ON LIBRARIES: Role-ing Through Your Day

It is mind-boggling, and more than a little exhausting, realizing how many roles we play.  Away from our job, we may be wife, mother, friend, parent caretaker, and any number of others.  These roles carry assorted responsibilities and a myriad of duties.  We may love these tasks or feel some are draining, but we carry on.

It certainly doesn’t get any less complex in our libraries. In the years since I first became a librarian I have held many “titles.”  First I was a teacher-librarian which is what I was called in my first certification.  Then I became a school librarian as my state changed what the certification was called.

I went on to be a school library media specialist. That is such a cumbersome title we use the acronym SLMS. My state certification also offers an 18-credit concentration for which you get an Associate School Library Media Specialist certification which is even more of a mouthful.

Throughout the country, I’ve discovered there are more names for what we do.  Library Teacher is common as we strive to remind our colleagues that we have an important role as teachers.  Some places use Information Specialist.   Library Technician is another. I knew someone who billed herself as an Information Generalist, claiming “specialist” was too limiting since we cover so much territory.

At one time there was a growing movement for “Cybrarian,” highlighting our skills using the web. One of the newer titles that has emerged is Innovation Specialist.  I suspect it will last as long as Cybrarian. It’s nice, but vague in a time when we need administrators and others to understand and appreciate the value we bring.

Why all these different names for what we do?  No one has ever suggested changing what teachers are called.  They have been teachers for thousands of years. They need different skills than they did even fifty years ago, their classroom configurations have changed drastically since the middle of the last century, but they are still teachers.

The name changes have been caused by our ever-evolving roles as librarians. While we haven’t been as successful as we need to be in communicating what we do to our administrators and boards of education, our state certification departments have recognized some of it – hence those name changes. Librarians have done the same in an effort to show what we do.

Nope – you can’t read this. There’s too much crammed in to one space!

I have come to believe, along with AASL, that we have confused people more than we have clarified what we do. No one title seems to cover the entire territory.  I now embrace the title of School Librarian and feel we must show what huge, complex, and vital roles that encompasses.

In Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (2009), AASL identifies four roles of School Librarians:

  • Teacher
  • Information Specialist
  • Instructional Partner
  • Program Administrator

The first role places us similar to classroom teachers, and we use many of the same skill sets as they do in executing this role. But at the upper levels, our students are frequently disbursed throughout a facility far larger than a classroom and we need to be managers, able to encourage them to explore while keeping them on track.  And at all levels, visitors or teachers might drop in while we are teaching.  We need to juggle competing roles at that point, knowing when we can leave students to proceed on their own so we can attend to the interruption.

In the second role, we are tech integrationists futurists (isn’t that a mouthful).  We work diligently to stay current with the newest tech resources incorporating those that meet needs of our teachers and students. We are also mindful of the values and the dangers of technology. From preparing out students to be safe in cyberspace to teaching how to identify fake news, this is an unceasing role we play.

As Instructional Partners we are diplomats.  We find lures to entice teachers to incorporate our expertise and resources to develop in our students the habits, competencies, and dispositions to be lifelong learners.  This role often requires much patience and tact.

The final role is far more than the basic management of the library program.  It comes to the heart of us as leaders.  It demands that we have a vision and are willing to be a risk-taker in moving our program constantly forward so it’s not mired in the past. We incorporate the other three roles we have in order to create a program that is viewed as vital and indispensable to students, teachers, administrators, parents, and even the community.

Each of the four roles embodies others.  And I am sure we will be adding to them as new demands are placed on us and the educational community who depend on our program.

In Empowering Learners AASL predicted our first role would become Instructional Partner and then Information Specialist with Teacher coming in third.  What is important is that we do what we can for people to think of all these roles and responsibilities when they hear the title School Librarian. We can keep the name of our position simple as we build on the complex and multifaceted role we play in our schools and for our students and administrators.

Which role do you see yourself using most often? Which of your roles do you need to develop further? And how can I and your PLN help?

 

ON LIBRARIES: Are You Confident

Confidence is a grounding leadership quality. It makes it easier to take risks, speak before groups, ask for help, and develop a vision.  What makes the title question difficult to answer is while you may be confident in how you do your job, once you consider leadership, all that confidence melts away.

How can you build the confidence necessary to become the leader your students and teachers need you to be?  You can start by employing some of the skills I have talked about in other contexts.  The first is having a positive attitude. Pessimists and nay-sayers are not confident.  They retreat by pointing to why something won’t work or why things are bad and getting worse. If it won’t work and everything is going downhill, there is no sense in doing anything differently.

Leaders don’t think that way. No one follows a pessimist. They may join in as justification for their own attitude but that’s not following.  Change your mindset and it will change your perspective. Look for the “chopportunity” or the positive challenge that can be found in almost every negative. For example:

  • Losing staff? Look for ways to enlist student help (and if you are in an elementary school you may be able to get high school students to help as part of their community service).  Identify what jobs could be eliminated and discuss with your principal. In the process you will be expanding his/her understanding of all you do. And he/she might come up with another suggestion.
  • New administrator who doesn’t see value of librarians? Use highly visual resources such as Piktochart to create reports featuring students at work and to make infographics. Invite your administrator to see a project you created with a teacher. Depending on the end product, you might see if one or more of the students’ work can be displayed in his/her office.
  • Heavy emphasis on STEM minimizing library use? Incorporate the many STEM-based programs into the library.  For example, connect a Makerspace to books and a research project.

Start a personal “Success Journal.”  Keep a small notebook at your desk.  Record each personal success.  Jot down when you get thanks from a teacher or student. Note when students show they really got a particular lesson or loved the book you recommended.  Once you start doing this you will be amazed at how many times you are successful during the day.

Back in September, I wrote a blog on Dress for Success. It suggested that if you dressed more like an administrator you were more likely to be treated like an administrator.  Dress also can build your confidence.  When you feel that you look good, your mindset shifts and you feel more confident.

You will also boost your confidence if you keep up with the latest ideas in school libraries and in education Be on the Facebook pages that will help. Read articles in education journals such as Educational Leadership.  Just seeing what the monthly themes are will give you a clue.  Being on state and national committees will do even more to keep you abreast of trends.  This keeps you ahead of the curve which will do much for your confidence.

Being informed in your field will also help you speak confidently.  Your ability to do so reinforces your growing confidence. Do be mindful as to whether you have picked up the habit of raising your voice at the end of a sentence as though you were asking a question instead of making a statement.  It makes you sound less sure of yourself, and mentally you pick up on that as well.

Another tool is to learn to have a welcoming smile.  “Smile and the world smiles with you” sounds trite, but there is truth to it. People respond positively to a smile, and that, in turn, makes you feel more confident. Let people see your engaged attitude.

Confidence is also linked to self-esteem.  Self-esteem is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” Note the words “oneself” and “satisfaction.” It means, on the whole, you like the person you are—and you’re not waiting to like yourself until you become perfect. You’ll be waiting a long time on that one.

People in high self-esteem accept that they make mistakes and have bad days.  They don’t let those things change how they view themselves.  Although some may see confidence as a synonym for self-esteem, it seems to me that it’s more that the two terms reinforce each other. If you are in high self-esteem you exude confidence.  If you are confident in what you do and how you do it, you develop high self-esteem.

So how confident are you?  Do you regard confidence as a leadership quality?  How are you building your confidence?

ON LIBRARIES: Reading is at the Root of All Learning

“Kids who read succeed,” was a slogan AASL used years ago.  It’s still true. There is a reason why the first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learners  is “Reading is a window to the world.”  It explains “Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”

We can’t ever let reading become an “outdated” element of what we do.  Elementary librarians focus on it, but by middle and high school it often takes a back seat to tech and research.  But are we tuned into how students’ ability to read affects the quality of their research along with their attitudes about learning?

I was on ALA’s Committee on Literacy for several years, and one of the truisms of the committee was “the House of Reading has many rooms, (health literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, political literacy, etc.) but the entrance is through reading.”  And the first Common Belief recognizes all these literacies saying, “The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) is a key indicator of success in school and in life.”   

Because technology is a large part of students’ lives and the school environment, it is easy to forget that being a good reader is at the core of effective use of tech (even if students and adults prefer to learn by experimenting rather than reading instruction). Our students—and we as well— often turn to Google for a quick search rather than delving deeper.  Then they open the first two results and use it.  Whether it is only partially on the topic and not as relevant as it should be.

Remember reading is not limited to fiction.  While it’s my favorite recreational choice, many students and adults prefer nonfiction.  Magazines are still reading.  So are comics and graphic novels.  Indeed, the last two require readers to combine both visual and text literacy to make meaning.

I am not telling you anything new.  As librarians, we are all aware of the importance of reading.  I raise the topic today because I have gotten the sense that many middle and high school librarians are not making time for it. They have heavy teaching responsibilities, virtually all of which are tied to research or teaching use of new tech resources.

It’s not easy to carve out space for reading.  But you owe it to your students to do so. Middle school students are still likely candidates for a Battle of the Books competition.  Book clubs have been proven to be successful in many places. But you usually must find a hook that will attract students. While reading is a solitary activity, most readers enjoy sharing what they read as shown by the success of Good Reads and other such online groups.

Have a “Books for ….” Club.  Use an interest group or pick a theme and, with your guidance as necessary, let students choose what they want to read on the topic. Then they can share it with the others and discover how they all inter-relate. This is another way to connect with the “specials” teachers that I mentioned in my blog last week. “Read with The Principal/Art Teacher/Gym Teacher/etc” can be a fun way to have these teachers and professionals use books as a way to connect them more with the students.  You could also consider an “Eat, Read, Stay” club with students bringing their lunch and reading while eating. (Do make cleaning up afterward a requirement.)

School-wide reading programs can be effective- again you need a hook at the upper grades.  You could consider connecting it to a fundraiser. Whether it is a give-back to the community or for something the school needs (not the library), students respond well to being able to give back when it’s fun.  And that promotes good citizenship.

Some librarians have been successful with “Caught Reading” campaigns.  They photograph teachers and students who are reading and post their pictures in the halls.  To get kids interested, you need to spotlight those from the many different “groups” in the school.

It’s pricey at $199, but with ALA’s Read  Design Studio starter pack you can make your own Read posters featuring student and a book they selected and favorite must have read.  Consider having it a Makerspace activity where students use it to create Read bookmarks and posters and whatever else appeals to them.

Then there is the One Book, One School program.  Go online and look for success stories to see the best way to launch one.  Or post it as a question on LM_NET and the other places you go to for help from your colleagues. Some towns do this a well – there may be a way to link with your public library for this and get parents and administrators involved.

By making reading a focus along with the other components of the language program, you bring it into kids’ awareness. They, too, have been inundated with the demands school places on them.  Help them incorporate reading into their lives.

Have you kept reading a part of your program?  What have you been doing?

ON LIBRARIES: The Myth of the Lonely Librarian

I have written about the stories we tell ourselves that hold us back from being the leaders we need to be, but there is one other that too many librarians believe.  They see themselves as isolated.  As the only librarian in the building, there is no one who understands what they do and what their challenges are.

As with the other stories, there is a surface truth but it is far from the whole story.  What’s more, believing it turns you into a complainer.  Even if you don’t express your thoughts to your colleagues, you unwittingly communicate your attitude and it sends them a negative message.

Yes, you are likely the only librarian in your school.  Perhaps you have multiple schools for which you are responsible. Possibly you are the only librarian in your district. But you are alone only if you choose to be.

There are others who are “alone” in their jobs.  The school nurse is one.  At the elementary level, the art, music, and physical education teachers have no else doing their job. Then there is the computer teacher—and the principal.  Have you ever considered reaching out to them and seeing if you can collaborate on a unit?

Years ago, I worked in an elementary school where the “specials” selected a theme and each of us worked with all the grades, bringing our area of specialization to having students explore the topic in great depth.  One of the projects was on marine life.  While I had classes research different aspects of the subject, the art teacher had them making murals and paintings of underwater life, the music teacher taught sea chanties and other sea songs, and our very creative physical education teacher devised a series of game and activities dealing with the underwater realm.

We had fun planning together.  It was a great opportunity to find out more about my colleagues as people as well as their individual knowledge and discover how it could all be brought together. The complete project culminated in an evening presentation that utilized the halls and gym.  The walls were covered with student art and along the way, students performed and shared their new-found knowledge of marine life. In the gym, there were exhibitions of the activities they had learned. Parents were enchanted and the students loved it. I met a number of them later when I was transferred to the high school and invariably mentioned the “special projects” they had been involved in over the year. I am sure they remembered these far more clearly than any class assignment they had.

You don’t have to do something on this scale although perhaps you can build toward it. Choose one of these teachers whom you think would most probably want to take on this type of project.  See if the nurse has a health-related project he or she would like to do. It could include decorating the nurse’s office.

The same is true with the computer teacher.  What specific applications is he or she is teaching students.  Can you come up with a real-life project where students would have to use those applications to present or track their findings?

And then there is the principal.  Granted it’s harder, but administrators in small schools are likely to be the “only” one doing the job, and it’s a tough one.  Could you help?  You both see the big picture, knowing all the students and teachers and the curriculum. Perhaps you can offer to do any research he or she needs. If you read Educational Leadership, the journal of ASCD (the high school should have a subscription or check your periodical databases), you can keep current with the trends in education.  Then share any information you get on those topics.

But what about how you do your job?  Nobody in your building gets that.  But your librarian colleagues do.  Social media has made it simple to connect to them.  There are a host of school library-related Facebook groups from LM_NET to Future Ready Librarians, to my own School Librarian’s Workshop.

Your state association is likely to have a Facebook group as well as a listserv.  Be part of it. Ask for help when you need it. Your state association’s conference is another important way to connect with colleagues. And if you venture out further there is the AASL biennial conference and ALA Annual. If you haven’t reached out before you will be amazed by how willing librarians, including the leaders, are to help others in the profession.

If you feel lonely in your job, it’s because you aren’t making use of all the potential connections.  What are you doing to connect and show you are part of your educational and library communities?