school librarians

GLMA Summer Institute 2012 Presentation: Leveraging the Discourse of Common Core Standards to Spur Conversations for Student Learning and School Libraries

Thank you to GLMA for the warm reception and the opportunity to talk about Common Core Standards, learning, and librarians.  The presentation in PDF format is also available below:

Leveraging the Discourse of Common Core Standards to Spur Conversations for Student Learning and School Libraries by Buffy Hamilton June 2012

Links of interest from today’s presentation not embedded in the PDF or slides:

Crowdsourcing Recommended Reads for Issues in School Librarianship

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About two weeks ago, I received an email from my mentor and cherished friend, Dr. Mary Ann Fitzgerald, of the University of Georgia, who shared the following charge:

Here’s a question that’s perfect for you.  I’m teaching an Issues class this summer as an elective (M.Ed level). In the past, I’ve come up with a laundry list of topics and we’ve explored those.

Another approach might be to choose a single book — a paradigm shifter sort of book that relates to SLM.  Not a textbook.  Something like:

  • information + social + technology + education, multiplied by radical
  • Something we can all read and have some rich discussions about, preferably available in e-book format
  • TED talkish

What title would you nominate?  Something published quite recently.

While I had some titles in mind, I decided to tap into the wisdom of my PLN (personal learning network) via good old-fashioned email and crowdsource the list a bit.  Thanks to my sage colleagues, I have compiled a reading list that I think fits the criteria described by Mary Ann: I think this list gives veterans a rich reading menu as well!  What would you add?  You can share your own suggestions by adding them to the public Google doc I’ve created; you can also download the initial list I originally created in Word from SlideShare below.

Getting There Together: Assessing Student Learning

I would like to thank Sophie Brookover and Jessica Adler of LibraryLinkNJ, the New Jersey Library Cooperative, for inviting me to share today’s virtual presentation, “Getting There Together:  Assessing Student Learning”, a session in which we explored the idea of reframing ourselves as learning specialists and how school librarians’ participation in the assessment of student learning  is an integral part of the learning experience/process and essential for reflection and student metacognition.    In this session, we explored:

1.  Rationales for school librarians participating in the assessment of student learning and why we must take on that role if we are to claim our role as teachers in our learning communities

2.  Formative and summative assessments as well as the importance of student self-assessment

3.  Thinking about incorporating backwards design into the collaboration process as a means for creating conversations about assessment and student learning

I cannot thank the participants enough for their generous sharing of ideas, questions, experiences, and strategies as their engagement really created a powerful conversation for learning for all of us today.  I’ll be sharing, thinking, and writing more about my role in the assessment of student learning in the upcoming months  and how that role informs my collaboration with teachers and students, but until then, I’d like to share three resources to spark your thinking:

In addition, you can access additional readings (free on the web) and resources from today’s webinar wiki page.

Missing in Action: School Librarians and the Digital and Media Literacy Plan of Action

If I have completely misread this report, then I apologize right now for putting my foot in my mouth, but I’m wondering why school librarians are generally absent from the “Digital and Media Literacy:  A Plan of Action” (A White Paper on the Digital and Media Literacy Recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy) report written by Renee Hobbs, someone whom I hold in high regard.    Why are Hobbs and the Knight Commission overlooking school librarians as  critical and essential stakeholders who could help leverage this plan into motion through public schools?  School librarians are perfectly positioned in terms of knowledge and skills to help implement the recommendations outlined in the report.

Recommendation 3, which advocates the creation of a Digital Media and Literacy Youth Corps, has some language that I find somewhat disturbing:

Congress should dedicate 10 percent of Americorps funding for the development of a Digital and Media Literacy (DML) Youth Corps. The DML Youth Corps would be a service outreach program that offers training and professional development in digital and media literacy to a group of recent college graduates and places them, in teams, to work in public libraries, school libraries and technology centers, local public access centers, and other community non-profit organizations.”

While this DML Youth Corps is a lovely idea, I would suggest a better idea is Congress providing funding for every public school in America to have a highly qualified and fully certified school librarian.    Instead of outreach in “school libraries and technology centers,” how about providing funding not only to put a school librarian in every building, but to provide funding to build a team of school librarians for every school where we can be embedded in grade or content level teams to truly infuse and integrate these literacies as a seamless and essential part of every student’s learning experience on a daily basis throughout the school year?     Is a “recent college graduate” really someone who is best qualified to provide the kind of instruction and learning experiences on an extended basis to infuse these literacies in the lives of children and teens?  I think it is already well established that “youth” does not necessarily correlate with one’s competencies in these literacies.  I would also say the same for public librarians—while the idea of a digital/media literacy core is admirable, you already have a corp in place with our talented peers in public libraries to serve populations of all ages.

I am normally a huge fan of Hobbs as well as the Knight Foundation, and I do like several of the recommendations and find them meaningful.  However,  I think that this report, while driven by noble principles, misses the mark in overlooking school librarians as an obvious and existing resource in helping cultivate these literacies in more powerful and consistent ways and as sponsors of these new media literacies to help close the participation gap.  Perhaps if there were more of us in place already and if our programs were not being cut across the nation at an alarming pace, we would not be dealing with the gaps we are seeing now with youth in terms of effectively cultivating these literacies  in conjunction and collaboration with classroom teachers.  I’m disappointed that Hobbs and the Knight Foundation seem to be overlooking school librarians as a ready, willing, and able resource who could be powerful facilitators of this plan.

What do you think?  Have I misread this report, and if not, why have Hobbs and the Knight Foundation made this glaring omission?


Buffy Hamilton

It’s Broken; Let’s Fix It: The Traditional Model of School Librarianship

Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.”

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The 2009-10 academic year has been a sea-change in many ways for me.  While I have experienced several positive shifts professionally and personally, one of the most profound influences on my thinking has been the Media 21 project, a wonderful learning experience that has allowed me to participate in the ultimate level of librarian, classroom teacher, and student collaboration.    Media 21 has been praxis in action in which theory has informed my practice, and in turn, practice informing how I theorize my work as a librarian.  A few months ago, I would have said this collaborative partnership was a dream come true, but as the school year draws to a close (where did the time go?), I would say my Media 21 partnership is also the beginning of  many new professional dreams and inspiring a vision of the potential of this kind of rich and deep-rooted collaboration.

All this positive energy and optimism I feel most days  is in juxtaposition to the concern and frustration generated by the crisis we face in the library ecosystem:  reduced funding for personnel and purchases for academic, public, and school libraries and our worry about the impact of these cuts on those we serve.  As a school librarian, I am especially troubled by the disturbing number of school districts across the country that are choosing to reduce or eliminate staffing as well as funding for library materials and services at a time when information literacy is increasingly important in today’s cultural and educational landscape.   It is as though representatives of local, state, and yes, even the federal government are oblivious to the fact that our very own president declared information literacy an essential for participation in our society (although the proposed budget doesn’t seem to support this official proclamation); many governmental bodies are seemingly turning a deaf ear to the call from respected groups like the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy to play an integral role in positioning information and new literacy (I would go so far as to say transliteracy) as mainstream and vital literacies (see Recommendation 6 and Recommendation 7).

Librarians in multiple communities have brainstormed and shared a plethora of advocacy efforts and strategies for innovating in these challenging times.    This crisis is exacerbated in school librarianship by our shifting role in the educational landscape and as like many of our colleagues in education, try to do more with less.  However, the cuts suffered by school libraries are particularly devastating because the services impact an entire school population.    Even the most resilient, resourceful, and energetic school librarians are hard pressed to effectively fulfill the five major roles of school librarians set forth in Empowering Learners:  Guidelines for School Library Media Programs.

For some time, I have been troubled by the current model of school librarianship and the flaws I see with the dynamics associated with this model that essentially settles for one or two school librarians and a clerk or paraprofessional (if they are lucky)  to serve 1000 or more students.  Is this model working?   To some extent yes, but only because school librarians, being the determined lot we are, make it work because we have to.  We struggle to establish meaningful collaborative partnerships that impact more than just a few segments of our school; most librarians I know would say collaboration is probably our greatest joy and our greatest challenge.

But is it the best model?  Is it a model that makes sense for today’s culture of learning or for the culture of learning we want to foster in schools?  Not so much.   It strikes me how ridiculous it is to expect that school librarians can excel in all five roles, or even a few of them, when forced to conform to this model of school librarianship.   I am struck by how ridiculous these assumptions are, especially when you consider that in some schools, that number may jump to 2000 or more, or in some places, the school librarian is shared among multiple schools and or may not have an entire day dedicated in one school location.

This current model of school librarianship is simply not scalable in its current incarnation as I have discovered this year through Media 21.  These kinds of intense and ongoing collaborative efforts require a tremendous investment of time during the school day as well as after hours; it is physically impossible for me to replicate a Media 21 type experience beyond one to two additional teachers because there simply isn’t enough of me as a human resource to go around.    While Susan Lester and I are thrilled with the progress and growth we’ve seen in our students, we can’t help but wonder how much more our students could evolve if they could have the kinds of learning experiences we provide them across the curriculum and with the team approach we provide them through our partnership.

After Susan and I discussed this very notion last Friday after school as we mused about possibilities for 2010-11, it suddenly became crystal clear to me that for school libraries to truly represent the qualities we value about 21st century learning, we must be willing to let go of the traditional model of school librarianship and grasp one that is bolder in scope and practice.  The model of the solitary librarian (who might be lucky to have an additional partner) toiling in a piecemeal effort to infuse information literacy skills into the curriculum and to be a true collaborative partner to a disproportionate ration of teachers and students is in direct conflict to the model of 21st century classrooms that values  learning focused on collective intelligence and collaborative knowledge building as a  community of learners.  How much more seamless and authentic would research, content creation, and evaluation of information be if school librarians were embedded in a team of classroom teachers?  This model would help teachers, students,and school librarians engage in conversations about multiple forms of literacy and consequently, position information literacy as an essential and integrated literacy into content area instruction.   Research, information seeking and evaluation, and creation of content would no longer be an isolated activity students engaged in once or twice or year, but instead, a regular learning experience.

I dream of a model of school librarianship that embeds us in the classroom whether it be the classroom of a teacher, our library space, or a learning space outside the traditional school building (such as virtual).   Until we are integrated into our school’s department or interdisciplinary teams, I feel we cannot realize our full potential as sponsors of transliteracy and information specialists who can facilitate and support powerful learning experiences with teachers and students.  What if we envisioned the school library as an academic department that partnered and co-taught with other departments rather than as “support” personnel?  How much more could I do for my school if I was embedded directly into the heart of instruction either with another academic department, or even better, an interdisciplinary team?

With this model, I also see space for a larger library staff to work together to facilitate other areas of the school library program.  Perhaps each librarian might be attached to his/her academic team three to four days a week and then have one to two full days in the library to work on other roles and duties within the overall library program.

Most importantly, this model of school librarianship  would greatly improve our ability to establish and cultivate rich relationships with faculty and students.  I have truly come to see this year that the foundation of successful teacher, student, and librarian collaboration is building meaningful relationships; we cannot ask others to have faith in us, to trust us, to let us become part of their world of teaching and learning without building a relationship that has depth and substance.  How much more effectively could we build our “tribe”and lead through example if we were embedded into an academic department or interdisciplinary team?

I realize this vision sounds radical and perhaps even foolhardy in light of the economic climate and the fact that school districts are cutting, not increasing, library staffing.  However, I feel our profession is at a crossroads;  I don’t believe we can fully express the full potential of our “librarian genes” unless the conditions in which we exist change.  We cannot be content to “settle” and accept the limitations funding cuts impose upon our potential as catalysts in our learning communities.  We cannot be shrinking violets by meekly accepting these cuts that ultimately hurt teachers and students.  We must wave the banner for a new model of school librarianship that ultimately is an investment in our learning communities.

While this vision of a new form of school librarianship will probably need fine tuning and my initial musings here are somewhat rambling , I’m interested in what you think.  I am interested in what my students, my teachers, and my administration think.  For a moment, forget the budget cuts, forget it has never be done (to my knowledge), forget the obstacles we will face in implementing this model.  While it may seem like an impossible and improbable reality, effective and real change cannot begin unless we dare to challenge the status quo and to thoroughly interrogate our practice, our beliefs, and our stance on librarianship on a regular basis.  Dr. Bob Fecho instilled in me the value of reflection and action through the simple question,  “Why are you doing this?”.  When I think about this model of school librarianship, I can’t help but ask, “Why aren’t we doing this?”