Despite innovative technology integration, impressive tech tools, and more augmented reality demonstrations than you can shake a stick at, there was one thing decidedly lacking in the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) annual conference held in Atlanta, Georgia from June 24 to July 1: zombies. The Walking Dead, the hugely successful AMC television series based on the best-selling comic book by Robert Kirkman, takes place in Atlanta, and it’s all this teacher librarian could think about as I walked the crowded halls of the Georgia World Congress Center. Thankfully, a fellow Library Journal Mover and Shaker, Jennifer LaGarde, also had zombies on the brain.
LaGarde, who blogs at “The Adventures of Library Girl,” was the keynote speaker at the ISTE Librarian Network annual breakfast. Her talk, entitled “How to Survive the Zombie Librarian Apocalypse!,” struck a chord among the teacher librarians who were fortunate enough to secure a ticket to the sold out breakfast.
Below is a video of LaGarde’s keynote speech:
Her keynote hinged on a quote captured from a colleague she spoke with at a previous library conference who’d told her, “There are only two types of librarians: zombies and zombie fighters.” This, LaGarde shared with us, was a pivotal moment for her for her over her profession and was the genesis of her presentation. It’s not that our profession is overcome with zombie librarians, but we all carry the zombie gene. Being able to spot and combat zombie librarian behavior is a critical skill in the survival of school librarianship and something none of us should be taking lightly.
At this point I’m sure you’re wondering: what exactly is a zombie librarian? LaGarde classifies these as librarians who perpetuate stereotypes, build barriers, and advocate for libraries rather than for students. Historically speaking, librarians are seldom portrayed in film or on television as anything beyond tight-laced, rigid, aged women who care little for nonsense and for whom order and structure is paramount. LaGarde argues that there’s a reason the stereotype pervades even today and challenged the audience to see these images not as cute or from a different time period, but rather to recognize that librarians preserving these stereotypes are the zombies we need to be fighting.
Can you picture that colleague in your district who appears almost giddy as she shushes patrons all day long? The one who boastfully points out that no buzzing smartphone, bleeping video game, or single noise-uttering device, be it electronic or organic, dare utter a peep in these hallowed library halls?
That’s not a word to take lightly. Picture the emaciated skin, loosely clinging to the bones. The mouth hungry for sustenance, yet dry from lack of nourishment. She moves as if each step is a struggle and a necessity. The children are in danger. The library is under threat. The library program has been compromised. Her zombie-like behaviors must be addressed immediately or else endanger the greater good.
LaGarde reminded us that, when given the choice between right and wrong, people do the wrong thing out of ignorance, apathy, and fear. Attendees were challenged to take up arms as zombie fighters in the battle for our libraries. This requires answering the call to defy expectations, to ask essential questions, and to embrace change.
LaGarde herself defies expectations by helping her students achieve in math through the use of video games. She also keeps a keen eye out, on Twitter and other social media, for fellow librarians who are innovating and inspiring. Then, she considers how this new knowledge could change her own library program.
This willingness to take on new challenges, to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, makes LaGarde a powerhouse zombie fighter.
She shared a comment she has heard numerous times over her two-year tenure as Librarian on Loan for the state of North Carolina. Teacher librarians, when asked about how much their administration supports their program, have responded, “My principal doesn’t even know what I do.” LaGarde counters with the deceptively simple question, “Why not?”
“Who or what is your library program serving?” She later asked. “Because if it’s not serving the kids, then we’ve got a problem.” And by the end of the 60-minute presentation, there was a room full of teacher librarian zombie fighters ready to take up the cause.
Jennifer LaGarde’s How to Survive the Zombie Librarian Apocalypse presentation can be viewed on Slideshare.
Matthew Winner is an elementary school teacher librarian in Elkridge, Md. He is a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was also named a White House Champion of Change. Matthew is the host of the popular children’s literature podcast “Let’s Get Busy” and the author of the “Busy Librarian” blog. Find Matthew online at @MatthewWinner or by visiting BusyLibrarian.com.