Fighting Back Against the Crisis in School Libraries: An Interview with Hilda Weisburg

I had a chance to interview Hilda Weisburg, co-author of Being Indispensable: A School Librarian’s Guide to Becoming an Invaluable Leader.

J. Michael Jeffers: By some accounts, there is literally a crisis in school librarianship. What is happening and why?

Hilda Weisburg: Obviously the entire job market is hurting and has now heavily impacted school systems nationwide.  Faced with deep cuts in state support, districts must eliminate jobs.  The question is where.  Instead of eliminating teaching positions, which increases class size, school boards and superintendents are eliminating librarians, not realizing when they do so they jeopardize the whole library program.  For many reasons—good and bad—administrators, parents, and too often teachers think a library program at the elementary level is nothing more than reading stories and checking out books—and anyone can do that.  At middle and high school levels, they feel that the tech-savvy students can do all their necessary research on the Internet.  As a profession, we have failed over the years to demonstrate what we do in a way that others can perceive, appreciate, and value what a dynamic library program does provide.
JMJ: As authors, you have worked together on 13 books. Why is your latest, Being Indispensable: A School Librarian’s Guide to Becoming an Invaluable Leader, so important?

HW: In our earlier books we helped school librarians to be more effective in promoting student learning, whether it was through literature, puzzles, and games which help develop critical thinking, or tying instruction to core concepts that made it simpler for students to absorb.  What we came to appreciate was that no matter how well the school librarian did her job, it didn't matter unless others in the educational community knew what was happening and valued this work.  In our last book New on the Job: A School Library Media Specialist's Guide to Success we walked newbies (those on their first job or those who migrated to new schools and districts) through the relationship building that is intrinsic to achieving that recognition.  What we discussed in that book were the basics, but to survive and thrive in tough times when an even more focused course of action is required.  We consider Being Indispensable the "advanced course." 

JMJ: Your book is a call to leadership and advocacy for your library community. Why are these so important now?

HW: As noted earlier, times are tough. Too many school librarians are working so hard at their jobs, they feel they don't have time for advocacy or to be a leader in their building.  And the irony is that unless they take the time, unless they are leaders, they will be eliminated.  We draw on what the business world is doing—from tag lines and elevator speeches to having personal strategic plans as well as plans for your program—all the way through knowing how to enroll people in your vision and supporting other’s agendas so they want to support yours.

JMJ: What is the key to “managing up”—principals, superintendents, and school boards?

HW: Finding out what they value—what is important to them—and then showing how the library program can provide it. All of us need to realize that telling people what they need doesn't work.  Giving them what they want does—then you can add the rest.  We have been trying to tell the educational community for 50 years what it is that we do and why it is important.  Yet many librarians will complain that their administrators don't know what the library program is about.  If we keep repeating the same actions—the results will stay the same. We have to do it differently!