At the end of my first semester, I was asked to spend some time thinking and writing on my beliefs about library services… my “philosophy” of librarianship. Even at this point, my beliefs about the nature of library work had already changed radically and expanded far beyond the perceptions I had held when I first entered my Masters program. Now as my program draws to a close, and I am asked to once again reflect on my own philosophy and goals, I chose to revisit this statement to see what, if anything has changed.
Surprisingly, even though I have had quite a bit more coursework, and over a hundred hours in a real-world setting, I find that the beliefs I set forth in that initial statement remain largely the same. I attribute some of this to my own lack of time and experience in the field. Completing the entire program in a matter of months left less time for absorption of information and reflection than I am accustomed to, and I easily recognize that time and experience will bring new understandings and shape my beliefs more fully in the years to come. What I have noticed however is that the beliefs I cultivated in my first semester have been, if not drastically changed, shaped more specifically in the intervening months.
I was puzzled for a long time over what I perceived to be a disconnect among varying libraries, and the rather astonishing variance of librarians’ duties. While some librarians I was privileged to meet and work with before my time at Kent State were dynamic leaders and innovators in the school system, others languished behind their desks, checked out a few books to patrons, and collected cobwebs. This disparity has not gone unnoticed by the community at large, leading to the great argument of whether or not a librarian is a true professional and even needs a Masters degree for what appears largely to be clerical work. I certainly asked myself that question many times before entering school. Now as I prepare to leave it, I can say without any doubts that to truly perform the librarian’s role, particularly in the schools, we must have a profound understanding of the educator’s role, the administrator’s role, and also the information and technology components that are all core elements of this work.
So where then does the disparity come from? I have come to the realization that the unique nature of our job and the autonomy that often comes with it creates a situation in which the job becomes exactly what the librarian chooses it to be. I should reiterate Dot Flanagan’s statement from my initial reflection, in which she said, “The library is exactly as busy as the librarian wants it to be.” The library job is as big as the librarian wants it to be. While this might allow some librarians to languish, I would venture to say that they do so at their peril in the face of intense educational accountability and shrinking funds. It is no wonder then that libraries are often cut swiftly when the need arises to reduce workforce and expenditures.
On the other hand, it is exactly this autonomy that permits powerful leadership and requires a dynamic, self-motivated professional in the driver’s seat. Once upon a time, I believed that librarians were support staff for teachers and the “real” work of the school. They are not. Librarians are not only teachers in their own right, but they are far more. Librarians teach in a failure-free, non-graded, and extremely real-world environment. There is no better place for point-of-need instruction and authentic learning experiences than the library. Librarians are information experts and a critical factor in the educational success of their students, who will have to be able not only to read, but to critically analyze and evaluate an overwhelming tide of information as adults in the workforce. Librarians are technology experts, who have an obligation to keep themselves abreast of new ideas and technologies and introduce them into the schools. Librarians are administrators. We manage staff, we allocate budgetary funds and make purchasing decisions, we develop, implement and administer an entire program that meets the needs of all the students at the school or all the patrons at the library. We not only support faculty, but we teach and train them, and select and evaluate the resources that will help them to do their jobs more effectively. Often we do take a support role, but that does not diminish our position as leaders. We are granted autonomy precisely because we are professionals in the highest sense.
A librarian should embody the qualities of a leader and actively cultivate them. We are not only leaders within our school and advocates with our administration, but we are both leaders and liaisons to other service providers in our community, particularly our local public libraries. We also act as marketers both for our own programs and for our school as a whole. A well-kept, thriving library and library program can be a showcase for a district and one of the best marketing tools they have. And of course, the library remains at the heart of lifelong literacy and literacy education, whether in the community or in the school, both cultivating a love of reading and providing the information and resources for practice and exploration.
I think one of my most prominent goals as I begin my career as a professional is to find and maintain the channels to stay current in my field and continually develop and challenge myself professionally. I have always been comfortable with and excited about the traditional roles of the librarian as an educator, a promoter of literacy and a storyteller, but during my course of study, I was most impressed by the idea of a librarian as an innovator and technological leader. I have had the opportunity to see this philosophy in practice and see the benefits it produces for young patrons and for the faculty of a school. A librarian who is strongly invested in this role is able to not only bring new technologies to the patrons, but can also help find ways to infuse new practices into the curriculum to keep it current and inviting to 21st-century students. A librarian, like any other educator, is a lifelong learner.
Another of my goals, especially if I work in the school systems, is to utilize the library and the library program to integrate parents and community into the schools and invest them in the success of the students. There is no community that would suggest that our students are anything less than our future, but too often the school system is isolated from the community and even the parents. With the library properly positioned as the educational and technological hub of the school, inviting parents to work regularly in the library as volunteers allows them both to be involved in their children’s education and to gain a better understanding both of the library’s role in that education and of the workings of the school. This in turn enables them to be more comfortable with and supportive of the education their children are receiving from the school system and advocates for the school and the library program in the community.
If my first few months of study defined my beliefs on librarianship, my later months fleshed them out, gave them shape and depth, and allowed me to experience the effects and challenges of running a library program that embodied those beliefs. I continue to believe strongly that “the successful librarian is a[n]... analytical and reflective individual who is never content with the status quo, but constantly seeks ways to make the library and its programs more efficient and effective.” However, competence is not enough. The library professional must be a dynamic, self-driven individual committed wholeheartedly to leadership, advocacy, and the success of her students. It is my goal and challenge to myself to become the shape of these beliefs as I begin my own professional career.