Back to school. I never get tired of saying that even though I know not all teachers are excited. The lack of support from administrators and community members has been illuminated in these Covid years but, I know most of these teachers care so much about their students, that they’ll still manage to give their best. I hope school librarians have been able to work with administrators to tighten up collection development policies and that teachers have been able to work with administrations to develop plans and policies to incorporate literature into their classrooms; to develop lessons on freedom of speech, the importance of voting, and of civic engagement.
Back to school on a campus with declining enrollment has me wondering if young people are becoming more aware of the ways capitalism has filtered into higher education, creating colleges that are businesses rather than institutions of higher learning. They’re aware of the massive debt collected through student loans and how long it takes to pay off that debt. Why aren’t more high schools developing career worthy skills in the trades and in critical thinking that will prepare students for life-long success? When I was teaching high school, I was stunned to realize how many students were still dropping out of high school and how many were doing so because they felt a diploma did no more than prepare them for college and they had no plans to attend. With few skills other than being able to pass a standardized test or write a three paragraph essay, what would a diploma be good for? OK, it would look good on a job application, and it would develop skills like persistence, patience, endurance and commitment. A diploma should certify an ability to read, write, compute and think; that one is prepared to make positive contributions to society. But, what if these 12 years of school also included certifications in trade skills that didn’t require more education? What if we stopped giving loans (and debt) to anyone who has been convinced they should go to college? I’ve seen the amazing work self-taught young people are doing with AI design, Internet marketing and sales, coding, community land use, gaming, and there’s so much more out there I’ve not seen, can only imagine.
I think about higher education, and librarianship, and conversations about encouraging young Black people in particular to enter the field. I’ve questioned why we’d do this, considering the inability of the field to provide a real sense of agency to library workers. I think maybe the problem is with the options we provide to them. We have to be aware of the amount of education (master level degrees) and commitment (time and money) required for careers as librarian and the low level of pay, What options are there for librarians? Any chance of career growth? Libraries are service oriented and labor intensive places and we’re told that means low pay. Yes, for front line workers but, not for administrators. How about a redistribution of income to keep people in the profession? Growth can happen in the ways we introduce librarianship as a career option.
While most have seen public, school or academic librarians who help people locate, evaluate or access information (books), they’ve not seen librarians who engage with information as data management librarians; archivists; corporate librarians like the Rolls Royce librarian in Indianapolis or CNN librarians; knowledge managers; digital visualization librarians; data curators; information brokers; indexers; information architects; database administrators; learning experience design librarians; and catalogers just to name a few of the options available. I often tell young people about the wine librarians in Sonoma, CA and the golf librarian who catalog, and organize golf balls, clubs, bags, shoes, and other items. While these careers begin with master’s degrees in library information science, they don’t always end up in libraries.
Perhaps high schools, like library schools, need to make all students aware of pathways beyond the basics. In the professional setting, this can be done by networking with other librarians through professional organizations, particularly the ALA ethnic caucuses. In these spaces, we’re reminded of the significance of what we do and taught how to really master the art of information by developing real life ways to exchange resources with our colleagues. This includes presenting what we know in books, articles or talks. We can come to realize ways to employ our resources in or outside the library for the betterment of our communities. These options that provide a sense of accomplishment and can also supplement incomes, are also available to educators.
Young people deserve so much more. They deserve a rich diversity of books that challenges them intellectually and ethically and that requires them to question information put in front of them. Why not make them consider what kind of person they want to be?
They deserve 12 years of school that prepares them to do more than going into debt for a degree that may or may not prepare them for the workforce. They deserve to have an education that allows them to pursue their passions and interests whether that be farming, truck driving, accounting, neuroscience or librarianship.