Thursday, October 11, 2007

Continually Surprised

When I was a kid, long before I considered becoming a librarian, I always associated librarians with (school) teachers in my head. They seemed to have so much in common: books, a love of reading, the desire to help you learn stuff, and so on. So I am always surprised when I find the teachers in my area to be completely disinterested in the public library and what we may be able to do to help them, and vice versa.

One of the biggest frustrations I encounter when helping middle and high school students with projects and papers is the fact that their teachers seem to have very little idea of what their local library has to offer - and, more importantly sometimes - what we don't. My library has a good print reference collection for a smaller library, and we have a good serials database, but we certainly don't have everything. We can access the local university collections, but most students (or their parents) don't know that, and also don't realize that that takes time in terms of getting the books in hand. So when I get the bulk of a class in looking for the same or similar materials, and everything's either out already or we simply don't have it, many kids leave empty-handed. And I hate that.

Since this is nothing new, I have over the years printed up a few guides for teachers concerning our collection and what we offer, a special note on "primary source material" (which is harder to come by on the fly), an offer to make up special handouts, bookmarks, and displays, and the fact that if a class is working on one subject, a heads up will allow me to secure some additional materials from other sources. I send these out every year, and from what I can tell, they are completely ignored (not once has a teacher called me to request services or ask questions).

Add to that the trend of middle-school teachers requiring that the students use ONLY book sources, and, well, I get a lot of migraines. While I understand that teachers do not want their students writing their papers completely from what could be inaccurate websites, it doesn't seem like there's any instruction on what "good" websites might be for a given topic - they're just banned from using websites. And, worse still, there is often no mention of online databases - and because they are accessed via the computer, many students are afraid , or not allowed, to use them even though they are sometimes the best research option for a chosen topic. I have the distinct impression that a good number of these teachers do not know what a database is, or how it works. And again, if anyone bothered to ask me to do a show-and-tell at the library, then everyone would know the basics.

And then there are the summer reading lists - the horrible, unchanging, summer reading lists. After looking at the same sad-ass reading lists for two years, I compiled a HUGE package of "the best" and various award-winners lists from a variety of sources, and sent them out. Nada. Same lists again, and in some cases, the schools gave up entirely. This year, I updated, expanded, and recompiled, posted the list to the blog, linked each title to Amazon, provided other helpful links, and then emailed the department heads. Not so much as a "Gee, thanks, that's helpful."

Finally, I asked a high school teacher why no one seemed interested in the library. His response was, "We don't have time read stuff like that. We're inundated with junk constantly. We're too busy trying to teach to the state standards." Alllllriiighty then.

I suppose this just falls under "you can lead a horse to water..." and all that, but man is it frustrating.


The.Effing.Librarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The.Effing.Librarian said...

even when I use that galenet litindex thing, to look up stuff in all those gale sets, kids will say, "I can't use a computer." And I have to reassure them that I will give them many books. ...yeah, this whole trend of having teachers prepare kids to pass some test is screwing up the educational system. (or maybe it's just revealing how screwed up the system has always been)... but I agree that teachers don't seem to know what libraries have and probably don't care...

Joshua M. Neff said...

I was just talking about this with one of my coworkers (based on this blog post of hers). It is disappointing and frustrating for librarians to encounter what appears to be apathy and laziness on the part of teachers in regards to library resources and new digital avenues for education. But then there's this: in the US, K-12 teachers generally don't have a lot of free time during the school day,and what free periods they have are spent correcting school work or planning future assignments; professional development days for teachers are usually spent going over school policies or retreading old educational ground; teaching full-time is very draining, and many teachers don't want to do more professional development when they get home; because teachers are frequently underpaid, they often take part-time jobs, which gives them even less free time; at many school, YouTube and social networking sites are blocked, which makes it even more difficult for teachers to explore new digital education options and to network with other wired education professionals (like us crazy techie librarians).

Basically, I think many aspects of our education system is b0rked. Teachers should have more "play time" to experiment with new technologies and to network with other teachers and librarians. Teachers should be encouraged to play with new tech and network with other professionals,and they should be rewarded when they do. Schools should absolutely not block websites, especially sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook. That won't fix everything, but I think it would be a step in the right direction.