photo © 2006 Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha | more info (via: Wylio)
There is no doubt in my mind that this has been one of the most difficult weeks I’ve ever had in LibraryLand. Between the Wisconsin strikedown of collective bargaining rights, the looming budget cuts, the negative press about teachers, the concern about the fiscal health of libraries, some correspondence with librarians who are uncertain if their job is sustainable … it’s not been a good week.
So, Dear Readers, I think it’s time we have a conversation about the elephant in the room. Some of us are scared we’re going to lose our jobs. Some of us are scared we’re going to be sent back to the classroom. Some of us are scared that our support staff will be cut. Some of us are scared that school libraries are at a kind of tipping point. And when we’re not being scared, we’re angry. And frustrated.
Folks, I’ve been feeling this Molotov cocktail of feelings. And you know what? I’m tired of feeling angry and frustrated and scared every spring. (Michigan potholes in spring are bad enough.)
It’s time for us to face our fears.
During a keynote at the Michigan Association for Media in Education annual conference a few years ago, Chris Harris once said something like, “I hate change. But if I’m ahead of the change, I can control the change.”
Let me suggest that by facing our fears, and taking action, we can control how we respond to change. By taking back control, I think we can save ourselves from feeling so crazy and from giving decisionmakers power over our lives.
Let’s talk worst-case scenarios:
1. You fear you will lose your position but will be moved elsewhere in the district, most likely back in the classroom.
The good news is that you will still have a steady paycheck.
To get ready, you can really prioritize your instructional duties in the library, join the professional organization for your new subject area, and start reading up on the latest pedagogical practices.
Some librarians end up in positions that actually give them new opportunities to promote reading, research, and critical thinking because they have regular access to students. Some librarians have found unexpected joy as an English teacher promoting books and organizing research projects or multimedia/technology/video production teachers. You can use your leverage as a classroom teacher to gear your instruction around your “library values” of inquiry and access.
If the worst doesn’t happen, you’ve become a better teacher and more empathetic collaborator with that subject area.
2. You fear that you will lose your library position and there will be no job for you.
Let’s be honest: this is the worst of the worst. To get ready, get your resume out and update it with all the changes and innovations you’ve made. Contact your library school and ask for access to the Career Services database so you can keep an eye open for job openings. Make sure your professional association dues are paid so you have access to those job openings, too. Ask people if they’ll do a mock interview with you so you lead with your strengths. Talk to your references and make sure they’ll still speak for you. (You probably don’t need a letter, just their phone number and address.)
Maybe pull back on a few non-essentials in your library (updated bulletin boards?) and consider a volunteer gig/internship on weekends or in the evenings in another employment area you would consider if you didn’t work in education. Maybe now is the time to go back to school, so surf the Web and look into your options.
Cut back on non-essential spending and save up for your nest egg. Maybe ditch cable TV and indulge in a few months of just reading. Carpool. Cut out gourmet coffee or newspaper subscriptions. Skype, rather than call, your friends. Outfit your kids’ summer wardrobe with secondhand clothes (active kids wear out their summer clothes anyway — why pay more?). Consider trading in your car for a less expensive model. Put your home on the market now if you’re worried you’ll have to move this summer.
If the worst doesn’t happen, you’ve at least taken the time to reflect on your professional growth and accomplishments, which will feel good.
3. You fear that you will be asked to take on additional buildings, or your support staff is cut.
OK, I’ve been there, and this is definitely a challenge. So be thinking in advance about how you will identify, juggle, and prioritize tasks. Remember that administrators are as stressed out as you are about cuts (nobody goes to get a degree in Educational Leadership because they love cutting programs or jobs), so think NOW about how you can be ready to hit the ground running come August. One librarian I know decided, when assigned to multiple buildings, that it was no longer practical to consider that she could directly teach all of her students, but she could focus her energies of professional development so that information literacy/inquiry skills were shared with her classroom colleagues, who could then impart them to students. Smart thinking about how to reach students with diminished time.
Browse subscription services (Follett and Junior Library Guild are two options) that will auto-build your collection, if funding remains available. Consider networking with other district or area librarians. Could they bcc you when they send out a tech tip to their staff so you could then send it to yours, and vice versa? Also, if the idea of multiple buildings seems just too difficult, perhaps now is a good time to get in line for a classroom job or a retirement buy-out. Some people just don’t like being on the go, and that’s OK to say.
If the worst doesn’t happen, you’ll still have done some important thinking about where your priorities should lie. Maybe it’s time for someone else to take on lamination? (I don’t remember seeing laminating in the Common Core Standards.)
4. You fear that although staffing and funding will remain stable, but you’ll be asked to take a pay cut and/or pay more for your insurance.
Try living below your means now (see #2). Put those savings away for a rainy day, and you won’t be stunned when the pay cut takes effect. You’ll feel more upbeat and positive when the new year starts, because you’ll be past the economizing.
If the worst doesn’t happen, you’ve still got a bigger bank balance that you can save for a future rainy day.
5. Your fear that your acquisitions budget will be (or will remain) zeroed out.
The bad news is that you’ll have to hustle more to find money through book fairs, grants, and other fundraisers.
The “good” news is that you won’t be cataloguing, so that may free up time for these financial tasks. Consider spending some spring hours — hopefully pooling your talents and ideas with other librarians — taking a very hard look at the kinds of state databases and high-quality open Web content you can find, with an eye toward free resources to replace what you can’t buy. And hey – this means less shelving. (I know, I know — I’d rather have a budget than less shelving, too.)
If the worst doesn’t come to pass, you have still maximized your search skills and have some pathfinders ready to go.
Now I hope none of these scenarios will happen. But I’m absolutely certain that if you take the proverbial ball by the horns and tell yourself that you — not your district — are going to decide your fate, you’re going to feel less helpless and less victimized. And along the way, you’ll be modeling mature coping strategies for your students. Remember: you’re a LIBRARIAN! You’re resourceful!