ON LIBRARIES – The Value of Values

valuesI have often written and spoken about the importance of having a Mission and a Vision Statement.  They keep you grounded and focused when you are being pulled in multiple directions by students, teachers, and administrators. They also guide you in determining where and why you want to take your program next.

What I haven’t really discussed was the even greater importance of Values.  Mission and Vision are powerful and succinct.  They are usually short so you can memorize and display them for others to see. Values speak to the core of who you are and what you believe.  They should be completely internalized.

Consider first how your values affect your life outside the library.  How you honor your marriage, raise your children, treat your friends, and all the interactions of your daily life are rooted in your values.  Without much thought, you make many decisions based on your values.  The same is true for you as a librarian.whats-important

When you write a Philosophy Statement, as I have my students do in my Management of the School Library Program course, I suggest they look at the “Common Beliefs” at the beginning of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner to start their thinking process. They are then to consider what they feel a school library program should embody and communicate.

Philosophy Statements generally run from 2/3 to a full page and are, in essence, a statement of your values.  For me, one of the most important value I hold is that the library must be a safe, welcoming space for all.  This has always been important, but it is clearly needed now more than ever.

safe-place-3It seems like such a simple sentence, but when it’s put into practice, it has many implications for you and your program.  Is your collection diverse?  Does it truly reflect your student body?  Are there books in fiction and nonfiction by and about Latinos, African Americans, Muslims and others who make up your school and community population?  Are there titles about homelessness or a parent in jail?  Your students need to see themselves in your collection.

One of the very difficult questions and decisions facing school libraries is buying and shelving LGBTQ books.  Depending on your community and geography, it can be a hard decision, but if one of your values is that the library is a safe, welcoming environment, your choice is to purchase those books or go against your values.

It’s easier if you haven’t identified your values. Then you can dodge the issue, but is that the person you are or want to be? Is that the program you want to lead?

As a member of ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics, I have been looking at ALA’s Code of Ethics. This represents the Values of our profession.  It’s well worth reading.  This code is one of the things which make me proud to be a librarian even as I sometimes feel challenged to live up to these values. I have been focusing on section VII which reads:code-of-ethics

“We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”

It’s not always easy to set our personal convictions aside, but it’s our responsibility to do so.  Our values should be governing our decisions.

While at ALA Midwinter in Atlanta, I learned that there seems to be “less interest” in our values. Programs at state and national conferences lean heavily to the practical. But the practical need to be rooted in something.  Our values as librarians, give us a uniting bond with each other.  It makes our organization strong and keeps us all on the same page (no pun intended).

intellectual-freedomI urge you to get in touch with our values as librarians.  Bookmark the Intellectual Freedom page and become familiar with the key documents. Start reading the Intellectual Freedom Blog.  You should know what ALA is doing concerning the issue. Most recently OIF condemned government agency censorship.

What are your Values as a librarian? How do they affect the way you do your job?  What are your Values in your personal life?  How have they influenced your choices? (Don’t you love my Essential Questions at the end of each blog?)



ON LIBRARIES: Making Connections

 alamidwinterlogoWhen you read this I’ll be heading home from ALA Midwinter Conference in Atlanta.  As always, I am looking forward to it for many reasons, especially the opportunity to connect with my many friends and colleagues from across the country.  While the majority are school librarians, I also cherish my public and academic librarian friends.  Which got me thinking about the importance of making connections.

My writing and presentations are always for school librarians, and I regularly discuss what needs to be done so we are seen as vital and indispensable.  The subtext in some ways has been we must learn how to stop the cuts to school library programs.  This ignores the much larger issue which many of us don’t recognize – library programs have been facing cuts in all types of libraries. making-connections

To be successful we must work together and get out of our silo.

As a first step, become acquainted with your public library and the librarians there, both in your school district and where you live.  Discuss ways you can work together to reach a broader community and show the importance of all libraries.  Do the same at any community college or four-year institution in your area.

I first took in this message many years ago when the then ALA president, Jim Rettig, talked about the library ecosystem. We are connected.  Damage any one of our library types and all are affected.  Students who don’t have or use a school library are not likely to become public library patrons as adults.  They also add a burden to college librarians who must attempt to teach twelve years of research and information literacy skills to freshmen who are clueless.

love-my-library-2Kids who went to story hours as pre-schoolers have learned to love books and libraries.  They bring that attitude with them when they start elementary school. Their obvious enthusiasm is communicated to their fellow students. The more kids who have that background the easier it is for elementary librarians to get on with their instruction and creation of lifelong readers.

You should be using the ALA website for help on Advocacy and other related matters.  Of course, you should also check in AASL’s website as well your state association’s.  If your state has ta separate association for school librarians, do become familiar with what’s on the larger group’s website and consider joining it.

Don’t overlook going to conferences.  I know it can be an economic challenge and many of you find it difficult to get release time, but the investment is worth it for the learning and the connections you will make.  Explain to your supervisor what you will be able to bring back to benefit students and teachers.libraries-transform-box

Beyond that, I strongly recommend you check out Libraries Transform the current initiative from ALA and has wonderful resources you can use.  There are two tabs in particular you should check out. “Trends” has twenty-three colorful circles each with a trend from Aging Advances to Urbanization.  In addition to Gamification, Maker Movement, and Sharing Economy you will find some less familiar ones such as Haptic Technology and Fast Casual.  Not all are part of libraries – but they could be.

The second tab to look at is Toolkit.  For that you have to register but it will give you access to how to reach target audiences, launch your campaign, and some ideas on how to collect stories. Graphics has a number of items you can print, post, and/or distribute.

future-readyFinally, I want to be sure you are aware of Future Ready Librarians and the Facebook page.  This is for school librarians and it’s about how to be an active part of Future Ready Schools. You want to be a building leader in that movement.  And you might also look at the School Library Advocacy website. They have a wonderful blog that is another source of ideas and possibilities.

You are only alone in your library if you choose to be.  To be a leader and bring to your students, teachers and educational community what they need, you must get connected.connect2

How are you connected?  Where else should you go?  How can your fellow librarians help? If you’re on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page, share your questions, concerns, and successes.

ON LIBRARIES: Fake News and the Teachable Moment

teachable-momentsEvery librarian and teacher knows the magic of the teachable moment. Something occurs in the life of students or in the world and suddenly the kids are eager to find out more.  Whatever you teach at that moment, helping them get a better understanding of the situation will stay with them, possibly forever and with unending and unexpected ripple effects.

Much attention is now being given to what is being called “fake news.”  Although librarians have been using hoax sites for years to teach how to validate information, this issue goes far beyond that, and it’s important that students from older elementary and up learn how to recognize it when they see it.fake

As you prepare to do a unit on this, make sure you are being impartial.  Both sides of the political spectrum have indulged in this practice.  It’s not about you showing your personal perspective is correct. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association states, “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources,” and we need to uphold it in our teaching as much as in our book selection.

A change of terminology might also help alter the climate around the issue.  It’s been my experience that words need to be chosen carefully.  They often carry heavy emotional meaning.  I have had students look at the different terms used on websites when they were researching pro/con assignments.  For example, “pro-choice” vs. “pro-life” or “embryo” vs. “fetus.”  It’s how biased sites work, and they are fine to use as long as you recognize and take into account their point of view.

One excellent sources to use for this “teachable moment” was posted on my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group page.  I liked it first because it refers to fake news as imposter news and it is a simple, easy-to-reproduce list of simple questions to ask. You can distribute copies to teachers for use with their class and use it in working with students.  For the elementary level, you might want to simplify the language.

liar-liarIf you search “identifying fake news” you will find a number of other sites you can draw on for your lesson.  I like the eight suggestions from FactCheck.org and the seven from the Washington Post.  FactCheck points to the existence of humorous sites such as the well-known The Onion, and the Washington Post suggests searching Google to locate the information. Be careful here. It’s not whether it shows up several times.  Some sites copy each other and looking at some of the URLs shows that they aren’t that “factual.”

Do direct students to Snopes. For years the site has been known for identifying urban legends and reporting on whether that warning email you received is true.  Now it has expanded into fact-checking reported news stories.

I have seen a number of infographics showing which sources report imposter news and which ones lean in a particular political direction. Again exercise caution here.  Some of those carry their own bias.propaganda

If you are concerned about working on the topic from its political aspects, you might want to try looking at fake health news. Introduce the topic using this website, and go on to have students explore the more controversial aspects and dangers such as the anti-vaccine group and others.  Collaborate with a science teacher on the project.

The “power of the teachable moment” goes beyond making learning relevant to students.  It also can and should be used to power your leadership.  (You knew I was going to make this connection, right?)

Taking students beyond the textbook and the often confining nature of the curriculum is part of what we do as librarians.  As you use these “teachable moments” to make an impact on students’ lives be sure you are sharing it with your teachers and more importantly with your administrators.

Show them what students are learning. Let them see the final presentations so they see the “enduring understandings” students’ are taking away. Video your students in action and “interview” them.  This is how your administrator learns what you bring to the educational community and to student learning.

What “teachable moment” have you addressed?  What was the result?



WRITING LIFE: I Am the Architect of My Life

horoscopeWhen I was growing up, I assiduously read my horoscope in the newspaper.  Heading up the daily forecasts for the astrological signs was the phrase, “The stars impel; they do not compel.”  Reading the words every day, I absorbed the message without thinking. I have recently recognized in many ways the phrase has shaped my life.

I was in a good situation working as a librarian in a school district for 22 years. I was respected and was secure in my job.  Then my supportive school superintendent announced she was going to retire in two years, giving the Board of Education the chance to find her replacement.  I looked into what might occur if I stayed.

I had an antagonistic relationship with my principal, but always had the backing of the outgoing superintendent. Without that, my professional life was going to be more confrontational.  I also suspected (correctly as it turned out) that he would become the superintendent in the near future. I immediately started job hunting and found a new position.

My colleagues were shocked.  Educators don’t choose to leave a district where they have tenure. I regretted the loss of my sick days and nothing else.  I finished up my library career working in a wonderful district where I had an even better situation and was completely happy.

We can let life happen to us, accepting it and complaining about it.  Or we can take charge. Make our own choices and risk being responsible for them. It may be scary but it’s empowering.your-own-choice

No one gets through life without bumps, challenges, and often very worrisome events.  Some have it worse than other, but all of us at some point or another feel as though the anvil that always landed on Wiley Coyote had been dropped on our heads.  You can’t control the anvil.  You can control what you do about it.

Complaining, blaming the universe, or others for your woes may free you from the responsibility of stepping out of your comfort zone to do something about it, but it won’t make you feel any better.  And living that way will only make you feel worse.  To be in charge of your life you must make conscious choices.

With those choices comes risks. We tend to avoid risk becomes it comes with the potential for failure.  For having your choice or plan not working.  What will you do them?  The answer is – make another choice.  Take on another risk.

More often than not you will find your risk paid off.  Sometimes not in the way you thought, but still bringing you benefits you wouldn’t have thought of.  And it’s empowering to be in charge of your life.

Taking greater chances is part of being an adult – and actively participating in your life. Parents tend to shield children from problems.  The cocoon of childhood is a safe place to grow.  But inevitably one must grow or be a child forever.

I lead everywhere in my life.  As I grew through adolescence and early adulthood, I never thought I was a leader.  But when confronted with adversity, I chose to step up.  Becoming accustomed to making hard choice prepare me for taking on new challenges.

proved-imaginedEventually, I put myself forward in areas that had important meaning for me.  Each step led to bigger ones.  One day I looked around and discovered I was being recognized as a leader. And it was exhilarating.  I like who I am.  I regularly face new challenges – and fears.  The fear doesn’t go away, but I trust myself and those around me to get through whatever it is.  I, too, have become the architect of my life.  And it’s a wonderful building.


ON LIBRARIES: Raising Readers

raising-readersIn 1977 I wrote Raising Readers along with Ruth Toor my long-time co-author and friend.  Turning kids into lifelong readers has always been a priority of librarians. The challenge of doing so is nothing new, but in some ways it’s become more difficult.  Your creativity and leadership is needed to instill a love of reading- and by extension its benefits – in all our students.

While I fully support the Common Core concept of students being able to do “deeper reading,” some of the ways it has been interpreted have created a barrier to having students become lifelong readers.  The balance of fiction vs nonfiction texts was the first barrier.  Although the distribution was to be across all subjects, many districts imposed it on ELA classes which benefited nonfiction readers, but “punished” fiction lovers. To be honest, books students have to read for a class—whether fiction or nonfiction—has never turned kids into lifelong readers. reading-on-the-pile

That’s where librarians come in. While classroom teachers first teach students how to read, and in the upper grades expose them to “literary classics” which some do enjoy, it’s the librarian who brings the love of reading by connecting students with books matching their interests. The reduction and elimination of librarians in schools has meant that connection is not made for many, and even when a librarian is present there are challenges.

First and foremost is the emphasis on Lexile scores.  Common Core stipulates the Lexile range for grade levels and too many libraries now have the collection so labeled.  Students aren’t allowed to borrow books below or above their Lexile score. In the drive to improve students’ reading ability, administrators they are killing it.

lexileI understand the need to use the Lexile score for instructional purposes, but it doesn’t work for personal leisure reading.  It’s like the old “five finger rule” where you read one page and you lift your finger for each word you don’t know.  If you lift all five fingers the book is too hard for you, assuming readers shouldn’t choose a book where they don’t know five words on every page.

When students read below their instructional level, they develop reading fluency.  They can get into the book. They interact with characters whether it’s fiction or biography. If they are reading nonfiction, they easily grasp the history of a sport or team or how an invention was developed. They enjoy the book. And that’s what builds lifelong readers.

And students sometimes read above their Lexile level.  It frequently happens with nonfiction readers who are interested in a particular subject. Some Harry Potter lovers started the series when it was “too hard” for them.  But their interest motivated them and they took on the challenge.  Why would you deprive a kid of that experience?

I have a similar quibble with Accelerated Reader and programs which are supposed to promote reading by awarding points for what students read – sometimes earning students tangible rewards.  Because of the lure of the reward, kids tend to choose books based on how many points they will earn, not on their own interests.  When there are no longer points for reading, they stop.  That doesn’t create lifelong readers.every-reader-every-book

Ranganathan’s second law of library science is ‘Every reader his/her book.” While he was referring to the requirement of libraries to serve all their patrons without judgment, for me it also means connecting a student to the “perfect” book for him or her is very often the first step in becoming a lifelong reader.

From my own children and members of my family, to people I have met, that initial connection with a book was transforming. These people either were disinterested or even disliked reading until they were matched with the perfect book. It was as if a world opened up to them.  Often they re-read the book – sometimes several times.  The aforementioned Harry Potter fans are one example of this.

These new readers may have discovered a series or a genre then might begin reading the series or books in the genre almost obsessively.  It’s not a problem.  Fluency and a lifelong habit of reading are the results.  Once the early euphoria of “where has this been all my life” has subsided, they are open to exploring reading more widely.  And as we know, “Kids who read succeed.”

So where does your leadership fit in? Back to Lexile scores.  What goes on in the classroom is fine for instructional purposes.  You need to ground yourself in what we do as librarians and become “fluent” in explaining it so the distinction is understood. Collect stories of kids and their perfect book.  Make sure the library is the welcoming place where kids can explore their interests and you can match them with just the right book regardless of scores.

What stories do you have of kids and the book that was perfect for them?

ON LIBRARIES: New Year’s Resolutions

new-yearIt’s that time of the year when we give thought to how we can do better in the New Year.  For you as a leader, as a librarian and as an individual, here are some you might consider:

Build Your Relationshipsbuilding-relationships

Start a new relationship with a teacher or other staff member. Remember, we are in the relationship business. Consider deepening an existing relationship.  Get to know that person’s interests outside of school.  You may find you have common ground, discover an “expert” who might help you with something you are doing, or add a dimension to someone you already know.  Are there any students who are library “regulars” whom you don’t know?  Strike up a conversation with them. Learn what their favorite app is or whether they are into gaming.  I found my students to be some of my best teachers. Don’t limit yourself to the school scene.  Is there a relative or friend you haven’t spoken with in some time.  Is your only contact with them on Facebook? Try an email and set up some face time. Resolve to add at least one person a month to your relationship sphere.  (This is one of my resolutions for the year.)

Keep Up With Trends

new-trendRead one professional article every month. Vary it. Don’t only look at library literature, be familiar with what administrators are saying. You can find blog posts and articles online.  Find and explore one new tech resource or app each month and think how it can best be used. Would it be helpful for a classroom teacher?  Which ones? And again, remember your students.  Ask them what they are reading or watching on YouTube.  You’ll be amazed at the relevance of what they enjoy.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zoneship-out-of-your-comfort-zone

You don’t grow unless you try new things.  A favorite quote of mine, attributed to James Conant, is “Behold the turtle who only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.”  Whether you decide to launch a book club for students or tackle an Hour of Code, you need to something that makes stakeholders aware of the contribution your program makes to the school community.  Even though you may be doing a Makerspace or have another project going, you need to do something more.  Once something is in place for a while people take it (and you) for granted.  If an idea doesn’t immediately come to mind, put out a request for ideas on your state association’s listserv, on a Twitter chat, LM_NET, or join my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group and ask there.  Choose the approach that works best for you.  Whatever your choice you will be amazed at the suggestions you get back. (I am doing this as well.  I will be giving my first AASL webinar this spring. This is new for me and I’ll announce the date as soon as I know it.)

Volunteer for Leadership

volunteerFor many, this might come under the heading of stepping out of your comfort zone, but it deserves special mention, and you all know it’s my passion.  Too many of you feel so burdened you can’t see how you can fit a leadership job into your life. You haven’t explored the possibilities.  No one is saying you have to run for president of your state association (although that’s a goal to have for the future).  You can .volunteer for a district committee. That will bring you into contact with a broader group of people—and give you an opportunity to “build your relationships.”  Can you help with an initiative your state association is taking on? Again, you don’t have to be the chair. Being an active, contributing committee member is a good start.  The same is true for national associations, which also now permit virtual members on many committees.  One AASL committee that I am on does all its business via conference calls.

Go for a Grant or an Awardgrants

I’ve mentioned this before and will probably continue to do so because this is something with such a tremendous payoff, in many ways. You get a lot of positive attention when you get a grant or award.  Even small grants such as those given by your local education foundation make your administration more aware of you and what you do. They always appreciate it if you can bring in “free” money.  Then there are the ones from the national associations.  Here again is the link to the grants and awards from AASL. You have one month to apply for this year’s awards since most have a February 1 deadline.  Don’t think they are out of reach.  See what has won previously and pick one to try for this year.  If you can’t make the February deadline, start to work on the application for the next year.

Get Healthier

get-healthyThis is a typical new year’s resolution, but it also applies to your leadership abilities.  Do you need/want to lose weight? Kick a habit? Exercise?  Stop saying you don’t have time.  Take time. It’s a priority and you deserve it.  Once you have chosen what you will do, make a plan to ensure you stick with it. Join Weight Watchers (my favorite) or another program.  Sign up at a gym and take a class. Find a yoga or a dance group and join.  Choose something that appeals and doesn’t sound like punishment.  Enlist a friend to join you.  You will be more successful that way. The healthier you are, the better you will like yourself, and the easier you will find it to take on other new roles.

Make Time for Funhave-fun

Don’t spend your life being a worker bee.  You are a human being not a human doing.  Always make time for your hobbies, personal reading, and going out with family and friends, or whatever you love.  This will rejuvenate you for all the things you have on your plate.  Put it on your list if you can’t “remember.”  Schedule the time for you. As I said last week, you need to make room for joy in your life – and it won’t happen unless you make it a priority.

Be Accountable

be-accountableResolutions are easily made and forgotten even more quickly as life intrudes. You don’t have to try all these resolutions but you should pick at least two – plus the last two.  Then keep track in print, on a spreadsheet, or a Google doc to record what you have done.  How many times did you exercise?  Which relationship did you develop? If the resolution was important to make, it’s important to keep.  The record will help you hold yourself responsible.

Which ones will you choose?  What other resolutions are you making? And what help can our community offer you?