What I said to the Virginia Association of School Librarians - Clinch Regional Conference
Last Saturday I was honored to speak to school librarians in Southwest Virginia. This year's theme is "The Library: The Heart of the School". I took the opportunity to connect with librarians on issues they all face like budget and time pressures, steeply curving technology, and dealing with struggling and troubled students (of which I was one).
We live in a world where it seems that we have all the information we could ever want or could have ever hoped to have practically at our fingertips. Of course, you librarians know that’s not exactly true. Our students still need good guidance in using the incredible resources available to us.
Librarians - Media Specialists are required to know all this technology and guide students into this new world of education.
Every time we discover something, we discover MORE. Every time we make an advance it turns into something bigger. Every time we think we know it all we discover that there’s even more to know. This is an amazing and rapidly expanding world and universe. And it just keeps expanding. It requires us to make a lot of choices.
The library is the "heart" not just because of the information that’s there, but because of what’s happening there.
You as librarians are transitioning – slowly or rapidly, depending on demands – from being a keeper of information to being a traffic director for curious minds, from being an educator to being the enabler of the development of those young people who will eventually step out into the larger world. That is a whole-person endeavor.
You’re facing budget issues – budgets that are shrinking or, at best, staying flat. And you’re being asked to do more with those budget, up to and including buying, enabling, and supporting technology.
You are the go-to professionals in your schools. ... librarians often carry at least a part-time class load – often full time classes – and get to run a library in your spare time, as if it’s not a full-time job in itself.
The steep curve of our material and informational world is like a roller coaster that you ride on a daily basis, sometimes ahead of your students.
You’re required to focus on what’s new and next even before what’s “now” is fully mastered – and by the time you know the “old next”, the “new next” is already on top of you.
Because of these budget issues, school administrations and communities are looking to technology as a “cheaper” or budget-saving alternative to printed books and traditional libraries. This creates a real push-and-pull where our young learners and you librarians seem to be in the middle of a tug-o-war.
The librarian is trying to teach and is expected to be a technology resource, but at the same time we need our kids to demonstrate and educate adults on how to use the tools.
It’s a very difficult task to adapt rapidly enough and keep up with the private-sector resources that kids have access to and are bringing into schools every day.
People and organizations outside the school don’t have to go through a multi-level bureaucratic and budget process to sample, test, and implement these resources. So the librarian is left behind and struggling to catch up and keep up with what’s available outside the school.
I sincerely hope that there will soon be a bridge between what you’re trying to do in the library to what’s available and happening in the “outside world”.
There is one thing that I see and that I love very much: even among all these mind-boggling changes and challenges, in every school I go to and every community I visit THE LIBRARY IS OPEN.
I grew up in a very tumultuous home ... where learning was not particularly valued. I came to school every day with a bad attitude, probably not enough sleep, not enough resources to concentrate and overcome the natural learning difficulties that I had. I was often marginalized as a reader and learner and as a “discipline problem”.
My life was changed by a dedicated teacher. It was like a light switch was turned on and a whole new world opened up to me when I was fifteen years old.
I spoke recently at a jail for teen boys and explained my experience like this: “I was mad at my parents and I wanted out of that situation, but in response I was working on throwing away my education.”
... it’s not just the good kids who are paying attention. You librarians matter to us – the reluctant and struggling kids – too. We’re watching and it makes a difference what you say and do.
“The Library: The Heart of the School.” What that means to me is that the “heart” is the place where all of the vital material flows through at one time or another. Information, educational materials, books, DVDs, laptop computers, concepts, programs, services, and even the school culture all pass through the library. That makes the library a vital organ with vibrant activity happening.
I think it’s important to point out that even among us reluctant and struggling students, the library is still a SACRED place. I really believe that a kid’s attitude changes when they walk into a library.
I believe that the heart BEAT of the library is the people, the students, the children and teens, the young learners – the compliant, the seekers, the freakers, the frightened, the lost. Everyone comes to the library eventually. That is your heart BEAT.
If the library is the heart of the school and the people are the heartbeat, then what beats the heart? There is a power that keeps the life’s blood flowing through the school. There is a power that sets the pace of what happens, maintains the health of the library and therefore the health of the school. That power that beats the heart is the LIBRARIAN.
It doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen when you’re not there. It happens because YOU are there and you are dedicated to making sure that the heart beats and that the life’s blood flows.
Your task is vital to the survival of our schools, to the development or our communities, even our nation and our world – by influencing the young people you serve with very few conditions on your relationship with them: “Behave yourself. Ask for help if you need it. Come and dive in.”
In a conditional world you have very generous terms with young readers.
You have served more than my mind. You’ve served my spirit and you’ve served my heart.
So, to me, the library is the heart of more than the school. And you are much more than librarians to me.
Thanks to the VA librarians for having me!