SJSU Portfolio

Professional Philosophy

Indiscriminate information consumption is to the Second Dark Ages what illiteracy was to the First.
David Gansz

I believe that reading and information literacy are the cornerstones of a cultured democratic society, that both are in jeopardy, and that an increase in funding and attention for qualified librarians in American public schools at all grade levels is one of the best ways to protect and encourage these habits of mind. A competent teacher librarian contributes to the “cultural, economic, educational and social well-being of our communities.”

I have read other grad school narratives which describe how a humble plan to teach high school expanded to loftier goals as the writer learned and grew more confident—my story follows an opposite, if circular path. I have been a high school teacher for 20 years. I love my work in the classroom (most of the time), but I hate grading papers twelve hours every weekend. I noticed that our school librarian, though always to be seen hard at work during the school day, walks out on Friday with nothing but a lunch bag (I did learn in SLIS that in our digital age this appearance was probably deceptive). I idolize scholarship and love research. I thought I would like to work in what I saw as a more prestigious academic library or, having some related experience, perhaps become a law librarian. With a nearly completed Master’s in English reproaching me, I looked forward to the education beyond SLIS I would need to pursue such goals. In fact, I still look forward to furthering my subject education, but my library plans have changed. Thanks to some of my SLIS experiences, I realized first, that academic research librarian is not the job for me, and finally, that I would like to be a high school or K-12 librarian. Or, if there’s another library job that offers an equal opportunity to benefit youth and my community, is fast–paced and high energy, supports education through personal connection, and occasionally gives me the chance to go to work dressed like Glinda the Good Witch, I would consider that work too.

In SLIS I had the good fortune to complete an internship at the California Maritime Academy, where the staff was very kind, encouraging, and supportive. I loved visiting the small campus, enjoying the nautical views, and learning about its impressive collection of maritime materials. However, the interactions I observed between library staff and students at the college level were intermittent and businesslike. The students, high–spirited though CMA cadets can certainly be, are self–controlled and mature in the library. It was an oasis of calm and quiet in there—I couldn’t stand it. I saw no desperate appeals for past due –date help or the latest vampire fiction. There was no drama, and no Dress–up Day. I just wasn’t mature enough for reference work in the college library.

Of course, no one in her right mind chooses to be underpaid and overworked just so she can dress up for Homecoming Week. At CMA I did find that I enjoyed watching my supervising librarian teach her Information Fluency classes. I felt that I could learn to do a good job of instructing those college freshmen in critical thinking and basic scholarship. I had some ideas about how the class might work better, and saw some pedagogical basics from high school experience which would have improved learning for the students. I enjoyed helping to prepare material for the class, and will consider library instruction for college students, at least as a supplemental job. As a result of my internship, I realized that I still feel a teaching vocation. I have a clear vision of what I would consider success for my students, and a strong belief that the future of our society and the world depends on the achievement of this kind of success for those I teach.

My lifelong admiration for rigorous research and deep knowledge combines with my teaching goals to form my professional philosophy. I want my students to develop scholarly values and habits of mind. I want my students to be skeptical, analytical, independent, and self–confident. I want them to develop the empathetic imagination at the heart of human decency which is nourished by literature and art. Fundamentally, I want them to be literate—comfortable with text and technology in support of those high ideals. I believe these values are vital for the well-being of human communities, and at the conclusion of my SLIS education it is clear to me that a strong school library run by a trained librarian is crucial for their development. Teacher librarians have one of the most important jobs in the world, and it is shocking that there is not more outcry about the threat to their professional existence from other educators, union leaders, and members of our profession.

In SLIS I was assigned a paper on reference services for teens, for which I reviewed Mark Prensky’s 2001 article, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”, a work which had previously been used to justify some changes and reprioritizing at the school where I work. Prensky famously paints the picture of those born after the computer revolution as “digital natives”, entirely comfortable with the operation and application of complex technology, wired in to the omnipresent stream of high–quality information, ready to use these resources to change the world through collaborative innovation. The rest of us pre–byte boomers follow ineffectually in their wake, “digital immigrants” forever. This point of view has become an assumption in many educational reforms, and it was one I gave no serious thought to before my assignment. For the reference services paper, which I have attached as support for Competency #3, I spent time in observations comparing both students in my area and those described in research I read to Prensky’s conception. The assumptions about the common abilities of today’s youth seemed at the least inaccurate, and at worst part of a calculated attempt to misrepresent current educational needs in support of a commercial agenda. Those who actually work with high school students often find that many still lack basic skills such as word processing. Many more lack knowledge of any research process beyond the most rudimentary Google search. Of primary concern is a common low level of ability to identify and evaluate the nature and quality of online information. Students’ ability to concentrate on complicated tasks and process dense and sophisticated text seems also far below the level Prensky promises for the technological generation. Ignored in the image of the digital native are the effects on youth of the ‘digital divide’—the vast income–based disparity in experience with and access to technology. The assignment focused my concern on the plight of my students and its implications for society: far from being competent masters of the new digital world, many of our kids need both information and textual literacy support if they are to succeed. Increased social networking or online gaming time is not giving it to them, but a teacher librarian will.

It is easy to see in my portfolio that K-12 education is my strong interest in Librarianship. Of course I enrolled in and benefited greatly from classes required for the California teacher librarian credential such as Libr 233, School Library Media Centers, or Libr 265, Young Adult Literature Ages 15-18, and many of the assignments in my portfolio were completed for these classes. However, I was usually drawn to an education focus in my work for other classes as well. For a paper on an important library issue for Libr 200, Information and Society, I chose to investigate filtering software for school libraries. In my Libr 285 Research Methods class, I opted to examine Action Research in high school reform. Many of my items of evidence are centered on school libraries and information literacy. I see the important role of the teacher librarian divided into two parts of equal importance: research and information literacy instruction, and the encouragement of skilled reading for work and pleasure.

A great many teachers do a wonderful job of connecting students with books which may encourage an emerging passion for reading. Certainly English teachers are working hard to develop understanding of the elements and titles of great literature. That may be the trouble—a teacher’s recommendations are often perceived as an assignment. In the school district where I work only the high school has a credentialed librarian. The middle and elementary school have library technicians with no required training or education. Recently the middle school library technician told me she “Only buys what the kids ask for”, which I thought was a pretty good way to limit your middle school library to Wimpy Kid and Cirque du Freak. The book world is full of great young adult fiction, but what adult besides the school librarian has time to read all that stuff so she can offer “every reader his book” at just the right time? School librarians can connect their visitors not only with the books they know they want, but also with the books they don’t yet know they want. Over time, a competent school librarian may hope to foster readers’ growth with the kind of stepping stone suggestions which lead from Twilight to Wuthering Heights. Reading for the love of it, for the narrative satisfactions of suspense and resolution, is the wellspring of fluency, the key to deep literacy, but books can be more—they can be a matter of survival. Many students today struggle with family issues, gender confusion, or unhealthy behaviors. When purchasing is planned by a knowledgeable teacher librarian, independent reading through the school library offers diverse students the chance to see themselves and their concerns reflected in school resources, making the library a place of hope, reassurance, and support.

In her fascinating work on the development and neurolinguistics of reading, Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf (2007) writes about how reading, by freeing us of the neural demands of the memory–based aural culture, literally creates “time to think”. “The secret at the heart of reading”, Wolf writes, is “the time it frees for the brain to have thoughts deeper than those that came before” (p.229). In a moving essay describing 9/11 as “a failure of the imagination”, Ian McEwan (2001) writes, “Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality”. Reading develops this ability; school librarians support this development; nothing is more important for the future of our world.

I love the superficial irony of this quote from a main architect of the digital revolution, Bill Gates: “I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid, and I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot.” I would like to have used it in my discussion of reading. Too bad that nowhere in a fairly thorough online search is the source of this comment to be found. Did Bill Gates really say this? Did he write it somewhere? What was the context? When was it said? Without this information the quote is not useful to me. Students will notice such concerns when, as previously discussed, they have the benefit of careful instruction in evaluating information, but are even more likely to become analytical citizens and consumers when receiving a substantial amount of their information and entertainment through print, no matter the format of delivery. Many observe the conflation of entertainment and journalism in the visual media. In a 2007 review of Proust and the Squid, Caleb Crane points out how mch easier it is to check and compare two print articles than to do the same with two video interviews (p.5). Proficiency in reading for information offers the best path to development of critical thinking; developing this skill is a cornerstone of research instruction by a teacher librarian; without informed, inquisitive citizens, our democratic traditions can not endure.

When we consider the spectacular benefits to the “cultural, economic, educational and social well-being of our communities” of increased skill in and enthusiasm for reading and research, it seems a clear priority to have at least one trained adult in every school who is responsible for this increase as a primary task. In fact, failure to provide this adult looks like another example of our criminal failures to protect our future by making the education of youth our highest priority. Hire me—it’s not too late!


Crain, C. (2007, December 24). Twilight of the books. The New Yorker. Retrieved from

McEwan, I. (2001, September 15). Only love and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against their murderers. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2001, October). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5).

Wolf, M. (2007). Proust and the squid: The story and science of the reading brain. New York, NY: Harper Perennials.