ON LIBRARIES: Celebrating School Libraries

School library month April is School Library Month.  Have you been using it as a means of spotlighting what we do and why we are indispensable to students and the whole educational community?  Too many librarians don’t make use of the opportunity.

First a brief history of School Library Month. In 1958, ALA launched the first National Library Week because people were becoming more focused on television and musical instruments rather than books. ALA and the American Book Publishers thought if people were motivated to read they would use their libraries more.  The event is usually scheduled for the second full week in April.  This year the honorary chair was David Balducci and the theme was “Unlimited Possibilities @your library™.”

In 1983, Judy King, the president of AASL, appointed Lucille Thomas to head a committee to create the first School Library Media Month (since we were called Library Media Specialists then).  The committee worked diligently and in April 1985, the first School Library Media Month was celebrated.  The committee prepared a 52-page handbook sharing ideas from local and state celebrations.  The theme launching the week was, “Where Learning Never Ends: The School Library Media Center.” The theme is still true today.

In 2010 the name of the month was changed to the current School Library Month, reflecting the AASL decision to revert to our title being School Librarians.  For this year, the committee chose “School Libraries Transform Learning” as the theme, which goes along with the ALA initiative Libraries Transform. Megan McDonald, author of the Judy Moody and Stink books is the spokesperson and she has done a PSA.Megan McDonald

Just as Lucille Tomas and her committee did, each year the School Library Month committee compiles resources for you to use. We have come a long way since that 52-page handout.  A page on the AASL website is filled with activities and information for you to use.  A new twist for this year was a way to put a butterfly with the hashtag #slm16 on your Facebook or Twitter profile picture. Also new this year was a padlet where school librarians from across the country shared how their program transforms learning. School Library Month maybe almost over, but the ideas are there for you to use in your school.

With less than a week left, you still have time to do a few things and resolve to celebrate the entire month next year. You can’t pass up this easy way to begin advocating for your program. You don’t need to do anything big, but you should keep promoting the month – and you—several times during this celebration of school libraries.

heart of the schoolAt the elementary level, speak to students about what like best about coming to the library.  It will let you know which aspects of your lesson and the library environment the kids’ most appreciate.  Let them know it’s School Library Month and hand them large hearts to fill in the sentence, “I love my library because….”  Hang the hearts on the library walls. You can download this year’s from the AASL website.

An online Calendar of Events opens with a calendar of ideas for every day in April.  I really liked the one for April 18 which suggested a “Who’s behind the book?” contest.  You take pictures of teachers and teachers covering their face with a favorite book.  The object of course is to identify who they are.

Another great idea is one from April 6 which has ideas for three different age levels.  Film elementary students sharing their feelings about the library. Middle school students create commercials promoting the library, while high school kids make a commercial about your Makerspace or other non-traditional ideas or program.

Keep it simple or go all out.  The choice is yours, but recognize what this month gives you.  Involving kids in the special activities you create for the month, gets them more involved and attuned to what the library has become.  When you post it these on your website, parents check it out and they too become aware of how school libraries transform student learning –and the education community as a whole.

So what have you done this year?  What do plan on doing next year?  Promote your school library.  You have transformed your program. Get the word out.Stephanie Hewett Rous

And as a special closing, I blogged last week about AASL awards and mentioned my personal connection the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries, I want to share the press release of this year’s winner, Stephanie Hewett Rous, the librarian at  Corinth Holders High School in Wendell, N.C. Many congratulations, Stephanie!




ON LIBRARIES: The Rewards of Awards

CongratulationsThis past week I was thrilled and stunned to be informed that I was receiving the 2016 AASL Distinguished Service Award.  It took about 24 hours for it to sink in. Once it did, I began thinking about the other awards AASL gives and what an opportunity these present for school librarians.

Check out the Awards and Grants page on the AASL website. There are six awards listed in addition to the Distinguished Service Award. Each of them can bring attention to you and your library program. But you do need to submit an application.

Now is an excellent time to explore the possibilities.  Since most of the applications are due on February 1 you’ll have time to look them over, choose the best fit for you and then slowly begin filling out the forms. No pressure. It won’t be due for months.aasl awards

The National School Library Program of the Year award is the big one. Three different schools or districts can win the award in any one year, and some years only one or two get it.  The process for this one is arduous so an early start is vital.  Consider checking past winners and contacting them to see if they have any helpful advice.  You don’t have to be from a wealthy district. A few years ago, an inner city school won.

If you are among the finalists, the committee comes for an on-site visit. Imagine the excitement of this group coming to your town/city to see your school.  The whole school turns out to welcome them. And your library program is acknowledged for being considered as one of the year’s exemplary programs. Winning schools get $10,000 which will make any administrator take notice.

Want to start a bit smaller? Consider the Collaborative School Library Award.  If you and one or more teachers have developed a great collaborative program that had students excited about learning and gives them an opportunity be producers of information, making a contribution to the community, and using critical and creative thinking skills this award is for you.  In addition to the usual plaque, it also carries a $2,500 monetary prize,

Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award “recognizes and encourages collaboration and partnerships between school librarians and teachers in teaching social justice through joint planning of a program, unit or event in support of social justice using school library resources.” Just reviewing the criteria and description might give you an idea of something you can plan with a teacher who likes to work with you. This one awards $2,000 to the librarian plus $1,000 for travel and housing at the ALA Conference and a donation $5,000 worth of books from Penguin Random House.

excellenceThe Intellectual Freedom Award is not one you would plan for.  It goes to a librarian who has stood up for the principles of Intellectual Freedom which usually means he/she stood fast in the face of a challenge to a book or other library material. Although state library associations and the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom offer support, the fact is the librarian is most often alone in the firestorm. It is an example of courage in upholding core principles of librarianship. Winners receive $2,000 plus $1,000 for their library. While you always hope nothing like this happens to you, if it does, do apply for the award. It’s important to get the word out, and it’s another validation for you in your school and district.

Are you blessed with a wonderful administrator? Nominate him/her for the Distinguished School Administrator Award. Winners receive $2,000 and of course a plaque.  Our best advocates are often administrators. Give them a chance to talk about what they see as the importance of school librarians and school library programs.  As winners they may be asked to speak at their own state and national conference.  It also won’t hurt your standing that you brought this fame to him/her.

Just below the list of awards are the grants.  Don’t overlook these. ForRuth two reasons, my favorite is the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries. First, and most personally, Ruth Toor was my co-author and friend for over 35 years.  She is no longer able to participate in library activities, but this is how her husband has chosen to honor her contributions.  My second reason is my own (and Ruth’s) recognition of the importance of librarians having advocacy programs to promote the library to the entire educational community—and sometimes the local community itself.

Look at the criteria for the award and its requirements.  If you can come up with a plan that can be replicated and/or adopted by others, put it together and apply for the award.  The winner gets $3,000 to carry out the program plus $2,000 for the librarian and the school official or volunteer to attend the AASL Conference or the ALA Conference.

The Innovative Reading Grant addresses a core belief of libraranship – the importance of reading. If you have (or can come up with) a unique and innovative plan to motivate readers particularly those who struggle, this is one to look at closely. It carries a monetary award of $2,500, and just think of the difference your program can make in the lives of students.

I know you are all very busy, and applying for these awards takes time. But the possible rewards are great, and I am not referring to the monetary prizes.  If you win a national award your district will take notice.  Your Board of Education is likely to honor you and it is likely to be covered in the local newspaper. You bring attention and acclaim to your library program and make people aware of the importance of what you do.

Get started on applying for one of these. Good luck – and keep us posted.

ON LIBRARIES: Mixed Messages

mixed messages2We are not always aware of the unintended messages we send.  Students in particular pick up on these, but others do as well.

I remember a fourth grade teacher who was who wanted her students to be good at writing and to love it. She worked hard on her writing lesson plans so that her students would enjoy the process.  One day I stopped by her class to tell her something important.  She met me at her door, and we talked while she kept an eye on her students.  The conversation ran a little longer than I had anticipated.  The kids got antsy and began talking with each other. The teacher turned to the class and said, “Is this how you behave when I am speaking with a guest?  Settle down right now or you will be writing two paragraphs on how we act when I have a visitor.”  With that one comment she told students writing is not fun; it is a punishment.

The teacher unthinkingly reverted to a “teacher default” response.  It is sometimes said that teachers teach as they were taught, not as they were taught to teach. I don’t believe that’s true most of the time, but when stressed or upset they say and do things the way teachers used to do.  It’s like the jokes about women becoming their mothers and using the same phrases as the previous generation.unclear

With Students

The first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st– Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.” Many of you include “developing lifelong readers” or some variant of that in your Mission Statement.  Even without it in the statement, it’s a goal we hold very strongly.  How do you send that message?

You probably put new books out on display.  You talk to students about what they are reading. You recommend titles to students based on what you know of their likes and interests. And you share your own enthusiasm for books. All are wonderful way to send your message.

But do you then do something that sends a very different message?  I know countless elementary librarians who won’t let kids borrow a book if they have one (or more) overdues.  The message becomes: getting books back on the shelf is more important than having the student read.

The argument offered in most cases is you are teaching the child to be responsible. And besides, you can’t afford to lose books. What is more important, responsibility or developing their reading habit?  Of even greater concern to me is imposing a flat rule without taking into consideration different circumstances kids have.  For example children of divorce may their divide time between two houses. It’s easy to leave a book at one parent’s home and not be able to get it back in time for their “library day.” Give kids some leeway. Ask them when they plan to bring it back.  Have a reminder card you can give them to help.  Instead of requiring responsibility, help them learn it.

rulesIf you are helping a student and a teacher comes in wanting to talk with you do you end your conversation with the kid quickly so you can respond to the teacher?  This lets the student know that he/she is not as important to you as adults are.

Do you want your library to be a safe, welcoming environment?  The phrase shows up often in Vision Statements, but posted library rules – a list of “no’s” usually – sends a message that behavior is what really counts. Do students have to speak softly while teachers can speak loudly?  Watch for your double standards.

With Teachers

Librarians often resent they are not regarded as teachers.  You teach every day and with all types of students.  Sometimes it’s a whole class.  Other times it’s one-on-one. Are you sending the message that you are a teacher or are you sending another message?

I witnessed the worst example of this a number of years ago.  Teachers have always dropped into the libraries where I worked.  Sometimes to plan a lesson, but often to gripe about something.  While I never joined the complaints, I was a listening ear letting them know I recognized how upset they were.  One time, my co-librarian was listening with me to a teacher’s mini-rant.  Her response was, “You teachers….”  And I knew she had created a gulf between her and the teacher.  It always needs to be “We teachers,” in what you say and how you behave.frustrated

Unless we start noticing on some of our instinctive responses we are likely to send mixed messages to students, teachers, parents, and administrators.  Think about how you want to be perceived by these members of the educational community.  Then work to be sure your interactions promote it.

ON LIBRARIES: It Begins With Relationships

build bridgesWhy is one librarian successful and another isn’t?  They can both work in the same district.  Their training and years on the job can be about the same.  The successful librarian might even be a newbie with lots to learn and the other with many years of experience.  Somehow the library program of one continues to grow and flourish while the other languishes.  Teachers resist using it, and when they do prefer to handle their students without any help from the librarian.  At the elementary level, the closest they come to the library is when they drop their students off and pick them up.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I have seen this favorite quote of mine attributed to a number of different sources, but the oldest citing I have gives Theodore Roosevelt the credit. What is important is that it is true.

I have said it many times, in the books I have written and the presentations I have given, “We are in the relationship business.” What I haven’t said is that if you don’t know how to build relationships you will be out business.

Librarians don’t have the luxury of not liking someone on the staff.  The job responsibility requires you to get along with everyone.  Not an always simple task when there are people who grate on your nerves and never have a nice word to say.  Yet it can and must be done. Let’s begin with some easy relationship building.

Relationships with Studentsworking with kids

You don’t grade them. They are not “yours.”  If they don’t like you, they will not only make it obvious, they will make your life miserable. Discipline problems grow and from your principal’s perspective you cannot manage your “classroom.”

While any kid can act out on a bad day, that should not be the norm.   Start by giving respect and you will get it back. Many librarians don’t realize how often they disrespect a student.  An adult comes in, and they break off any conversation, making it obvious to the student that you consider adults more important and worthy of your time. You help teachers find information, but you direct students where to go or give them a mini-lesson. Yes, you are there to teach them, but are you following up to see if they found what they needed?  Wouldn’t the lesson work just as well if you gave it and modeled the steps with them?

Do you make an effort to get to know students, particularly those who come to the library frequently? Do you know their interests? The books, authors, and activities they like?  Have you ever said to one of them, “I’m so glad you came in. We just got some new books, and I have one I am sure you will like. Do you want to see it?”  Students, like everyone else, appreciate when you show you know who they really are.

Parents-orientationRelationship with Teachers

The first rule in building relationships with teachers is to respect their confidences.  The grapevine and gossip is alive and well in every school. You cannot be a contributor. Relationships are based on trust and repeating what you are told is the quickest way to destroy any trust you built up.

A core of teachers everywhere are chronic complainers.  They complain about the administration, their fellow teachers, and their students. Don’t get sucked in.  You can say, “I understand how you feel,” or “I get how angry you are.” But never agree with those sentiments.  You can be sure it will be broadcast throughout the school. With PARCC testing more teachers than ever are complaining, and you undoubtedly have the same sentiments.  Saying, “I know hard everyone has been working. It’s been stressful,” is perfectly OK. Notice, you don’t add, how difficult it has been for you.  That comes off as whining, and it never works.

Slowly get to know teachers’ personal interests, hobbies, and whatever they care about.  If you find a website or a Pinterest board you think they would like, share it with them. The more communications and connections you have, the more likely they will be open to collaborating with you.

Administrators and Board Membersbuild-realtionships

This group is probably the most challenging for you to develop relationships, and yet as power stakeholders, they are the most important.  Begin with your principal.  Listen to what he/she says at faculty meetings and in other communications.  What seems to be of most importance to him/her?  High stakes test? Integrating technology?  Community outreach? How can the library program help attain it?  Figure out how to present that information in under five minutes (they are always heavily pressed for time), and show what a team player you are and how vital the library program is.  You can also find out about personal interests, just as you did with teachers.

Unless you know them personally, the best way to get to know Board members is to go to Board meetings.  See if you can get the other librarians in your district to take turns attending meetings.  Which Board member seems to be most likely to support libraries?  Perhaps you can send that person, with your principal’s approval, a quarterly or annual report.  Be sure it is visual and shows students at work.  Keep the information channel open.  Issue invitations, and learn more about their interests.

Remember, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Build relationships first, and everything else will follow.