Library Speakers’ Bureau – just like Rochesterfest

Here’s a great idea from Marylaine Block’s weekly e-zine (#299, 22 June 2007). In her newsletter article today, Knowledge Pushers, Marylaine says that libraries are more than books. She cites the value of the knowledge of librarians. She says:

We know how to get grants, how to track our ancestors, how to digitize precious historical and family photos, and how to entice children to read. We know how to find trustworthy factual information on political candidates and important public issues. We’ve done the research and can tell anxious parents about the capabilities and limitations of various internet filters; we can also suggest other ways to keep kids safe as they explore the net.

She suggests that the reason the public doesn’t know is that we don’t tell them, that libraries wait for people to come to us, when we could go out to the community. Marylaine says that as the director goes out (I hope that’s so, but I fear too many times it’s not), so could other library staff.

All this reminded me of Rochesterfest — where I’ve found wonderful food the last couple of days (why cook?). At Rochesterfest, there is a row of food stands, run by our great local restaurants. People who go to the festival find great food from vendors whose restaurants they may never have thought to try.

So, just like the restaurateur, who comes to meet new customers where they are, the library will bring valuable information to people where they are through the library speakers’ bureau.

While I don’t work in a library that provides direct service to end users, I do get the chance to speak to groups (as do most of the librarians I work with) – and really get charged up when I invited to do so. I’ve spoken to church libraries, Rotary, groups of teachers and librarians, led a book discussion for a tea, and am looking forward to this fall when among other meetings I’ll be doing a presentation for the Friends of the Mabel Public Library.

A sad day for kids and school libraries

Today I learned that another school has eliminated their school media specialist. The budget is stretched to the max, and something has to go — so it’s the professional teacher librarian media specialist who teaches kids how to learn and where to find the information for successful learning. The teacher librarian is part of the curriculum teaching team that teaches kids the literacy skills to help them succeed in a world where being a lifelong learner is critical. Just as the student uses the school library to complete the assignments from the classroom, the graduated student will use information seeking behaviors learned from the teacher librarian to complete life’s assignments.

I’m heartsick to think that the successful information literacy program this teacher has built has no value to the board who makes the decisions what to pay for and what to ax. Minnesota has no enforceable standards for students’ access to instruction by a certified teacher librarian. Indeed, the opinion of a number of schools is that they will keep the library open with a (much cheaper) non-teacher to carry out technical tasks. I wonder, how do they expect their students to acquire the higher level literacy skills of research, critical thinking, and problem solving without the curricular involvement of a skilled and certified teacher librarian.

A long time ago, when my mother began her teaching career in a one-room school, her classroom library was a collection of several book shelves, each with books for a different reading and learning level. When I attended a 2-room rural school in Wisconsin, my classroom library was a low shelf of books under the window. That world of information was somewhat finite and manageable by the classroom teacher.

As the world of information increased through the latter part of the 20th century and exploded through the technology of the 21st century, the need for instruction by a skilled information professional has become critical. Children must learn to learn – and keep learning. While we cannot predict what they will need to know as adults, we can equip them to be lifelong learners using the network of the communities’ libraries as their learning lab. Children who have not learned the information literacy skills critical to continuous learning from a teacher librarian will enter the adult work world with a fatal learning disability and handicap.

Top 25 careers

U.S. News published its top 25 picks for professions that “will be in growing demand as baby boomers age, the Internet becomes ubiquitous, and Americans seek richer, simpler lives” — and it looks like librarianship is one of those top 25 careers. While the the median salary ($49,708) listed is #22 on the list, the academic requirements place librarianship in the top 50% of the careers. 6 require masters, 7 require doctorates, the other 12 fields can be entered with a bachelors degree. U.S. News grades the quality of life for a librarian as an A, attainability as a B, and prestige and job market outlook as C.

The executive summary frees librarians from the “mousy bookworm” persona to be “high tech information sleuths” and proclaims it an “underrated career.” (I knew that.) According to the article: “librarians’ work hours are reasonable, and the work environment, needless to say, is placid.” (Hmmm, not so sure about that one.)

James Billington, the 13th Librarian of Congress is the featured librarian in the “Expert Opinion” section of the feature. His response to whether librarians are becoming obsolete is that the explosion of information is elevating librarians to be “the intermediaries who will help connect people to the information they need.” His assessment of the job fulfillment is right on — “Someone is paying you–usually not adequately–for a life of continuous learning and the satisfaction of sharing it with other people.”

Incidentally, the U.S. News ranking of top schools for library and information science lists my alma mater, the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champagne as #1. UIUC has been a top-ranked school for a number of years — pretty impressive.