SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF A PUBLIC SCHOOL LIBRARY PARAPROFESSIONAL

This was not really a “fun” comic to do, because it was done in anger and frustration in response to this year at work being just all-around shitty. The district is dicking us library technicians around like crazy, our own UNION is dicking us around like crazy, and my principal has started making it his goal to make my job as difficult and unpleasant as possible.

This comic is a broad simplification of issues that have been going on for many years, at all three schools I’ve worked at in this district. The “boss” represents several different people, and an unfortunate but prevailing attitude toward classified library staff.

Anyway…


CSLA LOGO

     My friend Heather Gruenthal is the president of CSLA (California School Library Association) for this year, and she asked me to do the logo for the conference. It was her idea to have it be an homage to Hamilton, which I think is very clever.

     I did isolated versions of the male and female silhouettes, to make it easier to use them as incidental images here and there and everywhere. I'll probably use them in my high school library somehow. 

I DON'T LIKE THE DRUGS BUT THE DRUGS LIKE ME

     I wish there was more than just one of me here in the library. This is a busy high school, with over 3,000 students, and this library is often full of kids using computers, printing, looking for books, and searching for various other kinds of support and/or guidance.

     Take this morning, for example. Before first period started, I was busy at the circ desk checking books out, renewing books, taking cash and making change for printing. Everybody’s in a hurry during this rush period, trying to get what they need before class starts.

     One of the library regulars, a girl we’ll call Jocelyn, appeared by my side at the end of the counter, wanting to chat with me while I multitasked. Jocelyn is one of those kids who struggles in school, and needs extra help. Her thoughts seem jumbled a lot of the time, and she has a hard time expressing in words what’s going on in her head. She’s very sweet, and certainly not stupid. But it’s like some God of Mischief stuck a finger in her head and just swirled it around a bit, scrambling her brain and making it a constant challenge for her to form coherent thoughts and words.

     Fuck you, Loki, or Whomever.

     So this morning, while I’m taking cash and doling out change, grabbing printed sheets from the printer on the circ desk, running to the back room to grab color print jobs, helping kids find books, checking books in, checking books out, and renewing… Jocelyn says, “My parents made me take this medicine, but the medicine makes me feel weird and sleepy…”

     I made a sympathetic sound, but my attention was on the line of kids at the counter. Fahrenheit 451? Yes, we have that! Right over here.

     Jocelyn quietly but insistently continued, “I can hardly stay awake and my stomach hurts. But it’s because I had a psychiatrist appointment, and I kept crying and crying…”

     Meanwhile, one of Jocelyn’s classmates, also from the class of kids who need extra help, had come up beside Jocelyn, so that both of them were sort of crowding my left side, while I dealt with the line of kids on my right. We’ll call this classmate Jacob. Jacob put his big disheveled 3-ring binder on the counter near my left elbow, and proceeded to pull sheets out of it, trying to show me his current writing project.

     “Mr. Kovac, I need your help writing paragraph three of chapter two. Cuz I can think of everything, but I can’t think of it, and I’m already done with it but it needs to be, like, scrapped and started all over again. Mr. Kovac?”

     The phone at my desk began trilling. I aimed a very patient, “Hang on just a minute, guys,” toward Jocelyn and Jacob both, and dashed around them and over to my desk to just barely nab the phone in time. It was the attendance clerk, looking for a bunch of kids from Mr. Rumbolt’s “zero period class,” because Rumbolt was out sick and the sub hadn’t shown up yet, and the attendance clerk had told all the kids to go to the library.

     I put my hand over the phone’s mouthpiece and yelled, “Is there anyone in the library right now from Mr. Rumbolt’s zero period class?”

     The answer was no, which I relayed to the attendance clerk. And no, I had no idea where they might be.

     By the time I put the phone down, there were more kids waiting at the circ desk. I renewed a copy of Stephen King’s It, took payment for a late fine, and added paper to the empty tray in the black & white printer.

     Behind my back and to the side, I could hear Jocelyn continuing, “--and it’s not like me to just cry and cry like that, but I’m just so sad lately, and then my parents and my psychiatrist give me this medication that--”

     I turned quickly to Jocelyn, realizing that somebody needed to acknowledge her pain. But the line at the circ desk was growing again, and I needed to go grab some printouts from the color printer in the back room. I made a sympathetic boo-boo face and clucked, “Oh, no, that’s terrible!” and dashed into the back room, leaving Jocelyn standing there at the side of the circ desk, still chattering about how she can’t stop crying and she’s so groggy from the medication.

     Did I just give that poor kid an insincere boo-boo face and walk away from her? I asked myself, horrified. When I dashed back out to the circ desk, I handed the color prints to the kid who needed them, and while I was taking that kid’s dollar and making change, asked Jocelyn, “So… your parents made you take some medication that makes you sleepy? Do you think you’ll be able to--”

     “Mr. Kovac, I need to check out this book!” Jacob interrupted, having grabbed an audiobook in its case from a nearby shelf. “But why is it in a box?”

     “I cry all the time, but--” Jocelyn said, talking quietly as the first bell blatted.

     “It’s an audiobook,” I explained to Jacob, popping open the case and showing him the little palm-sized audio player, how to turn it on, where to plug in the earbuds. “You wanna check it out?”

     On my left side, Jacob and Jocelyn proceeded to talk over each other in relentless monotones, as I checked out and renewed more books to kids on my right side at the circ desk.

JOCELYN: ...so sad all the time and I don’t even know why…

JACOB: ...I definitely want to check out that audiobook cuz I need it…

JOCELYN: ...parents don’t know if they can afford to keep paying for my therapy, and…

JACOB: ...definitely can’t trust myself cuz I might lose it…

JOCELYN: ...just feel like crying…

JACOB: ...some Halloween candy…

JOCELYN: ...watching this anime about a kid who murders her parents…

     “The bell rang!” I announced in my big authority voice. “Everybody needs to get to class!”

     As the room quickly emptied, I watched Jocelyn melt into the crowd.

     Sorry about your existential crisis, don't murder your parents, okay bye!

BERTINA, THE BITTER LIBRARY WORKER

     Look, it's Bertina! your favorite library demon from SMELLS LIKE LIBRARY (the comic)!

You can get this delightful image on a coffee mug HERE,

-or as a quality art print HERE!

     This is one of Bertina's darker moods. She actually loves her job, and feels passionate about books and reading. But she's also an overachiever, and sometimes that can wear you down, especially at a time when libraries are under-funded and under-appreciated.

     Other products available in my Society6 store HERE.

CASUAL LUNCH

     So, we have a district meeting today for all library staff. There are about 18 of us, 19 counting the District Librarian. We try to get together for lunch before our afternoon meetings, because that’s nice, or whatever. Last time it was Ruby’s, and everyone was fine with that.
     This time, however, things are not so simple. Oh, no, my friend.
     I will convey the gist of things below. And believe it or not, this is almost verbatim.

LIBRARY TECH 1 (via email to group): Hey, are we doing lunch together before the meeting?

LIBRARY TECH 2: Sure! Where should we meet?

LIBRARY TECH 1: I don’t know that area very well. Suggestions?

LIBRARY TECH 3: Tommy, how about that Mexican place you usually go to? Or how about this Country Café Place? (includes link)

LIBRARY TECH 4: I don’t like that place, it’s not very good.

LIBRARY TECH 3: I think there’s a Spires nearby…

TOMMY: Yes, there is a Spires right across from where our meeting is being held. I vote Spires.

LIBRARY TECH 4: Yes, but there’s also a Chipotle, and plenty of other eateries in that same area.

LIBRARY TECH 5 (privately to just Tommy): That’s where Library Tech 6 and I usually go before meetings! (Presumably referring to Spires)

TOMMY (privately to Library Tech 5): Great! Let’s go there, then. Should we make reservations?

LIBRARY TECH 5: Well, let’s find out where everyone else is going, first. Library Tech 6 and I haven’t figured out where we’re going, yet.

LIBRARY TECH 1 (to entire group): I’m totally down for Spires!

TOMMY (to group): Okay, how many of you are good with Spires, other than me and Library Tech 1?

LIBRARY TECH 7: I have errands to run first, but I’ll be there.

LIBRARY TECH 4: I’ll be there.

LIBRARY TECH 8: Have you eaten at the Sandwich Place across the street from Spires? It’s really good! We might want to try that.

LIBRARY TECH 9: I vote for Chipotle, because it’s better and healthier. Library Tech 4 is going there, too.

LIBRARY TECH 4: Well, actually it doesn’t matter to me! Either place is fine.

ANONYMOUS (sent via private text to Tommy): Library Tech 9 wants me to go to Chipotle with her. I know you committed to Spires, but I vote you come to Chipotle with us!

TOMMY (after discovering no cell coverage anywhere in library, and wandering out to quad in the sun, holding phone at various angles and directions until weak signal finally appears): Who is this?

LIBRARY TECH 3: It’s Library Tech 3.

TOMMY (hot, frustrated, getting crabby): Oh! My cell is fucked up, not showing me who’s texting. Already told Library Tech 1 and Library Tech 7 I’d go to Spires with them. ALL THESE BITCHES NEED TO MAKE UP THEIR DAMN MINDS!

-Tommy has to get some work done, and goes to counseling office to scan some documents. While there in the copy room, he mentions the frustration of the library techs not being able to figure out where to meet for lunch.

OFFICE ASSISTANT: Oh! You should go to this really great place on Euclid—

TOMMY: No way, I don’t even want to CONSIDER adding another option at this point! That’s the last thing we need!

OFFICE ASSISTANT 1: --and Broadway, it’s a gourmet hamburger place, the chef is amazing, and—

TOMMY: Thanks, but no.

OFFICE ASSISTANT: --it’s cheaper than that other place we went last time, remember, Office Assistant 2?

OFFICE ASSISTANT 2: Oh, yeah, Fancy Burger! It was good, but they were, like, $15 burgers!

TOMMY: Hm. I HAVE been wanting to try that Fancy Burger place! No, wait! That’s not helping! I’m not suggesting another place!

-Tommy runs back to his office.

TOMMY (via email to Library Tech 1, Library Tech 4, and Library Tech 7): So, apparently lunch is a big issue and requires much heated debate. Are you guys switching to Camp Chipotle, or staying with Camp Spires?

LIBRARY TECH 1: Well, I’m not really in the mood for disease with my rice and beans. Remember that contamination issue with Chipotle? But this is a community thing, so I don’t know. Where are you going?

TOMMY: I don’t know. My brain is dead and I am now incapable of making a decision. I say we let Library Tech 4 or Library Tech 7 decide.

LIBRARY TECH 4: Who knew lunch would divide us? I’ll go to Chipotle. But there is a Northgate Market there, too, and they have a HUGE food court!


THE END???

THEY FINALLY BROKE ME (almost)

(NOTE: I originally wrote this about a month ago, and there's a happier, less bitter update at the end of this.)

     My favorite show on TV is It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. One of my favorite episodes is "The Gang Broke Dee," in which, after years of constant put-downs and denigration, Dee finally just gives up and sinks into despair. The episode begins with a black screen, and the sound of Dee sort of moaning and chewing. Then we see her shoveling "trash cake" into her mouth, her hair dirty and messed up, food all over her face. She just doesn't give a shit anymore. Doesn't have the energy to defend herself. The rest of the gang is staring at her in perplexity and disgust, even though THEY are responsible for her sorry state.
     Well, that's how I feel about my job as a library tech right now.
     When I first interviewed for my current position, the Principal at the time specifically wanted someone to come in and revamp and revitalize their sorry little library. It was the smallest in the entire school district. It was originally a shop room they stuck some low shelves in. She wanted a dynamo to bring it alive and make the students want to use it. I worked my ASS off for 8 years doing exactly that, and I feel like I have done a really good job.
     One of my first challenges here was getting the English department's old textbooks and English novels OUT of the library's storage room, so we'd have room for actual LIBRARY STUFF here in these cramped quarters. There was no real work-space, so I re-configured things, even made trips to other schools who were surplusing furniture, and picked up a large work desk, and some other pieces to give the library what it needed as far as workable space and storage. And the Principal at the time was very supportive, and appreciative of my efforts.
     When I started here there were about 5,000 books in the library, which is WAAAY below the district average. 
To put some perspective on it, the recommended state standards are 20-25 books per student, and we only had 4 books per student.
     Now there are over 10,000 books in the collection, which means I have helped to DOUBLE this library's collection of books. Almost all of that has been done through labor-intensive donation drives, fund-raisers, and writing funding requests to parent organizations. We are still far below the state recommendations, but we were moving in the right direction.
     And students really use this little library! When I started there were about 8 "regulars," and aside from that it was a ghost town.
     Now it is routinely PACKED with students, especially in the mornings when over 80 students are crowded into this small facility that only has seating for 44. Circulation has more than tripled.
     But over the last few years I've been getting less and less support for the library's needs. The district eliminated all but ONE of our credentialed Librarians, which puts a lot more pressure and responsibility on the library techs, like me. But I've worked hard to convince my fellow techs that we need to step up our game and be willing to take on extra tasks, and do some of the "credentialed Librarian" duties, for the sake of the students. Because if we DON'T get proactive, the district might eliminate US, too. A lot of ignorant people seem to think anybody can run a library, that it's just checking books out and sticking books back on shelves.
     In the vacuum left by the eliminated Librarians, some of the library techs (especially the newer ones) were really struggling, 
so I've been working with another experienced (and awesome) library tech to create a new "professional development community" for library technicians. The two of us are coaches for this program, and we've organized two very successful professional development days for our fellow techs so far. We're all working hard as a group to learn more and share ideas, and make our libraries dynamic and exciting and user-friendly for the students.
     I just want us all to band together and make everyone else in the school district aware of what an important and enriching resource the school library can be.
     But like I said, the past few years have been rough. The library gets forgotten a lot, and given a patronizing pat on the head and a distracted, "That's nice, dear."
     I've been lobbying for more space, and a better facility for years. Recently, they said they were going to have a bunch of new shelving built in the library's storage room, and the library work room. I was a little confused at first, telling them that we don't need extra shelving in those back rooms, the set-up back there right now is good for library storage and library work space. I said I was concerned that adding extra shelving back there would actually decrease my already small amount of work space. The Principal (new one, not the same one who hired me to revamp and revitalize the library) kept saying, "Trust me, you'll love it! It'll be great! We're gonna get you all set up."
     At one point I said,
  "Hey, you're not gonna take that space away from ME, and give it to somebody ELSE, are you? Because the library is short enough on room as it is!"
     "What?! Huh? Not that I know of!"
     And being naturally trusting and STUPID, I believed him. And I was given one day to "temporarily" move all of my library stuff out of the areas they were putting the new shelving in. But they kept assuring me the new shelving would be GREAT.
     So I currently have extra carts, boxes, and stacks of stuff all around the circ desk, and even blocking a door and a walkway. "Temporarily." Except today I overheard the guy in charge of the shelving construction say something that indicated it was for TEXTBOOK storage, and that this had been the plan all along.
     I confronted the Principal again, and he stammered a little, but finally admitted that yes, they "may" have to use all that new shelving for textbook storage for other departments.
     Now I realize how stupid I was, that it was ALWAYS the plan to dump a bunch of textbooks back in here. In the little bit of space I had for library storage and library work space. They just didn't want to have to tell me, because they knew I would not be happy about it. I just wish they'd been honest about it from the beginning.
     So... now I don't know what to do with all this stuff I suddenly have no space for. My bulletin board and display supplies, my book processing materials and equipment. I literally have no idea what to do with all of it. Dump it in the trash?
     To add insult to injury, they are also considering giving my office to a "Community Liaison" or the "RTI Specialist." But when they first brought that up, they were referring to it as, "That room." I was like, "Um... 'that ROOM' is MY OFFICE."
     Our current Principal is someone I get along with personally, but unfortunately he is not a reader, not a book guy, does not see the importance of a library.
"Everything's online now, the newest technologically advanced schools don't even HAVE libraries," 
is something he is rumored to have said to several people. I don't find it hard to believe, because I've heard him say things like this in the past, and I think we've all known people like this.
     In my experience, it seems like there is a lot of weird & short-sighted ignorance in the generation somewhere between mine and my parents'. People who are so gobsmacked by technology that they think any new digital format will REPLACE standard time-proven formats, rather than exist happily alongside it. 
The kids and teens I work with definitely want access to both print AND digital format books. And when I ask them, their preference is always overwhelmingly for the actual printed page. 
The library of the future will still look like a library, it will just have extra tech included in it. And human beings will always need and want the physical communal space in a library (public and school) to explore ideas, work together, escape the world, concentrate, etc.
     I work with teenagers every day, and they're just as likely to play old-fashioned card games with a real deck of cards as they are to playing games with their digital devices. They shift effortlessly between the ancient and the cutting edge. It's no big deal to them.
     I can see that the Principal feels a little bad about pushing the library into an ever smaller and smaller corner, but that doesn't make it any better. He does not deny it when I suggest that he may ultimately be trying to eliminate the library altogether. It is nowhere on his list of priorities. Library services are taking a giant step backward here. After everything I worked so hard on for the past 8 years.
     So...
     I give up. Tired of all the advocating, preaching, educating, and overachieving.
     I get it. Libraries are boring and dumb. People who work in libraries just sit around reading magazines all day, and anybody, even a volunteer or student or nimble monkey can check books out.
     Besides, everything is online now.
Books are dead. Libraries are a thing of the past.
(I must just be imagining all the kids that swarm in here every day, using every inch of this facility for a million different things, asking for reading suggestions, printing homework, doing research, learning, etc.)

     I'm just gonna go bury my face in a delicious box of trash cake and moan for a while.


UPDATE: It's a week later than when I first started this post, and I have since accepted a lateral move to a high school that is three times the size of this school, and has a giant old library with really neat 1930s art deco styling. I hope whoever follows me here in this tiny little make-shift library brings a love of reading and literary culture and a lot of energy to fight the good fight. These kids deserve so much more. Now that I'm further away from it, I don't take it personally, and I know everybody has different priorities and different focus, but it is a real shame.

LIBRARY SLOGAN ART FOR BUTTONS, PINS, BADGES (whatever you like to call them)

ASK ME WHAT TO READ.
Go ahead. I dare you.
LIBRARY TECHS RULE!
Because we do.
LIBRARY GUIDE : HOW MAY I HELP?
For volunteers, or student helpers, or whoever. I think "Guide" is a nice general term, right?
     I want to make some pin-back button badge thingies, some for my fellow library technicians, and also for anyone who might be working in the library such as volunteers.
     In the school district I work in, they got rid of all the credentialed site Librarians, so we Library Technicians are running the show 100% of the time. And I feel like we work hard and know what we're doing, so bitches better RESPECT.
     Also, because of the lack of staffing, my trusty library volunteers (secret identities: my mom & my aunt!) have really stepped up and worked hard to keep various services and programs running for the sake of the kids.
     Just sayin'.

BULLETIN BOARDS & DISPLAY : Banned Books Week 2013!

     This post is quite tardy. The library has been very busy. But better late than never, right? Banned Books Week 2013 was September 22-28. I had the library all decorated to support intellectual freedom, and I did presentations about censorship and intellectual freedom for 6 eighth grade English classes. They were all very attentive and polite, and had great questions and participation. Their teacher had them all check out books that had been either banned or challenged, which made for some interesting research coming up with about 200 titles that fit the bill and were currently available in our library.
     She gave them an assignment to read their challenged/banned book and take a stance on whether they agreed or not with the book being challenged or banned, and why. Of course she leaned heavily toward influencing them on the side of intellectual freedom.
     I really liked how the teacher made it very clear in her paperwork for the students that banning a book means removing it from an entire community so that NO ONE has access to it.
     I felt it was totally worth the effort on her part and my part. I loved that the teacher wanted to do such a thorough exploration of a subject that's near and dear to my heart. It gave me the opportunity to talk about my own personal experience with censorship. It's great to see teachers who recognize how important it is to teach kids about the issue, and make sure they understand all the complexities of it. It's not simple or easy.
     I ended up having some great conversations with students regarding the reasons (so-called and real) why some people try to ban certain books. Sometimes it was difficult to find the info, which was also a nice research challenge. ;)
     Here are some pics of what I put up in the library for Banned Books Week, 2013.
   

There's that comic I drew a billion years ago when I worked in the junior high library...


Detail of the "Library Key"



I like this poster.


I like this poster, too. Those robots are cute AND open-minded.
     "Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same" poster available from ALA HERE.

REDUCTION IN HOURS : yet more cuts to the Library

          I assumed the budget cuts to the Library would stop at the Teacher Librarians being wiped out (High School District Fires All Librarians), but then all the Library Technicians got letters from the district saying our jobs "might" be affected.  Next thing you know, we all received yet ANOTHER letter giving us official notice that we're all being cut to 10 months.  I am currently an 11-month employee, so I will be losing an ENTIRE MONTH of pay.  Obviously this sucks Melvil Dewey's rotting balls.
          The letter itself is insulting because of wording like this:

"Because of budgetary restraints and workload changes..."
         
          -I have noticed no workload changes, at least not a DECREASE in work load.  I still have a lot of stuff to do all the time, and the library gets used more than ever.  Since I've been working in that library, we have INCREASED our circulation to about TEN TIMES what it was before.  I'm not exaggerating.

"...classified employees subject to layoff for lack of funds or lack of work..."

          -Lack of funds OR lack of work?!  They couldn't say it's DEFINITELY because of lack of funds, they had to leave it open-ended so it sounds like maybe we were just sitting around with our thumbs up our butts, with nothin' to do?

"Education Code... allows an employee to take a voluntary reduction in lieu of a layoff. You may elect to accept employment with a decrease in months..."

          -I love this.  It's so KIND of them to ALLOW me to take a "voluntary" reduction.  Apparently they aren't allowed to change your work hours without your consent, you have to be presented with an option.  So our option is either accept the reduction in hours, or be laid off.  The situation sucks all the way around, like a poop cake frosted with barf.  (Sorry.)
          Of course we're all checking the box that says we accept the reduction, and signing it, because what else are we gonna do?  I understand that cuts have to be made because things are financially grim, but they're already planning to re-instate some of the after-school sports programs they were pretending to cut, and I'm sure there are other areas that could be trimmed-- areas less vital to education than a fully-functioning school library.

HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT FIRES ALL LIBRARIANS: Libraries get totally RIF'd

          "RIF" stands for "Reduction In Force."  If you get "RIF'd" it means your school principal hands you a letter from the district saying that your position is likely to be cut the following school year.  There are plenty of times when RIF'd employees end up keeping their jobs because of improvements in a district's budget, but it's a serious warning.  The worse the economic situation is, the more likely it is that you really will be laid off.
          Today ALL 8 credentialed Librarians in our school district got RIF letters.  Our principal told the Librarian that if a certain tax initiative passes in June, then nobody gets laid off and it's back to status quo.  But if the initiative does NOT pass, then our district will ditch every single credentialed Librarian, leaving us Library technicians to run the libraries on our own.  Which will mean cutting a lot of the programs we do through the library because we just won't have the staffing for it.  No more book fairs, no more book clubs, no more library orientations, and less open hours overall.
          The Librarians get paid a lot (a LOT) more than Library techs, so why should I suddenly bust my ass even more than I already do for the same clerical pay, trying to do the work of two people?  If this cut really does come to pass, the district needs to feel the hurt of undervaluing its library staff.  If we Library techs are left without any support, why should we try to make it a seamless and painless transition?  If we do that, then the next thing you know they'll be cutting OUR hours, maybe cutting Library tech positions and making each remaining tech travel between multiple schools.
          I do not find it flattering when coworkers assure me that I'm capable of doing anything the Librarian is.  They say that because they WANT something from me.  If I'm that capable and appreciated, then whenever I do the job of the Librarian, I ought to get PAID the same as the Librarian.  But we're all (Librarians and Library techs) so busy desperately trying to prove our worth and justify our positions that we keep bending over backwards to show how awesome we are and how much we can do for everyone.  At some point our backs are going to break, man.  And nobody's going to thank us.  They're just going to be pissed off when they can't send their kids to the library.
          I think instead of waiting and hoping that tax initiative passes, we need to spread the word in our district that if they cut all our Librarians it will mean a very noticeable reduction in library services.  They cannot expect the CLERICAL library staff to continue doing our jobs AND pick up the slack of the credentialed Librarians for FREE.