When Being Right Is Wrong

two sidesIn the past few days I have gotten e-mails from two librarians from different states with very different responsibilities but a similar challenge. Each is now coping with big challenges with their superiors stemming from the administrators’ strong belief that they are right. What should you do in a situation like this?  Cave in?  Accept an incorrect assessment?  Ignore being disrespected? Definitely not.  But it’s obvious that insisting on being right is not going to lead to the outcome you want.

In the first case, the librarian worked with one department in a large educational consortium. A relatively new administrator instituted procedures that worked against what the librarian was trying to accomplish and seemed unaware of the dynamics in coordinating practices and interests of the different members of this department.  A job performance review highlighted this disparate view and hinted at the administrator’s correct perception that the librarian disliked her. In the other case, an elementary librarian was copied on an email to a teacher (and hadn’t read it), telling her to bring her class to the library as part of schedule changes caused by testing.  The administrator had sent it without checking to see if any classes were already in the library, and the librarian felt disrespected.Relationship over ego

Having heard the details of what occurred, there is no question that both of the librarians are right—and therein lies the problem. We are in a relationship business, and in relationships, unlike with tasks, being committed to being right can create trouble.  When a librarian is critical of a directive or approach taken by an administrator, he or she invariably reacts negatively deciding, correctly, that the librarian is not a team player and is possibly a threat to what the administrator is trying to achieve—rightly or wrongly.

Consider this, “Do you want to right, or do you want to make it work?”  Because, if you focus on being right, it most certainly won’t work.  As I noted earlier, we are in a relationship business and maintaining your position will destroy not build relationships.

Here’s an example of how this works.  You are a middle or high school librarian and a teacher schedules his class for an upcoming research project.  You work on the lesson, find websites and apps, pull relevant print material and are fully prepared but the class doesn’t show.  You are angry with the teacher—and rightly so.  Do you go to the teacher and let him see you are furious? If you do, what will the results be?  Your ultimate goal is to reach the students.  Being right will prevent you from achieving this – and harm your working relationship with this teacher.

right or what worksIf you go to the teacher instead and say “I probably should have sent you a reminder, but your class was scheduled to come to the library.  Do you want to reschedule or should we cancel the project?”  The teacher will likely be contrite and the two of you can come up with a workable revision. You also have not alienated the teacher who will be glad to work with you in the future.

Letting go of being right is not easy.  It’s natural to guard our territory—and our emotions.  However, we are also big picture people.  When dealing with a situation where you know you are right, step back before you speak or email in response.  Consider whether being right will get you where you want to go.  Remember, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work?”



stereotypeThe classic stereotype of a librarian is a plain female with hair in a bun and wearing a dowdy dress who shushes anyone speaking above a whisper.  This dated view of librarians is still very much with us, to a great extent because, sadly, it still occurs in many places.  Should libraries be silent?  Do you like it quiet?  Do your students?  I associate a hushed library environment with those large libraries with vast expanses of books visible on multi-levels with aging researchers buried over huge tomes.  Certainly not the picture of a modern school (or public library).

A 21st century library is a bee-hive of collaborative activity, with students moving seamlessly from electronic to print resources using multiple devices to access them.  True, not every library approaches this level, but it should be what we are aiming to achieve.  Students are comfortable learning from each other and sharing what they know.  In fact – they love it. It’s how they develop skills in video games and discover new tricks and apps on their smartphones.what society thinks

They are accustomed to a world of continuous information feeds whether audio or text. We need to capitalize on that inclination to learn by teaching them how to become global citizens, creating content, and building knowledge which they share in a participatory culture.  And that means, silent libraries are part of the past (or exist only in research libraries).

I am not advocating for a loud, out-of-control environment.  You should be able to be heard if you raise your voice just above normal speaking level. That’s a safety issue.  I am also not talking about a library where kids are horsing around.  On the other hand, all talk does not need to be work-related. Some socialization is acceptable and even important if they are to move from casual conversation to exploring their ideas, interests, and academic pursuits.

My libraries, both elementary and high school, were always a hubbub of activity – and the busy sounds – and energy – it entails.  A visiting superintendent was so impressed to see how engaged students were and how crowded the library was.  This was during lunch period (we were on block scheduling and managed a one-hour lunch for all 1,500 students simultaneously).  It was not a quiet place.  But learning was happening everywhere.

busy library 3Many of you already have this level of activity – and “noise” in your library.  Kids love coming there.  You have made your library the warm, friendly, environment that encourages questions, accepts diverse ideas and opinions, and promotes the desire to learn.

Elementary librarians are more inclined to keep noise levels down.  I suspect it’s caused by the fear that students would quickly become unruly and hard to rein in.  The answer is to change the culture of the library with their cooperation.

Students need to be a part of setting the rules and guidelines.  Talk about the difference between noise in the classroom and noise in the library.  What is good noise?  When does it become too much? What needs to be done if students become too loud?  I have found it best to talk to those students individually or the small group causing the disturbance rather than loudly addressing everyone.

Consider couching these guidelines under the heading of Respect.  Respect for yourself, respect for others, and respect for the library.  If at all possible provide a quiet area (much like trains today with their quiet cars) for those who need more silence to get work done.  Most often it’s the teachers who need it.

What do you think is the optimum level of noise vs. silence?  Is your library too quiet?  Too noisy?  What do your students think?   What do you want to change?  And what help do you need to get to this new level?