Friday, March 11, 2016

Working after hours: School librarians and extended contracts

Sometimes I wish I had to clock and and clock out of my job, just so I could add up the hours I've dedicated to my school and library. Of course, I would also want to account for all the hours I spend working from my computer at home, plus all the hours I spend reading books and reviews in preparation for selection and purchasing.

Don't get me wrong--I love the work I do, and I spend extra time working because I am--as you all are--dedicated to providing my students with the best library and learning experiences I can. They are worth it, and it's rewarding to see the results in my students.

Librarian as sponge
But where does it end? As budgets are cut, all teachers are asked to do more with less. And often, librarians can be seen as a luxury rather than a necessity, which leads to more and more being piled onto our plates. When I sent out this survey, I heard stories from so many of you about how teacher librarians have been treated as sponges, asked to soak up extra teaching and administrated duties as districts make cuts in these difficult budget times.

The results of February's 1-question survey attest to that fact.  You can see the full results here (and you can play with filters!), and but let me point out a few highlights as well.

  • 55% of respondents have 0 extended contract days

  • nearly 60% of libraries are open until the last day or two of school
  • nearly 80% of respondents work over the summer

So our short survey confirms what we already know: teacher librarians work a lot. And often without pay.  And while we are dedicated to our students and our schools, we cannot be martyrs to the point of exhaustion or to the detriment to our families.

Strategizing and advocating together
Where do we turn? We can certainly turn to the Iowa State Education Association or our local affiliates when we believe there are contract violations or for help advocating with our districts for strong library programs.  Sometimes, district associations may be reluctant to advocate, but members should always remember that the ISEA welcomes all member inquiries, and it is not required that you seek support first from your local association.

And of course, we do have our professional peers, both in print and in our professional relationships. If you're looking for consolation and inspiration from our colleagues' writing, try "Tips for a Solo Librarian" by Sarah Engledow Brown or "Making Every Hour Count: Librarians and Time Management" by Jennifer A. Bartlett. In addition, chapters of How to Thrive as a Solo Librarian, edited by Carol Smallwood and Melissa J. Clapp are available on Google Books, including this chapter The Solo Librarian: Creating a Constellation of Community Support by Jess deCourcy Hinds.

I know, I know...when do we have time for professional reading? Well, hopefully, you already have the IASL conference on your calendar on April 3-4 (and there's still time to register!), and we plan to offer a afternoon session called "Reflect, Prioritize, and Collaborate: Your Time to Process the Conference." This will be an open hour for you to spend on your own or with colleagues strategizing, prioritizing, and collaborating on how you can make your job more manageable, amidst all the competing demands.

These offers of support may be only little consolation for Iowa's teacher librarians, but despite the challenges, I know that we will all continue to be steadfast in our committment to do the best with what we have. That's what Jem and Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird said "decent people" do, and I think we can aim for no higher praise than that.