Monday, July 15, 2013

Bad Apples in Library Land

I have been mulling over this post for awhile now but have hesitated to write it, because I fear it will end up being a rant. That being said, if you are a teacher librarian that can't handle the truth, you might want to stop reading.

Over the last couple of years I have become fond of comparing professionals to rotting fruit. For instance, when you look at teachers, one rotten apple doesn't reflect badly on the whole bunch. This is simply because there are enough of them to outweigh the bad. Whereas, one bad or negative media coordinator in the bunch reflects badly on the whole group. Our numbers in the barrel are far less, and we want to be careful about the message we send.

This whole concept is why all media coordinators need to take a stand. I am not saying we need to attack those that are not building those quality media programs. I have seen that tactic out in the Twitterverse/blogosphere, and it just isn't pretty. In fact, it is a major turn off for me. I know that many media coordinators fear this bad rap that arises from the rotten apple, but I don't think that is the approach that will garner true media coordinators the respect they deserve.

So how do we move a profession forward that is misunderstood and in many cases misrepresented? I don't know that I have all the answers, but I certainly think what we are doing is not working. While at a conference this week I overheard a conversation that indicated that media centers might not be needed anymore. Really? My thought there is that they just have not been in the right media center. How do we educate those people who don't have a true understanding of the role of a school library media coordinator?

First, I think we have to move our focus to students. It's hard to focus on instruction when those teachers are beating down your door wanting you to fix their LCD projector, computer, etc, etc. When I was in the media center it was hard to tell teachers that I just could not fix their "x, y or z" or tape their National Board videos. To be honest, I tried to fix all of those things, and I was not happy. I felt like I was not really accomplishing anything of value. Then, I had the epiphany that moved me away from that role. I was there for students. Yes, I want to help teachers, but what was my true priority? That's not to say that librarians won't help with those things, but they should not take up the bulk of their day. Make it known that you are a part of the instructional process. I don't care how you do it, but for the sake of our profession you need to be an instructional leader and role model.

Our school buildings are not the only places where we need to be showing our instructional prowess. It is with other librarians. A few Negative Nancys have the ability to sour a whole group. Should this be the case? Absolutely not! District PLCs should be about building up the profession not tearing it down. Often those bad apples are our most vocal, so how do we shut them up and help them move forward at the same time? Often their complaints focus on the fact that administrators don't understand what they do, blah, blah, blah. It's always about blaming someone else. We don't need to commiserate with them. Instead we need to ask them how they plan to change this perception. Yes, it would be nice if upper level leadership understood our jobs, but we have to give them a reason to want to.

Maybe I have posed more questions than I have answered, but I am tired of a profession that I love so dearly being left out to rot. Take a stand, find your voice and be heard!


  1. Jennifer, thanks for speaking up. It is definitely a shame when a few bad apples make the rest of us look bad. Most school librarians I know are hard-working, student-devoted, loving-to-learn people who get frustrated by budget cuts, too many requirements, and classroom teachers who don't understand what we do. But I also believe that we can be agents of culture change within our schools. In fact, I recently wrote a post about this: . It's nice to know that there is a community of educators committed to students, and school librarians are usually at the head of that charge!

    Thanks again
    Debbie Owen

  2. I agree with this SO MUCH. I do have one point of argument. As a former MC, the idea of "fixing the LCD projector" was kind of annoying to me as well, even though I could usually do it pretty easily. Sadly, school districts aren't providing the on-site resources for just-in-time technical support. If a teacher can't get a projector working, there may be a 2 or 3 day turnaround before that can be fixed.

    As an MC, I view my job as "facilitating instruction", specifically (grumble, grumble) the so-called "21st century instruction". If a teacher can't present a lesson electronically because of a problem that I was fully capable of fixing, I have failed in my charge. I have also, potentially, decreased the quality or completeness of a lesson in the classroom, which is definitely impacting students.

    This is, however, clearly a double-edged sword. This type of work can be all-consuming, such that it becomes your day and you're not able to do anything else, and you aren't viewed as more than a "fix-it" person. When that happens, people don't realize the role you play in instruction and you get left out. However, when you don't fix these problems, the perception of you becomes that of the "bad apple", and you are also excluded simply because you are perceived as being "not helpful".

    There's definitely a balancing act here. First, districts need to provide more resources for on-site, just-in-time tech support. Second, MCs need to facilitate instruction. Both in the "nuts and bolts" way and in the "common core way".

    1. Mark, your thoughts are well stated, thanks for describing the double-edged sword dilemma. They don't call it the "bleeding edge" for nothing.

      I think that relationships are what banish stereotypes.

      Gathering with other librarians has made me a much better and happier librarian and we need to encourage more participation at professional organization events and promote online PD participation. I'm a big fan of I introduce teachers and librarians to it because it has a lot to offer and I can "do" professional development from any computer.

      What can we do to encourage participation? Start from a place of assuming each person is doing their best and wants to do better. Invite, welcome and judge less.

  3. I feel the same frustrations. It is so hard to banish stereotypes when those stereotypes are alive, well and thriving in some libraries. I don't have a solution but I try to keep sharing what I do and hope that I can inspire or help someone make a change. If they are not willing to change I wish they would retire and take the attitude with them.