First of all, this blog is not dead. Neglected, yes. Dead, no.
It has been an arduous few months. It is more than accurate to say that for quite a while I have been in survival mode. It is my first year in a new organization, not to mention my first full year spent in a public school in a position of some authority. This was all to be expected and yet I have still been blind sided by the level of difficulty presented by running what is essentially a small room full of books.
Beyond this, I would propose that my department is one that is undergoing a greater amount of change that many other departments within our building and district. There is obviously a mission at hand. The goal is to create a library which exemplifies the needs of the 21st century student, including both research and recreational needs. No matter how you slice it – books versus databases, electronic versus print, high-level versus low-level – the advancement toward a new model has not been easy.
What would have been easy is to maintain the status quo. That is, essentially, to prove that the job of school librarian does not require the same extent of rigor and training that we require of our classroom teachers. That possibly, certification and education are not elements required of someone whose job, until now, has largely involved checking in and checking out books.
That is not to say that I don’t take joy in those things. I do, immensely. However, the needs of today’s learners has shifted. The needs of the library and the requirements of the librarian must shift as well. Ultimately, maximizing access to information has to be tantamount. The difficulty lies in comparing a set of cursory non-fiction books for $50-$100 versus a full-featured yet possibly unwieldy database for hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Realistically, the entire challenge is about making the unseen seen. How do you explain what a database is to someone who has never used one? How do you justify the cost for something you ultimately do not own? How do you provide modes of information access which ultimately require Internet access which is often a luxury in our world?
This challenge applies not only to students but also to faculty, staff, administrators, parents, the community, etc. It can certainly be tempting to stop fighting for such radical change. Why not just buy books? Why not just man a circulation desk? Why not just fulfill a traditional role? In short, without a library media specialist who is dedicated to such change, I sincerely doubt we would prepare students for the challenges they will face not only in post-secondary education but also the post-secondary world.
How to go about leading and sustaining this change is the the essence of this challenge. In doing some searching, I tracked down a familiar source (this time on Google Books) in Evaluation and Library Decision Making by Peter Hernon and Charles McClure:
This list defining the difficulty in being the change agent resonated with me:
1. The change agent usually has minimal direct control or authority over external environmental factors.
2. A number of competing views or other individuals attempt to make changes related to that specific concern.
3. Greater quantities of resources are necessary.
These are both abstract and concrete in my situation. A breakdown of each is not necessary, but to keep these three elements in mind has helped me to outline where the most energy should be dedicated in order to continue this paradigm shift. Beyond this Hernon and McClure remind me of this:
“In short, librarians must be able to convince decision makers that a proposed change has merit. The ability to define a specific problem, obtain or collect data related to that problem, analyze the data, and produce results and conclusions based on that data is essential.”
Despite the fact that I would amend “decision makers” to “stakeholders,” this advice rings true almost 20 years after its initial printing. To put it in action, both continuously and consistently, is the solution to making the unseen seen.