Baker project


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Baker project

  1. 1. I interviewed Elizabeth Polk, who is the Director of Library Services for the Austin Independent School District (AISD). AISD is one of the eight largest urban school districts in the state of Texas, and is the third largest employer in the Austin metropolitan area. The district serves a total of 82,181 students at 78 elementary, 17 middle school, 13 high school, and 12 special campuses. The Director of Library Services is responsible for “directing and coordinating all aspects of the District’s library program, [and] providing leadership and guidance to school librarians in program planning and curriculum support.” The Director is specifically responsible for working to: • Establish criteria for writing specifications for the selection and acquisition of books, supplies, periodicals, library furnishings, and library related software and equipment. • Plan for professional growth and pre-service and in-service education for…campus librarians through meetings, workshops, conferences, and special presentations. • Represent the school district in planning sessions for cooperative ventures among area public, academic, special, and school libraries or other community entities. • Receive, address, and respond to inquiries, requests for information and problems from parents, school administrators, and outside organizations. • Participate in developing policies dealing with collection development, media selection, and review processes for challenged materials. The Director of Library Services reports to the Executive Director of Educational Support. The mission of the AISD Library program is “to nurture a life-long appreciation of reading and learning by assuring that students and staff have opportunities for successful access, evaluation, and use of information and literature.” The library program’s stated beliefs and goals, as well as the Director’s commitment to ensuring best practices in library instruction, support this mission. Although the library program serves all of the students and staff in AISD as its clientele, the Director of Library Services does not formally manage, but rather supports, the district’s campus librarians. Each librarian is supervised and evaluated only by her campus principal or other designated appraiser. The Director of Library Services only directly supervises 11 full-time and four part-time staff who are housed in the district’s Library Media Center. These include the heads of and staffers in the Media Services, Acquisitions, and Library Technology Departments, the Professional Library and Materials Processing Center, and a Clerical Coordinator. The organizational chart for the Library Services Department reveals a traditional hierarchical structure, with the Director of Library Services at the top (although the organizational chart has been created to be read horizontally rather than vertically. This might have been done intentionally to reduce the appearance of a traditional hierarchy.) In general, the departments are each too specialized, and too small, for a more team-based approach, although at least the head, and in some cases all of the staff in each department
  2. 2. both hold a MLIS degree and have had experience as a school librarian, and so have working knowledge of the job requirements of each of the other departments. Ms. Polk has held the position of Director of Library Services position for y years. Prior to her current position, Ms. Polk enjoys a tremendous amount of respect among the district’s librarians; she is known for her warm, supportive manner and professional expertise as well as for her skill at serving as a powerful, yet diplomatic and tactful, advocate for libraries and librarians both to district personnel and to the Austin community at large. This reputation seems borne of a difficult balancing act between sensitivity towards others and commitment to a cause; I was interested to hear what Ms. Polk had to say about achieving this balance and also to learn more about her vision for the direction of school libraries in AISD. I interviewed Ms. Polk in person (her preference from the options I presented) in my campus library after school on April 13. I used my laptop to type Ms. Polk’s answers as she spoke. I did sometimes have a hard time keeping up with her answers, and felt that, even though she was very understanding, sometimes my typing interrupted the rhythms of natural conversation. It was often hard for me to maintain eye contact while I was typing, for example. In retrospect, it would have been better for me to audio or video record the interview. I did have a flip video camera out and ready to use, but I decided at the last minute that it felt disrespectful to me to hold the flip video camera up at her for the duration of the interview. Having a traditional video camera set up unobtrusively on a tripod would have been better. Following are my interview questions and summaries of Ms. Polk’s responses. 1. What makes the school libraries in AISD unique? Ms. Polk responded that, especially for a large district, the libraries in AISD have a strong feel of community and collegiality. Features such as beginning staff development for new librarians, regular librarians’ meetings, a printed directory of campus librarians, a union catalog – which allows for regular interlibrary loans between campuses, and daily communication over an email listserv and via a wiki help librarians feel connected to each other. She said that although AISD librarians have “less money than other districts, [our] creative librarians make the best of what they have”; they’re “not whiners and complainers.” She attributed this to the fact that our librarians feel they “know where to get help; they know someone to call.” 2. What do you look for when you hire new librarians to the district? Ms. Polk reminded me “the principal does the actual hiring,” although she related that she will screen applicants from the district’s human resources system and reviews and passes along resumes that librarian applicants send to her. In addition, she said, “Grades in library school aren’t as important as someone who
  3. 3. isn’t looking for a ‘cush’ job and thinks they can retire to the library. You have to be willing to learn new things all the time. You have to learn along with the kids. If you have those other things, you can learn on the job, even if you don’t know everything about technology.” 3. How do you select and prepare experienced librarians to serve as mentors to new librarians? She said, “We pick out someone we know is good role model, then we try to match them up the best we can, either by geographic location, home or school, or a similar school situation. Librarians mentor people at another school and don’t get paid, [so you] have to have someone who’s good and willing to go the extra mile and is willing to share.” 4. How do you balance an emphasis on best practices for librarians with their responsibilities to their principals and campuses? Ms. Polk related two recent examples of campuses taking issue with commonly accepted best practices for school librarians. In one case, the campus principal wanted all of the library’s books organized by lexile level; in another, similar case, a teacher insisted that the Dewey Decimal System is archaic and should be thrown out. When resolving these conflicts, the challenge is to balance “best practices with what the schools want.” Further, she said, “Be very open to listening, because one time you’re bound to be wrong…don’t…do something just because it’s always been done that way. Someone who is opposed to you might teach you more than someone who already agrees with you. Ask, what are the issues? This gives them a chance to be heard. Be open and receptive to their viewpoints. Listen and evaluate why you do things. Work it out with the other person. If you don’t know what to say, just don’t say anything…pause and give it some thought, or say ‘That’s interesting. I’d like some time to think about it and get back to you.’ Don’t…burn bridges you might have to walk over and alienate someone who might become your boss” (referring to the way campus principals sometimes move into higher district positions.) 5. What are some of the most challenging issues facing school libraries today? Ms. Polk immediately answered that budgetary issues are a challenge, and referenced librarian positions getting cut and the constant struggle to secure enough money for collection maintenance and development. She also spoke about the challenge presented by the perceived changing face of libraries. She said, “Libraries will not be the way they always were. Some people think libraries will cease to exist, but I don’t see books going away; people aren’t just rushing out to buy Kindles” even though the technology is available. She said that to remain relevant, school libraries may have to reshape the way that the public perceives them, even if they are basically doing the same thing as always: teaching information and literacy skills and how to evaluate information, wherever it might be. She said, “Any nine-year-old nerd can post something on Wikipedia; is it true? Is it accurate? Is it relevant?” She emphasized that the focus of school
  4. 4. libraries should be continue to be on creating “discriminating and discerning users of information.” 6.