Currently, out of the 340-plus school library media specialists in West Virginia, only 13 are members of our association. There are many reasons for that. I think one of the reasons is that our lack of communication with each other tends to let us forget that the association exists. Another big reason is that school librarians are teachers first, and after paying dues to AFT or NEA, adding an additional membership often seems more of a financial burden than a necessity.
Finally, the biggest reason more school librarians don't join WVLA is that they don't see the relevance of the association to their professional lives. There is a feeling that WVLA is not concerned with school libraries.
I can say, after sitting in on Executive Board meetings, attending both the fall conference and Spring Fling, that WVLA is concerned with the needs of the state's school library media specialists. The Executive Board want to know how they can help us. That is a tricky and delicate issue.
You see, many librarians feel that any help offered by other librarians, particularly public librarians, may imperil our jobs. In these tough economic times we always feel our jobs are on the cutting block. Heck, we feel that way in good economic times. When I told this to a group of public librarians at Spring Fling and later to the Executive Board, I sensed a feeling of hurt, shock, and insult, as if I was implying that these people had done something wrong.
No, they haven't. It's not them, it's us. It is our culture. We work in isolation with generally no empowerment. We attend professional development planned by our districts that generally has no impact on our direct duties. ( I cannot include myself and my county in this last statement, but for many I suspect this is true.) The only person in our building that understands our professional responsibilities is....us. Our priorities, even when aligned perfectly with the school wide plan, are often on the back-burner to activities that "affect student learning."
We have a right to that large chip on our shoulders, but here is the truth: mistrust of offers by other librarians is invalid. We need to work together, building strong coalitions that can provide excellent services and materials to our children. By working together, we can offer our children more than they could ever have if we continue to work in isolation. Obviously we cannot buy ever item our children might want or teachers might need to deliver that curriculum. Neither can the public libraries or the academic libraries.
So how do we deal with the perception (both real and imagined) that we can be replaced by other librarians and their services?
- Refer to the second paragraph. We are teachers first. As such we are the ones who understand the needs of our students and what materials our teachers need to address the Common Core State Standards. Believe in yourself and your value as a professional educator.
- Reach out and talk to other librarians about how you can form coalitions to provide excellent services to your kids. Work together!!
- Join WVLA or, for other readers, your state library association and network. These people are allies, not enemies.
I would like to hear from librarians from other states on this issue. How do you work with your colleagues from all types of libraries?