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.