ON LIBRARIES: Everyone Needs Equal Access

education-equalityOne of the “Common Beliefs” in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Equitable access is a key component for education.”  The accompanying paragraph explains it further:

 “All children deserve equitable access to books and reading, to information, and to information technology in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.”

I know most of you have created in your library “an environment that is safe and conducive to learning,” but how are you doing with the first part?

We tend to interpret the Common Belief statement as meaning that librarians are staunch protectors of intellectual freedom and resist attempts to censor books and overly filter websites.  While that belief is embodied in the statement, we are quite possibly overlooking another important element in that statement.  Access to books and particularly information technology varies extensively from school to school and from district to district.poor library

The digital divide keeps getting wider.  Librarians who work in urban, rural, or tribal lands schools recognize this disparity every day.  They don’t have the resources and, in the case of rural and tribal land schools, the lack of broadband is an additional hardship.  ALA is cognizant of this growing challenge and is preparing to respond.

A “Resolution on Equity for All to School Libraries Community,” prepared by a school librarian member of ALA Council is being finalized to bring to a vote at ALA Annual.  Among the issues in the “Whereas” statements notes there is an “inequity of resources in school libraries with widening of gaps between collections in affluent districts versus those in low income areas,” and “there is a widening of the digital divide in areas where state coalitions of digital resources are losing funding.” There are a number of others, but this serves to show the national recognition of the seriousness of the problem.

outdatedThe Resolution then proposes several actions be taken by ALA. In addition to instituting a variety of advocacy measures to address different aspects of the issue, it also includes urging “Congress to address equity issues while developing the ESSA legislation rules regarding funding and school libraries.”  If the Resolution passes it also wants ALA to “establish procedures to enable state associations and affiliates to influence state legislation requiring adequate funding and appropriate staffing in school libraries in schools at all levels.”

Assuming after some revision, since this is from a draft, ALA Council approves the Resolution, will this make a difference?  The answer is yes and no.  It always matters when a national association takes a firm position and as in this case addresses significant harm being done to one group of students.  On the realistic side, ALA can’t control what Congress or state legislators decide to do.

However you can make a difference.  By being aware of Resolutions such as this one, you can contact your legislators.  Your state association can organize an email, Twitter, and phone campaign.  You can bring it to discussions you might have with your administration.  This is a resource. Using it strategically is up to you.little steps

There is one more aspect of inequitable access to information not specifically addressed in this Resolution, but one you should keep in mind.  Even within many affluent districts there are pockets of poverty and hidden homelessness.  We expect students to come to school prepared and to have done their homework, but for too many that is an impossible task.

If the family has stopped getting Internet –or never could afford it—the only access students might have to your online databases or sites the teacher expects them to view, is on their phones. If there is no Wi-Fi at home, they need to go where it is available.  Starbucks is not the best place to do homework, and not every child can get to the public library.

As librarians it is our responsibility to serve all our patrons equitably. Talk to the Guidance Counselors to get a better sense of the scope of the problem.  Try to get funding in the form of a grant or from the parent association to keep the library open after school for a few hours several times a week.  You should be paid for this, but you might contribute your time as a service to your students. Not everyone will be able to take advantage of it, but those who can will have access to your online and print collection as well as your computers and printers.

Equitable access is a core belief of our profession.   We take strong stands to ensure that we have the well-informed citizenry necessary for a democratic society.  We all need to do our part.



ON LIBRARIES: You and Your Tech Department

library computersNo one in the school system uses more technology than you do. The computer/tech teachers come close, but they rarely use as broad a range as you.  From your automated system to your databases, to the various resources and apps you incorporate into your teaching, you are constantly accessing different technologies. You may have a website you maintain for the library. If your district permits it, you might have a Twitter account and use Pinterest and/or Instagram.  Technology is intrinsic to almost everything you do.

And then there is the Tech Department that manages and controls access to all the tech in the district.  It can be a love/hate relationship between the two of you.  Depending on how you are handling it, sometimes it’s all hate.  Unfortunately for you, you can’t afford to let that happen.  The tech department is too powerful, and if you can’t

Tug of War

turn the relationship around, the Tech people will be a constant road block.

From the Tech Department’s Perspective

To change your mindset, look at the issue from the Tech Department’s point of view. There are a limited number of them and the faculty and administration are always needing them to attend to an issue immediately. When everything is functioning properly, no one ever praises them.  As soon as something goes wrong, blame is heaped on them.

They are charges with safeguarding the integrity of the system, but students are forever trying to get around any firewalls they construct.  Teachers (and rarely students) don’t always think before opening emails and inadvertently download malware and viruses.  The bandwidth is limited and too many people want to stream videos.  They are in a no-win situation.

Then you come along.  The school year starts and you need them to get any newly-purchased database uploaded to all your computers. You want students in the incoming class entered into your automated system.  New teachers need to be entered as well.  If your ILS system has had an upgrade, you want the tech department handling that immediately as well.

disagreeResearch projects during the year may have you making quick calls to the tech department to open a site the filter has blocked. You may need them in order to make modifications to your website.  They try to keep everything organized and handled in order by requiring you to fill out a ticket, but you want them to realize you have immediate needs and can’t wait for them to get around to dealing with it.  By the time they open the blocked site, the kids are through with the project.

Going from Hate to Partner

How can you turn this around?  You need to start building a relationship with the Tech Department and the best time to do it is when things slow down.  If at all possible, set up a meeting with them during the summer to discuss how you can help each other.  And bring food to the meeting.

Make a list of the jobs you need the Tech Department to do and put them in approximate chronological order.  Ask if you can be “trained” in doing some of them yourself so as not to strain the department’s limited resources.  In my last library situation, we loaded all the new students and teachers into our system.

Let them know whenever a research project comes up, you will explore potential sites ahead of time to identify which ones might be blocked so the Tech Department has advanced warning and has time to unblock them.  That said, see if they can find a way to “fast track” any requests from you to open sites if some are discovered while the assignment is underway.  Explain why it is so important while showing you recognize their concerns and problems.handshake

Find out if the head of the Tech Department is a member of ISTE.  If you are as well, you can use that as a common bond for discussion.  You might even attend the ISTE conference together. When you come across articles or resources you think would be of interest to the Tech people, preferably online ones, send it to them.

If you haven’t done so already, see if you can get on the district’s Tech Committee.  You need to show your tech competence and that you recognize and value the service given by the Tech Department.  When you become part of their solution instead of being their major problem, you will have found a valuable ally in ensuring your program runs smoothly and meets the needs of students and teachers.




ON LIBRARIES: Mastering Managing

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You are well aware of the many roles you have as a school librarian, but whether you are at an elementary, middle, or high school the one you will be evaluated on and judged by is your teaching.  To a great extent this translates into how well you manage your classes.  Do students follow instructions or do they get out of hand? Can you deal with disruptive students? How often do you send students to the office?

Classroom management is not a usual topic in library school which makes it particularly challenging for those who have never taught.  But even seasoned teachers who move to the library are not as skilled as they thought they would be.  The library environment is very different from the classroom and while some procedures work the same, it is not always the cases.classroom management

Managing When You Are on a Fixed Schedule

Most elementary and some middle school librarians operate on a fixed schedule. Teachers happily drop off their students and go off to their duty-free period.  When it’s over they are waiting at the door to pick them up.  The teacher is well aware of how “her” students are as they head into the library and how they are when leaving – and they judge your abilities to manage the class.

Note they think of it as leaving their students with you, and that’s part of the challenge.  The students are not truly yours.  You get them at best once a week.  Even learning their names is a challenge.  You don’t have regular assigned seats.  The environment is open.  There are bookcases where students can get conveniently “lost” and anyone can drop in, interrupting whatever flow you may have gotten going.

Rules and Guidelines

You undoubtedly have rules for the library, but they can work against you.  Negatives bring forth negative responses.  Any rule that begins with the word “no” can spark resistance. Focus on the positives and encourage students to be their best.

You can keep it simple with these three basics:  Respect yourself, Respect others, and Respect the library.  Have students explain what these mean.  If you introduce these at the start of the school year, engage students in a discussion with them supplying examples for each of the three.

If someone acts out later in the year, remind the student of the rules.  Ask what would be a better way to behave.  Having them tell you is much better than you lecturing them.


Classrooms have routines and the library needs them as well.  Always greet students at the door as they entering.  Make comments, such as, “That’s a nice t-shirt,” or “I missed you last week.” Use their names as soon as you learn them.

Book return is customarily first. Have two students handling that, arranging the returns on a cart.  Keep alternating who has the job and don’t limit it to the “good kids.”  You want all students to develop a sense of ownership of the library.

Have one students direct the class to where you want them next – by the computers, at tables, or your story corner.  You should be there as soon as possible.  Praise positive behavior and ignore as much as possible those who are not settling in immediately.  If necessary, ask that student about the “rule.”

Whether it’s a lesson or story time, always have a focusing question to get them thinking and talking about the topic you will be presenting. Encourage them to ask deep questions.  As the lesson or story draws to a close, have a wrap-up question that guides them into summarizing and synthesizing the lesson.

Direct students in an orderly way to the next phase which is usually book selection and checkout. Be sure they know where to go while waiting for the whole class to complete this portion. As they line up to leave, keep fidgeting to a minimum by having them share what they most remember about that day’s library period.  Greet the teacher as you turn the students back to their classroom teacher.


You are bound to have at least one class that always seems to be difficult.  Without realizing it, you often exacerbate the problem.  If all you can think of when they enter is, “I can’t wait until this class is over,” or “I wonder how much trouble they will cause today,” you are setting yourself and them up.

Your body language is signaling your thoughts and kids pick that up. You wouldn’t like it if someone dreaded seeing you, and your reaction to that person would be very negative.  Students are no different.

To reduce the potential for confrontations, change your attitude.  Think, “I wonder if I can find Bill the perfect book today,” or “I am going to get a smile from Diane, she seems so lonely.”  Look for positives.

But what about a student who walks in the door in a hostile manner?  First of all, recognize it has nothing to do with you. Something set him or her off before coming to the library. Try saying something like, “You look as though you are having a tough day.  Is there anything I can do to help?flex

Managing on a Flex Schedule

In most middle and all high schools, librarians have flex schedules.  There are much fewer challenges when teachers are with their class, but you do need to deal with drop-ins. Because of the numbers, the noise level can get quickly out of hand.  Teachers in the library will take note of how well you handle this.  And the last thing you want is for an administrator to show up because they have been alerted to the situation.

In brief, positive rules work here as well.  So does smiling and keeping a positive attitude. A sense of humor helps most of all.  Keep it light.

Go over to a noisy table and quietly ask them to lower their voices. Be friendly as you say it. If they argue that another table is noisier, let them know you will be dealing with them, but for now this is the group you are addressing.

Only in the direst situations should you raise your voice to quiet the whole library.  As soon as you do you have announced you have lost control of the library.  You can get away with it perhaps twice in a school year.

When you have an orderly (not silent, not even mostly quiet – just orderly) library, you will be respected as a teacher.  It may seem odd, since this is not specifically about your teaching, but it is how you will be judged.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is on my mind a lot as I discuss Classroom Management in greater detail in an upcoming book I am writing for ALA Editions.



ON LIBRARIES: There’s a Toolkit For That

Everyone nhelp2eeds help sometime.  Whether you are a recognized leader in your building and district, just taking the first steps into leadership, or feeling not quite ready to do so, situations occur that cause stress, anxiety, or fear.  In addition, none of us are experts at everything.

ALA and AASL are very often your backup but first you need to know what they have for you. And while I strongly believe all school librarians should be members of ALA/AASL this help available to you even if you aren’t a member. Did you know about the many toolkits available on the website?

Promote Your Program

Want help in promoting your school library program?  There is a toolkit for that. The 77-page downloadable PDF discusses Leadership, Advocacy, Communication, and L4L (Learning for Life). Leadership gives practical advice on how to reach stakeholders at building, district, community, and state levels. It explains what works and what gets in the way.  Success Stories encourage you and offer some ideas on what else you can do – including one from me on Elevator Speeches with Strangers. You can even see videos on Dispositions, Communications, and Visions of the Future.

Advocacy also has suggestions for reaching out to your stakeholders from students to the community. More Success Stories follow and answers are provided for the Tough Questions people are likely to throw at you. Want to know how to get the word out?  The Communications chapter will guide you. Learn how to market your program inside and outside the school. Again find Success Stories.L4L_revisions2

In case you didn’t know, L4L is the AASL brand for implementing our national standards. Find out more about it, what resources it offers, and how to use what they have developed in your school and district. Finally, there is a long list of clickable resources for you to use such as samples of an annual report and key points to include, a template for a newsletter, four downloadable infographics and posters, and talking points on various subjects.  In other words, everything you need to figure out how you can best promote your program.  And you are on vacation now (or almost), so this is the perfect time for you to go over this and plan for next school year.


In order to be successful advocacy needs to be ongoing as you build support from all your stakeholders.  The Health and Wellness Toolkit takes you through five steps, identifying each group of stakeholders’ agendas. Next you learn to design and market your program targeting he specific goals of stakeholders. Assess how well your advocacy plan is working and use the many resources- most with links – to keep you going.

How about what to do when library positions are up for elimination.  Although you have an easier task if you have been putting the Health and Wellness Toolkit in place, if you haven’t all is not lost.  The School Library Crisis Toolkit walks you through Crisis Planning and helps you to create a communication link so your supporters stay informed, you reach those stakeholders who might help, and design a powerful message.  AASL needs to be informed of the threat and there are directions for contacting them and your state association. Again, you have a long list of resources you can access.

Parents can be your biggest supporters. They need to know why school libraries and librarians are important in their children’s education. The Parent Advocate Toolkit is for parents to use in order to learn more about today’s school libraries. Become familiar with it and promote it on your website and on any Open House or Back to School Night.  Let parents know you are more than willing to discuss any questions they may have when they read it and check out the links.

toolkitYou can find all the AASL toolkits on their website and you might look at others available from ALA. Keep checking for new ones.  Once more information is known there will probably be one on ESSA.  Right now you can find the latest information here.

Are there other topics you think need to have a toolkit?  Let your state’s AAS Affiliate Assembly delegate know.  If it is submitted 6 weeks before ALA Annual Conference it can be a Concern which is brought to the AASL Board.  What would you like to see?