Saturday, April 7, 2012

Reading between the (budget) lines

A number of years ago, then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo conducted a press conference in the library where I have worked for the past 8 years. The topic was predatory lending to college students and the media was there with notepads and cameras. This may have been the first time I became aware of Cuomo's self proclaimed assertion that he was to be a voice for the students, their powerful ally in a world looking to take advantage of them. We spoke briefly. I earned his laughter when I responded to his question regarding why the librarian field was so dominated by women with a cheeky, "because the job requires a lot of multitasking," letting the reply lie there for the moment it took for him to get the joke. His aide said it was the best answer to a question he had received all day.

But maybe my answer was incomplete. Maybe it's time to consider some additional factors that might make the position more appealing to woman than to men. Because, while dividing my attention, sometimes in 200 ways when "my" library approaches capacity is something I do every single day, there are some other aspects of the role of school library media specialist to consider. And, no, they're not on the evaluation form Mr. Cuomo has strong armed districts around the state to adopt. I have a facility with more than 40,000 items - books, movies, audio books, electronic items such as databases and e-books, equipment, newspapers, 60 computers stations... There is a budget to be supervised and staff as well, but these items will prove to require less attention as money and staff are further eliminated each year, I suppose.

Another reason females may be more prevalent in the librarian field is the fact that women are typically more accustomed to being marginalized. Year after year librarians are made to justify their contributions to the academic success of students. Elementary librarians are continually being replaced by untrained clerks and parents because the state does not mandate trained professionals fill a position that is often perceived as one where reading and shelving books are the primary focus. And we all know anyone can do that.

My library is anticipating a reduction in our staff by nearly 50% for next year. People, just so you know, the fat is gone - we're cutting through muscle and bone at this point. I'm disturbed, dismayed and disappointed by the decisions which have been made regarding which positions to eliminate, but I can't be angry with my district. Not to the degree that people seem to be angry with teachers, that is. Can we clarify a couple of things here? Thanks, I've got a couple of points to make...

For the last three years my union has voluntarily given our salary increases back to the district to preserve programs. We were under no legal obligation to defer our raises, but it was the right thing to do in these economic times (for which we, as a profession, are completely devoid of responsibility) and it was done with very little grumbling. I haven't ever noticed a professional athlete returning their salary due to their having a less than stellar season, but teachers, who will never make in a lifetime what an exceptional baseball player makes in a single season, allowed their anticipated income to be redistributed for the benefit of the students. And I don't ever hear anyone complain about how few days a year a professional athlete works either.

The salary and benefits package a teacher earns are negotiated and agreed upon. For teachers to be vilified for coming to an agreement with the representatives the residents have freely elected, is unfair and small minded. Health insurance premiums continue to increase, yet, I don't recall demands for fiscal conservatism or retention of current rates, being made of these corporations. We all recognize that our economic situation as a nation has suffered in the last decade and future contracts will certainly reflect these conditions, but please, can we stop blaming teachers for the current fiscal state of affairs?

My district is moving ahead with an action to challenge the governor's 2% tax cap. I was proud of the leader of my district for taking this stand, yet found it more than a little bit ironic that the news conference to discuss this legal action was held, again, in my library. I couldn't help but consider why the library media center is perceived as such an ideal location for news conferences, yet is held in such low regard educationally. I have to wonder if future news conferences might be just as convincingly conducted with the backdrop of a magical green screen and an lcd projector. It seems that the library media center after all is merely the setting for a story which I'd rather not have to read.

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