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?