I 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.
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.
It 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:
“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).
I 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?)