ON LIBRARIES: Mentors – Get One Or Be One

mentoringMentoring has long been a business practice, but it didn’t have much of a role in education until states began allowing people to become certified through alternate routes rather than taking traditional education course in college.  These new hires had limited knowledge of pedagogy and educational practices.  To get them up to speed quickly, many states instituted mentorships whereby an experienced teacher would guide these newbies through the routines, paperwork, and assorted requirements.

While it’s nice for a school librarian to have a teacher mentor, it does not solve most of the challenges facing someone who is new or relatively new on the job.  A teacher can show you the ropes as they apply to the building or district, but not the ones directly related to being librarian. Teachers don’t deal with budgets, purchase orders, people walking in and out of their rooms, a vague or non-existent curriculum, or administrators who don’t know what you are supposed to do other than teach.

In addition, as a librarian you deal with teacher demands, tech responsibilities, and the tech department for a host of issues ranging from updating your automation system and inputting new students and teachers into that system to loading any new databases.  Where can you get help?  Not from a teacher.  You need a school librarian as your mentor.

Getting a Mentorkeep calm - mentor

You have a few options as to how to acquire a mentor.  It might be simplest to find another librarian in your district and ask him or her to be your mentor.  They are familiar with how the district operates, probably order from the same vendor that you will, and know the people and practices of your districts’ tech department.

Another way to acquire a mentor is to go to your state library association’s website and see if they have a mentor program.  Many do and will find one for you, preferably located close to you geographically.  My own state of New Jersey has a detailed mentorship program with explanations of the responsibilities of mentors and mentees, the reporting process, and more.

If that avenue is not available, go to you association’s online discussion board (also called listserv).  Monitor it for a while to see who is most active and which contributors seem to be the most respected and well-versed in the latest practices in school librarianship.  Email one of these librarians and ask him or her to be your mentor.

reach the topBeing a Mentor

Those of you who are quite experienced and who are regarded as leaders in your state need to step up and become mentors. If you want school library programs to flourish, you are responsible to help all school librarians to be successful and to grow into being leaders. One of my favorite quotes is by Tom Peters who said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.

Now that you accept your responsibility to become a mentor, you need to find mentees.  If your state association doesn’t have a mentorship program, propose one.  Use a national forum such as LM_NET or AASL_Forum to find out which states have a program and are willing to share it with you.  No need to re-create the wheel.

In the meantime, check to see if your district has any new hires. Positions that once were eliminated are slowly (OK, very slowly) being restored in places.  More often than in the recent past, when a librarian leaves or retires the position is not being eliminated, so districts are getting more new librarians. Reach out to these newbies and offer you services.

You can also go on you state association’s discussion board and suggest a core of volunteer mentors for new librarians, saying you would want to be one to help those starting out be successful.  The simple act of putting yourself out there should bring both requests from those who recognize what a gift this is and volunteers who will join you in becoming mentors.

Mentor/Mentee Relationshipmentor wanted

Both mentors and mentees have responsibilities in this relationship and it’s best if these are discussed clearly from the beginning.  The mentee has the obligation of honoring the mentors’ time and using the communication channel the mentor prefers whether it’s phone, email, skype, or whatever seems best.  Sometimes the mentor can come to the mentee’s school. Also determine the frequency of communications. It can be on an as-needed basis or there can be a regular schedule.

Additionally the mentee must be clear as to his/her needs. What specifically does the mentee want to know or learn?  I have had mentees email me a copy of an evaluation they received, explained what happened, and asked for the best way to respond to it  I have been asked to help craft a memo to a principal regarding a problem situation and do it in a way the librarian didn’t sound as though she was whining or complaining.

It is also a good idea for the mentee to keep track of the number and content of the communications.  This serves as documentation of the mentees’ growth. If kept general enough, the mentee might be able to use it to show the principal what he/she learned.

The role of the mentor is more than simply being a coach.  Yes, the mentor cheers on the mentee on those down days when all seems to be going wrong and points to places where the mentee has shown growth, but in addition they need to be good listeners and not rush in with answers and advice.  They ask guiding questions, much the way we do with students.  It’s important that the mentee learn to think through problems and situations on his/her own.

The mentor is also the mentee’s link to resources. This included reminding them of national association websites, informing them of tech resources and apps as well as connecting and introducing them to other leaders.  Slowly the mentor guides the mentee not only to be confident and successful on the job, but more importantly, the mentor helps the mentee on the path to leadership.

help is on thewayDo you have a mentor or have you had one?  What did you learn?  Have you ever been a mentor? What did you learn and gain from it?


BONUS!!  Download your free Mentor-Mentee contract here!


ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Empower Others

    leadership direction         The word “empowerment” has been coming up often. The AASL guidelines for school library programs has the title Empowering Students. “Empower” has become one of the buzz words used in business and education.  As with many overused terms, frequency blurs meaning. It is a very strong word and should be thoroughly understood so you know what it is you are expected to do.

Merriam Webster defines it as “to give power to (someone)” or “to give official authority or legal power to (someone).” Obviously we use the first meaning most often, but even so, what power are we giving students?  Through our inquiry-based lessons they develop the power to learn on their own, follow their passions, knowing they have become skilled users and producers of information.

But there is a more subtle meaning of empower. When we empower someone we make them more confident, in control of their life, and able to believe in and trust their abilities. That is a huge responsibility. Yet if you follow your students over their several years in your building, you see that is exactly what you do.super heroes

The AASL Guidelines were published in 2009 and the use of “empowering” in the title was new in the world of education.  Although it didn’t discuss why the word was chosen, it was on target.  We need to embrace the concept of empowerment.

As a leader you need to take on the challenge of empowering others.  Recognize how and when to empower your stakeholders. When you bring relevant aspects of your expertise to them, they become more confident in what they are doing and, whether or not they acknowledge what you have done, they are aware that they have grown as a result.

Students, of course, are your first stakeholders, and you know how you empower them.  You do so with every inquiry based lesson, every time you expand their range of leisure reading, or guide them in their searches for their assignments or personal interest.  Tune into how you are building their confidence and trust in their own abilities to learn on their own.

Your teachers are the next group you need to empower.  To do so, analyze where they are unsure of themselves and need some help. Because of rapid changes, teachers are usually not nearly as capable as you are at integrating tech resource.  They are unaware of the vast range of them and the new ones that keep sprouting up.  One librarian I know of, sends teachers information on one tech resource each week, offering to help them see how it can be used in their curriculum units.  Knowing that you are there to hold their hand as they learn how to use it, makes the prospect less intimidating and builds their confidence.

help upSome teachers are not well versed in crafting units with Essential Questions (EQs) and Enduring Understandings (EUs).  As you work with them, having built a relationship so they trust you, suggest possibilities to use in a learning experience.  The more the two of you work together, the greater the teacher’s confidence grows in writing the EQs and EUs on their own.

Finally, the importance of inquiry-based learning is being touted as important in student learning.  Too often the implication is it can be accomplished solely in the classroom. Considering it has students select the direction of what they want to learn about a topic and invariably requires research, it can’t really be limited to the classroom. But you can point out how you structure an inquiry-based unit.  Working with you is safe as you do not evaluate teachers so they are willing to ask questions and learn as they go.

The strong relationships and growing history of collaboration or cooperation you have built with teachers are the foundations on which you empower them.  In an era when many eyes are on classroom teachers, judging and evaluating what they do – and usually negatively, you give them the confidence and the vocabulary to show they are valuable.  And you are therefore valuable to them.

Your next step is empowering administrators.  While many work hard to keep up with changes in technology and what is happening in their buildings, too often they are even more overworked than you and the teachers.  When you inform them of projects teachers have done with you, always spotlighting the teacher, and students learning and reactions, you give them a deeper understanding of how collaboration (or cooperation) is impacting both faculty and students. With this knowledge, the administrator gets to know more details of what is happening in the building that could be obtained from the few classroom observations.  The added benefit is that it promotes your program.Bill Gates

Parents are another group of stakeholders you can empower. They are aware of the dangers their children might get into in cyberspace but lack the knowledge to know how to prepare them and keep an eye of their child’s digital footprint.  If you give a presentation to parents on keeping kids safe in cyberspace and/or posting helpful information for parents on your website, you empower them.  Even keeping them informed about projects classes are doing is a form of empowerment as it makes them feel closer to their children’s day.

Who are you empowering?  How are you doing it? What help do you need? Remember – your peers and mentors are here to empower you!

ON LIBRARIES – Weeding and Leading

weedingI recently realized these two topics are related when I discovered how many librarians are reluctant to weed, and the many issues that arise when they do. Perhaps you’ll feel better about the process when you realize weeding gives you several ways to promote your program. As you make your collection more relevant and less burdened by past choices, you show your program’s (and your) relevance.

The Issue of Weeding

I first encountered weeding back in the 1980s when I took over a high school library from a librarian who feared administrative reaction if she threw books out.  After all they were bought with hard-earned taxpayer money.  I had no such qualms.

Among the treasures I found on my shelves was a book called Percy Goes to Yale, the sue bartoncomplete Sue Barton series starting with Sue Barton Student Nurse which I had read twenty plus years before in high school.  Other treasures included a 300+ page book on homeroom guidance, a science book with a chapter on the Piltdown Man, first “discovered” in 1912 and proved a hoax in 1949, and a guide for young ladies called What’s Your PQ? about how girls should keep their intellect and skills hidden so as not to seem superior to their dates.

Weeding needs to be a continuous process to keep collections current. Having books on the shelf just for the sake of having them is a disservice to students. Worrying about keeping a certain number so you have 20 books per student or whatever formula you are following means nothing if the books aren’t helpful.

While librarians are still be eliminated, in other places the positions have been restored.  The newly hired librarians are faced with books that haven’t circulated in years and nothing current.  This is one place leadership shows up.  If you put books you have weeded onto a cart and either show the howlers to your principal or take a picture of them and share it, you will show how you mean to take charge of your library.  Tie it into your view of what a 21st century program should be and use it to show your leadership.

You can also use weeding as a means of building advocates for the library program by inviting volunteers to assist you.  If you don’t have library volunteers, with the principal’s approval, see if the PTA will work with you to sponsor a Weeding Saturday.  Have carts and criteria ready along with snacks and drinks.

Choosing What to Weed

mustieFor criteria, many librarians use the CREW and MUSTIE method created by Belinda Boon and presented in full in The CREW Method; Expanded Guidelines for Collection Evaluation and Weeding for Small and Medium-Sized Public Libraries (Austin, Texas: The Texas State Library, 1995). In it she explains the two acronyms. CREW stands for Continuous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding while MUSTIE helps you decide what to throw out:

  • M- Misleading—factually inaccurate
  • U- Ugly –worn beyond mending or rebinding
  • S- Superseded—by a new edition or a much better book on the subject
  • T- Trivial—of no discernible literary or scientific merit
  • I- Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community
  • E- Elsewhere—the material is easily available from another library.

My personal favorite resource on weeding is Less is More: A Practical Guide to Weeding School Library Collections by Donna J. Baumbach and Linda L. Miller (Chicago: ALA, 2006). While now 10 years old, it is still incredibly helpful.

library girl - weeding
The FRESH approach of Library Girl

Library Girl offers the acronym FRESH.  The image at the left explains her measures and if you click on image (or her name at the beginning of this sentence), you’ll read her article on the subject.

When your volunteers arrive, explain the criteria to them and let them begin.  Be sure they know you will review each item because once in a while, they pull a classic that really should be kept.  Keep track of the total number of books to discard and photograph everyone hard at work as well as the results of their labor – the piles of books and the uncluttered shelves.

Part two of the weeding process brings up what can be a thorny issue.  What do you do with the discards? Before you begin, find out what the district’s policy is.  Assuming you have the right to dispose of them as you wish, think twice before you send them to Africa, to a school lacking in books, or to classroom collections.  I know it’s hard for most of us to throw books out.  And tossing what were expensive reference sets seems wrong but why would you burden another collection with books that aren’t valuable.

Before you choose one of those options, I urge you to read an article by Gail Dickinson in the April/May 2005 issue of Library Media Connection. In addition to explaining the weeding process succinctly, going through all relevant steps –and discussing MUSTY (which I like even better than MUSTIE) she makes an analogy between milk in your refrigerator that is past the sale date and has curdled and books that are outdated and contain misinformation.

Weeding Shows Leadership

One more story from my past.  I was working with a group of volunteers on a community service project doing some cleanup in an inner city school.  One team worked on the playground, another in the cafeteria/ gym/auditorium, and I headed up those who wanted to clean up the library.

There hadn’t been a librarian in several years and the library had been rearranged to meet teacher needs, so there was no Dewey order and no card catalog. The shelves however were packed.  I gave my team guidelines and in a few hours we had an enormous pile of books to discard. One was about family life in the 1950s complete with a picture of the family watching a tiny black and white television.

weeding dutyThe volunteers were very pleased with how the library looked and so was the principal.  He was very impressed and told me if I had been his librarian, he would never have eliminated the position. He had no idea of who I was other than a librarian. He didn’t know about the books I had written or what I was doing in AASL.  He just saw results.  And that is why weeding is tied to leadership.

How often are you weeding?  Do you get help?  What “howlers” have you found?


ON LIBRARIES: A Matter of Time

white rabbitWith the start of the school year, the demands on your time just increased exponentially. By the end of the first week some of you feel you are already a month behind. To prevent yourself from spending the year in a constant state of overwhelm, you need to develop time management techniques that work for you, allowing you to get your work done and still be able to be with family and friends.  In other words, have a life outside of school.

Leaders know how to manage their time. They have to.  Last October I blogged about the stories we tell ourselves as to why we can’t be leaders. The first one was you didn’t have time.  As you take on more tasks and responsibilities, you can quickly find yourself buried in tasks.  Even with good time management, you can get swamped.  You just need to know how to minimize those times when you are in work and some techniques for getting your life back in order.

You almost undoubtedly have days when you feel you will never get done.  Mostly, it’s a matter of finding out what organizational techniques work best for you.  Then you must become sufficiently disciplined to use them.

No one has more than twenty-four hours in a day.  Realistically you need time to sleep, eat, and be with family and friends.  That leaves a limited number of hours to get everything done.  Yet if you look around, you will see that some people do it very well and others are constantly floundering. time management

The truth that you know, but hate to face, is you are probably wasting a great deal of time. It’s getting easier and easier to do so with lures such as Candy Crush or other Facebook games, checking email, or looking at posts on your social media of choice. Procrastination has always been with us, and it seems we have more ways to avoid what we don’t feel like doing.

Take an honest inventory of your habits.  Make of list of how you spend (squander?) time.  What tasks do you avoid doing for as long as possible? This is not meant for you to blame yourself for these habits.  Even the most organized people need downtime. You can’t shift from one task to a dissimilar one without a brief break of some type.  The brain doesn’t work that way.  The difficulty is not to turn that brief break into an extended waste of time.

Make another list of your daily routines and your “regular” ones.  Which ones require a deep focus and which are “no-brainers?”  It is important to be recognize that all tasks are not equal in how much concentration they need. You should know what time of day you are best suited for the ones that involve the most attention, so that to the extent possible you can deal with them at the optimum time for you.

daily plannerThink about how you spend your average work week. I sometimes characterize many librarians as living with a fire extinguisher and duct tape as their prime tools.  They are spending much of their time putting out fires or patching up problems.  That’s draining.  For the most part it is caused by not having a Mission and Vision (which I hope you have since I have blogged about it previously), and setting goals for attaining desired objectives.  As the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, is reputed to have said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

Stay focused and be productive by finding a way to have a to-do list that works for you.  Some highly obsessive, motivated people can have one for the day with a list of all tasks prioritized.  They consider completing it a mark of their success.

The nature of your job makes it unlikely that you can do that.  Your day can be very unpredictable.  Consider a weekly to-do list.  I have one that is for two or three days.  I have a column on the right where I list the different categories of my tasks.  For you it could be “back room” for tasks such as cataloging, ordering books, etc, “administration” for doing reports, and “teaching” for getting materials for a class.  You would be the one to best set the categories.

I put stars next to my high priority tasks.  Another way to do it is to identify tasks by whether they take concentrated time or can be done whenever you have a few free minutes.  Writing a report is one that takes focused time.  If you stop in the middle, you need to review what you did before continuing. Checking email can be done between complex tasks.

Some of you will find it most efficient to keep your to-do list on your phone or tablet. Others prefer a traditional pencil and paper to have it in view all the time.  This is not one-size-fits-all. How you organize your available time is personal and must fit your personality, work style, and your situation.  Keep experimenting until you find the one that works best for you.

For those of you who routinely stay late, it’s time to pack it up.  Allow yourself only one or two late days.  You have a life waiting at home.  You will never finish everything. Tasks keep coming. My mantra is, “If it’s important, it will get done.  It always does.”

What’s your best time management tip?




essaThe start of the school year is imminent for some of you and not too far away for the rest of you.  Before your vacation is over, you need to become knowledgeable about ESSA and how to make it work for your program.  Fortunately AASL and hopefully your state association has information and resources for you to tap into as you advocate for library funds.

Ever since President Obama signed ESSA into law AASL has been working to ensure that this hard-one replacement of NCLB would get school libraries the recognition and funding they need.  Since ESSA calls for “Effective School Library Programs” in Title I, II and IV of the act, it was necessary to define what such a program is. They have done so with a recently released position statement.

The statement is brief and yet succinctly explains the contribution an “effective school library program” makes to students and the educational community. When you review this document, highlight where your library meets the requirements and where it still falls short.  Bring it to your principal along with your recommendations as to how you can attain the level required so your school and district will qualify for federal funds under the act. President_Barack_Obama_signs_Every_Student_Succeeds_Act_(ESSA)

The discussion opens the door for you to share what you can bring in the way of technology integration, lifelong reading, and the 21st century skills of critical thinking, creating new knowledge, and sharing it widely. Since the position statement refers to the research supporting the contribution of school library programs on student learning and achievement. Also bring your downloaded copy of School Libraries Work -2016 ed. from Scholastic to support that claim.

In a previous blog I mentioned the “landing site” AASL has set-up as a one-stop shopping for ESSA information. All information whether from AASL, ALA, or other sources can be found here.  In addition to a link to the position statement, under Rule Making and Guidance it has an extremely helpful PDF from ALA’s Washington Office on Opportunities for School Librarians as a result of ESSA.

The information from the Washington Office focuses on Title I, II, and IV of ESSA.  In each case it explains the area covered by that title and part. Under Background it explains what states and school districts must do under the provisos of the Act.  Next it lets you know the Library Provisions so you don’t have to read through the legalese of the actual ESSA.  Then it details under Next Steps what need to be done to apprise school districts of what they can do under the Act and where it is necessary to contact state officials.  The latter will probably best be done by your state library association.

Title I Part AImproving Basic Programs Operated by State and Local Educational Agencies will be the most challenging since it authorizes but doesn’t require how these agencies will assist schools in developing effective school library programs.  A lot of work is needed to contact and work with these agencies. It would seem for the most part you will need a lot of assistance from your state association unless AASL can develop an action plan to help.

Title II Part A -Supporting Effective Instruction is much more promising, as are subsequent relevant parts of the Act since it authorizes states to use grant funds to “support instructional services provided by effective school library programs.”  Under NCLB these funds were listed as solely for teachers. Now these can be used to support your professional development.  Note it says “can be.”  Whether they will, depends a great deal on you.

Title II Part B Subpart B Literacy Education for All includes a new K-12 literacy program.  School librarians can now apply for grant funds to support this. It also has funding to provide time for teachers and librarians to meet, plan and collaborate on comprehensive literacy instruction. Subgrants awarded must include professional development for teachers AND librarians. Again, you may very well have to bring all this to the attention of your administration. Another section of this subpart deals with the Innovative Approaches to Literacy and specifically authorizes funds to be used for developing and enhancing effective school library programs.  It will take advocacy at the federal level to ensure this is fully funded.  Expect ALA and AASL to work through the Washington Office to accomplish this – but when asked, be sure to do your part and contact your legislators.

Title IV Part A – Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (Block Grants) this is a continuation of what was in NCLB but now librarians have a presence.  The grants are tied to poverty levels and include funding for personnel to learn the knowledge and skills needed for technology integration to improve instruction and student achievement. In preparing the grant, school officials must consult with teachers, principals, and other stakeholders who include school librarians.

aasl essa pageOnce you are grounded in these two documents, check out the other resources on the AASL ESSA landing page.  Review the various AASL Position Statements relevant to ESSA. Make it a point to regularly check the link under Resources & Information to ESSA Updates on Knowledge Quest. Look over the material from the ALA program on Unpacking ESSA for the School Librarian.

ESSA is both an opportunity and a challenge.  You can move your school library program forward and demonstrate your leadership to your administrators or you can cross your fingers and hope someone does the work for you and you will get some of the funding.  Which type of librarian do you want to be?  This is the time to step up.  Have you done anything so far?