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BELLTONES: Collaboration or Extermination!

By Mary Ann Bell - Posted May 1, 2011
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It is amazing how fast things can change in our individual and collective lives. In my previous column I was caught up in the idea that we need to recognize and celebrate the power of one. I still believe that one person can be incredibly important in bringing about change, either positive or negative. Dictators such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak bear this out in a negative fashion. For 20 years he ruled his country with an iron hand. But now … things are changing.

The reason is the power of many. Closer to home, in December librarians and teachers were caught up in their job duties and preparation for Christmas. Today, some of them are preparing for layoffs. Looking back, the landscapes of our lives have changed considerably in a very short span of time, and educators as well as citizens of the world have new sets of concerns.

The Element of Collaboration

Why compare Egypt’s situation with that of U.S. educators? I believe that they share as part of their stories the element of collaboration. People in Egypt have been far more unhappy and repressed than average Americans realized. One of the most important factors leading to their uprising was the use of the internet and social networking. People collaborated online, using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other means to organize and instigate the uprising and then to report and highlight progress. This type of social networking is now a major change element.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the results of November 2010’s elections coupled with the ongoing financial woes have brought threats to schools, libraries, and educators. Indeed, all social services are presently under the gun. Budget reports early in January have painted a grim picture for schools. In my own state of Texas, schools and social services were already poorly funded. Thus, imposing new cutbacks is especially harsh.

School libraries and librarians are easy targets for making reductions. Instead of juggling funds and creatively seeking solutions, many administrators and school boards are looking at budgets and seeing one quick and easy fix in eliminating school librarians. Ironically, it is some of the most affluent areas, where there are likely alternatives, which are threatening the most draconian cuts. It is my opinion that at least in some cases they are taking an easy way out.

Strength in Numbers

At the same time, it is clear that cuts must be made in most public school budgets. What can teachers and librarians do? All across my state and across the country, we are doing a great deal. We are collaborating and showing strength in numbers to protect valuable resources and services. Once again a major component of this collaboration is social networking.

A case in point is Austin Independent School District. Early in January, Austinites learned that their school district was poised to eliminate all school librarian positions. This despite the fact that Austin is home to Texas’ premier university, the University of Texas (UT) at Austin. There is additional irony in the fact that UT Austin is the home of the largest school of library science in the state and one of the premier library schools in the country. The outcry that ensued caused the board to back down. At this point the 52 elementary librarians’ jobs have been spared, but secondary positions are still threatened. The opposition continues, and I am holding out hope that these jobs will be saved as well.

The Power of Collective Action


This article is available in its entirety in a variety of formats — Preview (free), Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — on a pay-to-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.

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