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What's Your Most Important Core Value?

One-Question Survey

We recently asked school librarians across the country to determine which of the ALA Core Values of Librarianship was most important to their work as school librarians. All twelve core values were listed as options: access, confidentiality/privacy, democracy, education and lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, the public good, preservation, professionalism, service, social responsibility, and sustainability. With twelve options, each of which already recognized as playing an integral role in the workings of American libraries, it is interesting to examine the survey results. One might expect to see responses fairly varied, reflecting the passions and interests of individual school librarians. This was not the case. Almost exactly half of all respondents indicated the value of education and lifelong learning to be what was most important to them in their work. Another near 20% chose access as the value most integral to what they were doing. Only three other values garnered enough attention to be noteworthy: service (8%), diversity (7%), and intellectual freedom (5%).

One might argue that these results are not surprising. After all, school librarians are certified teachers. Many of them were regular classroom teachers before moving into the library field. Many still work within a fixed schedule, which means they are actively teaching classes for part or all of the school day. Is this why the value of education stands at the forefront of our minds when we consider what we do?

Maybe it's more than that. We are passionate defenders of intellectual freedom, access, diversity, and privacy. When we defend those values, we don't keep it to ourselves. We often don't do it silently. We are forever explaining why we're going out of our way to protect someone else's work, why it's important to consciously select diverse books, why the library is a safe place for everyone, and why we work so hard to protect our patrons' privacy. We teach those values all day long. Our actions speak those values, and most of those actions are done with education in mind.

The more one considers the core values, the more it becomes clear that each of the core values gains power and impact by being paired with education. We can defend privacy, and take steps to protect our students, but if they aren't aware of what we are doing or why, then they will be unaware that they need to take the same considerations and precautions in other areas of their life. If we are diligent about curating a diverse collection and offering inclusive programming, obviously our students will benefit. But if we teach, at the same time, why this is so important, isn't the impact of our efforts that much greater? When students are taught that the more exposed they are to multiple perspectives, the more empathy they gain, doesn't that make the whole experience that much richer? Teaching students to purposefully lift others up by giving them a voice benefits them more than simply offering a diverse collection, the breadth of which they may not consider.

A school librarian from Wisconsin, explained her decision to choose education as the value most important to her work by saying she believes in "the right of every child to have an education that includes access, trained personnel, and a safe environment." She was not the only respondent to bring up the idea of having a trained librarian in her answer. Several answers reflected this concern, despite it not being listed as a response choice. It is interesting that this frustration—of seeing library jobs being filled by teachers or staff with no library certification, or not filled at all—was voiced within a discussion about core values. How do they relate? Librarians are trained to defend these values. They champion them as part of their professional duty and often as their personal passions as well.