Thriving together

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel at the Oregon Library Association annual conference, Information Literacy: Across the Academic Divide. The panel was organized by Elaine Watzek, from Lewis and Clark College, and included two public high school librarians (Liz Beazizo and Julie Morris), a community college librarian (Pam Kessinger), and me. It's worth noting that all of us are from the Willamette Valley, the most urban and highly populated area of Oregon. I note that because children and young people in Salem, Corvallis, and Portland have access to pretty solid public libraries, while rural counties often have very limited service, or, as in Douglas County, may face total closure of their libraries.

I point this out because Julie and Liz both said that incoming 9th graders in their high schools have never had a school librarian before. I think it was Liz who noted that, perversely, they don't have to work against negative stereotypes of librarians, because students just have never met one before. (FWIW, my mom was a teacher librarian in an elementary school in East county, on the outskirts of Portland, at a Title 1 school that was moving toward majority English Language Learners. Shortly after she retired, her district got rid of librarians at elementary and middle schools. This is a pattern across Oregon, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is a pattern wherever you are reading from as well.) It was interesting to hear about the Oregon School Library Standards, particularly in connection with the work that Pam and her colleagues at PCC have done with the framework. There are obviously connections and overlap, but also some serious gaps. How often do students come to college with an appreciation of reading? How do we either continue to foster that, or take it for granted?*

At academic library conferences, I often find myself gaping at the kinds of things that small private schools can afford to do, but here I was being asked about the ways that I have to justify my existence to administration. Of course austerity and budget conversations happen in higher education, butthese lone librarians at a school (or even within a school district) are constantly forced to justify their positions. I heard stories of districts totally cutting all teacher librarians, then adding a few back, then cutting them all again. Obviously, you can't build a program that way. One of the major themes in our panel was the power of relationships: you have to get teachers, professors, and students to see how you can help them, and that takes time. But you can't build those relationships without structural support, either.

As far as what librarians can actually do to ease the transition for students entering college, we barely scratched the surface. We talked about the importance of sharing concepts like classification and skills like browsing, even when the specifics will change in an academic library. Similarly, I often find that students who have used something like EasyBib are willing to try a more robust citation management tool, because they have an early familiarity with it. Many high schools and community colleges in our state aim to help students achieve the college level writing requirement. I work with probably 5 or 6 high school classes each year, but now I plan to identify our top feeder schools, and reach out to the librarians (if there are librarians). The conference theme, Thriving Together, seems particularly apt to describe the kind of solidarity we need across the profession -- and the kind being facilitated by OLA and OASL through legislative advocacy and partnerships. 

You can download Pam's and Julie's slides here.

* Maybe this is a particular bugaboo for me because of some of the reading promotion we've been doing at OSU. After our panel, I went to an excellent, totally at-capacity session by Taylor Worley about creating displays, and I was the only academic librarian there. Admittedly, there weren't a tonne of us at OLA that day, but still.