Two different articles about school librarians got my attention last week.
The first is really more about the nonexistence of school librarians, at least in the Chicago public schools. School librarians there are becoming an extinct species almost.
According to the article, Chicago has over 600 public schools, most now without a full-time librarian.
Two years ago, Chicago Public School budgeted for 454 librarians.
Last year: 313 librarians.
This year? 254.
At that rate, in a few years the schools won’t have any librarians at all. Of course, given the precarious state of the Chicago schools budget, maybe there won’t even be any schools for the librarians to go to anyway.
One might think that with school librarians under siege all over the country that the remaining ones would feel lucky just to have jobs, but some of them do like to complain.
Usually when there are complaints about weeding, the complaints are from non-librarians who panic at the very idea of a book ever being removed from a library, usually people who don’t realize that libraries aren’t like Dr. Who’s Tardis. They don’t just keep expanding to accommodate all the new books.
But this time, it’s the librarians.
For some reason, I really liked this quote from the head of the union:
The librarians were unaware that the weeding process was going on until it started happening. There were rumors, and then the librarians went to the buildings where they were going to start in the fall, and saw that the weeding process was either underway or it had been finished.
I imagine the librarians lounging around poolside hearing vague rumors that some people actually have to work during the summer. Then they took time away from their gin fizzes and croquet to head to the library and verify that such a horror was indeed happening.
That might be true for some, but in this case it seems the libraries were temporarily without librarians, although the new librarians complaining still weren’t going to start working until school started.
My other favorite quote is obviously the reporter regurgitating what he had been told:
Librarians have previously said weeding of library collections is an ongoing task that has always been the responsibility of the librarian, who is trained in graduate level courses to do it properly.
I’m sure we can all recall those multiple and no doubt rigorous courses in weeding library books. It’s not like weeding a school library can be reduced to a checklist or anything, right?
Well, the spokesperson for the school district “explained that the procedure for weeding libraries includes generating a list of possible books to remove from a school library from various criteria, including copyright date, providing that list to the librarian for input and sending staff from the district’s Instructional Media Center to assist in the weeding process.”
So, yeah, the weeding is pretty much reduced to a checklist, and the librarian’s responsibility, if there is a librarian, is to look over the list, which I’m sure is something they do carefully and diligently, because it’s not as if everyone in the world doesn’t pore carefully over every line of a spreadsheet.
But let’s say they do. I don’t know the size of the libraries, but let’s say for example that 100 books are on the list to be weeded. If the books were already selected based upon the relvant criteria, how many would be saved from the weeding pile? One? Five?
If it was many more than that, then the weeding criteria for the checklist is seriously flawed. If you’re routinely removing 5% or more of the books from the weeding checklist, you need to tighten your procedures some.
But assuming that the lists are well constructed by the librarians, there might not be many books at all that need to be removed from them. Done right, the lists should pretty much generate themselves, and the books can be weeded with minimal effort from the librarians once they’ve set up the criteria. That’s how weeding should work.
I suspect that’s what’s happening here, and even though the books will be held for review, few titles will make it back into the collection except as a protest. It’s not like that library in Illinois last year where the staff were just pulling books off the shelves willy nilly while the head of collections was on vacation.
And if that’s true, then the librarians don’t really have much to complain about.
However, that might not be what they’re really complaining about. Reviewing a weeding list doesn’t take that long, and even if it’s not reviewed by a librarian the chances of losing some precious or necessary books is slim.
Those librarians might be looking at Chicago, which isn’t that far away. They see what happens when school districts think they don’t need librarians.
The weeding fight could just be a proxy fight for their livelihoods.
From the outside, a couple of school libraries being weeded according to standard checklists while the librarians are gone for the summer doesn’t seem like a big deal.
If you’re the librarian who suddenly realizes that the school can have pretty much anyone with a computer generated checklist do part of your job, panic probably ensues.
My god, if they’re weeding the books without me, what will they be doing next?! Buying the books based on reviews in standard library publications?!
Book weeding might just be the canary in the coal mine, and once it dies as part of the librarian’s duty, so goes the rest of the job.
Or maybe the librarians really are just upset over some book weeding two schools that hasn’t even gone awry. In that case, they should take deep breaths, calm down, and tell themselves it could be a lot worse. They could be working in Chicago.