A Cry from the Library Wilderness!

In a nutshell, Ruth and I had a “moment” this week that honestly caused us to scratch our heads and then consider banging our heads against the wall (thankfully, our wise clerk, Tammy, talked us out of that!). 

Many of you, especially in the 7-12 secondary school scene, will relate to the frustration we felt this week:  the struggle to get all teachers on board with your library program and to “buy” into the great services and resources your program has to offer.  Ruth and I wrote to Joyce Valenza, one of the most forward thinking media specialists out there in Library2.0 Land.  She graciously offered to help us brainstorm with our community of school librarians by writing a post about our plight (and I suspect, the plight of many.) 

We are not afraid to ask for help because we care fiercely about our library program and nurturing it so that we as librarians and a library program truly make a difference in our learning community at our school.   Many may say, “Well, you know that is how it is in high school.”  Well, I don’t care how it HAS been—Ruth and I care about how it COULD be and SHOULD be!

Yes, we definitely have a positive impact on many students and teachers, but Ruth and I know we have the potential to do more.  With a faculty that has increased by over 50 members this year, we are finding we are having difficulty getting as many teachers from all subject areas into our media center this academic year.  We are especially troubled that seasoned teachers as well as rookie teachers are sending their students to the world wide web instead of working with us to develop pathfinders and utilizing library resources first. 

We provide hands on instruction and incorporate balanced resources–books, our virtual books, databases, quality websites; teachers and students seem pleased when we work with them on a research project.  Yet many teachers do not seem interested in our offers of help or fall back into the “send’m to the web” habit after working with us (and seeming very pleased with what we have done!).  Many teachers comment with amazement that they have never had librarians do what we do for them, so effort is definitely not the issue here. 🙂

We are baffled.  I think this challenge goes beyond the frequent explanation that teachers are under pressure to teach in a manner that is geared toward standardized test prep and being sure to “cover” material, a pedagogy that leaves little room for project based learning and inquiry.  We are a Max Thompson “Learning Focused School”—should research, questioning, and inquiry not be vital parts of the way teachers teach and students learn?  While high school has always suffered from the “Lone Ranger” syndrome, neither Ruth nor I have experienced this problem to the degree we are this year.

Joyce has posted some initial ideas and strategies to help everyone who may be looking for ideas to get their teachers to buy into databases, books, and other great web 2.0 resources.  I am happy to report that we are already doing a good bit of this, but of course, there is always room for improvement. 

Here is what Joyce had to say and where we are with the suggested strategy:

  • Joyce says: I am surprised that so many young teachers I meet get through their own pre-service research without ever discovering a database.  Some I meet reveal that they Googled through their undergrad research.  That’s okay, I suppose if they used it to discover quality content.  At the beginning of each school year I am lucky to be granted a full day with new teachers to discuss our research culture, our resources, our expectations.  I suspect our administrators are happy that I can fill a day with this stuff.   So are we!  I honestly cannot fathom how you can go through four years of college without using a research database, but that is another discussion for another day.  I agree, though, that teachers’ lack of experience makes them reluctant to use something they feel they don’t know.  If you don’t come to the library, though, how are you going to learn the database and/or skill?  We as teachers should always be open to learning, especially if it is about something that will make us better teachers  and that will help our students.
  • Joyce says:  We have an eighth grade unit on evaluation that we’ve placed in the social studies curriculum.  I present this PowerPoint on evaluating sources (I know, it needs a makeover), and I show a bit of the filmI worked on for Schlessinger Video.  While the Georgia Performance Standards are jam packed with many skills and learning standards, very few tie into information literacy at the 9-12 level.  If more media specialists were included on the committees (state and local level) that write these standards, perhaps we then could have a louder voice in making sure information literacy skills are infused more seamlessly across the curriculum in an authentic and relevant manner.
  • Joyce says:  I volunteer to assess students’ preliminary works cited pages for major papers and projects.  This takes some of the work and onus off the classroom teacher and promotes my efforts as an instructional partner.  Students know my expectations are high, that they include use of databases, and they are a little afraid of my scrutiny.   While I truly admire this initiative, there is no way Ruth and I would have time to do this.  We are already up to three lunch periods and 1100 students; our other high schools typically deal with 2000+ students and four lunch periods that last an hour.  Ruth and I already work about an hour extra each day, plus we rarely take a lunch and get no planning period.  However, we do provide intensive NoodleTools instruction and hands on assistance with our students to help students make sure they cite their sources correctly.  We have already had positive feedback this year from our English teachers on our efforts in this area.
  • Joyce says:  We have to work with teachers to ensure their project rubrics include use of quality sources in general. When it makes sense, the rubrics should include use of relevant databases. I agree 110% on this…..but many teachers do not seem to want help or do not seem interested in our suggestion for incorporating criteria about the use of quality information sources.   How can we help our teachers see as a partner who can assist them in the creation of rubrics or as someone who can be sounding board for creating quality rubrics?
  • Joyce says:  We need to do better database marketing.  My students did a film for me last year and I did a Voicethread I’d love folks to contribute to.  But having seen many new streaming video strategies I want to make a better one this year.  Imagine if we could create some in the far more clever style of CommonCraft.  I still want to create a LibraryTube for us to share our best video efforts.  Again, I agree 100%.  Ruth and I hope that we can do more creative “marketing” as part of our Media 21 classes we are beginning this year—podcasts, videos, tutorials created with Camtasia, VoiceThreads—we are all for tapping into Web 2.0 tools to better promote our goods!
  • Joyce says:  We need widgets/gadgets so that teachers and students can pull the databases they most need into their iGoogle pages.  Vendors, are you listening?  AMEN!  For us, though, we have to first get our users to actually create iGoogle pages.  We are amazed at how little our patrons actually use web 2.0 tools we take for granted—del.icou.us, blogs, iGoogle, etc.  I do applaud EBSCOhost and GALE, though, for recently adding RSS feeds for searches.  Again, though, we are finding that few of our teachers or students even know what RSS is—again, part of our mission to educate….we hope to be in a position for 2008-09 to provide training for our patrons that will educate and empower them to the power of Web 2.0!
  • Joyce says:  We need an affordable federated search (to search across all our online resources–search tools, OPAC, databases).  This federated search should not cost as much as a database itself.  It should not force us to make further budget sacrifices.  It should understand the idiosyncratic nature of the many databases we own.  It should make it easier for teachers and students to discover the beauty of databases.  Another loud AMEN from us!  We also need vendors to deliver on their promises when we purchase a federated search….ahem…..GALE/CENGAGE….are you listening?????
  • Joyce says:  We need to de-crimilalize use of Google in libraries. Sometimes we act like the research Gestapo in our scrutiny of search behavior.  Google works.  Google rocks. And yes, we can all use it better.  We have made steps on this front by tapping into the power of Google Books and creating our own Google Library account that we incorporate into our pathfinders with the Google Library RSS feed.  We also use Google Scholar to tap into JSTOR and make it more user friendly to our high school students.  We would love to do mini-lessons on how to search Google effectively….but teachers don’t feel they can give up the time for it even though they agree it needs to be taught.  A symptom of the fallout from testing and NCLB.
  • Joyce says:  We need to do a better job describing our resources.  No teacher (or kid) knows what EBSCO is or what individual databases live it its large suite.  Our pathfinders must bust these tools out of their traps and describe them in teacher- and kid-friendly language.  This is an area that we will work on—the link Joyce has provided will be another tool in our “toolbox” that we use to try to take something so abstract and make it concrete for all of our patrons.

Now here are a few musings I have……..

  • The key issue is here expectations….it is not enough the media specialists have the expectation that we will be the heart of learning.  Our teachers, administrators, and students also need to have this expectation.  Perhaps if this can be conveyed more overtly by all of us faculty members, then it will become a reality and not just an empty mantra.
  • Perhaps NCATE needs to consider incorporating information literacy as a required course or competency type requirement for undergraduate teachers.  As Joyce alluded, it is astonishing at how lacking our new teachers are in this area (and I am not knocking them—it is just a fact). 
  • What if Google Scholar made it more affordable for public school libraries to tie in their databases to Google Scholar the way many college libraries do?  This would go a long way in marketing our products. 
  • If library programs can become more integral parts of School Improvement Plans, I think teachers, students, and parents are more likely to see the library importance of media centers in student achievement and lifelong learning.  I would be thrilled if our library program could be incorporated as a vital part of our 2008-09 SIP!

At the end of the day, it is our students who suffer when the library program and resources are not a regular part of their instruction and learning activities in ALL subject areas.  I hope that this post will help us all think about additional strategies we can devise to make our programs more effective and for our programs to truly reach all students!

3 thoughts on “A Cry from the Library Wilderness!

  1. This is the best preaching I have heard in a long time. Way to go , Buffy. I definitely think you should always strive to do more. But, I also think that you should take time to recognize the things that you are already doing. You are making a difference.

  2. 🙂 Thank you, my fairy library godmother! For those of you who don’t know Joy Mabry, she is a librarian who has been ahead of her time her entire life and an inspiration to more people than she knows!🙂

    I have printed a copy of the two great inspirational pieces you sent me this week, and in spite of my sermon, I *AM* remembering those! 🙂 I will indeed focus on the things we are doing well and hopefully, we will do more of it! We do feel grateful that we have been able to help so many students and that many of them are incredibly gracious and appreciative of our efforts as are several of our teachers.

    They are why we do what we do! 🙂 Thank you again, Joy—you are the guardian angel on my shoulder!

  3. You’re right! We have to always strive for excellence whether it is accepted or not. I also agree that we have to become a part of the School Improvement Plan for it to become important to the faculty and administration.

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