ON LIBRARIES – Dress for Success

dress-for-success-1I am taking on a somewhat controversial topic.  Not everyone sees this as necessary, and it’s not the most important thing you can do to promote your leadership.  However, with so much at stake to keep library programs and librarians visible and vital, I believe we should use every tool available to us.

You know that you communicate a great deal without words. When you walk into a room, before you say anything, you have sent a number of messages. Some are totally unfair as people will make judgments based on arbitrary prejudices such as age, weight, and any number of other irrelevant criteria.

body-languageIn addition to visual clues, body language tells a lot about what you are thinking and how you are feeling.  Arms crossed signals you are closed.  Whether you look at people or away from them reveals how secure you are feeling. Tight lipped smiles shows you are hiding something or feel insecure. You make these decisions about others.  They do the same about you.

How you dress also sends messages. I go to every ALA and AASL Conference and I am always amazed at how easy it is to distinguish between the vendors and the librarians in the halls and elevators.  I know many librarians feel they can relax and dress solely for comfort, but I have a feeling that many of them dress that way when they are in their schools.

wonder-womanLook around your building.  Notice how the teachers dress.  Is there a difference between those who are well-regarded and others?  The dress of the secretarial and clerical staff is rarely the same as what teachers wear.  Paraprofessionals and aides mostly have their similar dress “code.” This is not a hard and fast rule.  There are always exceptions, but in general this holds true.

Now look at how administrators dress.  Compare that with what you wear.  Where are you on the scale?  If you look like some of the less-regarded teachers you are opening yourself up to being ignored or not valued highly.  If your clothes are similar to teachers who are highly regarded you are in a better position.

But you want more than that.  You want to be viewed as a leader.  Increasingly you will be in the presence of administrators. If you look as though you are one of them, you will be treated as though you are.  It may seem shallow, but it’s effective.

I have known a few librarian leaders and one administrator who didn’t “dress for success” who are highly respected, but they are rarities.  They are incredibly skilled at showing their worth and so were accepted by everyone for the leaders they are. You, on the other hand, may still be at a place where you want to prove yourself and emerge from how you are currently perceived.dressed-professionally

Dressing for success is much discussed in the business world, but hardly ever mentioned in education. Indeed, in some corporations a person who is being primed for promotion to higher levels of management might be sent to a personal shopper to be able to present a more polished, successful appearance.  Unlike the corporate world, in a school system, upgrading your wardrobe doesn’t mean you will be purchasing clothes with designer labels, but being mindful of the message you send with what you are wearing is important.

A reality check is necessary here.  If you are at the elementary level, skirts and dresses for women and suits for men are impractical.  You frequently get down on the floor to work with kids.  However nice pant suits or their equivalent and ties and such for men are a subtle change that will be taken in subliminally as part of your message.

While you are unlikely to work on the floor with students in high school, the same suggestions can hold.  Most important at any level is to feel comfortable with what you wear. Jewelry that is too flashy and earrings with long dangles are generally to be avoided as they are distracting.

shoes2Shoes are another consideration.  High heels for women are impractical unless you are very accustomed to moving with them on. Sneakers, on the other hand, need to be carefully thought out.  Some are far too casual. Others might work depending on what the norms are in your building and district.  Although it’s not fair, men are more easily able to get away with them.

In becoming a leader, it pays to be mindful of things big and little.  You show your leadership in what you do and how you are and that is what is most important. But you don’t want the small things to take away or diminish in any way from how you are perceived.

Are you mindful of how you dress? Do you think it matters in your building and district?

(EDITOR’S NOTE Based on a section of Hilda’s forthcoming book Leading for School Librarians: There is No Option.)


ON LIBRARIES – Are You a Professional?

professional-2Of course you are. But what exactly does that mean?

The term came up when I was talking with my editor at ALA Editions.  I had just submitted the manuscript for my new book, Leading for School Librarians: There is No Option. It was slightly more than a month ahead of deadline and at something over 64,000 words met the contractual target of 55,000-65,000 words.  She also knew I completed it in less than five months while continually teaching several online courses, and she said in admiration, “You are a professional.”

It’s lovely to hear something like that and it took me back over thirty years to the superintendent of schools where I was working.  She skillfully led a district which voted down budgets twenty times in the twenty-two years I was there.  Knowing she had to operate on a shoestring, she very successfully learned the art of complimenting in ways to get faculty to do and give more.  In our conversation, she said “I can always count on you. You are a true professional.” I beamed and, of course, I did what she wanted.

But I have now begun thinking what does it mean to be a professional.  Of the definitions in Merriam Webster, one is particularly relevant –“relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill.” School librarians certainly meet that criteria.

In the more expanded form the criteria is somewhat less universally true of librarians. While many are “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession,” there are some who are either unaware of the ALA Code of Ethics or haven’t consulted it in a very long time and are not always following it. Indeed a far-too high percentage of school librarians don’t belong to AASL and some don’t even belong to their state library association.  Can you imagine a doctor who isn’t a member of the American Medical Association or a lawyer who isn’t a member of the American Bar Association?

Still not convinced I had addressed all the connotations of “professional,” I turned to the business world and found these two definitions in the online Business Dictionary:professional

  1. Person formally certified by a professional body of belonging to a specific profession by virtue of having completed a required course of studies and/or practice. And whose competence can usually be measured against an established set of standards.
  2. Person who has achieved an acclaimed level of proficiency in a calling or trade.”

Librarians do meet the first definition, but the only “acclaimed level of proficiency” we can attain is probably to have a NBPTS Library Media certification. It certainly demonstrates you are a professional, but only a small percentage of librarians have undertaken that arduous and costly route. (There are sources to help cover the cost.) nb-logo

Being a good librarian—and therefore a good searcher, I continued my exploration of the term professional.  I hit real pay dirt at the Tech Republic site where I found not so much a definition but rather an excellent list of how a professional behaves.   I think this is what we want to take to heart and use to become recognized by others as a “professional.”

Put Customers First

In order to meet this requirement, you have to identify your customers.  Your students are your obvious customers, but so are teachers, administrators, and any number of other stakeholders.  It means they will always have priority over any tasks waiting your attention. “Professionals identify and satisfy their customer’s needs.”

Make Expertise Your Specialty

If you are a professional, you are an expert at something.  Recognize the areas where you are an expert.  Know why this expertise is important to customers.  Keep getting better at it. And incorporate your expertise into your Mission Statement so your customers know the benefits they get from working with you. And you become more valued. “Professionals know their trade.”

Do More than Expectedexceed-expectations

So many of you are doing this.  Your day extends before and after the school day.  You also may be giving teachers more help than they expected from you.  Perhaps you send them weekly emails on online tech resources or apps they can use with their units and volunteer to help them master the sites. You go the extra mile with a student who is struggling to complete an assignment but has limited access to a computer and/or the Internet at home.  “Professionals meet or exceed expectations whenever possible.

Do What You Say and Say What You Can Do

Don’t promise more that you can deliver.  You can always go beyond what you promised (see above). You want your “customers” to know they can trust and count on you.”  It can be easy to get caught up in the moment either touting what school library programs can do or wanting to be seen as invaluable to a teacher, that you go beyond what is in your power to do given your staffing and time.  “Professionals deliver on promises made.”

Communicate Effectively

We are great communicators, but not necessarily on all platforms.  In today’s world you need to be able to send emails, create compelling reports, text on occasion in the education world, develop informative websites, tweet, and speak effectively and to the point. In addition, you need to know the best medium for your message.  It’s a tall order but if you didn’t choose the most effective means for a particular message, it’s likely to be overlooked or, worse, misinterpreted. “Whether verbal or written, professionals communicate clearly, concisely, thoroughly, and accurately.”

Follow Exceptional Guiding Principles

In this case, it’s back to the ethics of our profession as well as the Common Beliefs of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. Know and practice them. “Professionals adhere to high values and principles.”

good-jobPraise Your Peers Not Yourself

Always find opportunities to put teachers (and any staff you have) into the limelight. “Professionals are humble and generous in their praise of others.”

Share Your Knowledge

Of course.  We wouldn’t be librarians if we didn’t do this. “Professionals help their peers and are respected for doing so.

Say Thank You

I learned a lot from that Superintendent of Schools. A well-thought out thank you goes a long way. “Professionals thank others in a meaningful way that most benefits the recipient.”

Keep a Smile on Your Face and the Right Attitude in Your Heart

We want the library to be a warm, safe, welcoming environment. A smile is a good start.  And if you have a positive attitude it will be read in your body language.  Most communication is non-verbal. “Professionals are pleasant even during trying times.

You probably do more than half of these. Are there any that you need to cultivate?  My certification as a public librarian is “Professional Librarian.”  I wish the one for school librarians carried that designation.  Even so consider yourself a “Professional School Librarian” (or whatever you are called in your state), and work to be sure you live up to that every day.



ON LIBRARIES – To Be Valued and Valuable

the-future-starts-todayThe libraries, librarians, students and teachers of tomorrow — need you NOW.

I have been writing for school librarians since 1979.  I have been speaking and presenting to them for almost as long. Many would say those first years –1980’s and 1990’s – were a golden age for school librarians.  Certainly we weren’t seeing librarians being eliminated, but the times weren’t perfect and many of the seeds of today’s challenges were planted then.

While this look at the past may seem laden with doom and gloom, hang on.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  You can and must be part of the change. Yes, you are part of that light.

Articles in the early issues of School Librarian’s Workshop dealt with budget constraints.  Libraries still got money, but it was often cut.  Principals saw that large chunk of funds as a source for some of their pet projects.  And how did the librarians respond?  They complained to their fellow librarians.  “Woe is me. My principal doesn’t see the importance of the library program.”library-closed

Sound familiar? I would give a workshop at a state conference—usually my home state—and invariably one or more librarians would tell me, “My principal has no idea what I do.”  There is a connection between an administrator having no idea of what you do and not recognizing the importance of the library program. But too many librarians didn’t want to undertake more work to change perceptions.

Time and again, I was told by elementary librarians, “I am needed because I provide teachers with their contractual duty-free period.” The unsaid message was, “my position is secure.”  I would respond that times change and so do contracts.  The answer mostly fell on deaf ears.  These same librarians would also complain that teachers dropped their class off and came back to pick students up without caring about what happened during the “library period.”  “They think of me as a babysitter.”  Yet, the librarians did nothing pro-active to raise teacher awareness.

perceptionAt the high school level, more librarians had staff and reasonable budgets, but these were cut on occasion as well.  Teachers who liked libraries and had a project would bring their classes in. Some of them worked with the librarian.  So in a typical high school, English and History classes were likely to be the only ones who ever used the library.

High school librarians had rules.  I know of one situation where the two librarians would not schedule all the sections a teacher had for the same day. Too much work.  They only permitted teachers who gave them a copy of the students’ assignment to be sure the period wouldn’t be used to give the teacher a break.  Students were allowed in the library at lunch only if they had work to do.

This is not what school libraries are like to today, but this is what they were like for a long time and what teachers saw.  Librarians had a cushy job. A number of those teachers went on to be administrators.  They took their perceptions of the librarian and the school library program with them.

In 1997, Gary Hartzell wrote a two-part article for School Library Journal on “The Invisible Librarian.”  He pointed to the omission of the role of librarians in teacher training, the absence of librarians in many professional organizations, and the difficulty in measuring the value of librarians contributions. There was general agreement with Hartzell’s views.  Librarians saw it as confirmation that they were ignored and one positive result emerged.  Library researchers began investigating the contributions of a library program and developed ways to measure them. Those studies continue being made today. steve-martin

Unfortunately, most administrators and lawmakers don’t seem to care—or even know about them. They remember the librarians from their early career.  Sure they would have continued library programs and kept librarians, but then the economic crisis hit.  School budgets were slashed.  Time to cut the expendable and not vital. Library programs were a logical place to begin.

In the slashing of programs, many wonderful librarians with outstanding programs were eliminated.  We are all still reeling from how quickly we lost so much.  But bemoaning the past doesn’t get us anywhere. We need to learn from it and use the current scene as an opportunity to emerge better than ever.

The big lesson is, if the school community doesn’t know who you are, what you do, and why it is unique, they won’t value you.  If your principal doesn’t know what you do, how can he or she be expected to see you as vital to student learning and helping teachers teach their students critical thinking and the host of other information literacy skills which are integral to what we do?  You must always find creative ways to let your administrators know about student projects and activities you developed in collaboration, cooperation, or conjunction with teachers.

because-of-youYou must make your presence known.  It’s imperative that you step out of your comfort zone and become a leader in your building.  By working with teachers, helping make their jobs easier, showing them how to integrate tech into their lessons, you become invaluable to them.  They know what you do and want more of it.

Serve on building and district communities to show how you contribute. And finally, you must help other librarians in your district be leaders as well.  The past has shown us it’s not enough for one of you to be great.  The broom sweeps out everything at once.

You must do whatever you can to build that advocacy program.  Get ideas from the AASL Health and Wellness Toolkit. Look for programs on leadership and advocacy at your state association’s conference.  Re-read the blog from two weeks ago on mentorship—and become one.

And if you need an incentive, think of Elizabeth Warren’s quote: “If you aren’t at the table, you are probably on the menu.”

How are you demonstrating leadership? How are you building more leaders? How are you contributing to the future of school libraries?

ON LIBRARIES: Always have a plan

chart your courseThe school year has begun.  Everything is new again. Where do you want to be when it ends? Have you given it any thought?  Now is the time to chart your course.

I have written and taught about strategic planning, feeling very strongly that every library program needs to have a direction for the future.  But strategic planning is normally for a two to three year timeline.  If you haven’t gotten that far, make a plan for this one year.  It will give you the confidence to create bolder and longer term ones.

Start by looking at your Mission Statement.  Every library program should have one that declares its purpose in a compelling way.  If you don’t have one, time to get it written.  I did a blog on it one year ago that briefly explains how to craft the statement.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  You can always tweak it later.  Check websites of other school librarians to see if they have a Mission Statement.  Borrow wording you like and make it suit your library.  The statement needs to promote the unique purpose of the library program.mission statement

Once you have your Mission, identify any part you haven’t achieved yet.  For example, perhaps mention teacher collaborations yet very few teachers are collaborating with you. Or if you refer to tech resources, what would you most like to add to your collection?  Is your book budget far too small—or non-existent – for you to build the lifelong readers you stated as part of your purpose?  Do you think an author visit would promote reading? What else is lacking?

Now comes the challenge.  How can you achieve this one change in the course of the school year?  If teacher collaboration is your target, identify the teacher(s) most likely to work with you. You really can start with just one teacher to discover what works and what doesn’t.  Remember, you need to have a relationship first before you are likely to win that teacher over.

Figure out what curricular unit would be the best fit for a mini-research project. Look for one occurring early in the school year so you can build from that. Speak to the teacher, stressing what you are willing and able to do.  You don’t want to add to the teacher’s workload. Do your homework first and have a list of helpful resource ready for you share with the teacher.  Offer ideas for a culminating unit in which students demonstrate critical thinking and create new knowledge.

For tech issues and increasing money for book purchases, you need to identify a source of funding. Can you get a grant from the local education foundation?  Will the parent association give you money from a book fair? Are there other sources in your community?  Look into DonorsChoose,org as a possible source.

Before you apply for any outside funding, develop a rationale for your plan.  Know what you want to do as a follow-up. Speak with your principal. Discuss your Mission and why you want to work on developing this aspect of it. If you are prepared, you should be able to get approval without much if any difficulty.

will it be easyLeaders plan and always have a plan.  While you will focus on one thing for this school year, have a list of everything you want to do to strengthen the library program and make your Mission Statement a reality for everyone in the school.  Then you start working on achieving your Vision.

You never know when an opportunity will arise and you have a chance to do something but have to move quickly. I have known of librarians who are informed there is suddenly a specified amount of money available but it must be spent within a short time frame.  I had it happen and called a vendor I trusted, set up a meeting and gave the rep a big order.

I also used to make it a practice to see my Superintendent of Schools over the summer.  Depending on how your district works, you probably would do this only with your principal.  In that quiet time of the year, I would discuss where I wanted to take the library next and why and how it might affect the budget.  We would negotiate for the funds I wanted for a given project.  I would agree to take money from one part of my budget and she would acquiesce in getting me additional funds to make it happen.

What was most telling is that she once said to me, “I have the feeling that if I go one step with you, you have nine others waiting.” She was right.  I needed those other possibilities.  In case my first idea was shot down, I would bring up the next. She also said to me on another occasion that she learned the easiest way to deal with requests was to say no.  Almost everyone would take that for an answer and go away.  But those like me, who came back with an alternative were listened to.  She could see we were committed to getting something done.plan

So what’s your plan?  What do you want to see happen by school’s end?  What else?  What else?  Dream, plan, and work.  Create a mission, build relationships, and grow your program. You can make it happen.