ON LIBRARIES: The Mission of Mission

(WAVING TO ALL OF YOU FROM ALA NATIONAL IN CHICAGO! – If you’re here — post to our Facebook group and let me know if you want to get together!)

I recently got into a discussion with a professor friend of mine for whom I have the greatest respect, and we disagreed on what should be in a Mission Statement.  He held that the library mission should be the same as that of the school.  I argued that it needed to align with the school’s mission, but had to declare the unique role of the school library program. While we will agree to disagree, I wanted to bring the issue to this blog.

I first blogged about writing a Mission Statement June 8, 2015. At that time I wanted to have librarians recognize the value of having a mission.  What is the purpose (or the mission) of a Mission Statement? 

What I said then was:

The mission defines your purpose—what you and your library program do.  It should highlight what makes you unique and vital to the educational community and expressed in words laymen can understand.  You can start with the mission AASL gives in Empower Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (ALA, 2009).

And while we need to use evidenced-based practice to ensure we have the best possible program and use the data produced by it to show our administrators what we contribute, it doesn’t mean we don’t need a Mission Statement.

Everyone needs to see what our purpose is.  I recommend that librarians frame their Mission Statement and hang it where it can be seen by all who come into the library. It is our declaration of why we are vital to the school – the students, teachers, and by extension the administration.  It highlights what we do that’s unique.  Because if we aren’t unique, we are redundant. Someone else is doing we what we’re doing – so they don’t need us.

In addition, the Mission Statement gives us a focus.  A reminder of what we strive for each day, each school year.  In that original blog, I noted that “The school year is over. How do you feel as you look back on it? Do you have a sense of accomplishment over what you have achieved?  Or are you tired and exhausted, able to recall a handful of great moments but no real sense of having gotten anywhere? If this describes you, chances are you are operating without a Mission Statement.”

My point is a mission centers you.  Even if events in the school pull you off it on occasion – or regularly – at least you are aware that it’s happening and can work to get back on track the next day. It also becomes central to all planning.

You want to start a Makerspace?  Fine. How does it fit into your Mission?  That’s what you need to consider every time you plan a project.  It helps propel you forward.

If you don’t have a Mission as yet, here are some samples I have been using in some of my recent presentations:

  • The mission of the ______ School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become not only lifelong users of information but also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.
  • The Mission of the _______ School Media Center Program is to create lifelong learners with critical thinking skills, and an appreciation of literature by providing opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world. It is a place of safety and learning for all.
  • The mission of the School Library Media Program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users and producers of ideas and information, promote literacy, and develop students’ competencies to be ethical participants in a global society.
  • The ______ District Library Media Program cultivates independent, lifelong readers fosters critical thinking skills, teaches the effective and ethical use of information sources, and promotes equitable access to all forms of information media.
  • The ______ School Library Media Program creates a 21stcentury environment that promotes learning for all students by providing equitable access to information, teaching information literacy skills, and encouraging lifelong learning. The library media center strives to be a center of collaborative learning that produces creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self.
  • The ________ School Library mission is to empower and inspire all students to apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to become creative thinkers and problem solvers, to experience individual and team success, and to become responsible, contributing members of our community.

What’s your Mission? Do you think it should be the same as the school’s or do you see the value of having one that shows you are unique?


ON LIBRARIES: The Plagiarism Plague

from http://www.youthvoices.live

Talk to librarians and you hear how widespread plagiarism has become.  Talk to teachers and they know some kids do it but don’t recognize the scope of the issue, in part because unknowingly many of them plagiarize as well. How do you manage to convince students of the seriousness of plagiarism, and, even more daunting, how do you educate teachers without alienating them?

You can’t ignore it. That’s the first thing to recognize.  One of our jobs is to teach ethical use of information.  Because it’s so easy doesn’t make it right.  Everything seems to out there just for the taking.  And who will know?

Start with students. It’s best to begin introducing the concept as early as first grade.  When these primary students do their first reports, have them do very basic citations.  There is no need to worry about commas and periods and the details of an MLA cite.  You want them to learn that if they use someone else’s idea, they need to say where they got it from.  Young kids love it because it makes them feel grown up.

One of my students teaches the lesson by borrowing a pencil from one student and then letting another kid have it. She then asks if this is fair?  The whole class realizes it isn’t.  From there you can have them see this is a form of theft.

The same lesson can be augmented as students get older. Instead of telling them they shouldn’t copy, ask why it’s important not to do so.  This may take longer but keep them at it. Explain that it is allowed with “credit” and once again, have them figure out the reason that’s acceptable.

The big leap is in guiding students to recognize that images, video clips, and audio available on the internet must also be cited.  How would they feel if they posted a cartoon they created and someone copied it and used it as their own?  You must constantly make it personal or relate it to their own life in some way.

One of the ways to make it relevant to older students is to share some of the court cases involving famous musicians and songs. A few students may be aware of a one or two notable ones, but it’s important to bring the issue to all students’ attention.  Both Mental Floss and Rolling Stone cover some major ones.  No one goes to jail, but there are consequences. It’s worth a discussion.  If your school has a character education component, this falls within it.

Walk students through the various licensing shown under Tools on www.images.google.com and the filters Bing has on the right-hand side of www.bingimages.com.  Let them see how different choices affect the images displayed.

You don’t have to do this on your own. It is legal to use lesson plans that other have created for sharing on the topic. A quick search on Google on Common Sense Media turns up an excellent list of lessons and resources for teaching about copyright and using materials ethically. For example, you can find a lesson plan on plagiarism for Grades 3-5 and another for Grades 6-8.   Copyright and Fair Use is an animation for Grades 9-12.

Many students don’t even realize they are plagiarizing. Cut and paste is so fast and easy. Even when they “put it into their own words” they tend to just give a synonym for a word or two and perhaps switch the sentence around.  Introduce them to Grammarly’s Free Plagiarism Checker.  Rather than telling them they are plagiarizing, let them discover it for themselves.  This might be a good time to inform high school students of how seriously colleges respond to plagiarism.

Jennifer LaGarde, an outstanding school librarian, has a site called Copyright and Creative Commons that has numerous links to her favorite resources.  The inimitable Kathy Schrock also has resources on Intellectual Property including several on Creative Commons.

By standing firm for the principles of ethical use of information, you are demonstrating your leadership.

You may have a challenge in reaching teachers.  The problem isn’t new it’s just different and bigger.  Music teachers would copy sheet music because the budget didn’t allow for enough copies for the band/orchestra or chorus.  Teachers would copy worksheets from a book they had and distribute it to the entire class.  They would bring in a DVD of a movie from home and show it although they didn’t have the proper licensing.

How do you handle this without creating hostility between the faculty and you?  Hopefully, your district has a copyright policy.  Read it carefully and offer to help teachers stay within it. This way you are protecting them.

Next, express your concern to them about students plagiarizing, mostly unknowingly, and what challenges and problems this might cause them in college.  Run a workshop on how to check students’ sources.  Again, you are helping the teachers – not trying to make them wrong. Once you have done this, offer to show teachers how to use Creative Commons so they can “model ethical behavior for students.”  This way you make it about the kids, but the teachers learn.

How are you handling the plagiarism issue?  Does your district have a copyright policy? Who plagiarizes more in your school, teachers or students?


ON LIBRARIES – Your Fourth Role – Program Administrator

In May, I did a blog “Role-ing Through Your Day” in which I highlighted the many roles we have both in and outside the library. Towards the end of the blog, I mentioned our role as Program Administrator. As I was covering so many of our jobs I didn’t spend much time on it, but it is worth paying it some attention.

In Empowering Learners AASL identifies the four roles we have as school librarians: teacher, information specialist, instructional partner, and program administrator.  The first three are our more visible roles, but all too often no one knows what we do or are even aware of our role as program administrator.  And when it’s the principal who doesn’t know you are doing it, it is a contributing factor in not understanding the full scope of what we do.

In the blog, I said of this fourth role that it “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 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.”

Here is what AASL says being a Program Administrator entails.

“As program administrator, the SLMS, ensures that all members of the learning community have access to resources that meet a variety of needs and interests. The implementation of a successful SLMP requires the collaborative development of the program mission, strategic plan, and policies, as well as the effective management of the staff, the program budget, and the physical and virtual spaces. To augment information resources available to the learning community, the SLMS works actively to form partnerships with stakeholders and sister organizations at local and global levels.  The SLMS also addresses broader educational issues with other educators in the building, at the district level, and at the professional association level.”

It is an exhausting description of your responsibilities.  And that’s on top of the other three. There is no way you can do more than the bare minimum of these without becoming a leader. My graduate students find this role intimidating and keep pointing to the small budgets as a barrier to making much of this happen.  And while budget issues are a problem, we cannot hide behind them to avoid doing a vital part of our job.

Let’s look at it sentence by sentence. The first does speak to a strong collection that represents diversity and curricular needs.  Not having sufficient funds to order new books can be a serious challenge to carrying this out.  But do you have interlibrary loan through your state or consortium?  Are you making effective use of it? Have you made students and teachers (and your administrators) aware of it?

The second sentence deals with developing a cohesive program based on a Mission (hopefully a Vision as well) and a strategic plan. That keeps everything you do on track.  If you don’t know how to create a strategic plan, look for a session on it at your state conference or check online for samples. If you can’t work collaboratively on developing the vision and plan (and you can possibly do it with other librarians in your district), try having some teachers and an administrator critique what you develop.  Most of you don’t have staff to manage, although if you do have volunteers they are included in this. High school librarians are accustomed to creating and expending their budgets and most elementary librarians are making do with what they have.

As to the physical and virtual space, you do need to look at your library with fresh eyes.  Is it getting tired?  How often are displays changed?  How much student work is present? Can the furniture be arranged better? Are your tables easily moveable?  If not, consider putting on casters. The virtual space is your website and other online presence.  How often do you update content on your website? Is it time to give it a new look? What do you have for parents on your site?

The last two sentences move you outside your building.  If you haven’t done so already, develop a collaborative partnership with the public library and reach out to any college in your area to work together. What businesses in your district would be interested in working with the library?  You may get funding this way as well.

And always, keep up with the trends and concerns in education in addition to libraries. This makes you a resource for your administrators and teachers. It also ensures you are ready for whatever the next “thing” is.

This is you as a leader.  Make the most of it.  And let your administrator know as part of your quarterly and annual reports.

How are rising to the challenge of this fourth role?  Where can you use some help?

ON LIBRARIES: An Ethical Question

As librarians, we are accustomed to celebrating many months.  February is African American History Month.  March is Women’s History Month. And April is School Library Month, Poetry Month, and Math Awareness Month.  I am sure you have displays for all them, just as you do for the holidays in November and December.

June is GLBT Book Month.  Have you done anything to highlight it? I can hear a dead silence (crickets chirping) as I write these words.  Many of you won’t do anything.  Some of you have reason to believe you can’t do anything.  But what about library ethics?

Back in April I did a blog post on the “Many Layers of Diversity.” I was bringing ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee’s draft of the Library Bill of Rights Interpretation – Equity, Diversity, to your attention.  I dealt with all the aspects of the interpretation including meeting the needs of everyone in the school including LGBTQ students. (I am more familiar with LGBTQ rather than GLBT.) 

In June, these young people take center stage. Are you up to the challenge? Have you been avoiding books having LGBTQ characters?  I am not here to preach to those of you who are in untenable positions on the topic.  I know some of you work and live in communities where you would be vilified and possibly fired for purchasing these books. And you would not likely be hired anywhere else since the people in the surrounding towns hold the same views.

If you are sufficiently courageous, you might purchase some titles with your own funds.  Keep them in your office.  Your LGBTQ students in these communities are more isolated and fearful than in other more tolerant areas. When you have identified one of these kids, let them read the books you have in the library.  Taking them home could constitute a danger to you and possibly to them.  But you want your library to be a safe, welcoming environment for all your users.  And these students need to feel safe someplace.


How far you go in marking this month is up to you.  If you are one step up from the most restrictive communities, consider an annotated booklist. In a more tolerant area you can put the titles on display and post it to your website.

Helen Adams, an active member in AASL and the Freedom to Read Foundation just did a blog for Knowledge Quest entitled “June is GLBQ Book Month.” In it she gives example of how to build a rainbow collection. She encourages you to include GLBT titles among others when you give a book talk, and offers suggestions for educating teachers.

Adams points out, “Of the 323 book challenges reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom for 2016, five of the top 10 challenged books for 2016 included titles that LGBT characters including two with transgender children.”  She reminds librarians if they are facing a book challenge, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom is ready and able to offer confidential support.

Do check out the resources and links she provides in the article. Some of you might be surprised by the experiences of one New England middle school librarian who reported, “LGBTQ inclusion has become a normal part of the everyday activities in the library, and I think this has had a positive impact. This year, I’ve had an eighth-grade student ask me a couple times for good coming out stories, and earlier this year a sixth-grade student came to me to ask about pronoun etiquette.”

GLBT kids can be found in every school in the country.  Some are more obvious about it—when they feel safe. Others are desperately trying to hide who they are. They all deserve to know they aren’t alone and your library is a safe place for them. If you think you have a challenge – can you even begin to imagine theirs?

What are you doing for your GLBT students this month – and every month?  How much of a challenge is this for you?