Safe Places & What Is Yet To Come

I had the opportunity earlier this week to sit in on a conversation with teacher librarians and other media staff during a kickoff event to start the school year. We were sharing some lunch and talking about our hopes for the year – specifically, we were discussing how we will be working to build libraries that are places of community.

That’s a fine thing to be discussing.

One media staffer said that it was important to her that her library be a safe place, a place where students could expect to be sheltered from, well, the stuff that can be unsafe about a school.

And that was a good hope. Lots of head nodding. Lots of talk of sitting in circles and making things and libraries as spaces where crafts were made, and stories were read and books were explored and questions were asked. And often answered.

And I thought that was good. They spoke of love without using the word. What could be wrong with that?

And, at the same time, I started to get angry.

See, many of these library folk that I visited with the other day were facing new challenges as library folk. Some were in the library alone, whereas before they were a part of a team. Others were entering into roles as clerks in the absence of a full teacher librarian1. As we seek ways to save money in our school district, we have had to make hard choices about whether to staff classrooms or libraries. These are not easy choices.

But when such kind and thoughtful people advocate for such important spaces as school libraries, well, I feel like maybe they shouldn’t have to fight so hard.

A project I’ve been loosely following is asking folks right now to think of libraries as enchanted spaces, and of libraries as verbs. And I will think this year of this round table of library folk, dreaming of spaces where children find love and security and story and words and literacy. Spaces and places where the skeletons of dreams receive flesh and animation from books and pictures and websites and exploring and wondering and discovery. And I am enchanted.

And I am enraged.

This week, our state courts are hearing the case of a large coalition of school districts arguing that the state of Colorado is not meeting its constitutional mandate to provide a proper education for the children of the state. And our Governor, while supportive of the intent of the lawsuit, is concerned that it might succeed, because of what that might do to the state budget.

What might not investing in enchanting spaces and people do to the state? That we have to have this argument in court suggests we’ve all lost.

On the same day that I got to have lunch with our library types, our school board president addressed the library group and talked about some of the research that he conducts in his day job. He studies institutions and public policy and, well, people. It’s fascinating work.

He mentioned during his talk that while it makes sense to consider the points and arguments that would lead to rational loyalty towards institutions one would value, folks don’t fight for rational loyalty. They fight for, and will work to save, protect and defend, the places and institutions with which they have emotional attachments. And I want our schools to be places of emotional attachment in the best possible way. Places of pride and hope and joy and love and respect and kindness and the best of what we might could be.

We are, after all, beings of emotion and then ration, rather than the other way ’round. No matter how hard we might wish otherwise.2

And I wonder how to go after the emotional jugulars rather than the heels of rationality. As one who pretends rationality, I wonder about the best way to do this. And I remember the teacher who called across the parking lot to me the other day to tell me that she might have lost her way, that she might not know what’s worth talking about or spending time on lately.

And I know what she means sometimes.

And I write tonight because I don’t know if I’ve lost my way or not, either. But I seek enchantment. And safety. And hope. And think they’re within reach.

And I remember a kid with glasses too big on a face too small in pants too tight with friends too far between who needed a quiet place to read where no names were called and the books and the stories could keep coming. And I remember the library folk who made sure that I could focus on the dreams in the books rather than the whispered pokes from the jerks.

And I am enchanted anew.

And so I’ll keep reaching, and seeking. And I am eager to begin a new school year, to reach again with smart folks to try to be the best that we can be.

You come, too.

  1. It’s cheaper, you know, to staff a library with a clerk rather than a licensed teacher. But what, I wonder, does that savings really cost? []
  2. It’s true. Rationalize your love for the child that left a soggy mess in one of your shoes the other morning. The little girl who made you dance on the sidewalk with her. In front of all the neighbors. Simply because she could. You can’t rationalize that. You love her anyway. []

31 thoughts on “Safe Places & What Is Yet To Come

  1. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I, too, was the odd kid who escaped the world in the books in the library. There were a lot of us out there, there still are.

    Libraries are the place where kids might fall back in love with reading after the mandated reading of the classrooms beats it out of them.

    Libraries are the spaces where teachers from different subjects or grades can go to collaborate because librarians are the ones who know all the curriculums and can see where they connect and overlap.

    Libraries are the place where students can go to research and follow their passions in addition to their lessons.

    Libraries and librarians are not expendable “extras,” they are an essential investment with a huge payoff.

  2. Wow Bud! I am honored that you chose to blog about my all day event for the library staff of SVVSD. Thank you again for your participation and support. It is an honor to work with you, Michelle Bourgeois, and Kyle Addington. The three of you help me to connect libraries and technology in support of student achievement.

  3. I’m one of the lucky media people who get to work with Bud. He made us think the other day abut what have we done that’s awesome and who should know about it. (Hint: it’s not your fellow library folk.)
    Today, his post brought me to tears. Thanks for thinking and writing that libraries are great, safe places- because the librarians love the students.

  4. Bud, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to post your thoughts! I also was close to tears as I read and re-read your blog. It was a wonderful meeting with a wonderful, caring, dedicated group of professionals.

  5. Thanks Bud!
    I was able to sit at that table with you and those wonderful library ladies. Thanks for putting into words that which I felt but couldn’t describe nearly as eloquently. Libraries are the heart and soul of schools, and we should fight for that!

  6. Bud, thank you so much for putting our discussion into such beautiful words. It brought tears to my eyes, and I know it will help others know how important and meaningful libraries are to students, staff, and our community.

  7. Well said. I take grief from my colleagues because our librarian and I (my classroom is across the hall) open our doors early in the am and leave them open after school for any kids who want to come and just sit and read, (in the library) or have an adult to help with homework (in my room). “you’re running free babysitting!” “they should buy daycare” Ok, maybe true, but we are there anyway working, the kids know the rules and they don’t abuse it. Many of those who stay are from single parent families who just simply can’t afford daycare. I think I am annoyed more by the “not my job” attitude. What has happened to the whole village raising the children?

  8. I would like to thank you for posting this excellent blog also. I, too, had tears in my eyes as I read the part about you going to the library with a co-worker. I remember my days as a media tech when different 5th grade girls would come to me in the library and ask if they could spend their lunch/recess with me. Sometimes they would tell me why and sometimes they were not ready to share. I would sit with them and tell them about my jr. high days-there were no middle schools back. I would tell them that the girls who made fun of me for who knows what turned out to have no friends by the time we all got contacts, lost our baby fat and got our braces off because we finally had the confidence to realize they did not matter. I would like to think I had a positive influence as they would tell me they were ready to go back outside to recess. I would give them a hug and tell them they were ALWAYS welcome!! I share this because I know all the media techs have a similar story to mine. We are so fortunate to work with SO many caring people in SVVSD.

  9. Bud – Thanks so much for putting so eloquently into words the feelings that so many of us have. It is always a pleasure to be in your company. Have a great year!

  10. Thank you for the insightful words. Even though our school has gone through many changes over the years, I have always strived to maintain the library as that “safe” place where students can come and enjoy the environment of a library. It is one of the few places where they can make a choice of their own and for many it is an escape into another world in their books. I am hopeful that school libraries will keep existing for all students…you just don’t get a hug from an e-reader but you sure can from your librarian!

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