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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Teachers and Librarians in L.A.

There’s been some gnashing of librarian teeth and wringing of librarian hands in Los Angeles over the news that some school librarians no longer count as teachers, a job reclassification that will make it easier to fire librarians. It seems everyone these days is looking for a way to fire librarians.

The NPR story is entitled, L.A. School District Tells Librarians: You’re Not Teachers. Why is there any argument about this at all? Of course they’re not teachers; they’re librarians.

One question is, what is a teacher? The standard librarian response is that librarians do teach things to students, thus they are teachers. Does that mean everyone who teaches anything to students counts as a teacher?

Depending on the school, there might be any number of people who might teach things to students, but the Los Angeles  assumption seems to be that teachers are those people who teach a standard semester or year long academic subject to students in a classroom using a lesson plan, assigning work and grades, meet with parents, and that sort of thing. You know, pretty much what everyone in the world means when they call someone a school teacher.

Since this is what everyone in the country except school librarians thinks a school teacher is, the librarians have an uphill battle. Just because they happen to teach students about using libraries doesn’t make them teachers. It makes them librarians.

There’s a similar confusion among academic librarians, though the terminology is different. In colleges, there are professors. Usually librarians don’t call themselves “professors,” even those librarians with so-called faculty status, because everyone knows they’re not professors.

Those with “faculty” status do sometimes call themselves faculty, but usually it’s in a discussion insisting they they, too, are “faculty,” even when the real (i.e., “teaching”) faculty don’t think so.

We can draw an illustrative lesson from the confusion in higher education. The distinction is drawn between the “teaching faculty” and the librarian faculty.

Some librarians do teach, but everyone except instruction librarians is clear on the distinction between teaching a real subject in a semester long course and teaching information literacy (even in a semester long course).

Regardless of how much teaching librarians do, instruction librarians aren’t considered professors.

It’s not always clear to me whether librarians really are confused when they consider themselves teachers or professors, or whether it’s purely a status game. Librarians always take second place to teachers and professors.

Up until relatively recently in human history, schools and colleges didn’t have much in the way of libraries. Whereas professional teachers of a sort have been around since ancient times, professional librarians as we understand them now are a relatively new invention.

That’s why everyone understands what teachers do, though based on some criticisms of higher education I’m not at all sure most people understand what professors do.  It’s also why most people don’t understand what school and academic librarians do.

However, the solution to this problem isn’t to corrupt an educational nomenclature 2,500 years old and just call librarians “teachers.” The solution is to make a case to the public and to school boards what school librarians are, what they do, and why they’re important.

They haven’t done this well at all, which could explain the constant threat of elimination school librarians seem to have always faced in tough economic times.

There’s another part of the controversy, though, as explained in this column and discussed in this rather good op-ed piece by a school librarian. Besides the assumption that librarians aren’t doing the same work as teachers, there also seems to be the assumption that after five or more years working as a librarian, even previous classroom teachers are unqualified to return the classroom and teach anymore.

I don’t understand that assumption at all. It’s a long leap from saying librarians don’t do what teachers do to saying they can’t do it, and it’s a leap driven by budgets, not logic.

Supposedly,  this exchange between a lawyer and a teacher: “Another teacher, who wants to return to teaching English, noted that she spent all day in the library effectively teaching English. But her inquisitor quickly started asking questions about the Dewey Decimal System, suggesting that since it involved more math than English, the teacher was no longer practiced in the art of teaching English.”

Either the LA Unified School District is hiring some exceptionally ignorant lawyers, or they’re just hiring lawyers with their typical indifference to truth or justice. It’s a pity schools didn’t adopt LC, then the teacher would have been qualified to teach both math AND English!

One librarian has it all wrong. Angry at the apparently idiotic questioning, she is quoted as saying, “I don’t think any teacher-librarian needs to sit here and explain how they help teach students.”

Actually, that’s exactly what librarians need to do, because that’s what has never been done very well. The LA question is whether librarians with education degrees could be classroom teachers. Given the quality of a lot of classroom teachers, they’d probably be better than average.

But the bigger question is why librarians are always considered the low hanging fruit, and that’s because not enough people know about or care what they do.

That op-ed does a good job of pointing out all the things librarians do that might be useful or important, but that are not teaching in the traditional sense understood by everyone else. In fact, I like it because it both points out the folly of some of the LAUSD’s budget-driven thinking, and because it draws attention to useful things librarians do that most people never see, including teaching students.

Regardless of the qualities of the arguments, it’s probably a losing battle. The LAUSD just wants to fire people, and because of that even stupid or ignorant thinking counts as reasonable.

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Comments

  1. teetop says:

    You are fundamentally wrong. The position is called Teacher-Librarian at LAUSD, and it requires a teaching credential like every other teaching job. Maybe you are not a teacher, but the folks at LAUSD are.

  2. rasta says:

    I could go on and on about this… especialy the amount of time that these very busy teacher librarians spend on CALIB defending their jobs. Most of these teacher librarians came out of the classroom to get away from teaching and the ever present lesson plans. What a nice life…. check out a few books and have a full time clerk to pick up after you. Well times have changed… most of these high school libraries have dismal circulations stats and little student /teacher interaction … in short in the past 5 -7 years most school libraries and TL’s have become obsolete.
    This is an aging profession that has not kept up with the times… sure there are a few out there who have made a difference, but not that many. It’s estimated that 87% of schools in CA do not have a TL… after this round of layoffs, it will probably by closer to 92%.
    My advice.. quit complaining and start re-thinking the role of the school library in providing services to digital natives.

  3. Annoyed Librarian says:

    The position is “called,” it requires a “teaching credential.” That doesn’t mean the librarians do the same job as teachers. Public school teachers always focus on credentials rather than job performance, which is why they want their pay tied to yet another education degree rather than whether their students actually learn anything. Titles and credentials are irrelevant to my argument.

  4. Randal Powell says:

    LA has their education model backwards; a more effective approach would be to cut just about anything else and keep good libraries and good librarians. The ability to write and think clearly is largely a matter of reading a lot. And reading a lot is largely a matter of being curious and having good resources available, along with a comfortable environment and some encouragement and support.

  5. Anne Linney says:

    (stammers)… but the ALA-APA claims the way for us to raise our salaries is to get ourselves classed as teachers…. (pouts)

  6. Good teachers and good librarians are doing the same thing, exposing their students to the larger world, giving them transferable skills for inquiry and investigation into those new worlds, and helping them see the interconnectedness of everything, which builds empathy and problem solving skills. Enthusiasm for learning can be generated by anyone, degree or not, but the key to a strong teacher or librarian is in steering that enthusiasm to books or subjects that will move the student. To say that librarians or teachers are only supposed to display books or ideas is a simplistic and incorrect summary of their mission. And downgrades their value in both cases. Isn’t this the same old argument against standards of learning that are fact-based rather than concept-based?

  7. teetop says:

    They are facts, AL. If they are irrelevant to your argument, your argument is fatally flawed. The job has been defined as Teacher-Librarian, and that is how it has been sold to the people who have worked in the system and made their choices accordingly. Maybe there is some larger philosphical point or points you would like to connect it to in some stawwoman way, but the essence of this situation is that LAUSD is trying to suddenly and unilaterally change the rules which everyone has been operating under.

  8. Annoyed Librarian says:

    They are facts that have nothing to do with the significant differences in work between librarians and teachers, differences which are obvious to just about everyone. You’re doing it again with “defined as”. You can define anything as anything, but that doesn’t change what it is.

    However, I agree with you on the essence of the situation, that the LAUSD is suddenly changing longstanding rules that that everyone has been following for a long time, but just saying “librarians really are teachers because we call them teachers” isn’t going to convince anyone.

  9. Nancy Churchill says:

    AL, I’m so glad you responded with “that’s exactly what librarians need to do!” To that annoyed teacher I suggest steeling her determination to use her anger be her motivation for preparing an outline of all she does so she can be ready to calmly respond to the next unaware …really, often, clueless individual.

  10. Rich says:

    Seems to me that the lawyers in this case are trying to create a distinction so that district rules — and probably union agreements — about laying teachers off don’t apply to the dismissal of a bunch of professionally certified school librarians. Who are doubly credentialed as both teachers and librarians, if I’m reading things right.

    They’ll want to replace the librarians, if at all, with “classified” employees, non-degreed stand-in librarians who cost less because they qualify for lower wages and a lower level of benefits than the district has to provide to teachers and others whom they categorize as “professional” employees.

    These librarians want to make the case that they are, in fact teachers, and so should simply be reassigned to positions elsewhere in the district if their jobs disappear in the downsizing. The librarians want the district to fire somebody lower on the totem pole.

  11. Rich says:

    The problem is that the district only hired certified teachers as librarians in the first place. Oh, and that the district calls them “teacher-librarians”. Makes it a little awkward to now claim that they aren’t teachers.

    If the lawyers can’t make their case that these teaching-certificate-wielding librarians are not, in fact, qualified as teachers, then the district will have to lay off its more recently hired teachers — the standard sacrificial lambs when cutbacks lead to layoffs — then reassign the librarians as teachers to fill those vacancies.

    Besides being inconvenient, the kind of a shuffle that fires second-year teachers with bachelor’s degrees doesn’t cut nearly as many dollars from the budget as laying off people with dual certifications, sometimes a master’s degree, and years of experience moving them higher and higher up the payscale.

  12. Rich says:

    It’s not a matter of whether being a librarian qualifies you as a teacher. These librarians all went to school to be teachers, too. The argument isn’t really whether they are doing the same thing as teachers in their current position, but whether working as a librarian takes away from your training and undermines your ability to go into a classroom and teach.

    AL said, “Titles and credentials are irrelevant to my argument.”

    And in a perfect world, the lousy employees would be dropped during cutbacks, whether they were lousy English teachers or lousy teacher-librarians or lousy cafeteria servers. That really does make for a great argument.

    But that’s not how the system works right now. So titles and credentials may not matter to your argument, but they are right at the core of the argument between the librarians and the district.

  13. Dismayed says:

    In case any of those fired teacher-librarians want to work for the Los Angeles Public Library, they do have openings for As-Needed Part-Time Librarians. Here’s the link to the full ad (http://www.lapl.org/jobs/jb-librarian.html), but enjoy these highlights:

    The part-time Librarian positions are as-needed, exempt from civil service, and may be assigned to work at the downtown Central Library or any of the 72 neighborhood branch libraries. (This is in a city of over 500 square miles, where it can easily take you over an hour to drive 10 miles.) Candidates selected for these part-time positions will work on an as-needed basis, not to exceed 900 hours per service year with no minimum guaranteed number of hours per week or year. (Get that? There are no guaranteed minimums, but there is a guaranteed maximum.) The positions may require working in the evenings and on weekends. (Are you available at a moment’s notice, pretty much every minute of the day? If not, don’t bother applying.) The salary for this position is $27.51 per hour; no medical, dental or retirement benefits. (Natch.)

    The duties performed may include, but are not limited to: providing a variety of professional library services to patrons of all age groups; instructing patrons on how to use computer based technologies to access the library’s online catalog, databases and other electronic resources; filling patron requests for books and other library materials; and, reference and readers’ advisory service. (So while the money, the benefits, and the hours are extremely limited [that is, close to nonexistent]), the duties are not.)

    A Master’s degree in Library Science from an American Library Association recognized college or university is REQUIRED, of course, while LAPL merely DESIRES the following: Communicate effectively and professionally with the public; Works well with co-workers and supervisors in the performance of job duties; Ability to perform reference work and bibliographic research; Ability to furnish reading guidance to patrons; Ability to use a computer to access the online catalog and databases; Operate standard office equipment (computer, copy / fax machine, telephone, etc.)

    (So while they demand that I have completed a graduate degree, they only “desire” me to know how to use a telephone? Interesting priorities.)

    If you’ve got the necessary skills, along with the clearly requisite but unmentioned low self-esteem and desperation for this job, you should be aware that “Those candidates whose qualifications most closely match those of the position will be invited to an oral interview.” (An “oral” interview? I hope that means talking in person or on the telephone – if I’m one of the “desirable” applicants who’ve mastered that.)

    Can anybody say, “Library Jobs that Suck: Los Angeles”?