02 June, 2010

What am I missing?

One of my recent posts got this comment
"Ms. Yingling said... Wow. I am sorry that you are so angry about so many things. The one thing I did notice is that you speak very infrequently about books. I do very little with technology because so much of my time is spent as Readers' Advisor, and that works very well for me. I hope that things improve in your world"
So, I decided to think about what I am missing in my current way of running a school library.
For example, today in the library I had a Wolfmother concert playing on my IWB. It was loud and raucous (kind of like a lot of my students). I wandered around the place, laughing at the kids who were photocopying bits of their anatomy (I think we need to get some sort of swipe card system on the copier before I end up finding copies of bits of anatomy I do not wish to see) and generally being social. I didn't do much reader advisory (I let one of the senior girls into the back room to look at the new books and asked her opinion of what I've been buying) but I did talk book with a couple of students (and x box with a couple of others).

The library here is not yet a hub of literary activity. Borrowers are the minority of my users, the majority would be here for; computers, air-conditioning, a social space or a safe place from the confusing melee of the playground. Does that make me any less a librarian or my role any less librarianish? Well, it probably depends on where you have been and what you have done. Working in Alice Springs Public Library I spent as much time dealing with the homeless as I did dealing with reference requests. The library there was also a safe place for the disenfranchised and a cool place in the NT heat and we aimed to walk a balance between being a drop in centre for those who had fallen through the cracks in society and being a source of fiction reading and a location for research. After all, the homeless were as much our patrons as the backpackers who wanted internet access and they were still going to be part of our community when the American servicemen and women of the Pine Gap Base took their return flight.

But even in the less socially disadvantaged Penrith, I worked for a library service which aimed to be at least part social space. I organised cartooning workshops for the school holidays, clowns, musicians. I once had a drumming workshop, foolishly I decided to have it in the main library rather than in our theaterette as I wanted all the patrons to feel part of the school holiday program. Some of our Mills and Boone readers didn't seem to see it that way.

Which takes me to another point, it isn't that long ago that the idea of fiction in a library (especially populist fiction) got librarians all hot and bothered. Now we have those who seem to feel their job is all about fiction (which sometimes it is, check your job description if you are unsure). But if you are a school librarian you have much, much more to be working on.

In a recent post, Teresa Bennett touched on the idea that some librarians are not teaching information literacy skills to their students citing the example of a TL who directed library staff to put‘selections of items from the class topic on a trolley so the students wouldn’t have to waste time finding items in the catalogue or on the shelf. NomesD took it a bit further in a comment on the same post saying
"academic librarians have to deal with the utter ineptitude of so many TLs when their students get to university. So many students have never found a book, have no idea what a call number system is, let alone how to use keywords, or how to - God forbid - evaluate information, especially on the internet."
And having worked in a couple of academic libraries I can clearly state that there have been many (oh so many) students who get to Uni with fantastic traditional literacy skills but a complete ineptitude when it comes to finding information. So, it turns out that librarians telling students how to find information, rather than spoon feeding them facts, are not causing the students to waste their time. Rather they are teaching valuable skills, skills which will be needed if that student decides they are going to go on to further study.

So, why do I speak infrequently about books? Especially being as I love books, be it curling up with some Kierkegaard or de Botton for my own amusement or reading Isobelle Carmody because, despite disliking her writing style, I do feel I need to know my collection and what my students are reading. Why don't I devote huge chunks of my blog to reviewing the books which sit on my bookshelves? Well I read and love reading but people reading this blog are by and large librarians, I don't need to sell them on the idea of books. Nor do I need to expound on the benefits of literacy we are all aware that reading is fantastic.

So, does doing what I do work for me (and more importantly my students). It is still to early to tell, but in a school of 500 students I average about 60 students in the library each lunch break. I am taking that as a good sign, just like I am taking the fistbumps and high fives I get when I go to the shops on the weekend as a good sign (please don't tell me they are being ironic. I love my delusion).

The next step though is to get more of those kids who come in here to find the reading material that rocks their world (not just the old copies of Where did I come from). But it is also to get those kids who are online doing their work to understand how to reference the stuff they have used, how to find better stuff than they did last time and how to make sense of the masses of data that exist. And it is also, getting the kids who are playing games or watching videos of people being hit in the balls by children, to feel comfortable enough in the library and with me that when they decide they are going to work that they can ask me for help.

So yes what I do works damn well for me and if things improved any more in my world I would imagine I was dreaming.

1 comment:

NomesD said...

Well I think you're doing all the right things, and I'm glad there are librarians like you in our school libraries. America is a different beast, and I don't think you're missing anything as long as you're interacting with your users and I doubt you're delusional - teenagers rarely give high fives ironically.