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:
- “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.
- 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.)
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.