Reprinted courtesy of: American Libraries Magazine
By: Beverly Goldberg
Several years ago, a teenage girl approached Kara Watson, librarian at the Carrboro (N.C.) High School for help: Some of her fellow students had added inappropriate remarks to the girl’s unsecured Facebook account during study hall. Watson printed all the evidence, had the girl delete the offending remarks, and reported the incident to the principal.
Before study hall was over, the principal was dealing with the perpetrators.
“We handled it all immediately,” Watson tells American Libraries. “That’s a key role of what librarians can do in schools to be a force against bullying. If the students know you’re there, and that you’re an advocate for them, they’ll come to you.”
According to statistics from the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, one in seven students in K–12 is either a bully or a victim of a bully, and 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.
As a safe haven, it seems only natural that school and public libraries embrace the burgeoning anti-bullying movement that has been sweeping the nation for the past few years in reaction to high-profile stories of young people feeling so harassed and hopeless that they have dropped out of school or committed suicide.
“You need to be a very consistent force in students’ lives,” Watson says. Her philosophy is to be friendly and approachable so students see her as a trustworthy adult to turn to if they are being bullied or witness such behavior. She says she rejects limiting her role to being “that stereotypical librarian who’s shushing and laying down the rules.”
According to the 2011 edition of School Libraries Count! a national longitudinal survey by ALA’s American Association of School Libraries of school library programs across the nation, 70% of 4,887 librarian respondents indicated they tackle the topics of cyberbullying, harassment, and stalking behavior at school. The survey reveals just how prevalent the problem is in many schools.
“When we were kids, if someone was picking on you at school, you went home and that was your reprieve,” says Watson. “But now it’s just persistent. Kids can text each other all the time.” She says she teaches students how to block unwanted texts and how to configure Facebook for maximum privacy in order to control their social media environment.
“School librarians can play an active role in helping each child become a responsible and caring cybercitizen, ready to take action against the bullies online,” wrote Kathy Fredrick, director of libraries and instructional technology at Shaker Heights (Ohio) City Schools, in the September/October 2013 School Library Monthly.
For Watson, that means starting with freshman library orientation. She introduces herself, learns everyone’s names, and begins to teach the concept that “digital life is life.” She follows up with a unit in 9th-grade health class in which she recounts local cyberbullying incidents from the news, such as the case of a teen in an adjourning county who was harassed in a sexting incident.
For 11th-graders, Watson revisits the don’ts of cyberbullying, coordinating her talk with college application season—a time when students’ online reputations take on additional gravitas.
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