Yesterday, I had the privilege of giving an invited testimony before the New York City Council on the shortage of school librarians in New York City public schools. This was my first experience participating in any organized form of government other than voting. I was extremely nervous (I probably haven’t been that nervous since the night before my dissertation defense). I was asked to speak to a few specific issues, including the path to certification for school librarians, the career outlook for my students, the challenges they face and best practices for school libraries.
I was also asked to offer recommendations for how to address the shortage, which made me feel both completely underqualified and absurdly powerful.
The main event of the morning was the testimony of the representatives of the DOE Office of Library Services. The question and answer period lasted for over an hour and was highly contentious. By the time my panel–the last group of speakers– was called to speak, there were about five council members left in the room and maybe four citizens remaining. I was asked to give my testimony in 3 minutes. Rather than trying to speed-read, I summarized my testimony, which met a mixed response. As you will see in the video, the Council chair was ready to be finished for the day and was disappointed that I wasn’t eager to join him in blaming the DOE for the shortage.
(I think I maybe used too many hand gestures; a rookie mistake. Lately, all the public speaking I do ends up video taped on the Internet and I look and sound like a cartoon character… )
I was naively surprised at the Council’s efforts to blame and shame DOE Library Services for the shortage, and I do not agree that this is a NYC DOE-specific problem. To attribute such a complex problem to one single factor seems like a misstep. In my testimony, I assert that among other factors, a large part of the problem is our nostalgic view of school libraries. Until administrators, principals and politicians grasp the new role of school librarians and school libraries, they will continue to be undervalued as antiques, precious like card catalogs.
Check out the entire hearing or fast-forward to around 3 hours 40 minutes to see me try to summarize four pages of testimony in 180 seconds.