Everyone at my school received my e-mail in reaction to the summary from the Northeast Association of Schools and Colleges’ (NEASC) report of Haverhill High School. Granted, I haven’t seen the full report, and I really only looked at the part that addressed the library, so perhaps when all is said and written, my reaction will have been overstated. But I don’t think so and here’s why.
I don’t think that my reviewers really understand what we do at the LMC and how we do it. (I am including Ms. Sicard, the other staff member, when I talk in the plural). Perhaps I shouldn’t blame NEASC. After all, they only spoke to me for thirty minutes, and they didn’t hang around to see what we do. Even students that I see every day and help with their Powerpoint presentations, algebra homework, college applications, formatting resumes, e-mail attachments, biology research and, of course, book selections are surprised when I tell them that you need a college degree to be a school librarian. I guess they just figure I know all this stuff because I read so much. My reviewers, however, obviously knew that I am a licensed teacher, and one was even a librarian from another school.
That was why I was so disappointed to look under the commendations sections for School Resources for Learning, to discover that the best thing that they could say about the library and library services was to comment positively on, “The sizeable collection of print materials in the library“. That is a great review for a place that is seen as warehousing books, but not so much for a place that should be the hub of academic life at a modern high school.
While many of the recommendations that NEASC makes regarding the library, focus mostly on issues of staffing such as, “Extend before and after school library hours“, “Ensure that staffing in the library is sufficient to deliver all the library services“, and “Expand the limited partnership between HHS and the public library“; others suggest that our staff, and particularly the library teacher (me), is not living up to their professional obligations as educators by failing to deliver the most basic of services. The two recommendations that I have in mind read as follows:
- Ensure that the library teacher has the opportunity to be knowledgeable about the school’s curriculum
- Develop a formal library orientation program to educate all students in library and information skills
The first recommendation can be interpreted in two ways. If NEASC is suggesting that HHS needs to, “ensure that the library teacher … be knowledgeable about the school’s curriculum”, because right now the library teacher (me) is not familiar with the curriculum, then I feel you probably haven’t met the library teacher; and you definitely don’t regularly read this blog. (Bookmark it now for future reference).
If we re-read that first recommendation and this time focus on the word “opportunity”, then we might understand it as just another suggestion to get more library staff, which we absolutely need. I suppose this would give the library teacher (me) more time to sit in on meetings. That is something I would NOT like, nor do I think it would make me any more familiar with the school’s curriculum than I already am.
In our daily interactions with teachers (I am including Ms. Sicard again) we regularly get involved with helping to prepare resources for all kinds for projects from every subject matter offered. We not only prepare carts for research from teachers’ past lists, we also give feedback on recommended book titles, find articles in current periodicals, and suggest online resources for a wide range of classes. Not to mention the number of students that we work with individually every day. Just last week I estimated that, “we (Ms. Sicard and I) see between five and seven hundred students a day in the LMC”. We’re very familiar with the school’s curriculum.
And then of course, there is this blog. Not everyone in my school reads this blog regularly, but enough of them do that I feel it has become another valuable tool in my role as a HS librarian. I began this blog on December 16, 2007 with the announcement that it was an, “experiment in online librarianship”. During the 2007-2008 school year I wrote 51 posts. This year, so far, I have written 40 times, including this post. This is not meant as a boast, but as evidence of my commitment to try to make this experiment work.
More important than how many times I’ve written, is what I have written, and what I have written about. Before I became a librarian, I was a classroom teacher, and before that I was an adjunct writing instructor at several colleges, and before that I was a teaching assistant at the University of Massachusetts School of Education. It was there that I used to instruct aspiring teachers to always maintain an up-to-date portfolio of their work. This portfolio was to include a current resume, letters of recommendation, collections of syllabi and lesson plans, samples of student work, and any other sort of documentation that would verify their professional work as an educator.
For me, this blog has become a digital portfolio that serves to document my work as a HS librarian. It also happens to provide evidence against the second recommendation that we need to, “develop a formal library orientation program to educate all students in library and information skills”. Had the NEASC committee read this blog they would have found entries such as:
August 26th 2008: “Freshman English teachers can schedule for library orientation”
September 6th 2008: “All teachers should check the calendar kept at the circulation desk to book visits for freshman orientation, and/or to have classes select books or work on the computers. The dates fill up quickly, so earlier is better than later”. (Also gave thanks to Ms. Laws, Ms. Medvetz and Ms. Barberio’s classes who visited during the week)
September 12th 2008: “Ms. Hart’s and Mr. Coyne’s freshman English classes visited this week for their LMC orientations” and “I hope I was able to convince Ms. Quinney’s senior students that they need to appreciate the difference between the Deep Web and the surface web when it comes to academic research”.
Had they visited this blog, they would have also seen what I was talking about when I explained to them that I regularly reference this site as a starting point for lessons about online research, reliable resources, accessing subscription databases and citing electronic sources. They would have seen that I have links to our Reading Lists and to the subscription sites available through the public library.
More importantly, for me anyway, I was hoping that a visit to the site might have shown the NEASC reviewers evidence of my relentless curiosity and love of learning, and how seriously I take my job as a HS librarian and member of the Haverhill faculty. I get the feeling there were many of us at Haverhill High who felt short-changed or underestimated in the same way by the NEASC findings, and I am sorry for them, too.
This all makes me think of three things.
The first is a parable about five people who walk into a pitch black room where there is an elephant. Each one proceeds to grab a different part of the elephant, the trunk, an ear, a foot, the tail and the massive body in the middle. When they leave the room, they are asked to describe the elephant and each one proceeds, in turn, to describe something that is true in part, but does not give a picture of the whole. I feel like my job as a modern HS library teacher is the elephant in the room. (The same can probably be said of most dual title roles at HHS).
The second thing this makes me think of is a scene from Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun”. A frustrated Walter Lee the Younger confronts the intellectual George Murchison and says to him, “Don’t you see no gleaming stars that you can’t reach out and grab? You happy? … You got it made? Bitter? Man, I’m a volcano. Bitter? Here I am a giant – surrounded by ants! Ants who can’t even understand what it is the giant is talking about.” Most of us can’t say that stuff out loud; but we carry little gems from a movie, a book, a song that help us get through the day.
The last thing this makes me think of is that the library is a great place to store lots of books, and it’s a bonus when you have someone who knows how to use them. (Self-commendation accepted).
Take care and have a wonderful Sunday. See you all tomorrow.