For years now, school librarians have suffered an identity crisis. Just what are we called? Media Specialists? School Librarians? School Library Media Specialists? Tech Integrationists? Teacher Librarians? There has not been a cohesive moniker for our profession since the ‘70s when the term “Media Specialist” came into vogue to explain that school libraries housed more than just books, and school librarians were curators of information in all formats. Today, almost fifty years later, patrons use libraries for use of free Internet, video games, audio books, movies, music, meeting space, cafés, portable digital devices, databases, magazines, newspapers, and yes, actual books. The public understands that libraries are multi-purpose community spaces, yet they are unaware of what the role school librarians play in those spaces.
Three years ago, when Duval County Public Schools decided not to fund school librarians in middle and high schools, and only fund elementary school librarians part-time, I did an unofficial, informal survey of parents and the community. When I asked parents, “Do you realize that your school no longer has a media specialist?” I got varied responses from blank stares to responses such as, “Well, in times of tight funding, there may not be money for specialists.” Yet when I phrased the question as, “Do you realize that your school no longer has a school librarian?,” parents wouldn’t even believe me and were aghast that their child’s school was without a librarian. I firmly believe that the discrepancy in what we have called ourselves all these many years has helped lead to the decrease of our profession in schools. I believe there is a correlation between the inconsistency of our title and the misunderstanding of our true role in schools.
AASL voted several years ago to use “School Librarian” as the profession’s official title (http://www.ala.org/news/news/pressreleases2010/january2010/adopt_aasl). This past year, the peer-reviewed journal Library Media Connection became School Library Connection, and you will notice FAME’s Committee for Governing Documents has strived for consistency by using the term school librarians throughout FAME’s Bylaws and Policies & Procedures. Providing this consistency with our title is a first step for our profession to reestablish our vital role in education. The next step will be to make sure we are consistent in how we fulfill that role, proving our worth as essential instructional staff.
Let's talk collection development a bit, shall we? Recently, Florida school libraries were in the news when the Caldecott Honor and Printz Honor book This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki was found and challenged in a Seminole County elementary school (http://www.wftv.com/news/local/third-grader-finds-inappropriate-book-in-seminole-county-school-library/58768586). This One Summer is a graphic novel aimed at a a YA interest level. It has been found in several elementary schools, despite it's YA level, because it received a Caldecott Honor medal in 2015 (http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/03/lets-talk-about-caldecott-this-one-summer/). Some may be mistaken in assuming a Caldecott designation automatically means it is for the elementary level. However, in determining the most distinguished American picture book for children, the Caldecott committee is required to consider American picture books for children of all ages, including pre-teen and early teen youth. Graphic novels fall within that range and are considered by the committee. This year, the Newbery committee provided excitement and surprise when they awarded the picture book Last Street On Market Street by Matt de la Peña with the Newbery Award. It is only the second time in Newbery history that a picture book won the award. So Caldecott does not necessarily equate to picture books, and Newbery does not necessarily equate to chapter books.
Mistakes like only going by award lists for collection development can be prevented by making sure there is a collection development policy in place and then following the policy. Every policy should include the methods a librarian pursues in determining the best books for his or her community and collection. This should be a multi-step process and include having an understanding of one's school community and reading reviews, interest levels, and recommendations prior to selecting titles. One should never rely on book jobbers, award lists, or even reviews as a single source of recommendation. In this particular case, this book has four different starred reviews, a Caldecott Honor, and a Printz Honor, in addition to having been on SLJ's Battle of the Kids Books 2015. It is obviously a worthy book for school collections for the appropriate school level. Mistakes of assuming that a book belongs in an elementary school based on the award without reviewing the interest level of the book or checking multiple review sources is one very important reason a certified professional school librarian should be in each and every school.
red carpet, evident in the giggles of grown adults cavorting in the Maker playground, evident in the belly laughs of librarians watching National Book Award winner Neal Shusterman and SSYRA winning author Chris Grabenstein duel in Late Night Library Games. #FAME15 was testimony that by being self-managed, we are now stronger than ever.
Now that we have a firm foundation, it is a prime opportunity to build on that foundation and plan for the continued successful future of FAME. The theme for #FAME16 is Staying Relevant by Moving Forward, which applies to both our profession and to our organization. Just as school librarians are proving their relevance through innovative leadership and instruction in information literacy and problem-based learning, FAME is moving forward to ensure it meets the needs of both the members and the millions of students in the state of Florida. It is time to reevaluate our mission and vision and plan for the future.
This year, we will be drafting a strategic plan outlining the mission, vision, belief statements, goals, and objectives of FAME. This will help provide guidance and direction for future decisions, projects, and programs, and provide a unified vision of our future. This can only be done with input from the whole membership. We want our strategic plan to reflect the needs of our membership and our students, so it is imperative that we gather the opinions from as many of our diverse and varied members as is possible.
As rejuvenating as our conference is, FAME is much more than our annual conference. It’s even more than the Sunshine State Young Readers Award. As our state professional organization for school librarians, FAME offers scholarships to librarians earning their Masters in Library Science, monetary awards to secondary school librarians who develop programs that enhance and support the self-esteem and well being of young adults, a scholarship to high school seniors espousing the importance of Intellectual Freedom, and awards to administrators and principals who recognize and support the importance of strong school library programs. FAME provides programs for our students to learn and shine; students earn state recognition for their media projects and change the lives of authors by selecting the state’s winning children’s books. FAME advocates for you through legislative efforts and various communications. And of course, FAME offers professional development specific to our profession through monthly webinars and the annual conference. This is all something to be very proud of, but we can be even better.
At the AASL national conference in November, a panel of administrators, district librarians, and school librarians from Project Connect spoke on empowering school library programs. One statement stuck with me. A panelist asserted that we have always viewed ourselves as support systems within our schools. We help teachers teach and students learn by curating resources and supporting the curriculum. Yet he challenged us that we have it backwards. We should lead first, then teach, then support. I view FAME the same way. I believe that we can and should be leaders in the nation as a model library professional organization. We then should teach our members through excellent and innovative professional development. And finally, we should support our members. By being the leader, we secure our relevancy and prove our worth. Please help guide FAME to its future as a prominent national organization by contributing to the strategic plan survey today. Our future is impelling!