ON LIBRARIES: (And life) Making Room for Joy

stressed-relaxedThe holiday cards remind us that this is the time for joy and peace – but I have a feeling that in truth, this season stresses us out more than it relaxes us.

So many of you are exhausted. Some districts didn’t close until Friday, December 23rd.  Not only were you dealing with kids – and faculty –  whose focus was on vacation and presents, your own focus was on keeping things from getting out of hand and figuring out how to get all your holiday tasks done.

Now the holiday is over.  Your house is almost back in order and you have a much lighter schedule until school resumes in January.  What are you going to do with this time?  Sleep may be a high priority, but there is something else you should take the time to do.pause

Pause and reflect.  Is this how you really want your life to go? Time is a gift and a finite commodity. How do you choose to spend it? Because no matter what you say about all the demands your job makes –and they are quite real – you are the one making choices.  Your choices tell other what you value.

I used to say my family was my highest priority, but that was not how I was living my life.  There was always another task that needed to be done, always another library committee that demanded my presence.  My family knows I love them.  But was I there for them?  How was I showing that?

Yes, there are times when you need to stay late.  Once in awhile you may go into work on a Saturday.  But if you are coming home late every night, you are cheating those you care most about and yourself.

You have been building relationships with your colleagues, learning enough about them so as to know what’s really going on for them. But are you doing the same with your significant other, good friends and whoever else is important in your life?  Are you accepting “I’mbalance fine” with a sense of relief because it means you don’t have to do anything?

If you are to survive and thrive as a leader you need to live a balanced life.  You can never get back moments you didn’t share with family and friends because you were too busy. If they are important, tasks always get done.  Moments not spent with those you care about are lost forever.

When you are home, be fully present.  Let school slip away from your consciousness. Don’t spend your time thinking about the job and your next project. Focus on the people around you.  Make time to have lunch or dinner with friends

When you pick your head up from the load of tasks you have and find the joy in being with those who matter to you, while still being a leader and an active member of the school library committee you will find you are less exhausted and stressed. The times with family and friends refresh and rejuvenate you.

Living a balanced life is also a gift to other librarians who are watching you.  As a leader you a role model.  You exemplify what leadership entails.  If all you are is a workaholic, reasonable people will not see the value in emulating you, and you do want to build more leaders. Tom Peters has said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/tompeters382508.html)

joyAnd in my efforts to be a role model for leadership, I am keeping this blog shorter than usual.  This is my time with family.

Are you leading a balanced life?  Where do you find joy?



ON LIBRARIES: What Type of Leader Are You?

leader-wordleAn odd question at first read.  A leader is a leader, right? From my past blogs you know there is a difference between managers and leaders, but how can there be leader types?

Step back a moment and reflect on the leaders you know or have worked with.   You may have had a principal or superintendent who was always coming up with new strategies to improve student performance and instruction.  Sometimes it seemed that the beginning of every school year an “exciting approach” was introduced.

Or you may have had one who made every feel respected and valued.  I had a superintendent who had to work with a district that kept school budgets as tight as possible.  She could get staff to go beyond requirements by knowing the right compliments to give people.  I was told I was a “true professional.”  I don’t know what she said to a Spanish teacher who had no problem teaching four different sections of Spanish. (Spanish IV and AP Spanish were included in one class.)  The union wasn’t happy at what teachers were “giving away,” but the district got an amazing return for very little money.leadership-archetypes

So what type of leader are you and how many types are there? Turning as I usually do to the business world for their answers I discovered there are quite a number. In his article on “Eight Archetypes of Leadership in the Harvard Business Review, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries identifies and discusses them.  I will give you my “library” interpretation of these archetypes.

The Strategist: leadership as a game of chess – These librarians keep current with changes in education, technology, and the politics of the district.  They see how to position the library program in the forefront, sometimes before anyone else knows what is coming.

chessThe Change-Catalyst: leadership as a turnaround activity – Although this seems similar to the Strategist there are significant differences.  While the Strategist works best in orderly situations, the Change-Catalyst is a true Disrupter (see last week’s blog) and functions best in messy almost chaotic situations. They shine when a new superintendent or principal is hired and no one knows what to expect.  In the midst of the chaos, they make the needed changes and the library program helps others through the difficult time.

The Transactor: leadership as deal making – Rarer in school librarianship, this type of leader knows how to negotiate with administrators to eke out more funds.  For example, with ESSA coming they approach their principal with ideas for resources which will help teachers make the change-over.  They might ask for one-time funding to cover the cost, or if it’s an electronic resource an ongoing increase to maintain it.

The Builder: leadership as an entrepreneurial activity – The Builder envisions something new and knows how to create it.  Those librarians who have transformed their libraries into a Learning Commons (particularly the first ones) are the Builders.

The Innovator: leadership as creative idea generation – The first ones I knew were the librarians who automated their libraries when computers were in the early stages and you sent your shelf list to one company to create the electronic records, to another vendor to put them into the purchased system, and still a third for barcodes.  Today they are the ones who brought Makerspaces to the library, implement the latest tech into their program and know how to get teachers on board. They run the Twitter chats or a Google Hangout.

processorThe Processor: leadership as an exercise in efficiency – No matter how hard pressed these leaders are, they know how get to the heart of the matter, eliminate what no longer is working, and make running a busy library look easy.  (For me, this is the least important of the types from a library perspective.)

The Coach: leadership as a form of people development – These are leaders with high Emotional Intelligence. As with the superintendent I had, they know how to get the most out of people. They know their volunteers’ skill sets and make the best use of them.  They are charismatic and teachers love working with them resulting in much collaboration or cooperation and support for the library program from the staff and administration.

stage-managementThe Communicator: leadership as stage management – Librarians who have mastered how to get the right message in the most productive format to various target audiences get enthusiastic support for their program since Communicators are skilled at “marketing” their product to the appropriate stakeholders.

With this list in mind, which type of leader are you?  You might be more than one.  Is there a type you would like to become.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Distrupter?

distruption-aheadOf course you aren’t.  You are a team player.  You don’t rock the boat.  But maybe…you should rethink the question. Leaders are disrupters, and it’s time for more librarians to envision themselves this way.

The business world, which I turn to regularly, recognizes the importance of disrupters.  A Forbes article points out the difference between disrupters and innovators saying while all disrupters are innovators not all innovators are disrupters in the way that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. Disrupters change how we think and behave.

The article links to a list of leading disrupters in business. Of course Bill Gates made the list as did the three founders of Kickstarter and the man who started Buzzfeed. You won’t recognize most of the names but they upended how we think of retail, get our television programs, and use social networking.

Okay, great for them.  But you can’t see how to “disrupt” your school – even if you wanted to take such a huge risk.  Let’s try a less scary term.  How about taking on the role of Change Agent?distrupt

Another Forbes article has the compelling title, “Every Leader Must be a Change Agent or Face Extinction.”  We have all seen how school librarians and libraries have been eliminated across the country.  Granted the economic crisis of 2008 caused much of the loss, but part of the reason was the perception that we didn’t make a sufficiently worthwhile contribution to be a good economic decision.

When confronted with widespread slashing of programs, what did many librarians do? They whined they weren’t appreciated.  They crossed their fingers and hoped their jobs wouldn’t be next on the chopping block.  What was and is necessary was to change the way we do business. There are numerous librarians who are doing that, but it’s incumbent on everyone to accept the challenge.

The second article has two quotes that stick with me. “Change is the new normal for leadership success, and all leaders must accept this fact,” and “Change is difficult; Not changing is fatal.” I have repeatedly said all librarians must become leaders or risk disappearing.  If you agree that is true, you need to accept the risk of becoming a change agent.change-is-difficult-not-changing-is-fatal-1

I had a Superintendent in the late 1990’s who alarmed everyone by saying, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  This was when technology was rapidly expanding.  I am sure he got the quote from the title of a book by Robert J. Kriegel. It is a more confrontational statement but is aligned with the premise of another book, Good to Great by James C. Collins, which states as a premise, “Good is the enemy of great.”

Ranganathan, the father of modern library science, said “Library is a growing organism.”  But any organism either grows or it dies.  Now more than ever, the status quo is not sustainable. If you think your current situation is “good,” it’s time to make it great – even if you have to break it to do it.

What can you do to ensure you are growing?  Or what should you do as a Change Agent?  Librarians who are change agents are the ones who introduced Makerspaces and/or transformed their libraries into Learning Commons. If Makerspaces haven’t come to your district yet, that is one way to begin the change process. Makerspaces have had a dramatic impact on schools.

Creating a Learning Commons is more daunting, particularly in districts with small or nonexistent budgets, but you can move in that direction.  After researching various examples, consider what is possible through contributions.  You need a vision of course, and then, with the approval of your principal, consider developing a GoFundMe campaign.

A relatively simple change is to cover tables with whiteboard paper. This allows students working in groups to visually record their ideas as their project evolves. Anyone coming into the library will notice this dramatic difference instantly.  It alters how they see the library, which is what you need to have happen as a Change Agent—or a Disrupter.

Integrate the community into the library.  Just about every place has a local history and horticultural societies.  What else is available in your town or neighborhood?  Contact these groups and ask if they would like to set up an exhibit of interest to your students in the library. When they do, display resources you have on the topic.  Post everything to your website (or on a LibGuide on your website) and add online information.

Video and photograph students viewing the exhibit. Give them comment cards or record what they think.  Turn it into a presentation with Animoto or other similar resource and share it along with a thank-you note (from you and some of the students) to the society.  They may even display it in their location.  Suddenly their members are recognizing the library is not anything like the one they remembered.

agent-of-changeWith administration approval, reach out to the business community through Kiwanis and/or Rotary.  Ask for local business to share their “communications” with your library.  You can feature what they do and again create a supporting display.  Make a visual record and see if you can speak before the group and share what you did and how the kids reacted.

If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. Ignored – for the most part.  Disrupt thinking.  Become a Change Agent.

Have you “disrupted” your school?  What have you done? What’s the craziest idea you’ve ever had for your library program?  Could it actually work?

ON LIBRARIES: Make Your Presence Known

we-are-here-whosToo many librarians still think if they work hard and do a great job, their teachers and principal will recognize their value.  It doesn’t work like that.  If you don’t start self-promoting you might find yourself ignored and possibly eliminated. My daughter tells me the same thing about selling books – if you write well there’s still a very good chance you won’t make the royalties you want. You have to connect with your audience first.

Self-promotion smacks of bragging and most of us shy away from anything resembling it.  It just isn’t “nice.”  Instead of thinking of self-promotion as self-praise regard it as positioning your program. self-promotion

How many people in your building are aware of all you do?  What does central administration know about your contribution to student achievement, integration of technology, and the host of other ways your program transforms the learning community?  How are they going to find out unless you tell them?

Saskia Lefertnk in an OCLC post references Ranganathan, known as the founder of modern library science.  He said, ““If you want to be a reference librarian, you must learn to overcome not only your shyness but also the shyness of others.” While he was speaking specifically of reference librarians, there is much in that quote for school librarians.

shyness-quoteRanganathan wanted to encourage librarians to transition from being preservers of books to actively serving users.  While we have been doing this for decades, how we do it has undergone a change as drastic as the one Ranganathan was advocating.  Shyness or reticence doesn’t work when the playing field has altered so dramatically.

It is easier to promote yourself and your program in writing rather than speaking or conversation.  So your first step is actively informing your stakeholders of what the library program is doing and achieving. Document visually what is occurring in your library.  Show students at work. If you video them, have them talk about what they are doing and learning.

Consider who needs to see this.  If you aren’t doing at least quarterly reports to your principal, start now. Use the writers’ mantra, “Show, don’t tell.”  It carries a greater impact. Do make mention of the teachers who you worked with collaboratively or cooperatively.

There are several web resources such as Piktochart that make telling your story easy. Your principal might like it enough to share with the Superintendent or even include it with a report to the Board of Education. Depending on what you have pictured and district’s rules for posting pictures of students show the activities on your website.  You can always have photos without kids and have them do a voice over.

When you are planning a lesson that demonstrates what you contribute to student learning, invite your principal or supervisor to see it.  Send the plan in advance.  Although there is no guarantee he or she will come, it is still self-promotion for your program and you. Let any teacher you are working with know there is a possibility an administrator will be present.look

Did you attend a conference or a workshop?  Whether it was an official professional day or something you did on your own time, send a brief report to your principal specifically explaining how you will integrate what you learned into working with students and teachers. This sends the message that you are transforming learning and are actively involved professionally.

Volunteer to serve on a committee.  Select one such as technology where you can demonstrate your expertise. If a subject or grade is working on curriculum, try to become a part of it in order to inform them about resources, but also to show how you can work with the teachers in creating units that engage learners and build critical thinking and other skills.

Offer to give a professional development workshop for teachers (or if you are willing to really step out of your comfort zone) with administrators.  Consider showing teachers AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching and Learning or Best Apps for Teaching and Learning. Particularly at elementary and middle schools you might offer to give a talk to parents.  What they should know about digital footprints or the latest social media their kids are on are possible topics.

Apply for a grant.  Start small with your local education foundation.  Let your principal know if and when the grant is approved. Getting free stuff is always appealing to administrators. Once you have some practice with grant-writing, try going for a larger grant.

Check out AASL’s Grants and Awards.  The deadline for most of them is February 1, so you have time over the Christmas break to work on it.  The PR that results from winning one, will showcase you and your program.  If all your efforts are resulting in your principal becoming a supporter of your library program, propose him/her for AASL’s Distinguished School Administrator Award.

If your community has a “day” when vendors and businesses exhibit, see if your school/district is part of it. Find out if you can be there to inform everyone about what school libraries are like today.  AASL has brochures and a great infographic on their Advocacy page.  You can find others by searching the Internet.

get-noticedUse your tagline on whatever you distribute.  Keep looking for ways to bring your program front and center.  Leaders know how to self-promote successfully.  And they aren’t bragging. They are telling it like it is.

What are you doing to make your presence known? Where do you need help, support or recommendations?