Sunday, October 14, 2007

A School Librarian's Pride (and Prejudice)

I have a sliver of memory from my undergraduate years that haunts me to this day.

Me: Good Morning, Prof. B! We’re students of Prof. O and she has assigned us to meet with you and your students on the topic and skill that we will be teaching in the grade 2 class.

Prof. B looked at us with a raised eyebrow. Arms akimbo, she spat these words—

Prof. B: Oh, I see! And what will you teach? Parts of the book? Any teacher in the elementary grades can teach that! We don’t need librarians to teach it!

This happened during my practicum year. I was a fourth year student then completing a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education with Library Science as major. The degree meant completing 42 units of Education, plus another 37 units more for Library Science. A heavy course, really. It is only now that I wonder how I survived with extra-curricular activities and a very active social life on the side.

At that time, fulfilling all requirements before graduation entailed two kinds of practicum – the In-Service training and the On-Site training. I do not know how it is called these days, but students need to undergo observations, teaching demos, mentoring and actual practice in the laboratory school of the university and an affiliated elementary school. So it goes that upon receipt of diploma, all must take the board examination for teachers. My university made sure of that. For Library Science majors, there was another board exam to hurdle -- the licensure examination for librarians.

Looking back, it was not the task of teaching and providing library service that made things difficult. My teachers and mentors prepared me well. I had friends to share the pains and burdens of academic work. I had a mentor who guided me in the transition process of theory and practice. I have a mother who is a librarian so the support system was strong (plus, a boyfriend, now my husband, who worked on all my visual aids). What made the practicum experience harrowing was the prejudice on librarians and library science majors imposed by other professionals, classmates from other fields of discipline, and even the teachers and professors who were supposed to be allies. Early on I realized two things - that I must not stick with the traditional work and tasks; and that changing paradigms must be accommodated, adapted and adopted.

Upon my first foray into library work, I knew I would be exposed to the same bias and discrimination. And it is still happening, in fact, I have come to accept this sad reality. Embracing the truth, however, motivated me to assert my role in the community. It was not easy because I appeared very different from my colleagues in the profession. To them, they seem to take it as my natural personality - being proactive, collaborating with teachers, understanding the context of both the users and their environment, experimenting with technology, discovering potentials in spoken and written means of communication, promoting books and reading for the development of literacy among the young, telling stories, raising standards and going beyond theory and practice of the profession.

All these are advocacies I have promised to campaign for and live for right after taking the professional oath. My being a librarian is not merely a job. It is who I am.

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