(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.
     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.


     I just read Will Manley's column, "Graphic Novels," in the 3/1/'13 issue of Booklist. Here: LOOK AT IT.
     It's not that long-- go back and read the WHOLE THING. I ask so little.
     Okay, FINE, I'll just include pertinent passages from it.
     Manley is off on a tangent based on the writings of Garret Keizer, an essayist and educator. Apparently this Keizer dude went back to teaching in the classroom after many years away from it. He was struck by the differences, and says of the library:

     The library looks like a NASA control center in which the controllers occasionally spend their break periods with a book.

     Manley uses Keizer's words to "connect the dots" thusly:

     Teens are addicted to texting, libraries are beginning to look like NASA control centers, and there is a sharp spike in the number of teens suffering from attention-deficit disorder. Is it any wonder that there is a growing aversion to reading among young people?
This kitty works at NASA. Does he have ADD?
(photo courtesy
     I was like, "Right on, you old coot!" I'm glad to see someone referring to the overly-digitized look of newer libraries in a critical way. Most people seem to think less books and more devices in the library automatically indicates cutting-edge progress. I HEARTILY agree that what it means is more distractions and a swifter decline in attention spans.
     A well-equipped computer lab is a great thing. But that's not what our LIBRARIES should be turning into. They are two different things, and should be kept separate, for EXACTLY the reasons Manley (via Keizer) points out.
     Manley continues his rant about the growing aversion to reading:

     It's a natural consequence of digitization. We live in a culture in which multitasking trumps unitasking. Reading requires unitasking. You can't text, check your e-mail and chat on the phone while reading a book.
Reading requires unitasking, but does unitasking require a unitard?
     Again, I practically cheered out loud when I read that. It's so simple and obvious, but I'd never seen it stated so clearly in just that way before. I feel like anyone who is involved in decision-making for ANY library should HAVE to read this article. The idea of technology actually INTERFERING with young people's ability to focus is particularly important when it comes to SCHOOL libraries.
     But then Manley goes on a rant about "new library media," such as comic books and video games (really? I don't see video games being treated as library media. Yet.) He disputes the theory that you can "hook" kids with stuff like that, get them into the library, and then get them reading actual books with literary merit. He says:

     Put a graphic novel into a kid's hands, and he'll want more graphic novels. He won't want LITTLE WOMEN or even LITTLE MEN.

     Well, duh. I wouldn't start with dusty old classics like that. I've had a great deal of success in my 18 years in the school library at transitioning kids from comics to novels. For example, if you have a student who keeps re-reading the Bone series by Jeff Smith, you might suggest s/he try something like Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series. If a kid is really into Naruto and other action-packed manga, put Jeff Stone's Five Ancestors series in their hands. And don't DISCOURAGE them from reading comics, just encourage them to read other things as well.
     The last couple paragraphs of Manley's article make him sound like a bitter old man waving his cane around and yelling at all the young'uns to get off his lawn and out of his library.
     He's very derisive of "younger youth librarians," who have, "not surprisingly, been trained online, who do not perceive any inherent value in serious reading. In fact, they believe that libraries should be value neutral and simply cater to the whims of pop culture and give kids what they want, not what they need."
     Despite the raving and cane-shaking, I did really respond to that last sentence, and the term "value neutral." That's scary, and it's something I try very hard to balance carefully in my library. I keep a constantly updated and extensive wishlist for the library on Amazon. Whenever a student asks for a book we don't have, I immediately add it (if appropriate) to the wishlist, with notations if it's for a specific assignment or whatever. But I ALSO regularly go through several professional library review journals, and add books to the wishlist that seem to have literary/educational value.
     We get almost no funding for books at all, so when I DO have a few measly scraps of cash to order books with, prioritizing and paring the order down is really tricky. I try NOT to be "value neutral," but still provide enough of the really popular stuff the kids are clamoring for, even when it seems really stupid to me, balanced by a few highly-reviewed nonfiction books and literary award-winners, and other books "of value" that I can recommend.
     It's hard to be conscientious and do all of that assessment and interacting with students when my school district has cut ALL of the site Librarians, and it's just us lil' ol' classified Library technicians now. I happen to be one of the few lucky ones who actually had some library experience coming into this job.
     But now I'M ranting.
     Anyway, Manley's article gave me a lot of food for thought.
     But I wish he hadn't ended the article by snidely insulting comic books and graphic novels with passages like this:

     ...let's admit that the term GRAPHIC NOVEL came into being as a clever euphemism for COMIC BOOK.

     Now, you listen here, Mr. Fancypants Booklist Columnist, sequential art is not something DIRTY which needs to be disguised in a euphemism. The term graphic novel is meant to indicate that it's a work of sequential art storytelling that has a connected story arc throughout and is bound like a book, not just stapled like single-issue comics.
     And I'm not just saying that because I happen to be a writer and illustrator of comics and graphic novels when I'm not working in the library. It has nothing to do with that.