Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I am the Decider

Having thought a lot about the dilemma posted here yesterday (What the heck is my job anyway?), I've made a decision about the direction this semester must take. I needed a focus and now I've got one. I plan, in a positive way, to withdraw from campus life. Well, no, not exactly. Here's the thing - with a few dozen secondary libraries already closed or staffed with clerks only, there's a decent chance my days are numbered in this position, right? So, do I want to push forward with projects I'll never complete, only to be unprepared to pass the torch to someone (or no one) else at the end of June? No, I do not. Not to mention the fact that forward movement is totally out of the question on this campus right now anyway.

Yesterday ten or more teachers at our school learned that they would no longer be teaching what they have been teaching all year long. Why? No one really knows. Some district-level loophole closing (or opening) meant that Mr. Q had to move from 8th grade Algebra to 7th grade history and science, , Ms. C moved from 8th grade English to 7th grade something and a brand new first-year teacher who JUST got her credential was hired to take the 8th grade class (WHAT???), and so on. In addition to those confusing changes, another teacher is out on leave for two months and so has a sub, another has taken a position elsewhere and so a science teacher has become an English teacher to fill that position (wait, who's taking the abandoned science class?), and so forth.

So really, how am I going to innovate or collaborate under circumstances like these? Our poor, under served students. This is really and truly a tragedy for them (the teacher shuffling, not my lack of innovation).

Instead, I will get this library in ship shape. Every unfinished project I will either finish or dismantle. I will finally, after five years, go through the previous librarian's file cabinets and bring them up to date. I will catalog all of those pesky, strange materials that have been hiding in cabinets and drawers for ages (like the authentic Egyptian papyrus a teacher brought back from a trip). I will clean up the links on the library's web page, diagnose the problems with computers #2 and 14, weed out the unread and obsolete biographies, properly store the school's archival materials, and basically tie up every loose end that's been dangling since the summer of 2006 when I arrived on campus as the librarian. The previous, wonderful librarian left in a major medical rush and I spent a year tying up many of his loose ends, many that stretched back to the school's opening days in 1998. That was sort of fun, really, because I had to act as a detective, which I liked. However, it prevented me from getting a proper start here. I do not have to leave things that way (if I really do have to leave this summer), and so I won't.

This feels right. It's focused and it's not dependent on the participation of others. It's just me finally getting to the end of my To Do list. And hey, if I get to stay, I'll get to work in a pristine library for the first time! Not bad.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Case of the Mondays

It's the first day of second semester and things are unusually quiet in the library. I've blocked off the first week of school to train new student helpers, prepare for the upcoming weeks, and generally catch up and all the things I didn't do last semester. As I go through my To Do list today I cannot help but ask myself, Why am I doing any of this? What is my job? It's a little hard to say what my role is anymore. Am I still a teacher? I can't always tell. Here's a glimpse of my day so far. What do you think?
  • 7:15-7:30 - Checked out books to kids before the school day began
  • 7:30-8:15 - Taught the Yearbook class for my friend who was really ill this morning. The kids reviewed yearbook pages to by submitted for printing this week while I took attendance, reset passwords, called tech support. So, not teaching at all.
  • 8:15-10:00 - Began training new Student Librarians by having them complete two interactive, online activities in groups. So again, I had nothing to do with it (except for months ago when I created the activities in the first place).
  • also 8:15 - 10:00 - Reset passwords for teachers; showed a new teacher how to access the admin page for her part of the school's website; checked out books to random students;
  • 10:00-11:45 - More training of new students (same); chatted with a few teachers about their upcoming library visits; responded to some emails
  • 11:45-12:15 - Lunch (for the kids). Stood behind the counter and checked out about a million books
  • 12:15 - now - more emails; checked IN books dropped off at lunch; looked at circulation statistics

So, what the heck IS my job? Like I said, this is a SLOW and atypical day. Still, these are not challenging, stimulating, thought-provoking activities. They are mind-numbing, boring, tedious, and simple activities. I feel a bit like someone's assistant, but whose?

I am not complaining, even though I realize how it could sound that way. I am, in fact, trying to inject a little analysis into my day. This morning I registered for the annual American Library Association conference in June. While perusing the conference workshops, it dawned on me that my role here has become unfocused. I tend to put out little fires all day rather than working to build something new and innovative. But what would that new and innovative thing be? And what IS my job?

There is nothing to be done about the fact that all these passwords need to be reset, the books scanned in and out, the emails answered. But does my day have to lose all structure because of it? If I were asked what I've accomplished as school librarian this year, or for the entirety of 2010, I would be at a loss. I have kept the doors open most of the time. I have kept most of the computers running, most of the books on the shelf, most of the magazine subscriptions up to date. I've acquired a few hundred new books for the kids through donations, personal spending, and begging. I've resurrected the old coffee pot in the back room and started it percolating again. I've gone to a few meetings and missed a few others. I've reacted very dramatically to news of more cutbacks on library spending with more demands on library staff.

This is not what a great year should look like. Rather than feeling discouraged by this (as I have been for many, many weeks) I now feel a deep craving for purpose and focus. I need a plan. A structure. Something to make of this place and of my role in it. But what? It has to be something insular, to a certain extent. Collaborative efforts are the best, for sure, but they are also unreliable and extremely difficult to pull off in an under-performing school when testing is approaching like the Grim Reaper. Anything I can accomplish between now and mid-June will need to be done with minimal support from other adults on this campus. So I have to think semi-small; it should be something I can handle, something that will be fun and rewarding.

I could...... establish a regular rotation of student book clubs? This would satisfy by love of talking about literature with kids. It could be maintained over long periods of time. But when would they meet?

I could..... bring back Game Day. I used to keep the library open once a week after school for gaming, which was really, really fun. Not a bad idea.

I could..... establish a regular after-school element to the library program. Maybe stay open a few times a week for Game Day, homework help, etc. Of course, this only works if I'm willing to stay after school a few times a week. Am I? I don't know. Maybe.

I could..... spend the rest of the year doing an in-depth analysis of the collection, including an inventory and list of recommended additions (for grant writing purposes, perhaps?)

I could.....conduct some informal, qualitative research about student reading habits/preferences and write an article for publication in School Library Journal or elsewhere

Ah well, all of these things sound good. The trouble is choosing one to do well, rather than trying to do them all and getting a sorry result. Something to think about....