Why 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.
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.
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.
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.