I'd like to open by asking you what exactly you think would posses a person with a B.S. Ed. and who holds state certifications in Special Education and as a Library Assistant to put 80 miles a day on her car to earn $8.41/hr in order to provide book circulation to two urban elementary schools with a combined collection of 21,000 books and a combined population of roughly 1600 students and 75 teachers? Allow me to remind you this person performs the job alone. There is no M.L.S. credentialed librarian. The folks with advanced degrees were furloughed so those of us hired as "assistants" are doing this job alone....in two schools.
God knows I could find a Special Ed job tomorrow and be paid many times more than what I am currently paid so we can assume it's not the generous compensation for this job. The thing is, I burned out on the bureaucracy with that job. I love the kids who struggle for one reason or another. I love empowering them and helping them find ways to succeed. I just can't cope with the exhausting amount of legal documentation. It saps the energy that the kids need in order for me to be effective with them.
I am not enamored of long commutes and even less so since our family has had multiple major automotive issues in the last two months. I certainly don't enjoy filling my tank two or more times a week and honestly, my pay doesn't really help me do so. The travel route is congested with a great many aggressive drivers and several construction sites. Neither of those things help endear the drive to me.
At my two schools I lack basic necessities for my job such as an adult-sized desk and a chair with doesn't collapse under me every time I sit in it. I've become very adept at the art of the careful landing. I also sit in a moldy basement in one of the schools. Hey, who needs air-quality? What an unnecessary luxury. Oh right, the air is fine according to all reports (how many palms were greased for that and how many salaries could have been paid instead?) only it's not.
Of course, a case could be made for insanity being the motivation. These conditions are crazy-making. It also unnerves my husband on a daily basis that I drive as far as I do to park my car in less than safe neighborhoods to work for so little. My sanity certainly has been questioned long enough and in multiple contexts by many people so there may be sufficient evidence to convict on that charge.
I submit the main motivation is a soul-deep concern for vulnerable kids and for being involved in their educational process in a way which doesn't suck the life out of me, a desire to support a bone-weary faculty in their daily efforts, and an abiding love and appreciation for the power of books. There's also the satisfaction that comes from bringing order out of chaos, being able to provide efficient systems for accessing literature and information, and making both students and faculty aware of resources they never knew existed. Watching a child's eyes light up over something which engages his imagination or answers her questions gives me joy. Seeing a teacher breathe a sigh of relief over being saved a little time in searching for materials to use in augmenting a lesson gives me a little more energy to continue serving.
I don't see myself as a great savior but I do believe I provide an important service and provide it well. I believe the context in which I serve is critically important as I am serving students who begin life with too many strikes against them already. The students in my two schools are the poorest in the city. They come from homes full of violence, substance abuse, and transience. They come from homes with a lack of stability, food, and books. That's not to say every home represented is like this but certainly the demographics indicate there is a disproportionate degree of these attributes. There will never be a lack of people willing to work in comfortable suburban schools. It's important to attract capable, hard-working people to the worst situations though. I am capable and if showing up to do my job well in the midst of dealing with cancer doesn't demonstrate a work ethic, I don't know what does.
Our schools spend a great deal of time and money providing free meals, health clinics, food pantries, clothing closets, after school activities, and other services. These are important and can make a big difference. I am in no way suggesting these services cease. I will say we must not forget our primary job is to EDUCATE children. I am deeply concerned that the lack of value placed on our libraries indicates we have forgotten that responsibility.
We have already furloughed the librarians so our students are not receiving instruction as to how to properly use a library and access its treasures or literature and information, nor how to conduct effective online searches for digital information. We have completely failed them in providing the tools needed for them to engage in self-directed learning in the most expansive resource, the library. Ray Bradbury said he could not afford to go to college so he went to the library and "graduated" at age 27 after he had read countless volumes. Our students, who may never be able to dream of affording higher education, will not have a concept that they have the power to educate themselves. Hell, they probably won't even find out who Ray Bradbury is or have the chance to consider his works for that matter.
Still, I strive because it matters deeply for our students. When I interviewed for this job I said aside from providing excellent service I wanted to cultivate the library as a safe place. I am given 20 minutes every other week per class (which is pathetic to begin with) to allow them a sense of this haven, this sacred space for knowledge and imagination. It's a challenge but one I believe I have risen to. I cannot contractually provide formal instruction but I can take 20 minutes and do everything in my power to convey that this is a place for hope of finding solace or building a better future....until you evict the students and me from this place.
I am told I am now to "do library on a cart." I am to distill a 10,000 volume library to a cart which holds fewer books than the average teacher's classroom library, push it from room to room, and call it library service for 900 students and 30-40 faculty. We've already abandoned library instruction. If you want me to abandon proper circulation service then you are more insane than I am. This is a horrendous failure of educational leadership. If you want library on a cart stop pretending it matters at all. Delete the entire collection from the catalog, distribute the books to the students and teachers, and take the shelves apart. I have no interest in perpetrating the fraud of saying library services are provided to our neediest children under such conditions.