Public Library vs. Classroom

A month or so ago, there was a bit of discussion on the PUBYAC listserv about storytime as curriculum and librarians as teachers which led to a lot of comments about how libraries are not schools and we do not follow a curriculum.  And then there were those who say that of course librarians are teachers.

I’ve been noticing this trend as Public Libraries continually need to validate themselves to continue to get funding or keep themselves from closing down.  The need to be more than a library.  The need to give more to the community then we already do.  This debate, and others like it, are also part of the library transforming itself from a warehouse of books to a community space.

I think the main difference between teachers and librarians is that while we both need to know a little bit about everything, teachers have a specialized skill set of explaining things.  One of the main reasons I decided not to go into teaching after years of wanting to be a teacher was that I have a hard time explaining things more than one way.  And for teachers who have classrooms full of children with different learning styles, this is a necessity.  Also, teachers have specific things that they need to teach.  Core curriculums and testing standards.

Librarians can do whatever they want.

I see librarianship as the wild cousin of teaching.  We share elements.  We want to make kids interested in learning and expanding their minds.  But librarians have few limitations (aside from budgets and things like that, some of the things libraries do like MiniGolf and Life-Size board games are pretty crazy) whereas teachers have many.  I liked the comparison that someone gave on PUBYAC that we are more like Piano Teachers and Karate Teachers.  We are helping to supplement the child’s education.  We can’t take the place of their regular, overworked, and underpaid teacher.  And this analogy holds true when we have computer classes and crafts and book clubs.  We are supplementing with stuff that isn’t quite as serious as history and math.

Personally, I think that teaching is the hardest job in the world.  I like to think that I could do it if I really put my mind to it, but if those 2 days in the pre-credential program were any indication, I couldn’t.  I love working with kids and doing storytime and putting the perfect book into small and not so small hands.  These are the priceless pieces of my job that Forbes has no way to measure financially and these are the pieces that keep me coming back and thankful that I had the foresight to shelve teaching.  Because teaching is a whole different level of commitment.

I think that it’s okay to not classify ourselves as teachers.  I saw this really awesome panel at ALA by Queens Library about their Science Discovery Center.  The stuff they do there is amazing.  But I was kind of bummed by the science worksheets that they pass out to make sure the kids learned something.  They looked exactly like the kind of thing I would have to fill out in Elementary School as homework.  It’s an easy way for libraries to measure outcomes, but do we have to measure outcomes by what was learned instead of by what was enjoyed?  Is every book or piece of media we give a kid supposed to teach them something?  Not really.  And that’s okay.  Because we give them enjoyable experiences and the tools to further pursue what interests them.  In many different formats.

What do you say?  Are Public Librarians and Teachers on the same plane?

Now, just to note:  School librarians and Academic Librarians are a different beast entirely.  I am strictly speaking about traditional Public Librarians in this post…


3 thoughts on “Public Library vs. Classroom

  1. what’s that initiative? STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)? I’ve noticed a huge trend, more so with East Coast public libraries, toward offering programs that meet the standards of curriculum for STEM, and it seems a little daunting that, as public children’s librarians, we feel that’s necessary. I went to a panel presentation @ PLA for a building robots program at the library. I wrongly assumed it would be kids putting together 5-10 pieces of robot, slapping in some batteries and letting them loose! Instead, it was a series of intense computer programming steps directing a more complicated robot (to which you could add or take away features) to follow very specific instructions. I found myself thinking – OH, suddenly I’m expected to be a science teacher!
    Being something of a perfectionist, and someone who likes kids to just figure things out for themselves as part of their learning process, it was difficult for me to see myself being knowledgeable enough to impart information on how to program robots, nor did I see it being simple enough for kids to just figure out on their own. It meant creating a classroom atmosphere. It meant me getting up in front of kids and being a teacher. It meant the possibility of kids getting glassy eyes and staring off in to space because they weren’t understanding a part of the process.
    On the other hand, I got excited about looking into a grant to do this. Why? Because it meant free money. Some of which might be designated to purchasing BOOKS on how to build robots. Or DVD’s on how to build them. Other means for kids to learn about robots besides me being a teacher. So it becomes a matter of do I suck it up and be the teacher for the greater good? Ultimately, the answer for me was no.

  2. I would say they have to measure outcomes to keep getting the grant they are getting for the Science Discovery Center. But who grades those worksheets?

  3. Melissa, I think in this instance, you may be right, since the grant came from the National Science Foundation. We probably missed that part of their talk at ALA.

    Like Lyda pointed out, though, this seems to be the prevalent direction libraries are heading with youth and teen services, particularly when the projects they want to do are related to grants. I saw a blog post on ALSC the other day that talked about Teens learning to paint. In the auditorium of the library, watching an instructional DVD. The room was set-up like a classroom, much like I’m sure it would have to be setup to do the robot project. So, does this mean, instead that to get grant money we need to become schools? Or is it that schools don’t have time to apply for the grant money so libraries are taking advantage?

    There are a lot of questions in this situation…

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