraries and schools as partners in cultivating digital literacy for their communities?
  • Digital literacy is more than computer literacy—see Project New Media Literacies.
  • While these are dated from 2009, perhaps the FCC and ALA should reread Recommendation 6 and Recommendation 7 from the Knight Foundation.
  • Josh Gottheimer, FCC’s senior counselor to the chairman, is quoted in the article as saying the effort is to close the participation gap and that ““It’s their choice [schools], if they so desire, to be part of this process.”  Do you not get the public school system can be the conduit of closing all kinds of participation gaps for many kinds of literacy?  Isn’t the public school system supposed to be a cornerstone of democracy and point of access for everyone?  At a time in which public school funding is being cut and districts are in budget crisis nationwide, it seems it would be more prudent to fully fund public schools rather than forcing schools to spend money on unfunded mandates and to waste millions of dollars on standardized testing.

I rarely write blog posts in the heat of emotion, but the blatant disconnect in the statements in this article absolutely astonish and infuriate me.  Not only is this disconnect between what the FCC perceives as a need and solution and what public schools and public libraries can offer a disturbing red flag, but I’m also deeply troubled by these statements in the article:

School librarians reacted so strongly to the story that representatives of the American Library Association (ALA) reached out to some bloggers to help clarify the role the ALA has had with the FCC over the proposal to help quell concerns.

I read these words and wonder if  my service on the ALA/OITP Digital Literacy Task Force has been in vain and why I’m paying hundreds of dollars of years to belong to an organization, ALA, that felt compelled to “quell” concerns.  Clearly, ALA does not see that the arguments we’ve outlined as ones to take up with the FCC or to understand digital literacy is a component of libraries’ (school and public) to provide lifelong learning for our communities at their points of need.  And what exactly WAS ALA’s role with the proposal if it wasn’t to encourage the FCC to do more than merely use libraries as physical space to provide training? Did ALA not speak up for its members and tout our expertise and the work we’re already doing that could be expanded with this funding?

The thousands of librarians who are the frontline at ground zero of efforts to provide services and instruction in many kinds of literacies to our communities are acutely aware of what the needs are in our communities and the possibilities for meeting those needs if given appropriate staffing to expand and exceed a vision for learning.   To read these kinds of statements is to feel that yet another government agency, the FCC, fails to understand what we do in spite of our efforts to share our work.  In spite of the spin to put a positive bent to this issue, I feel cannibalized and betrayed by our very own flagship professional organization, ALA ; I am rethinking if I want to continue to pay to belong to an organization that doesn’t seem to really understand the work we do or the intensity and complexity of issues those of us in the trenches of librarianship deal with on a daily basis and that are undermining the potential and promise of the profession.