ON LIBRARIES: Giving Back

I know many of you take part in community service activities. You also give of your time to support functions at your school. Giving back is putting your thanks in action. It’s how you demonstrate your appreciation and your caring for others. Giving back to our profession is also important, and not enough of librarians do it.

(EDITORS NOTE: Much of this post comes from Hilda’s book, Leading for Librarians: There is NO Other Option from ALA Editions)

In becoming a leader you were helped along the way. A librarian mentored you or gave you some good advice. Your state and national organization provided resources from which you learned. No one emerges full-blown as a leader all on their own.
Once you have demonstrated your leadership abilities, are being taken seriously, and your program is regarded as vital to both student and teacher success, it is important to give back. Those starting out in our career need a trusted mentor. No one else in their building can do the job. Teachers and administrators assume new librarians learned everything they needed to know in library school. You know how far from the truth that is.


I blogged about Mentors in August of last year, but I will review some of the highlights.
Once you decide to become a mentor, you need to find a mentee. The first place to look is in your district. You know it’s vital that all the librarians are seen as leaders. If there is someone new, let them know you are available to help them over the rough spots.
If your state association has a mentorship program, join it. If it doesn’t propose one. You can get help in setting it up from other states that have done so. Go on AASL Forum and ask –or use LM_NET (or my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group). Get copies of Mentor/Mentee agreements to ensure that all participants understand their individual roles.

 

Your state association depends on volunteers even if they have a paid director and/or other positions. If you haven’t served on a committee as yet, volunteer to do so. If you have, step up to chair one. You might even consider running for an office. In addition to serving the librarians in your state, you will get recognition from your administration.
As a member of the board, you become aware of the state level political situations that affect librarians at the building level. You will see the scope of the challenges librarians are facing and become part of the campaign to make changes. Although you are doing this to give back, your own leadership abilities will grow as a result and it will impact your students and teachers.
Now take a deep breath and consider doing this on the national level. I am a very active member of ALA and AASL but you can also volunteer for ISTE or AECT if that’s your preference. I know some librarians who are active in AASL and ISTE, and they are recognized as leaders nationally as well as in their home states and school districts.
Working at the national level might seem intimidating at first but you will find everyone is welcoming and eager to help you settle in. It’s an eye-opening experience. You discover where challenges are similar across the country and what situations are developing that you haven’t seen in your state but now can be prepared to deal with them should they arise.
One of the unexpected benefits of serving at the state and even more so at the national level is what happens to your vocabulary. You develop a fluency in talking about the value of school librarians and what a strong library program brings to students, teachers, and the educational community. In talking with administrators and others you sound like the expert you have become. And you are taken much more seriously.
Some of you might have reservations about volunteering at this level because of the time and financial requirements. ALA has two meetings a year, Annual and Midwinter. ISTE and AECT have one. Their locations vary from year to year but inevitable require travel and sometimes days off from your job.
I consider the expense a professional expenditure, part of my job, the way I look at the cost of commuting to work or having an appropriate work wardrobe. For those who are already operating on a tight budget, ALA has a possible solution for you. You can become a virtual member and not be required to attend meetings in person. Much committee work these days is conducted on conference calls to get major tasks completed before in-person meetings.
These are all serious and important commitments as well as ways to give back on a larger level. Two quotes to keep in mind as you consider stepping up. The first is anonymous or attributed to several people with variations. “If serving is beneath you, leadership is beyond you.”
The second is also anonymous but was most recently attributed to Elizabeth Warren. “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu.”
How do you give back? Are you serving at the state or national level? If you are not, what’s holding you back? What help do you need from mentors or other leaders?

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ON LIBRARIES: The Many Layers of Diversity

An unquestioned tenet of librarianship is that the library collection will encompass diverse materials to meet the needs of all users.  Sounds good, but in practice this is not always easy to accomplish. There are challenges librarians must face along with difficult choices.

On the surface, a diverse collection contains fiction and non-fiction and all genres are represented in as many formats as possible. While it took a while in some places for graphic novels to be accepted, they now are in most if not all libraries. But there is far more to diversity.

As the liaison to ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) from ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics, this topic is on my mind frequently. Currently, IFC has a draft resolution in the works on Library Bill of Rights Interpretation – Equity, Diversity, Inclusion. In fully defining what those terms encompass, the draft is a strong reminder of what libraries stand for—and the challenging decisions implicit in this stance.

Here are some highlights of the document:

  • Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. In a school library, this means you can’t be limited to what the jobbers make available. If you need books in languages other than English (and Spanish), you need to seek out those publishers who have books for whatever ethnics are represented in your school. Fortunately, this information is becoming more widely available. Your collection should also include materials representing difficulties many students face such as homelessness, a parent in prison, a parent serving the military, foster homes, learning and physical limitations of self or siblings, and the stressful situations.  It’s important they see themselves reflected in the collection.  Those who have more traditional lives benefit from being made aware of their good fortune as well as developing empathy for their classmates.
  • Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Although those working in parochial schools which have a strong doctrinal view on certain subjects do not have to adhere to this, public school libraries are expected to follow this principle. Among the “current” issues that can cause a school librarian to pause before ordering would be climate change and evolution. In some places a sizable group does not accept the general scientific viewpoint.
  • Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment. This another area where it gets difficult for librarians, particularly those who are the sole librarian in their school. You are charged with meeting the needs of everyone in the school.  This means those who have same sex parents or are LGBTQ.  In some communities these topics are a red flag and are likely to bring forth challenges. It is easy to just not purchase them.  Who would know?  Your budget is limited in any case.  You can’t afford to put your job at risk.  All true statements. Each librarian needs to make a personal decision between doing what our ethics and philosophy require or taking the safe route. I can’t condemn their choice. But I do applaud and acknowledge those who face this head on.  We are supposed to create a safe, welcoming atmosphere for all our students.  Our LGBTQ students struggle to feel safe, in and out of school.  Countless adults have told stories of how important their school library was in giving them a measure of security and acceptance.
  • A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views. This is one is obvious, but it harkens back to the days of segregation. It’s important for students to know our history – the bad as well as the good- so they see injustice can be corrected. There is much nonfiction on the subject, but it’s in fiction—including picture books –that students can discover what it was like in those days, and develop empathy for those who lived then and extend it to those now who are targeted as being “other.”

It’s incumbent on every librarian to be familiar with the ALA Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Access to Library Resources and Services for Minors. Protect yourself and your students by having a Selection Policy approved by your Board of Education. You can get help in doing so from the Workbook for Selection Policy Writing.

Also, celebrate Choose Privacy Week May 1 -7, and Banned Books Week September 24-30.

Have you been faced with a difficult choice in purchasing a book for your collection?  What did you do?  How do you make your library a safe, welcoming environment? What help do you need or can you offer to others?

ON LIBRARIES: Speak Up

Fear. It’s the biggest roadblock to leadership.  Whenever there is an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, your head starts running scenarios of what can and undoubtedly will go wrong.  It’s what’s underneath the Stories We Tell Ourselves.

When I blogged about it in October 2015, I acknowledged that speaking to colleagues, your administrators or in front of parent groups is not the same as teaching students.  You fear you will sound shaky, your knees will wobble, and everyone will know you are a fraud.  Certainly not a leader.

In that blog I was reassuring, pointing out the fear of public speaking is common and surveys have shown people fear it more than death. You don’t have to speak to large groups to become a leader.  There are many quiet avenues to leadership.  All that is true, but the more you become a presence in your school and district, if you step up to volunteer on the state or national level, at some point you will inevitably have to address a large group.

Before discussing strategies for coping with this fear, it might help to become acquainted with what often lies under the fear.  It’s something called The Imposter Syndrome and it mostly strikes high performing people—women more than men.  I have experienced it personally, and I know many of my colleagues who are regarded as leaders have moments when it hits them as well.

The Imposter Syndrome is the voice in your head that says, “What am I doing?  I am such a fraud, and everyone will know it.”  It happens when you get up to speak before colleagues and think, “Everyone knows all this.  Why should they listen to me?”  I heard those words in my head when I started writing books for librarians and thought, “Why would anyone take my advice?  I don’t have a doctorate degree. I have no formal research to back up what I am saying.”

The American Psychological Association in a post described it as it affected graduate students. They offer six ways to deal with it:

  • Talk to Your Mentors – If you don’t have one, speak with a trusted friend about your uncertainties. They will point to your achievements and remind you of why you have reached the place you are now in.
  • Recognize Your Expertise – In addition to what your mentor or friend said, reflect on your journey to this point. Recall what you have learned, the challenges you faced, and the solutions you found.  Others will benefit from your experiences when you share your knowledge.
  • Remember What You Do Well – We all have our strengths. It can be using social media or being ahead of the curve on current with technology. Me, I have learned a lot about leadership and advocacy.  We all have something to offer.
  • Realize No One is Perfect – You may see one of the leading librarians and think I am nowhere as knowledgeable. Yet that same leader has undoubtedly felt the Imposter Syndrome at time. As someone once said, “Don’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides.”
  • Change Your Thinking – Your mindset controls much of your actions and behaviors. Remember, “If you think you can or you think you can’t –You are right!” Reframe how you are approaching the public speaking experience.  The audience wants to hear what you have to say.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there.
  • Talk to Someone Who Can HelpThey recommend speaking with a therapist if the Imposter Syndrome is crippling, but I believe if you start small – doing a professional development workshop for your teachers or talking to a parent group, you can become more confident and trust that the Imposter Syndrome is just background noise you need to tune out.

But how do you deal with the basic fears you have about public speaking? There are loads of websites with advice on how to deal with it, further proof you are not alone.  Here are my tips:

Know Your Audience – In preparing your talk, consider what your audience already knows.  What do they need to know about the topic?  You neither want to overwhelm them with information above their heads nor do you want to talk down to them.  Think about how you prepare a lesson for your students. You always know where they are and where you want to take them next.

Rehearse Your Speech.  Don’t memorize it.  You will panic if you forget a line. PowerPoint presentations help keep you on track.  Don’t use text heavy slides, they overwhelm everyone. I mostly use only a few words to highlight the point I am making.  I also have notes for each slide, but I allow myself to digress and add comments that strike me in the moment.

Be Personal. As appropriate, share your personal experiences.  It’s an extension of your relationship building.  By letting them know who you are, they are more accepting of what you are saying.  Think of it as a variation on “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I have let my various audiences know about my failures as well as my successes.

Arrive Early – You need time to breathe. Check the layout of the room.  Make sure any equipment you need is set up and working – including internet connections.  Greet those who are there.  This means you won’t be speaking to strangers. They will be rooting for you.

About That Shaky Voice – Once you are past your opening, it will disappear.  And your audience never knows you are that nervous.  Have some water nearby.  Take a drink now and then.  I have had people fall asleep.  I tell myself it isn’t me – they were tired before they got there.

What’s been your experience with public speaking? Are you afraid of it?  Do you have the Imposter Syndrome at times?  When does it show up?

ON LIBRARIES – Are You Future Ready

Leaders look to the future.  They know what is good today won’t be so tomorrow, and they recognize as Jim Collins has said, “Good is the enemy of great.”  If you are pleased with what you are doing but not looking to make it better you can never be great.  With this in mind what does it mean to be “Future Ready?”

Future Ready is not an empty phrase.  It has a solid foundation and is continuing to develop. Launched by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology in November 2014, Future Ready Schools . The homepage urges school superintendents to take the pledge to have their districts make a commitment to implement meaningful change “towards a digital learning transitions that support teachers, and addresses the district’s vision for student learning. Over 3,100 superintendents have made that pledge and you can check to see if yours is one.

The homepage is rich with resources, not the least of which is the Interactive Planning Dashboard which walks participants through a 5-step collaborative planning process. What I particularly like is that this process offers a “comprehensive approach and an action plan for implementing digital learning before purchasing anything, ensuring a smoother implementation and digital transformation.”   The page has the ability for the team to save all their work in a password protected format making it easy to revisit and update goals, strategies, and implementation plans.

What has me excited is on the homepage there is a link to Future Ready Librarians. It says, what we have always known, that “School librarians lead, teach, and support the Future Ready Goals of their school and district in a variety of ways through their professional practice, programs, and spaces. If properly prepared and supported, school librarians are well-positioned to be at the leading edge of the digital transformation of learning.”

Follett formed Project Connect which is designed to help librarians work with their district leaders in creating Future Ready Schools and in so doing firmly position themselves as leaders. To this end they have developed online courses to “promote innovative models of school libraries|, and help librarians “cultivate powerful library and school leadership … with a future-ready approach.”

Future Ready Librarians came into existence in the summer of 2016. Follett is one of its strong supporters, and the indefatigable Shannon McClintock Miller has been named a spokesperson for it. On the homepage you will find a link to her presentation “What Does It Take to be a Future Ready Librarian.” In it, she explores the exciting challenge of Future Ready Schools.

So what does it specifically mean to be Future Ready? The core of it is shown in the Framework, consisting of seven “gears” surrounding Student Learning, which is at the center. (Changed to “Personalized Student Learning” in the framework for Future Ready Librarians—which is what we have been doing all along.) The gears and how they translate into the school library (and I borrow extensively from Shannon McClintock Miller’s  presentation) are as follows:

  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment – You become a partner with educators to design and implement an evidenced-based practice curriculum integrating deeper learning critical thinking, information literacy, creativity, innovation, and technology. (Big job)
  • Use of Space and Time – For school librarians this means designing flexible, collaborative spaces. Learning Commons are perfect for this, but you can achieve this goal in steps by taking a fresh look at your floor plan and seeing how furniture and shelving can be made mobile. Get help from high school design classes.
  • Robust Infrastructure- In the library, you advocate for equal access to digital devices and connectivity in support of the district’s strategic vision
  • Data and Privacy – Teach and promote student privacy.
  • Community Partnerships – In addition to developing partnerships within the school, reach out to the community including parents, public and academic libraries, and businesses to promote engagement and lifelong learning.
  • Personalized Professional Learning – Provides personal professional learning to develop awareness/understanding of the skills needed for success in a digital age.
  • Budget and Resources– Leverages and understanding of school and community needs to advocate for the digital resources needed to support student learning.

Collaborative Leadership is an extra gear in the Future Librarians framework.  It requires you to lead beyond the library.  As I have been saying, if you stay in your library, no one really knows who you are or what you do. Participating on district committees is vital. One of the most important is any that sets a vision and creates a strategic plan for digital learning.

What can you do if your Superintendent did not sign the pledge and you are not in a Future Ready School? Talk to your principal. Show him or her the Future Ready Schools site and all the supportive resources it has.  Suggest joining the Future Ready School Facebook group. Offer to do a brief presentation on it at an administrators’ meeting. (Definitely moving out of your comfort zone – but being a leader.)

Choose one or two gears that call to you and start working on them while you advocate for the district to become Future Ready.  Join the Future Ready Librarians Facebook Group and attend the webinar Leading Beyond the Library on April 11.

Are you a Future Ready Librarian?  What are you doing to show it?  If you aren’t, what will you do to become one? How can I and other librarians support you?