Saturday, December 22, 2007

On obstacles, cultural and otherwise...

Another video that spiraled round the web (and got so much media attention that the guy has been offered a book contract - to write in these last months before he dies of cancer) is Prof. Randy Pausch's Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, given at Carnegie Mellon back in September. Well worth it. (The Wikipedia page on Randy has links to everything -- e.g., listen/read his lecture on Time Management -- sure to make you feel like a sluggard...)

Randy reminds us what the brick walls of life are there for.
The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They're there to stop other people.
On the last day of school I hit a brick wall of sorts -- and what do librarians do when they're feeling low? They go to a library. Nothing like a new book, a new outlook, to perk you up. There I picked up two books, in that serendipitous way, which were particularly apt.

One was The Dip: a little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick) (2007) by Seth Godin, marketing guru, author and blogger (see/hear also his recent TED talk).

Godin goes on about why it's best to be number one in whatever niche you find yourself, in this world of a million micromarkets -- to focus on the "short head" rather than the "long tail". That's it's not good enough any more to be well rounded -- you need to persevere and get beyond the Dip, the slump between starting and mastery, between "the artificial screens set up to keep people like you out" [Randy's brick wall] -- because the Dip creates scarcity which creates value. Beat Mediocrity! is his mantra.

The other book -- Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science (2007) -- by James Watson, of DNA "double helix" fame -- also talks, in the context of academic politics, about the need to be the best. He laments how for years Harvard, where he was teaching, refused to hire other biologists working at the cutting edge, leaving rival institutions like MIT to scoop up the best geneticists. The reason? Harvard was complacent about already being the best. "Academic institutions do not easily change themselves" is one (not very surprising) lesson he shares.

Back to my world now.... How can we claim to be offering a world-class education if we don't have world-class libraries and information literacy programs? They think our test results are doing just fine, that such things are luxuries. As if results are the only yardstick...

Our stats certainly don't measure up to a top school -- judging by the recently published School Libraries Count! A National Survey of School Library Media Programs 2007 (American Library Association), e.g., in terms of number of qualified teacher-librarians per student, size of the collection per student, spending per student, etc. (The Australian school/library associations are in the process of doing their own survey -- and I look forward to seeing their numbers.)

But, then, I must remember "culture codes" (again, see The Culture Code (2006) by Clotaire Rapaille) come into play. What is the code for "school library" in different cultures? and how does that affect the position of libraries in international schools?

We are a British heritage school and the UK simply does not have a strong tradition of school librarianship. According to a CILIP survey, less than 30% of secondary schools in England are run by qualified librarians, either full or part-time. How many of those qualified librarians are also qualified teachers isn't mentioned (very few, I suspect) -- as school librarians are not expected to be teachers in the UK -- unlike in the US, Australia, NZ, and Canada.

So there is only a limited code for "school librarian" in the UK and no cultural code for "teacher-librarian" (or "school library media specialist", as they're called in the US). It reminds me of Clotaire Rapaille's story of how Nestle came to him for advice when they were having trouble selling instant coffee in Japan -- and he told them there was no cultural code for coffee there, then recommended they establish one by marketing coffee-flavored desserts to children and wait for the kids to grow up.

I need to find a way for my administrators to experience the value added by a secondary school teacher-librarian and a dynamic secondary school library program... to establish a code...

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