Librarians have always been among the most thoughtful and helpful people. They are teachers without a classroom.         –Willard Scott

Libraries have always held a special place for me, because I’ve loved books from the moment I could read.  No matter how things were going in the classroom, the school library was a refuge, a sanctuary that protected all within from judgment, demanding only quiet and respect.  Some people may have negative memories of being shushed aggressively by librarians, but all the ones I have known have been kind and helpful. I’ve never had a reason to fear or dislike them.  There have been teachers, on the other hand, who I have feared, disliked or resented, which isn’t always the best recipe for learning.

The role of a school librarian does not involve an agenda other than to provide resources to the student.  Their whole job is to collect, preserve and disseminate a wide range of materials and information.  They may display materials that they themselves have enjoyed or feel might be of interest to the student, but they otherwise act as a passive resource, allowing the student to be active in their own learning.  They don’t impose, but are available as needed. Their role is to aid learning.  They are committed to intellectual freedom, preserving the student’s right to an opinion about a book, whether it was loved or hated.  They understand that it’s the student who is evaluating the book, not the librarian evaluating the student.  They do not test the student on the book or material when it is returned — other than its physical condition.  Their job performance isn’t based on the student’s opinion or use of that selection.

Contrast that with the job of a school, which employs a teacher to carry out their work. Like a librarian, the school/teacher wants to aid learning, but ultimately they have an agenda that is independent of their students’ interests and desires. They have a mandate to teach certain subjects as well as when and how to teach them.  Their role is to initiate a course of learning for the student rather than allowing the student to request information when they are ready.  In this model the teacher is active and the student is passive.  The school model implies that the teacher is superior to the student because there is information that the student needs and doesn’t have.  Schools and their teachers are judged by their students’ test scores, which measure short term retention but not the actual integration beyond the test or the long term usefulness to the student.

What I liked about being an unschooling parent was that my job was more like a librarian than a school/teacher.  My role was to expose my kids to books, materials, ideas, people, places and things and to support their agenda rather than to impose one on them.  Because I was with them all the time, I intimately knew their interests and their styles and put books and materials in their path that I thought might be of interest to them, allowing them the time and space to choose or not choose.  I was available to act as an advocate for them when they needed resources.  I was committed to their intellectual freedom.  By trusting, listening and holding space for them, by not inserting my own agenda into their lives, I allowed them to take an active role in their development and education.  To me, this active role was key because an active learner is self-motivated.  I continually reminded them that I was not necessarily smarter than they were.  In my opinion, intelligence is a capacity.  Relative to me, their capacity might be the same, greater or less, who can say?  What I will always have more of, by virtue of our age difference, is life experience. When applicable, I shared my experience with them, not as an absolute truth, but as one person’s experience unique to my given place and time.  It might be relevant to them or it might not.  Only they can ultimately evaluate that.  Like a good librarian, I’ll let them check it out.

© Jean Nunnally and Clear2Learn, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jean Nunnally and Clear2Learn with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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