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Do School Librarians Make Us Less Gullible?

The School Library Journal has an interview with  school librarian in California who might be fired along with all her fellow school librarians in Pasadena unless a parcel tax measure is voter-approved next month. She’s also the librarian who opined in the L.A. Times that school librarians "save the Google students."

One thing we can say about this librarian: she’s got a talent for hyperbole which would serve her well as a guru or marketing specialist. When asked: "What is the outcome for students who are not taught how to navigate the Web?", she answers, "I think either they will drown or our civilization is headed for a state in which facts don’t mean anything, the truth is devalued, and information takes control of us." Only the librarian, it seems, can teach students to navigate the Web.

I’m assuming she doesn’t mean the students will literally drown if they don’t know how to navigate the Web. If a student were actually drowning, even Googling the precise and useful phrase "how to swim" would be unlikely to happen. One cannot type while flapping ones arms wildly about in the water attempting to stay afloat, or at least this one can’t. Perhaps that Google voice feature might help, but there’s still the trouble of reading the answer with arms a-flapping.

She probably means they’ll "drown" in information, but how likely is that? In her Op-Ed piece she talks about searching for global warming and how the students need help finding reliable resources. If you search Google for global warming the results are pretty good. The first entry is naturally the Wikipedia entry for global warming that has 126 citations and about 30 suggested further readings. The savvy student could just stop right there and follow links to all sorts of great resources, already contextualized by Wikipedia.

The next hit is the EPA site on climate change, which seems okay, if you trust the government. It’s true the next result is the neo-con, but that merely provides a contrast to the next few sites more driven by science than politics.

Are school children going to drown in information when they probably won’t get past the first ten hits on Google?

She argues that some research is best done using the library’s books and their subscription databases. That’s probably true for a lot of searches. But is the goal to get them using the library, or is the goal to get the good information for their research? If the goal is to get them good information, then Google works well enough.

Also, once the students are finished with school, Google’s about all they’re going to have, especially after their public libraries go broke and stop funding the subscription databases most people don’t use anyway. Why get their hopes up that they’ll be able to use some great database once they’re out of school?

The second dire outcome is even better: "our civilization is headed for a state in which facts don’t mean anything, the truth is devalued, and information takes control of us." To which I can only say, "Baby, we’ve arrived!"

Our civilization is already in a state where facts and truth are meaningless for a very large number of people. If you want concrete examples, pick your poison. Just about anything to do with politics these days is a good choice, from the Tea Partiers to the Hutaree Militia.

(Sorry not to be more balanced, but the left-wing kooks all started biting their tongues when Obama was elected, so now it’s our season for right-wing kooks. Even the ALA Council has shut up about politics for the most part.).

Throw in all the people who believe in astrology and other new age phenomena, and you’ve got a pretty good portion of the country.

Here’s a more neutral choice: do vaccines cause autism? There’s absolutely no evidence they do, and plenty of studies showing no causation. Try telling that to Jenny McCarthy and her followers.  Someone sent me this quote for a chuckle:

If the debate about vaccine safety is settled — vaccines don’t cause autism; they don’t injure children; they are the pillar of modern public health — then why are so many parents reconsidering vaccinating their children? The answer has to do with our era’s strained relationship with scientific truth, our tendency to place more faith in psychological truths than scientific ones. McCarthy’s emergence — the Playmate turned pseudoscientist, the fart-joke teller cum mother warrior — can make one feel nostalgic for the time when celebs turned up on talk shows only to hawk their flicks or books, not to promote explosive public-health ideas. But McCarthy says she is speaking the truth — her truth.

Her truth! I love it! Read more of the story is you want a quick lesson in human gullibility.

The thing is, we’ve had school librarians all along, and yet we still have a culture of gullible, credulous people who have an arm’s length relationship with facts, truth, or reasoning. Maybe it’s the fault of the librarians!

Oh, I know, someone will probably say that if Jenny McCarthy or the astrologists had only experienced the joys of a school librarian, things would be different. Okay, if you say so.



  1. Library Ninja formerly Library Guru says:

    Guru is sooooo last millennium.

    If you aren’t a Ninja, you are lame.

    Keep up with the news, AL.

  2. concerned citizen says:

    What’s going on here? I counted 4 exclamation points.

  3. maybe not says:

    but perhaps they should. If librarians take on the role of teaching the finding of good information, and how to think critically, ta-da! Relevance.

  4. Union Hacker says:

    All my kids get out of their school librarians is the life lesson that you can get a job where you don’t have to do squat because you have tenure.

    If you are caught on video, drunk, raping boys and girls, murdering the ones that won’t submit, and setting fire to the collection; you will get a slap on the wrist and told that you were naughty.

    Plus, all the school librarians I know have been their since Gutenberg and make more money than God and have health insurance until the day they die.

    What a country.

  5. Heck! If I had to do it all over again I’d be a school librarian. Where else can you work nine months, get every conceivable holiday off, winter break, spring break, fully paid medical for a lifetime, and a pension to boot. On the other hand you do get to complain about how under appreciated you are.

  6. I was lucky to go to schools that had good libraries, and that doesn’t happen without a good librarian. Teachers themselves don’t always understand how to do the research. Just the other day (I work at a JC, so it’s as much a school library as an academic one in a lot of ways) I had to walk a nursing instructor through CINAHL in much the same way as I would one of her students. You say “The savvy student,” but that’s precisely the point. Few students are savvy, and without a good library and the good librarian(s) behind it their odds of getting that way decrease.

  7. Walt Lessun says:

    Maybe not less gullible, but certainly better readers (verified by research in Michigan, Florida…).

  8. ConfusedByItAll says:

    Please explain what research as verified in Michigan, Florida, etc.?
    Knowing how to read has no automatic correlation to increased ability to perform critical thinking.

  9. NotMariantheLibrarian says:

    Today I wished I’d gotten that teacher certification … at least I’d get summers off if I were a school librarian. Oh wait … we don’t actually do any teaching in an academic library to hear a high muckety-muck tell it.

  10. Whose side are you on anyway? Sure that librarian used a bit of exaggeration to get her point across, but she’s trying to save both her job and the library experiences of all the kids she serves. How should we expect her community to support her (and our own communities to support us if and WHEN this happens to us too) if the library community itself is ripping her apart?

  11. Groucho Marx says:

    Kids love school libraries.

    It gives them a chance to get out of the classroom and goof-off while the tenured librarian sits there and reads Vanity Fair and counts the days to a cushy retirement.

    A socialist’s utopia.

  12. Techserving You says:

    Mmmmm… I don’t know, you could just go be a teacher and get all the same benefits, Gman. There are a lot more teaching jobs available.

  13. Verbatim says:

    I am a school librarian and work at a boarding school and I am sorry to say that I do not get summers off. Nor to do I get most federal holidays off.

  14. Paraphrased says:

    Verbatim, because you have experience in school libraries, you should really look to get a job in the public sector.

    You get summers off, tons of holidays, a great pension, and cradle to grave health care.

    Plus, once you hit tenure, you can kick back, do nothing, order the books you want to read, and the only thing you have to tell kids is shush.

  15. say what? says:

    A friend of mine, a middle school librarian in suburban D.C., is one of the hardest working people I know. She is always reading and blogging about YA books, planning research projects for the students, serves on committees at her school and statewide, and teaches classes on YA lit for UVa. I know plenty of lazy academic/public librarians. Y’all are just jealous because you don’t get summers off (I know I am :-)

  16. Paratrooper says:

    Try and be a slacker in a legal library.

    You will be gone by noon.



    You better produce and on time if it is day one or the day before you retire.

  17. Paratrooper,

    That’s why you are a sucker. SUCKER!

  18. This is totalllly off topic but I’m a typical college student under general studies because I’m still not sure of what to do with my life.

    Lately I’ve thought about majoring in Library Science, however I recently found that you have to get your masters in English and then apply to a Graduate School to get your degree in Library Science (am I wrong in this?)…

    The point is, I am just getting tired of writing English essays and I am only a freshman. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing but not when I am giveb a specific topic to write about.. I guess more like creative writing is what I enjoy…

    Questions I have for all Library Scientests
    : Did you guys like writing enough to get your degree in English or did you guys just have to fight your way through your undergraduate career in order to become Library Scientests…

    My friend made a point, he said that he does not enjoy Calculus or any form of mathematics but looks forward to becoming an engineer… should I think about my english classes the same?

  19. what’s wrong with fart jokes?

  20. Geoffrey says:

    Hello Jesus,

    I’m going to go ahead and make the assumption you’re not trolling, and offer you some kind of answer: no, you can major in anything before you get your Master’s degree in Library Science, and you don’t need any other master’s degrees beforehand — though another master’s might help you land a job, especially as a college librarian. Think it over. It’s great work, but (as you will notice if you read back through this blog carefully) it’s not a great job market right now.
    You’re still just beginning your college career, so my advice would be to pick a degree that you enjoy or that will lead toward an interesting career, and keep library school in mind as you progress. Any bachelor’s degree will work, and something other than English will probably be much more fulfilling for you. Good Luck!

  21. Techserving You says:

    Why would you need a masters in English (or even an undergrad degree in English) in order to then go get your MLS? The answer, as Geoffrey posted, is that no, you do not need to do that. But I want to say as an aside that the vast majority of library jobs in English-speaking countries have NOTHING to do with the discipline of English. NOTHING. (Nevertheless most LIS students seem to have been English majors.)

  22. Jesus,

    I would forget about Library Science and ignore anyone who considers themselves a Library Scientest (sic). Instead, I would go into the ministry as a prophet. Have you considered this. It’s a great, albeit short-lived career move. Sure, you’ll probably be put to death, but the upside is that you’ll be used as an icon for thousands of years and you’ll have thousands of adherents. Not to mention, with a name like Jesus you can’t lose.


  23. Haha, well played, Junkie!

    Jesus – I have an English BA, almost through my MLIS coursework, but I chose English because I love it. Do what you love, then if you still want to be a librarian after you finish undergrad, go for it!

  24. librarygirl says:

    Well, this string of commentary floors me. Let me tell you, I’ve been a public school elementary librarian (and, by the way, I had LESS time “off” teaching for “prep” work than the classroom teachers had).

    Many public school librarians work 40% of their “summer vacation” in contractually mandated time in their libraries doing inventory, book processing, etc., etc. (note: “regular” teachers do not do this). That does not count the time that all teachers spend on higher education and summer planning.

    A public school librarian (elementary level at least) is frequently doing most aspects of running a business plus all aspects of being a full-time teacher, providing and maintaining grades for up to 600 students at a time, and many run multiple libraries (I had three).

    I’m an academic (college) librarian now…the work load doesn’t compare in the level of difficulty! Give me a break, acting like you college librarians work harder than elementary school librarians.

    It’s up to the individual–many work hard, and many in ANY tenured position do NOT.

  25. Alright! So I finally understand! :D

    I emailed a proffessor at my uni about Library Science and he said that it’s up to me to choose something preferably under Liberal Arts (but then again English is under liberal arts)

    Did anyone here who has their library science degree major in anything else than English?

  26. Jesus, I have my BS in one of the Sciences and I also have the MLS. I’ll give you some good advice – find a job/career you want to do and then connect that to the degree you need to get – chances are you might not even need the degree, or you might not need it now, or you might be better off holding off and letting a future employer pay you to go back to school – those student loans add up!

    I’m now very well employed by a very good employer, but my degrees are sititng by the wayside. I’ve had a ton of life experience by my BS though and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. The MLS…well, having it will make it easier to go back and get a second masters!

    Your biggest asset in the real world is experience – or having a whole lot of money and power. You don’t have the last two, so you’re stuck looking at getting the first one. I’ll tell you now, the real world that I am in [18-38] thinks it’s really cool to be working towards a degree but not so cool to have a degree. Aka – “Oh, cool, you’re studying that?” turns into to “whoop de doo, you have a degree – so what? Do you have management experience? No? Well I was the lead manager of a Taco Bell for five years – HA!”

    Basically, it comes down to one-upmanship, and as long as you’re working towards it, you have nothing – and once you have it, they have alternate arguments to render what it is back into nothing as if it never existed in the first place…there is no winning against the retards or the idiots…I look forward to leaving them soon enough!

  27. InfoSherpa says:

    I was a math major and became a school librarian working with another MLS who started out as a PE teacher. I have met librarians who were art majors, science majors, history majors. All of it works just fine.

  28. Ideefixed says:

    The woman who wrote that story used to work for the LAT, so she certainly knows about gullibility and the public. The dirty little secret is that she and her husband decided that one of them would get a secure government job, and she lost, and is complaining about it. Pasadena’s public schools are a complete mess, and anyone with two nickels to rub together sends kids to private schools.

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