the educational technology journal

Vol 22|No 4|March 2013
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Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887. This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

Baltimore County Library Apocalypse

By Jamie McKenzie, ©2013, all rights reserved.
About author


Out of the Ruins

Not so long ago, the school libraries in Baltimore County had fallen into disrepair as funding for collections declined and libraries were allowed to function under the hands of uncertified staff. Left to site-based decision-making in tough budgetary times, information literacy and school libraries were sacrificed to expediency.

Strange to welcome an Age of Information by opting for intellectual disarmament.

Fortunately for the teachers and students of Baltimore County, a team of district leaders fought hard for more than a decade to reverse the decline. The Board of Education adopted standards requiring full staffing and funding of library programs in every school. Uncertified staff were encouraged to acquire certification and all of the schools were shown how they might best combine print and digital resources to give students a high tech, world class education.

Under the leadership of Libraries Coordinator Della Curtis and her team, Baltimore County began to receive national attention for exemplary programs.

Until the Apocalypse

Sadly, sometimes district leaders do not appreciate the programs they have inherited or the factors that led to their success, and so it is that a new superintendent ihas started dismantling the world class school library program described above just as such a program is needed to prepare students for the rigorous expectations of the Common Core Standards.

The four riders of the Apocalypse have come to Baltimore County, but they are different from the orginal. According to Wikipedia, "Although some interpretations differ, in most accounts, the four riders are seen as symbolizing Conquest,[1] War,[2] Famine,[3] and Death, respectively."

School library programs in districts across the nation and the world now face a different quartet.

1. Blather

2. Flatulence

3. Improvidence

4. Foolishness

1. Blather - The American Writer's Dictionary defines blather as "talk long-windedly without making very much sense."

Related words from the thesaurus . . . mindless blather: prattle, chatter, twitter, babble, prating, gabble, jabber, rambling; informal yatter, twaddle, gobbledygook.

When leaders dismantle outstanding programs without any apparent good reason, they often mask their deconstruction in futuristic terms dressed up in heavily inflated visionary rhetoric which Shakespeare laughed at long ago with his comment:

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

2. Flatulence - Closely related to blather, flatulence refers to the hot air often accompanying reorganization plans that have very little to do with student learning or sound curriculum planning.

Related words from the thesaurus . . . pomposity, pompousness, pretension, pretentiousness, grandiloquence, bombast, turgidity.

Hans Christian Andersen captured this leadership phenomenon with his story of The Emperor's New Clothes.

If you have a great program, you don't mess with it.

On the one hand the leader claims he means to keep strong libraries, while on the other hand, he deletes the standards that insure strong funding and staffing. He moves libraries out from the Curriulum Department and relegates them to Technology. Paul Simon dealt with such funny business with his lyrics:

It's a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall (Kodacrome)

3. Improvidence - The dictionary defines improvidence as "not having or showing foresight; spendthrift or thoughtless." Ironically, leaders who speak most grandly about the brave new world of new technologies and digital possibilities are often inexperienced in those same domains. In rushing forward to embrace the new new thing, they may be drinking and dispensing the educational equivalent of Kool Aid. While claiming to prepare the young for the future, they may be doing the opposite, substituting what is trendy for what is rigorous and based on sound practice.

4. Foolishness - Schools have been exploring the possibilities of computers and new technologies for three decades now with tepid results. When districts opt for technology for technology's sake, they often stumble and cheat their students. The real achievement of the curriculum rich school library program in Baltimore County was the focus upon information literacy, understanding, comprehension and student learning instead of equipment and tools. So many districts have been seduced by the false promises of the technoogy sirens. In contrast, Baltimore County kept a solid and visionary focus on effective teaching and learning.

Why We Still Need Libraries and Librarians

Many school leaders are busily laying off trained librarians and replacing them with aides or simply shutting down the school library. In an Age of Information, this approach to staffing amounts to intellectual disarmament, but many have been seduced to think that information literacy is a minor matter in what they call a "Digital Age." Quick to embrace the false claims of artificial intelligence, these leaders are doing the young a major disservice.

For the March 2010 article arguing the continuing importance of strong school library programs, go to http://fno.org/mar2010/still.html.


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