ON LIBRARIES: Why Are You a Librarian

whyIt’s not a question we are often asked, and we almost never ask that of ourselves.  But it is a worthwhile exercise, particularly when you feel stressed by your job and the world.  As Socrates is attributed to have said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,”

In my own case, I became a librarian because I needed a job, and it was available. I was graduating from college and getting married.  I needed to know where I would be working so my future husband and I could find a place to live.  The superintendent of schools who interviewed me was desperate to find a librarian. I had worked as a page in the public library for two years, and I could get an emergency certificate attached to my new teaching license.socrates

Not a very good reason for becoming a librarian, but despite being terrible at the job, I realized I truly liked it. So I continued going for my masters even when I was justifiably not rehired at the end of the year. I found another job as a librarian and began to get better at what I was doing.

truman-schoolAfter taking several years off to raise my children, I looked for another library position as soon as they were ready to go to school.  Although I had trained to be a high school teacher and my first jobs were at that level, I was happy to find something in a brand new elementary school.  The school was unusual and it gave me a new “why” for being a librarian.

As an elementary level novice, I learned from the teachers. And that is how my next “why” came to be. I discovered how being open to what teachers could show me made them willing to learn what I show them.  The collegial atmosphere bred collaboration.  I was a librarian because I could help teachers do a better job.

My professional growth continued when I decided to go back to school for additional graduate courses. Because I was going for a Supervisor certificate I met librarians who were looking to become leaders.  I also met Ruth Toor, and as a result of the course, we wrote our first book, The Elementary School Librarian’s Almanac.

My career continued and my ‘whys” evolved.  The reactions of my students to the help I offered made me realize they were a central reason for why I was a librarian.  The better I got at my job, the more they appreciated what I could teach them.

I am extremely active in ALA/AASL and this too has affected my “why.”  I am a librarian so I can be a resource to other librarians.  I do so through mentoring, the books I write and the workshops I give.  But we are all resources for our colleagues. question-2

I also now recognize that I wasn’t aware of another “why” when I was working in schools.  By my interactions with students, teachers, and administrators I was making a significant contribution to the whole school community.

My experiences and the research has led me to in essence share why I am a librarian with just about everyone I meet.  Whenever I can, I let them know the value of school librarians.  And even though I no longer work in a school library, I am still a librarian.  And I know why.

Yes, your “why” will change over time.  It will continue to change if you are open to the possibility.  When the “whys” are positive you become even better at what you do.

What are your “whys” and how have they changed?


The Buddy System


lifetime-membershipI love my Weight Watchers program.  Although I reached Lifetime over 12 years ago, I faithfully attend my weekly meetings, because they keep me on track and I’m always learning new things. I was recently reminded of a truism I had learned a while ago.  You are more successful if you don’t do it alone.

Our program leader has us regularly set small goals, and I have always done so and found the practice very effective.  But a few weeks ago, she suggested working with someone in the program to keep our goals.  A few people had already made the connection but I hadn’t. Since I want to keep exercising, particularly walking, I paired with another woman who was struggling a bit to integrate it into her life.

We began texting each other. Every time she went to the gym and worked out on the treadmill, she would text me.  When I completed my two walks for the day, I would text her.  We both have Fitbits and while we don’t challenge each other since I walk more than she does, we let each other know how many steps and miles we covered in the day.buddy

The result is she is definitely walking more and had a significant weight loss this past week.  I thought walking 3-5 times a week was ingrained into my habits, but knowing I was going to text her, pushed me further.  In this case, I felt it necessary to be a role model.

Yes, there are days when life intervenes and one of us doesn’t get in an anticipated exercise, but we are buddies. We cheer each other on even as we hold one another accountable.  “I wasn’t in the mood,” is not something we want to text each other.

It amazes me how easily I can lie to myself or give myself excuses.  I wouldn’t lie to anyone else.  And that is part of the reason buddies work so well.  Another is the feeling that we are in this together.  We understand the challenges our buddy is facing because we have the same ones.

We live in a face-paced world with many demands on our time.  Too often we put the tasks ahead of relationships forgetting that humans are social organisms.  We need that contact for our well-being.

from-my-friendsSome people are really good at maintaining connections with friends, usually of the same sex.  I wasn’t that person for a good portion of my life.  Although I appeared sociable in my professional contacts, I was a loner and thought it worked just fine.  Friendships take time and I didn’t have any to spare.

I was wrong.

Making time for lunch with a friend energized me.  Exchanging thoughts with someone I liked and whose thoughts I valued, gave me greater insights into whatever I was doing.  The time with others enriched my life.
Although I generally think of buddies in pairs, if you have a common purpose small groups can foster similar feelings of success and accomplishment.  The barn raisings which were part of our pioneer culture brought the community together to get a specific task completed.  Everyone participated in one way or another. At the end of the day, there was a new barn and people felt the sense of satisfaction of doing a good and worthwhile job.  In addition, they shared a camaraderie that spilled into their future interactions.work-together

While few of us will ever be part of a barn raising, if we are open to the possibility there are still occasions where a group of like-minded people will get to get to achieve an objective.  When you hear of one, strongly consider participating.  As with the barn raising, you don’t need to be one of those nailing the boards in place.  There are always other jobs, but the sense of achievement and belonging are worth the effort.



ON LIBRARIES: The Power Of Sharing Your Passion

Passion is a powerful communication tool. powerful-communicationAre you passionate about what you do as a school librarian and what you – and the others in our profession –bring to students and the entire educational community?  How are you showing others your passion?

Passion carries with it your commitment.  When you truly care about something and are committed to bringing your absolutely best to it and then find opportunities to share it, others feel the emotional content behind that passion.  And as I have said before, emotion constitutes at least 80% of how we make decisions.

You don’t share your passion by getting on a soap box and proclaiming it.  You offer it to your students by the way you respect them, how you help them, and cheer them on in their intellectual growth. With teachers you look for opportunities to help them out, making them aware that you can make their job easier. You willingness to go the extra mile reveals your passion for what you do.  It doesn’t go unnoticed.power-of-passion

All of this builds a solid base for growing your leadership within the school community.  But don’t overlook the opportunities to share your passion beyond your building, and bring your feelings for what you do in your library into the outside world.

Be alert to occasions when you can interject a comment or two about libraries.  For example, if you hear someone complain about being exasperated or frustrated with technology, let him/her know you’re a librarian and you can recommend the public library as a place with lots of resources for learning more and possibly some free classes.

If he/she responds positively, and if you’re comfortable, tell him/her that being current with technology is something librarians strive for and that as a school librarian it’s important to you to help your students know this information as well.

Another possible occurrence is hearing a person complaining about all that fake news.  Chime in with your agreement.  Then say, “School librarians teach kids how to recognize false news. It’s part of their job.  Unfortunately, too many kids don’t have school librarians – or even libraries—as so many have been eliminated.”

passion-for-librariesOnce you tune into these opportunities you will find countless occasions when you can let people know about what today’s librarians do. Think of the various ways we contribute to learning, from literacy to technology and everything between.  When someone mentions bullying in the schools, point out that school libraries provide a safe, welcoming environment for all.

And yes, when appropriate, as in the first example, promote the public library.  We are all in this together. Their budgets and staff have also been cut.

Keep a few stories in mind to illustrate your comments.  Stories carry emotion.  As you talk about how librarians serve and transform their communities your passion will show.  Let it out.

You might think most people will listen to what you say but do nothing. True to some extent, of course, but think of how trees propagate. Their seeds are taken up by the wind.  Most end up in places where they cannot grow, but enough land in fertile soil and a forest can spring up.

The tree’s secret weapon is the sheer volume of seeds it sends forth.  The same needs to be true of you.  If you let all sorts of people know about the value of librarians and libraries some of your comments will find fertile soil.passion

Sometimes people don’t do anything and then a friend mentions a problem and they recall what you said. Passing on your comment strengthens the message.  The more of us who “seed” random conversations with information about the importance of librarians in people’s lives the better chance we have to create a forest of advocates.

How have you been bringing your passion about school libraries into your larger world?

ON LIBRARIES: Do You Have a Job, Career or Profession

It may be a strange question to ask and many won’t see too much of a difference among the three, but I find there is a different mindset for each.  Your true answer to the question defines how you are as a librarian in your school, district, and the world at large.

What are the differences?  What does each make you think of?

boring-jobJob – In some contexts, a job is a specific task sometimes as part of a larger one.  Merriam-Webster gives one definition as “a piece of work <doing odd jobs around the house> <Repairing the roof was a big job.>especially :  a small miscellaneous piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate <a car that needs a brake job>.” Another one it gives is, “a regular remunerative position <got a part-time job as a waiter> <she quit her job>.”

I have known people who have “jobs” they have worked at for many years. They work at these jobs solely for the paycheck.  While they may enjoy the social connection with those they work with, for the most part, they take no pleasure in what they are doing.  Just putting in their time.

 While some librarians have become disheartened by budget cuts and changes to their “jobs”, such as working 2 or 3 schools, and feeling they aren’t valued by teachers or administrators, I hope they haven’t succumbed to the job mentality. I can understand the frustration, but it’s important not to let it get the best of you.

If you do find yourself slipping into that on the bad days, focus on your students.  Think of them individually. Recall some of the connections you have made with them. Remember how their faces lighted up, the changes in their approach to reading, or their new belief in their ability to succeed.  You made a difference in their lives.  Don’t stop now. Also, refer back to your vision.  Your connection to that can keep you energized during difficult times.career

Career Auburn University’s Career Center provides this definition: “an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework.” Certainly librarianship qualifies under this definition.  I think a good percentage of you would think of yourself as having a career.

Pediaa uses that definition but goes on to state that it is, “An occupation undertaken for a major period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” The first half of that explanation certainly applies to librarianship, but the second half doesn’t seem to part of what is possible for school librarians.

For me, this is really where career and job have a real demarcation.  Note that it didn’t say “promotion” but rather “progress.”  What does that mean in your daily practice? It implies that you keep growing.  The special training you had is not the ending but the true beginning of you mastering your career.

Every librarian I know accepts the realization that what they learned in library school needs to be constantly upgraded. So many of you connect through your state association’s listserv or social media to get help in dealing with a current challenge or difficult question from a teacher. You use this as your PLN and discover new tech resources on the web or as an app.  Your learning, and therefore your progress, never stops.

professionProfession– What then is a profession?  This is where I hope most of you are and the rest of you aspire to be.  When I think of professions, like medicine and law, I think of canons of ethics that are core values and standards they uphold.

Librarians have this. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association succinctly puts forth the basic values we hold as a profession.  All librarians should be familiar with it. The Library Bill of Rights is another brief document but of equal importance in stating who we are and what we stand for as a profession. You should be aware of this document as well.  As librarians, we have many roles but whatever we are doing these two documents form the core of how we approach them.

I have some personal views of what a professional is that I didn’t find in any definition.  Professionals don’t define themselves by their current position. Their focus is not on the district or school but rather in the larger world any more than a doctor defines him/herself by the hospital they are in. Professionals recognize that to have the impact and make the changes they want to see, they need to be connected to their professional organizations.

If you’ve read any of these blogs or my books, you know I believe in taking responsibility for your own professional development.  If your district doesn’t give you time off to attend your state conference and one of the days is on a weekend, go then.  If not, take a personal day to attend at least one day of the conference.  Then prepare a brief report for your principal on what you learned that will benefit your students and teachers. Show this in action after six months.


ALA is holding its annual conference in Chicago from June 22-27.  It’s a great city to visit and most of you will be finished with school.  Register now and start saving for it. AASL has its biennial conference November 9-11, 2017 in Phoenix.  I will be at both.  I get no reimbursement and I, too, watch my expenses.  But I am a professional and this part of the cost of being one. It’s no different than having to have an appropriate wardrobe for work or gas for your commute.

I hope you join me at either or both.

So do you have a job?  A career?  A profession?


ON LIBRARIES – Personality Plus

successWhy are some librarians successful and others are not? It’s not about knowledge and competencies.  I have seen highly experienced librarians unable to regularly get teachers to work with them while some newly degreed librarians are quickly embraced by the faculty.  What makes the difference?

My blog on “It Begins with Relationship,” posted on April 4, 2016 began with almost the same words.  I discussed some ways to build relationships with students, teachers, and administrators.  Everything I said is still valid, but there is something more.pq

Back in the very sexist 1950’s, a self-help book for teenage girls asked, “What’s Your PQ?” It stood for “Personality Quotient.”  While the advice was to employ tactics I would never use, the question is relevant for librarians of both genders.

Personality is a major factor in how people relate to you, how they connect – or don’t – with you.  And I am sure some of you are thinking that your personality is ingrained.  It’s how you are.  But as someone who has seen her own personality evolve over the years, I am convinced you can work with who you are and by knowing how to accent the positives of it, bring out a more engaging personality.

Attributes of an engaging personality include:

optimismOptimism It feels good to hang out with someone who has a positive approach to life. This doesn’t mean a Pollyana who believes life is wonderful no matter what happens.  It’s a person who doesn’t focus on the negatives but deals with them by seeing them as “chopportunites” – challenges that can be turned into an opportunity (click the word to see the original post).

But perhaps you are a pessimist.  What can you do about that?  It’s who you are, right?  Face it, living with pessimism isn’t pleasant.  Even for the pessimist.  So take one page from the optimist and find the “chopportunity” in a given situation.  Change your mind set.  Affirmations seem too corny for most pessimists, so instead try “I can handle this.”  It’s not a ringing statement but it moves you from looking at whatever is occurring with a sense of despair.  With practice you will get better at it.

Introvert/Extrovert – Oddly both can be leveraintrov-extrovged to animate your personality.  If you are a librarian and an introvert you can’t retreat from being with people.  What you mean is that you don’t initiate a contact.  But introverts are great at listening and that is very attractive to others. Use this in a focused way and people respond.

If you are an extrovert, the caution is to “curb your enthusiasm.” Enthusiasm can be infectious, but it only work if you aren’t overpowering others with it.  Rein it in a bit and give others a chance to respond.

empowerEmpowering – As AASL exhorts in Empowering 21st-Century Learners, one of the things you do is to empower your students—and teachers.  In addition to giving them the skills they need, you can also empower others by recognizing their accomplishments and cheering them on.  Quite different from empty complements such as “good job,” this is specific.  You might say, “that was a very creative use of this technology” or whatever else they did.

Teachers and students need to be validated as much as you do.  Many don’t see where they are special.  Those with a positive personality know how to make others feel good about themselves. It ties to the Tom Peters quote, “Leaders don’t make followers; they create more leaders.”

inclusiveInclusive – What pronoun do you use most?  Listen to yourself. If you are saying “I” very frequently you can easily be viewed as egocentric.  It’s not about you.

Start thinking, “We are all in this together.  Together we can make things work better.” It’s important that you identify with the faculty.  So it’s “we teachers” not “you teachers.”  Your language will affect how others start viewing you.

In addition, as a librarian you should have plans at least in the back of your head for how to improve your program.  You can’t do it alone.  When you are inclusive you build the basis for a team. Using the other aspects of personality, your team will be ready to work together with you.

And finally the “Plus”

Related to personality but not exactly the same thing is Charisma.  When you think of charismatic leaders you might name President John F. Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and others.  Not everyone liked them but a large segment of the population did and followed them, glad to help them achieve their goals.plus

To be sure there are negative charismatic leaders and they have successfully led their people down dark paths.  However, I trust you are not heading in that direction.  The fact is charisma is a powerful leadership attribute.

You might think charisma must be innate, but like any element of leadership it can be learned. LaRay Que wrote a blog post on her website called 6 Ways to Become a Charismatic Leader. Among the things she talks about is how to win the hearts of followers – an important lesson for librarians who want to get support from their teachers and administrators.

She also explains how to use story.  We have been focusing on this increasingly, but she brings an additional thought to it. Her last point is on how to create a strong persona.  By polishing your personality and recognizing your own skills and strengths you can do it.

So how is your 21st century PQ?  Where does it show up in your relationships?  And what how can you make it more engaging?