ON LIBRARIES: What’s Your Why

Being a school librarian is a demanding job.  We love it – until we don’t.  Too many added tasks.  Too little appreciation.  Fear of being eliminated.  All these contribute to losing our passion for what I think is the greatest job in the world.  Don’t let outside forces drain the love you have for being a librarian.  When times get tough, having a limited view of our purpose can cause us to give up.  You need to identify your “Why.” When you make this connection you’ll be able to tap into your passion and even bad days will go better.

I first learned about “Why” in Weight Watchers.  Everyone joins to lose weight.  That’s obvious.  Some people have more specific or focused reasons such as wanting to lose weight for a special event such as a wedding.  They achieve that limited goal being at or close to their desired weight for the event. Then what?  They go back to their old ways of eating and the weight comes back with interest. Or they find a bigger Why and keep going.

When I first joined fourteen years ago, I wanted to look better in clothes and pictures. What’s kept me going all this time, my bigger Why, is my continuing good health and being able to enjoy the foods I like and not put on pounds.  I don’t have to be perfect, and my Why keeps me on track.

So, when it comes to your work, what is your Why?  It is not the same thing as your Mission.  Your Mission is your purpose for being a librarian, but it’s not why you are doing it.

For example, here are two well-crafted Mission Statements:

  • The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become lifelong users of information and 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 Blank 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.

Is that Why you became a librarian or is that what you are committed to doing because of why you became a librarian?  Why speaks to the purpose for your life.

My Why is tied to who I am as a person.  I want to reflect back to people (students and teachers and everyone I connect with) the greatness I see in them and, when appropriate, help them manifest it in their lives so they see and believe it. I can carry out much of that in a library with either of those two Mission Statements – or many other equally good statements.  But when overwhelmed or having administration block my ability to carry out my Mission Statement, rather than feeling hopeless, I can go to my Why.

In a post on Goalcast, Scarlett Erin says, “Your ‘Why’ Matters” and gives 10 benefits for knowing your purpose in life.

  1. It helps you stay focused: Just as your library Mission Statement does, this gives you a larger and more personal perspective on what really matters.
  2. It makes you feel passionate about your goal: It’s more than doing a great job; it’s about making a difference.
  3. It gives your life clarity: Knowledge is power. When you know yourself, it’s easy to make choices.
  4. It makes you feel gratified: When you see you made a difference, you automatically feel great.
  5. It helps you live a value-based life: You recognize and embrace the values that represent who you are.
  6. It makes you live with integrity: When you know who you are and what matters to you, you realize these are core values that can’t be compromised. You can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to requests more easily by staying aligned with your values.
  7. It encourages trust: Because you are confident with who you are, you are more open to others.
  8. It infuses an element of grace in your life: Your life is smoother, with fewer trips and stutters, because you act from a deeper place, aligned with what matters to you.
  9. It helps you find a flow in life: Fears are easier to manage because you trust yourself and accept whatever happens you can stay grounded and centered.
  10. It makes life even more fun: You are more likely to live in the moment and appreciate what is happening as it occurs.

During your break as you are taking time, I hope, to do the things you love and that fill you up (see last weeks blog on this), I hope you also take time to reflect and determine what your Why is. Having fun and being relaxed is the best time to connect with and be aware of the things that most matter to you.

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ON LIBRARIES – Inquiring Minds

from The Purposeful PreSchool

Inquiry-based learning is embedded in our National School Library Standards. As the Key Commitment of the Shared Foundation, Inquire states, “Build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems” (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 67). Inquiry is where learning begins, and we work hard to develop it in our students. In the business world, leaders are continually searching for “what’s next.”  They know that they can’t afford not to anticipate what is coming. They have to be ready to shift their business model, and sometimes we do, too.

Inquiry, or curiosity, is essential to lifelong learning.  And as role models for lifelong learning, we need to model it in our daily lives. Too often we have a passing curiosity about something new and because of time pressure we don’t Explore (another Shared Foundation) it, and we lose the opportunity to “discover and innovate” (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 103).

Curious minds keep growing, and as I and many others have said, “You are either growing or dying.” To be a successful leader you need to curious about the world around you in large part because, as I mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago you are more than your job, however much that defines you.  Keep an eye on what’s happening outside the world of school librarianship, beyond education. Connect to what interests you as often as you can.

Obviously, curiosity is another quality of leadership and it is time to cultivate that mindset. The challenge is to do it when you are so busy just keeping up.  Once again, the business world has faced the same issue and offers a solution.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Mara Swan explain What Happens When Leaders Lack Curiosity?  Interestingly, their first observation is that those with intellectual curiosity are more open to new experiences. They are more likely not to pre-judge people.  They are more tolerant and able to see beyond the narrow frame of their own perspective. They are, simply, more successful.

Tolerance for others is part of our Shared Foundation Include which has as a Key Commitment, “Demonstrates an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 75). When you reach out to collaborate with teachers, do you choose the ones who are most like you?  Or do you recognize those with different backgrounds and interests can add a deeper dimension to the learning experience – and be a model for students?

Another characteristic of curiosity is being able to deal with ambiguous situations and issues. Although your roles as a school librarian are clearly spelled out in the National School Library Standards, how this plays out in your school setting is not always so clear.  Every day you are faced with people who think they know what you are to do and while they are usually right about part of your job but often doesn’t take in the whole nor see how the pieces all intersect.

One of you may have an administrator who is so enamored with technology, he or she wants you to focus on that exclusively.  Another is totally committed to literacy and only wants to see that in the library. There is nothing wrong with technology in the library and certainly reading is one of our Common Beliefs.  What you do is follow the directive you have been given.  And then you get creative. You support your Makerspace or STEM programs with books that stimulate thinking.  You read stories to the kids and have a display of nonfiction related to what you read.  You blur what you were told to do so you can deliver a comprehensive library program. In doing so, you make your students curious as well.

Most of all, Chamorro-Premuzic and Swan say curious people have a “hungry mind.” They are not committed to creating a plan and sticking with it no matter what.  They accept that things change and changing direction can improve the outcome. Indeed, that’s a concept we would like our students to develop around their research.

copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

In March, I blogged on building students curiosity.  We need to cultivate it as well, no matter how busy we are.  To me, it seems librarians are naturally curious as a group.  We need to know – and we love knowing.  We can’t let the demands of our job keep us from this vital leadership quality. I hope you find lots of ways to indulge and enjoy your curiosity this summer