Third Wave Librarianship and the Contestation from Within

True to the Second Wave, Dee Garrison, in her 1973, Tender Technicians: The Feminization of Librarianship, 1876-1905, emphasizes the feminization of the children’s department of the American public library and the ways in which this department, above all others, stood to represent the values of Victorian womanhood, a warm, gentle space in which young patrons were guided and nurtured without being provoked.

As constraining as the stereotypical librarian as kindly nursemaid might be, I am interested in the ways in which past and present librarians and their practices actually contest this stereotype from within (Radford, 2003). For example, when the *unquiet librarian* Buffy Hamilton sees the library as a space for both engagement and enchantment, the children’s library department is transformed, it remains a warm, nurturing environment while also revealing opportunities for the acquiring of new knowledge. For many children, the process of knowledge acquisition is frightening, frustrating and an opportunity for failure. When it becomes an exciting personal and passionate enterprise which the librarian helps to actualize as an active steward, librarianship becomes completely radical.

Great Expectations: An assessment of current requirements re: school librarianship

Of all the domains, librarianship within K-12 environments and what is demanded appears to be, depending on your perspective, evolving or in crisis. Perhaps it is a little bit of both. Almost all the position requirements include a fluency in information technologies and the ability to take on a leadership role in developing the presence of new media within both the library itself as well as working with the content specialists (subject educators) to embed learning technologies within the classroom environment (blogs, wikis, screen and podcasts). Some of the positions include traditional librarianship responsibilities: collection development; reader’s advisory; reader’s advocacy programming and information literacy training. Other positions focus primarily on the technological skill set: system administration; it help desk services; and technology training (software and hardware). All of the positions I reviewed required a fluency in information technologies, it was simply a matter of emphasis. To give you a sense of the range of expectation and focus, here are the position titles from the job descriptions, alphabetized by title:

Director of Innovative Teaching and Learning, Corte Madera, California
Electronic Technology Coordinator, Palantine, Illinois
Head Librarian/Media Specialist, Hot Springs, Arkansas
Library Media Specialist, Medina, Washington
Middle School Librarian, El Cerrito, California
Primary School Teacher-Librarian, Washington, DC

The degree requirements are wide-ranging as well, in some cases a school media library certification, other times it is master’s in library science or a master’s in educational technology. Depending on private or public context, a state teaching certification is required as well. In one instance having a secondary graduate degree in a humanistic, social scientific or naturalistic science was desired. Most expected individuals to have 3-5 years of teaching experience and a teaching portfolio with a teaching philosophy and a set of teaching-specific recommendations. “The ideal candidate should have an understanding of the Library of Congress system, a working knowledge of online research, and Web 2.0 tools, and an enthusiasm for young adult literature” (Arkansas School of Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts). The Washington International School seeks, “candidates that have a genuine passion for digital tools and concepts including iApple and iWork suites, a demonstrable dedication to the research process, knowledge of current children’s literature and an interest in curriculum development.”

It is clear that in educational environments, a librarian must function fully in three roles: teacher, librarian and technologist. It also emphasizes the reality of the push-pull that I experienced in my directed fieldwork over last quarter: what is the role of the school librarian, is it organize, develop and disseminate the print and electronic collection? Is it to train students and teachers on the effective use of information communication technologies and keep the community on the technological bleeding-edge? Perhaps it is to conceptualize, seek funding and then manage a highly-sophisticated maker lab? Or is it to integrate library resources into the classroom, via technology and face-to-face modes, as a teacher, first and foremost?

In almost cases, leadership was referenced most often in relationship to the introduction and integration of information technology and twenty-first century tools. It is clear that most schools, especially private ones with more resources and fewer regulatory structures, are re-imagining the role of the librarian, one that includes a significant presence as technological steward and it is important to that this *new* leadership role is one that most schools are just starting to think about seriously.

The primary value at work in all of these positions is that of educator. Regardless of instructional focus or role in the context of the collection, both the explicit and implicit values is in the ability to function fully pedagogically and to impart knowledge actively and successfully.

I think that position of school librarian is critical, however, I think it is essential that the job of school librarians is three times as difficult as it once was. School librarian extraordinaire, Buffy Hamilton writes in a April 2, 2012 blog post: “[the] current model of school librarianship that is physically limiting in the sense that one person, two at best in most places, is expected to excel in multiple roles for student populations that might vary from 850 to 2500 students and up to 100+ faculty in a building…being asked to be a teacher, program administrator, information specialist, leader and instructional partner with no planning period and no clerical assistance” (theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com). This reality is both daunting and exciting. Librarians are being asked to re-imagine school librarianship in service of their educational communities and to do it with agility and flair. It is no longer possible to simply sit thoughtfully at the reference desk and discuss a student’s research project on the aquatic life off the coast of Madagascar. Nor is acceptable to spend all one’s time trouble-shooting network issues or diligently developing library guides for the AP History program with a sophisticated knowledge of historical methodologies and theoretical approaches. What is actually required at this point in the American history of librarianship is to do all three tasks simultaneously and to appear as cutting edge in terms of one’s knowledge of technology as possible. I am heartened to see that some K-12 schools, like the Bush School in central Seattle, have a robust library staff, including two full time librarians, an information technology instructor and two computer network specialists. This team represents the reality of what many schools expects one person in one library role to encompass and in many instances, almost impossible to actualize. In situations where one person must take on all these roles, the expectations are great.

So What Does an MLIS Get You?

At this point, I am clear about one thing and it is important. An MLIS degree allows you to enter into a professional community as an official and honored member. Regardless of your specialization or predilections, despite your interest in social media or rare books, the degree, creates a space at the table of librarianship. And because, librarians love swag, you will be able to purchase a range of items to accessorize this formal identity: tote bags, bookmarks, coffee mugs, USB drives, bumper stickers and screen-savers. Space at the table is no small thing. Many terminal graduate degrees, including doctorates in the humanities and some social sciences, and I speak from personal experience, do not provide the same sense of community and shared professional future. A shared future is everything. It gives you room to breath, to experiment, to talk about dreams and to think big. You may disagree about what skills a twenty-first century librarian should have or whether or not s/he should be actually be called an information professional but all people with an MLIS degree agree on the core tenant of a profession that is more than a hundred years old: that providing efficient and equitable access to well-organized and credible knowledge resources is critical. In this increasingly fragmented world, sharing a professional raison d’etre is gold.

Libraries, Librarianship, Librarians and the Future

There is a lot of talk about information these days. How to get, keep, organize, and limit it. But I’m drawing a line in the sand, what I am interested in working with is knowledge NOT information. When asked for definitions, of libraries, librarianship and librarians– I’m keeping it old school…somewhat. For me, a library has been and continues to be any space dedicated to the consumption and production of knowledge. Yes, information is part of the mix but a library is a place in which information is created into something else: knowledge. One goes to a library because it is where society’s knowledge is organized, stored, accessed, and used for purposes of pleasure, profession, random edification and whimsy. American librarianship was born out of a modernist desire to “provide good books” to the most amount of people with the least effort and to cultivate docile citizens but in the twenty-first century it has evolved into a democratizing profession predicated on supporting people, regardless of circumstance, context or predilection, in their pursuit of new knowledge in a range of forms. Librarians remain the stewards of knowledge. As our lives become increasingly digital and information overflows, guidance re: the use of knowledge will become that much more critical. To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, Google can find you 100,000 answers, a librarian can find you the right one. Information doesn’t set you free, knowledge does.