Saturday, June 7, 2008

Credentialed vs Educated

Today I am writing this from a Caribou Coffee in Grosse Pointe, Michigan where I am hanging out with my daughter Dana. She's doing her school assignment and I'm working on this post. There is something inherently cool (at least for me it's cool - it's sort of D. Warlickian) about hanging out in a coffee shop, accessing the wifi and listening to some high school students nearby studying for their exams. I feel more like a native than an immigrant.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what someone needs to be truly qualified to be a school librarian. The reason that I've been thinking about this is because I am really frustrated by the process of getting a secondary TL position in our district. While this process gets a credentialed TL into the position, it doesn't necessarily get a qualified person into the position.

In our province, teachers can become qualified to teach in other areas by taking an Additional Qualification courses offered by Faculty of Educations at various universities. Most AQs are 3 parts (Part 1, Part 2 and Specialist) and can be done on-line, partially online or face to face. The AQ for Librarianship Part 1 has no prerequisites other than a teaching degree. In our district, if you have Part 1, then you are credentialed and you can be placed in a secondary school library. And once you are in the library, you are there for the remainder of your career if you want.

Now the really frustrating thing is that we can have teachers who have never written a formal research paper, who don't know YA lit from adult lit, who don't know what the difference between MLA, APA, Chicago Style, who come from a tech background (and I don't mean computer tech I mean auto, construction, metal tech), an art background, a phys ed background - well any background, being responsible for a secondary school library and a secondary school library program. Now I'm not saying that people with diverse backgrounds can't become good and even exemplary TLs. I actually have a phys ed background - but my undergrad was rigorous - I can't count the number of research papers I had to write. In fact, one of my first year undergrad courses was research methods and I remember spending hours in the university library searching for various types of resources required by the assignment given to us by Dr. Leavitt. It was one of the toughest courses I took. I am also a voracious reader - a really important qualification for a school librarian!

Now one would assume that after taking Part 1, that a teacher placed in the school library would have a basic understanding of the role and scope of the position, a basic knowledge and skill level of the teaching responsibilities required to develop information literate students. One would also assume that these credentialed teachers understand and apply collaborative behaviors necessary to plan, teach and assess with classroom teachers. And finally, one would assume that there would be a minimum application of the technical requirements of the role (now I do mean computer technology). But what is happening is that our secondary school libraries in far too many cases have become an 'early retirement home'. And why? Because the only necessary requirement is that one is credentialed with Librarianship Part 1. Some of these credentialed teachers see the library as a place where they can spend the last few years of their teaching career in relative peace, with no report cards and no marking. Book babysitters.

So if we really want to provide a high-quality school library program for our students in this information age, shouldn't the requirement to become a school librarian be more than Part 1? Shouldn't our districts require more than just a credential? Shouldn't there be professional accountability?

When I started thinking about the emphasis these days on credentials and my frustration with the lack of professional accountability of some school librarians, I thought of the book that I read a couple of years ago written by Jane Jacobs, a self-educated activist, urban planner and visionary. She wrote a book called Dark Age Ahead. In it, she theorizes that North American civilization is headed towards a Dark Age similar to that of the Roman Empire:

Her thesis focused on five pillars of our culture that we depend on to stand firm but are in serious decline: the nuclear family (but also community), education, science, representational government and taxes, and corporate and professional accountability.

Jacobs theorizes that the collapse of these pillars will cause a descent into a Dark Age and she provides evidence that these pillars are already eroding. The demise of the 'education pillar' is caused by universities more interested in credentialing than providing high quality education. I guess I'm feeling that some of our secondary school libraries are descending into the 'Dark Age' as a result of needing only a credential to become a TL and the lack of professional accountability once in the position.


pc said...

Hi Sharon,

Excellent thoughts.

I often think that when students walk into the library they should be welcomed by someone who holds the keys not only to professional research skills, but also to discovery and wonder.

There's a combination of charisma, sincerity, and helpfulness that should encompass the role of all librarians. They are facilitators who are actively engaged in igniting the spark of inquiry and wonder in those who enter.

Too often students may simply be browsing on sites which lead to little enrichment or growth. Or they may walk in and never get the feeling that exciting literature exists in the books on the shelves.

More extensive credentials would certainly help, but it needs to be matched with a personality which truly cares about student intellectual growth for everyone who walks in.

Sharon said...

How right you are pc! How do we stike a balance between credentials and personality? How do we spark professional initiative? I've been grappling with this and I keep coming back to what Doug Johnson (and others) has said - What gets measured, gets taught. We need a special performance appraisal for TLs - one that will encompass some of the things that you write about in your comments. As always, thanks for taking the time to comment.