Yesterday’s New York Times ran the article, “Empty Shelves, Filled with Imagination.”
When this article hit my Google Reader account (yup, I’m officially swapped over from Bloglines after too many glitches), the one-sentence summary of the article read, “With minimal resources available, a school librarian gets creative.”
I got a little bit excited at the idea that the Times would run an article that dealt with school libraries, imagination, and a creative school librarian.
The article is about a Brooklyn school librarian who is creating a library by spreading out books to fill up all the shelving, spending her $3000+ book budget, applying for grants, and garnering book and magazine donations from her family, doctor, and dentist’s offices. Those efforts take many hours of after-hours work. (And I have to say … ewww … who wants those pawed-over hand-me-downs from medical offices? And when is the last time you saw a teen-friendly magazine in the waiting room?)
It’s obvious from the article’s photo that this is an impoverished collection and that the librarian’s only hope for overhauling it was to look for resources outside the regular budget. And it sounds like the librarian chose to take up that gauntlet and to leverage her personal relationships to do it, which is great.
But the article left me feeling sad. What this school librarian is doing is so similar to what many school librarians do and have done for years.
Many — if not most — school librarians are dealing with static or shrinking budgets. When I did my master’s practicum, I worked in a school library in a staunchly middle-class district that had zeroed out its book budgets as a cost-saving measure. They didn’t even have this librarian’s $3300 to fuel their high school collection of print and online resources. (For what it’s worth, the article focuses solely on print materials.)
I often define “creative,” in part, as “doing what others aren’t.” So under that definition, are the efforts of this hard-working librarian “creative” or merely the state of our profession in many schools?
This article could have been so different if the reporter and editor had recognized that this situation isn’t a one-off — it’s a regular occurrence in far too many school libraries. One valiant librarian is “creative” — but a profession’s worth? That’s a scary reality.