Monday, June 29, 2015

We Can't Wait Any Longer: Time for a New Plan

For the past two years I have been chair of my state's school library division.  From the outset my goal has been to increase communication among school library media specialists and to increase membership.  Here is a summary of my goals:

  • Increased communication:  Fairly successful.  I have created Facebook groups and Yammer groups that do see some use.  In January I taught an Office 365 class just for media specialists.  Have these groups resulted in the full-fledged collaboration I had hoped for? No.  Was it worth the effort?  Yes.
  • Increased membership: FAIL.  FAIL, FAIL, FAIL.  And it is demoralizing.  In an attempt to see why more people did not join WVLA, I conducted a survey of the 300-some SLMS in West Virginia, asking them their thoughts.  I received 46 replies.  Respondents cited the following reasons for not joining WVLA:
    • Cost (15%)
    • Relevance or Lack Thereof (13%)
    • Other (44%)
    • No response (28%)
Basically, my attempts at unifying our profession and creating dialog have been unsuccessful, and for the most part (72% of the respondents chose Other or did not answer the question) I don't know why.

I strongly suspect WVLA isn't working for WV school librarians because WV school librarians are not trying to make it work.  I have sat at the table and watched the faces of academic and public librarians who are trying to reach out to include school libraries in the agenda.  I have heard them ask how they can help.  They have tried.  We have not. You can't sit back and expect programming to be delivered to you. You have to be part of the machine that provides that dynamic.  As a profession, we have failed.

(I feel like the Lorax as he led the animals out of their formerly beautiful home after the last Trucula tree was cut.)

Now in the interests of advancing (what do I mean, advancing? Maintaining!) school library media services in West Virginia, I am working with a friend to develop a new association not just for media specialists, but also for technology integration specialists, academic coaches, and technology systems specialists.  Here is a rough logo I have devised:

Is this what I wanted? Not originally.  Am I selling out? Possibly.  But there are not enough engaged library media specialists to effectively advocate our mission.  Need examples?  Forty-six librarians took the time to complete the survey.  That is 13%.  Those 46 responders were asked if they would assume leadership in a new organization just for school library media specialists.  Eighteen percent of the 46 responders said they would be interested in leadership.  That sounds solid. But 18 percent of 13 percent is not very many people to depend on when starting an organization.

Academic coaches are responsible for carrying out curricular mandates in our schools.  They coteach and often buy resources.  Library media specialists should be academic leaders in our school, helping implement the mandates.  We know what the materials are.  We can advise the coaches if we see them as colleagues and not the competition.  They need to see we are involved in the total curriculum, not merely recreational reading.  We need to agree on ways ethical use of information, citing and paraphrasing are taught.  We can help them, and they can help us.

Technology integration specialists are responsible for introducing technology support to the curriculum. We do that, too, but we are specialists in resources that are not readily apparent to TISs.  We can provide them with more resources to show teachers.  Better yet, we can coteach with the TIS and the classroom teacher for exceptionally effective lessons integrating technology and academics.  We are partners in technology integration.  We bring different pieces to the same puzzle.

We need technology systems specialists.  We need to articulate our needs and the needs of our teachers and students. We need to understand their concerns in order to propose solutions that better fit our needs,

I am hoping that by partnering with TISs, TSSs and academic coaches we can all define our roles without feeling we are in competition.  I am hoping we will have more immediate access to information and can be at the table when deciding upon resources and programs for our students. I am hoping that partnering with these groups will elevate our profession as those who choose to be involved will bring a high level of professionalism to our conversations.

I am not abandoning WVLA.  I will continue to be a paying member. I appreciate all the leadership WVLA has provided to help school libraries...without the help of school librarians themselves.  I am very disappointed in myself and my colleagues for not doing better.  Let me be clear in saying the reason WVLA has not worked for WV school librarians is because WV school librarians, as a whole, have not WORKED with WVLA.  Our fault.  Mine.  Yours.

But I am not sitting back and watching library media services for West Virginia children dwindle away due to complacency.  I hope everyone who reads this will be joining me as we establish this new group.