Librarians are big on advocacy. Big on helping their peers when they’re not being heard in their communities or schools to build their “advocacy toolkit”. Most librarian courses include at least one module in one course on advocacy. Some academic librarians have built their careers on advocacy. But I’d like to cry foul. This has been going on for long enough.
Looking at advocacy it has a couple of tenants:
“Five Advocacy Tips
At the basic level advocacy is building relationships. The goal is to become a valuable resource for policymakers. No matter who the audience is, you should keep in mind the following:
1. Be confident.
2. Frame your message to answer the question, “So what?”
3. Plan and practice your message.
4. Present a clear and compelling message; less is more.
5. Offer yourself as an expert resource and provide examples from your community; stories are more compelling than statistics” (Advocacy toolkit).
I’d like to posit that the whole concept of advocacy is wrong. It is not advocacy that we need but a seat at the table. But the problem is that no one is going to shift over and make a place for people who are nicely, confidently giving compelling messages from experts. If anything after all these years of advocacy the situation has become worse rather than better. This is global, in all the countries that used to be bastions of (school / public) libraries and librarianship: the UK ; USA; Australia, and Canada.
I’d like to suggest that the decline in school libraries and school librarians is inversely correlated with the rise in EdTech or Digital Tech or Digital Literacy teams and resources. Those same UK schools claiming poverty when it comes to libraries have 900m to spend on edtech? And what I’m noticing is that the heads of these subsections do have a seat at the table, a link on the webpages and a say at every conceivable moment. And I’m wondering, not saying this is a fact, just wondering out loud, whether it has anything to do with the fact that so many of those leading this corner of the education landscape are male as are most of the leadership in schools? And while I’m a huge prosumer of tech and use it extensively in my teaching and learning, I’m suspecting it’s not really helping our students’ literacy – even their digital literacy ($129b pound investment by 2020 for students to have “basic” digital literacy and no one’s saying the numbers don’t add up?).
There have been two little discussions on the various librarian network groups I’m on that relate to these questions.
The first was about the merits of becoming Google Educator certified. It’s a push at most schools and apparently something sought after by recruiters. I’m flabbergasted. Google is so frigging smart. And we’re being conned. And no one is crying foul. I grew up with computers as they burst into the scene in the early 80’s. I could use every iteration of word processing, presentation and spreadsheet tools from the very first most basic types. When I say I can use, I REALLY can use. I know how to use templates, make an index, do auto-intext citation, add captions, make data tables, pivot tables, look ups, statistical analysis, import addresses into labels etc etc. And what I don’t know I know how to find out how to do, either online or because I know people who know their S*** around this type of stuff. People of my generation and younger. I also have an Education masters in knowledge networks and digital innovation and follow all sorts of trends and tools and try everything at least once. I can use basic HTML and CSS and find out how to do anything if I get stuck. I know how to learn and where to learn anything I need to know and I’m prepared to put in the time to do so. This is in a “just-in- time-and-immediate-application-and-use-basis”, rather than a “just-in-case – and-I’ll-forget it-tomorrow-and-probably-never-use-it-basis”. So can you tell my why I would bother wasting my time and money becoming GAFE (or anything else) diploma’ed when the equivalent is for me to go from driving a high powered sports car to getting a tricycle license? I feel the same way about this as I feel about people saying you don’t need libraries now you have google. Well actually I feel stronger about it. It seems like every single for profit educational technology app or company is now convincing educators that the way for them to be taken seriously is to “certify” themselves on their tools, something that involves a couple of hours of mind-numbingly boring and simple video tutorials and/or multiple choice tests with or without a cheapish fee and then to add a row of downloadable certs into their email signatures like so many degree mill qualifications on a quack’s wall. And then these are held in higher regard (it seems) than the double masters degrees it takes to be a librarian?? Not a game I’m prepared to be playing.
Then next question was about an upcoming education conference – I’m not going to name names but it’s a biggie, and one of my fellow (male) librarians managed to convince the organisers to include a library strand. Bravo for him – he’s obviously got a voice that’s being heard and this is a huge step forward. BUT, as he and I discussed off-line, privately, when I mentioned the word “echo-chamber” we’ll all be sitting at the wrong table. A nice table. An interesting table, a stimulating table, a worthwhile, practical, intelligent table with some wonderful people (librarians really are super people, I wish I’d discovered them a lot earlier), but the wrong table. And even if our “strand” is open to others, we’re in direct timetable competition with some pretty heavy hitters who are in other very enticing and compelling strands that just beg to be explored. Strands that I as a librarian with an M.Ed have covered in my degree with some of these hard hitting thought shapers. But I’ll not be at those tables, because I’ll be in the librarian strand, where we all agree, and where I can guarantee there will be some mutual hand wringing on budgets, staffing, literacy and advocacy issues. And I can almost certainly also guarantee that none of the librarian strand events will be attended by a single education powerbroker who is not a librarian (please prove me wrong – someone – anyone?).
So I’d say we don’t need advocacy we need power. And to get power we need to be political. And librarians, like language teachers are not very good at politics. We don’t like being unpopular, we want to be accepted and needed, but I would argue we no longer can ethically rely on advocacy, children’s literate lives are at stake, we have to enter the fray.
(I’ll add a personal disclaimer here, I work on a campus where my (female) leadership team is incredibly supportive of the library, invites me to leadership meetings and where I do have a seat on (some) tables. I also was highly flattered when one of the teachers rose up to bat for me last week on a visibility issue. But I’m aware that I’m probably in a minority, which is why I wrote this post).