ON LIBRARIES: A Safe Welcoming Environment – For All

The library must be a safe, welcoming environment.  We all say this and mean it.  But how is that translating into reality? Having furniture appropriate in size for students?  Featuring student work? Rules that are positively stated? Do you have students who choose to stay in the library during lunch because they feel different or unaccepted by their classmates?  All this is important, but there is more to creating a safe, welcoming environment for all. Those last two words are the key and to create it we need equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Creating a welcoming environment is behind the call for more diversity in our collections. A great website for this is We Need Diverse Books. Under the Resources tab, in addition to a downloadable Booktalking Kit, there is “Where to Find Diverse Books” which gives links for sources for African, African American, Disabilities (only one). American Indian, Islam, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+.

Take the time to look at your current collection.  Do most of your diverse books fall within Sonia Nieto’s description of foods, festivals, fashion, folklore, and famous people?  For students of these diverse backgrounds, this is merely the tip of the iceberg in capturing who they are.  Is your African American collection heavily tilted toward slave days and the civil rights movement?  Certainly, there is much more to present.

As mentioned on the website We Are Teachers, we need to provide Mirrors and Windows.  Mirrors allow students to see themselves in the books in our collections. The same titles provide Windows for other students to see the bigger picture, helping them become the global citizens necessary in our world.  Hopefully, these Windows become Sliding Glass Doors, creating comfort and ease with others who are different from us.

It’s important to see diversity in a somewhat larger setting.  The phrase used in business, education, and especially for our libraries is Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or EDI.  The three words are obviously related, but there are substantive differences among them.

ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee just completed the process for further defining the Library Bill of Rights.  The document, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights is one you need to be familiar with.  Among other explanations, it presents definitions of these three key areas.

Equity, according to the document is: “{Takes} difference into account to ensure a fair process and, ultimately, a fair outcome. Equity recognizes that some groups were (and are) disadvantaged in accessing educational and employment opportunities and are, therefore, underrepresented or marginalized in many organizations and institutions. Equity, therefore, means increasing diversity by ameliorating conditions of disadvantaged groups.”

Equity should not be confused with equality. Equality means everyone gets the same.  Divide the pie into equal portions.  But should the toddler get the same size piece as the teenager?  Obviously not.  Equity is about giving more to those who need more.  A graphic, attributed to the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette (left), shows 3 children of different heights behind a fence watching a baseball game. Equality is giving all three a box of the same height to see over the fence.  Equity is giving them boxes of different sizes.

My favorite version goes beyond even equity. When the planks covering the fence are removed, nobody needs assistance.  The assistance can make students feel different which is not what we want.  For example, if you charge fines for overdues and forgive those who can’t afford them or let them work off their fines in some ways, you are making the situation equitable, but differences are still felt. Eliminating fines eliminates differences.

Diversity according to the ALA document, “can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. When we recognize, value, and embrace diversity, we are recognizing, valuing, and embracing the uniqueness of each individual.” The words “valuing” and “embracing” are what contribute to making the library a safe and welcoming space.

Diversity shows up throughout the National School Library Standards. The standard for C. SHARE III. Collaborate states: “Learners work productively with others to solve problems by: involving diverse perspectives in their own learning process.”  It’s not just your book collection that should be diverse. Integrating diversity within research projects makes it a part of students’ lives.

Inclusion, as stated in the document, “means an environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully; are valued for their distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives; have equal access to resources and opportunities; and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”  To me, this is the welcoming statement.  All belong, all contribute.

The National School Library Standards identifies Include as the second of the Shared Foundations, stating that it “Demonstrates an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community.”  As part of what we do as school librarians, we need to recognize the diverse range of our student population.  In addition to ethnicity, gender identification, and disabilities, we need to be aware of those who are homeless, have an incarcerated family member, a parent serving abroad, or other ways their lives may make them feel different.

It’s not easy. It won’t happen overnight.  It’s an ongoing process of learning for us as well as the communities we serve, but the bottom line is the library must be a safe, welcoming environment for ALL. The work we do with this has a far-reaching – even unlimited – impact.

 

 

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ON LIBRARIES – Trust and Integrity

Of the many qualities of leadership, trust and integrity are within the grasp of all. And from these two you can build the rest. Best of all, you probably exhibit them most of the time. However, you may not recognize the ways they manifest and what effect they have on your leadership. In a way, trust is an exterior quality while integrity is an interior one. Trust is about your interactions with others. Integrity is about who you are as a person.

Although they are interlocked, let’s deal with them separately.  Trust is intrinsic to a relationship. You cannot have a connected relationship with anyone you don’t trust or who doesn’t trust you. To build a relationship you begin by showing interest in the other person, follow up with evidence of your interest, display empathy, and then ultimately trust becomes the glue that holds the relationship together.

Trust is needed when reaching out to collaborate with teachers.  I once had a co-librarian the teachers did not trust.  They sensed she didn’t like their students.  Invariably, they would schedule their projects with me. Had she been the sole librarian, there would have been little or no collaboration.

In addition, trust is needed in building relationships with students. To make the library a safe and welcoming space, students need you to be a trustworthy adult. Then they are more likely to confide in you about their hopes, fears, and needs.  Among other things, this means you never discuss their reading preferences with anyone. You do have to let them know where the line is, in advance if possible.  If they should tell you something that suggests they are at risk for self-harm or harm by others, you need to report it. Sometimes knowing about that line is the reason they confide in you, expecting you will report what they don’t have the courage to.

A Forbes article entitled You Can’t Be a Great Leader Without Trust – Here’s How You Build it, suggests eight “c’s” for doing building trust. Although they are all important, and I have discussed many of them, the last one – Consistency—is one I have not mentioned.  In order to trust, people need to count on how you will behave. If your reactions and behavior are based solely on your mood of the day, your colleagues and your students won’t be able to trust you.

One more caution about trust.  It’s a precious commodity.  It takes time to build and can be lost in an instant. Once it’s gone, it takes far longer to restore than it did to build it.

Integrity, by contrast, is your inner compass. Merriam Webster defines integrity as “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.”  For me, integrity is doing right when no one is watching.

In a post, The 3 I’s of effective leadership, Naphtali Hoff says integrity “helps us become the best versions of ourselves and communicates what we stand for.”  It shows with others when we make promises and commitments and keep them and when we are honest in our words.  Clearly, this builds trust, which is the link between the two qualities.

Hoff writes, “To be in integrity also means being honest and having strong moral principles, to think and act in a manner that is consistent with one’s values and intentions.”  A person who has integrity will present the same “face” no matter where you meet them because they have a unifying core that defines them. This gives a leader strength.

The philosophy of many school librarians comes from their integrity.  It is helpful if this integrity is connected to and consistent with the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. These two documents speak to the essence of what libraries are, but they come with challenges for librarians depending on our situations.

Two of the statements in the ALA Code of Ethics state:

II. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

III. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

These two from the Library Bill of Rights do the same:

You can order this poster from the ALA store
  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. 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.

While we are working hard to bring more diversity to our collections, there are times when some of us pause, recognizing that purchasing a book may very well bring a “Request for Reconsideration.”  There are places in the United States and the world where presenting materials which include “all points of view” is not only difficult but can put your job at risk. It’s scary when this happens, when you are faced with these dilemmas.  So, what do you do?  It is a decision you may have to come to before choosing to purchase or not purchase certain material. No one will ever have to know what you decide and why. It will not be an easy decision and hopefully, when you do make it, you will be able to stay in integrity.

Making hard decisions.  Knowing what you stand for.  The trust others have in you. The consistency in your actions.  All these combine and make you a leader others recognize.

ON LIBRARIES – Move Past Your Barriers

I was talking with someone recently and said my Vision is that every librarian is living as a leader or working to be a bigger leader.  We won’t be successful until we are all successful.  Yes, I know that’s a tall order.  Like any Vision, it may never fully happen, but by working toward it, I will get closer than I would without it. To that end, today’s blog, like several in the past few weeks, is intended to help you notice where you may be holding yourself back. When we notice what’s getting in our way, we are more likely and able to make a change. Because there is no option. You must become a leader.

Back in 2015 I first wrote about  The Stories We Tell Ourselves as being a barrier we have put in our way.  I followed it up last year with More Stories – we are very creative in finding ways to avoid being a leader. Two weeks ago, I asked Are You the Problem? to show how we get in our way by our habits and attitudes. Barriers, whether big or small, don’t get erected overnight. It will take time to dismantle many of these, but my hope is that on a deep level, you recognize the truth about being a leader. You realize that you are likely the one that has stopped you and now you must be willing to learn how to get out of your own way.

Your situation is not unique.  Many people find ways to avoid becoming leaders.  But in any profession, that avoidance keeps you from being as successful as you can and need to be. , Today I am referencing Lolly Daskins who offers six ways How You Can Break Through Your Own Leadership Limits.

Change the lens through which you view yourself – For most people our self-image is rooted in our past.  Before I went to Weight Watchers, I would be surprised and unhappy when I caught my reflection in a window.  I thought I was thinner than that. For several years after I lost fifty pounds, I was startled when I saw my reflection. I thought I was heavier than that.

A long time ago, a well-know library colleague of mine was despondent.  He lost a job he had held for a quarter of a century and was moving to a new state.  I told him he would be very much appreciated in his new position. When I saw him six months later, he was beaming. I had been right.  Not only had his former employer took him for granted, but he had also taken himself for granted, not seeing how much he had grown and learned on the job until he had a better one.

Look to your accomplishments and successes. Let go of outdated reflections. See yourself through a new lens.

Know what you need to changeNo, the answer is not “everything.”  Do a self-analysis using SOAR.  What are your Strengths? What Opportunities exist for demonstrating those strengths? What are your Aspirations?  In other words, what are you most passionate about? What would want to achieve? What Results are you looking for?  Look at your answers and made some decisions. When you get specific you get better results.

Be willing to do the work – Now that you know what you want to achieve, commit to working towards getting your aims. Put in start dates for what you are going to do and end dates (remembering to be flexible because the unexpected will happen).  This will keep you honest. Remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always had. Be ready to do something different.

Identify and remove any obstacles standing in your waySome of these obstacles are real.  Time, budgets, resources. Others are the familiar barriers – the stories you have told yourself.  Look at them realistically.  Are they really true? Sure, there are truthful aspects to them, but if they are important –and they are – you know you can figure a way around them. The same is probably true about stretching your budget, finding new resources, and better allocating your time.

Leverage your limits – This means taking a hard look at your weaknesses.  How can they be used?  Get yourself a mentor. Working on a weakness will strengthen you and give you confidence. It will make you better understand yourself as a person.  You are a combination of your strengths and weaknesses. Too often you focus only on the weaknesses but focusing only on strengths can be equally unhelpful. It blinds you to what might trip you up. You can also consider this a good place for collaboration. Is there a teacher who is great with detail and you’re a big picture person?  Working together will use both your strengths.

Lead from within Daskin says this is about leading from your potential rather than your limits.  I also believe it means building your self-confidence and leading from the middle.  It’s amazing what you can do to lead as a member of a committee.  You don’t have to be the chair to lead.  If you have a clear vision of where a group wants/needs to go or if you understand the vision set out by the committee head, you can help ease the path, simplify choices, and make everyone’s job easier.

Leadership shows up in many ways.  Be alert to the possibilities and notice the noise in your head that may be holding you back. Put new, positive voices in its place and then you will always be prepared to lead.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: LEAP into Leadership – And Beyond

I recently returned from ALA Annual where, as the delegate from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, I attended Affiliate Assembly.  Everyone there was a leader. Some early in their journey, others who have been active in both state and national level for some time.  As I worked with my colleagues on ways to promote school librarianship, I thought of those who weren’t in attendance but were leaders in their own right.

The bottom line is you are all leaders. Leadership is built into what we do each day.  Whether it’s being a technology integrator or managing the library, we are leaders.  What some of us are not doing is recognizing our strengths and finding ways to promote it.  It’s time to see and show how terrific you and your program are.

Dr. Cathi Fuhrman

LEAP is an acronym created by Dr. Cathi Fuhrman, president-elect of the Pennsylvania School Library Association. She shared it with the delegates and gave me permission to share it here:

L – Listen with your mind and your heart. What are others trying to tell you that your mind NEEDS to comprehend, and you can act on – but also what are they saying that your heart needs to hear? Being a leader isn’t just about being logical – our lives and our work are wrapped up with our heart.

E – Energy and Empathy. Energy for the work that needs to be done and empathy for all those that you’re leading.

A – Accountability– As a leader you’re accountable to the work that you’ve agreed to do. The buck stops here.

P – Passion. You have to be passionate about the work you’re doing as a leader. And you have to share that passion with who you are leading. They have to see and feel your passion – because the passion we have for this profession – the passion we have for students and how we impact them – it’s everything!

I think the one most of us struggle with is Listen because we don’t trust ourselves enough. Cathi is so right that the best leadership is tied to heart. Leaders without heart are not really followed – they are obeyed.  She also points out that it is also important to listen for the things we gloss over. Is there encouragement, and support being offered that you didn’t notice?  Take them in.  We’re so ready to hear the complaints and concerns we don’t hear the compliments.

Our job requires enormous Energy for the day to day requirements, but to build and maintain the relationships, Empathy is required. When those two work together, the library becomes a safe space, sometimes the first safe place a student finds.

You have full responsibility for the library from the budget to the collection and to the teaching you do formally and informally.  For all this, you hold yourself AccountaBLE. Take time to notice what you’ve accomplished because you’ve owned the success of your program.

And as for Passion, I know you have it. I can’t improve on Cathi’s words describing it.

To strengthen the qualities in LEAP, it helps to add in the soft skills of Emotional Intelligence which is widely recognized as vital for true leadership.  Joel Garfinkle lists 5 Qualities of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders (one of which duplicates Cathi). Garfinkle recommends that we be:

  1. Empathetic – Both Fuhrman and Garfinkle note the importance of this quality. It’s the process of putting yourself in another’s shoes before responding.
  2. Self-Aware – You probably are well aware of your weaknesses, but do you know your strengths? Focus on developing projects that require them.  What types of situations cause you to stress, feel panic, or get you angry?  Plan how to handle these before they arise.
  3. Positive – As I have often noted, people don’t like to be around those who have a negative attitude. Being positive is about mindset.  It’s how you reframe adverse situations, which will happen. It can be anything from the Internet going down to being given additional responsibilities.  How you handle it will define how you are as a leader.
  4. Considerate – In some ways this ties to empathy. We sometimes get so wound up in believing we are not valued, we forget the teachers feel the same way. By listening (back to the L in LEAP) we make the library a safe, welcoming environment.  And that is often the route to collaboration.  Don’t forget your administrator in this. Principals are drowning in details. They often feel assailed on all sides.  Look for ways you can help them out.
  5. Authentic – None of this works if it’s not real. You can’t use Emotional Intelligence to manipulate people.  It will eventually be recognized.  A leader has integrity.  There needs to be an honest caring for the people you work with.

The librarians I know have most these qualities.  They may not always be positive (it’s hard to do every day) and aren’t as aware of their strengths as they should be, but they all have everything necessary to be a leader.  Make your own LEAP and you’ll soon make your mark in your school – and your state – as a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You The Problem?

I have recently blogged about Dealing with Failure and Dealing with Criticism but I have steered away from discussing behaviors we have that may be contributing to the problem. However, since we can’t fix what we don’t know, let’s uncover ways we may have inadvertently added to our problems.  The good news is, you can change.

There are librarians who still focus solely on the tasks needed to run your library. No matter what you hear, you feel too overworked to proactively promote your library program and yourself.  It’s no wonder no one knows what you do or believes you have anything to contribute. Others have gotten sucked into the negativity that pervades schools today.  The problems (challenges) are easy to see.  Rather than tackling them, they endlessly discuss them with like-minded teachers.  This contributes nothing to your program, and, as I’ve written, it’s the opposite of how a leader behaves.

Leaders inspire. By holding a bigger picture, they find alternatives and new directions. No one enjoys being with someone who only complains and sees what’s not working.  This is the time to launch a new program. It could be small, but it needs to be new.  Something to bring a positive focus on the library—and in some ways to offer hope to teachers who, just like you, are feeling undervalued and overworked.

I was inspired by Bryan Robinson’s article identifying 10 Reliable Career Killers: How Many Do You Practice on a Daily Basis?  Most of us do some of these things. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the behaviors.

  1. Multitask – You know it. I know it.  Studies have proven it.  Multitasking doesn’t work.  Yet we continue to think by doing several things at once we will get through faster.  Remember the old adage, “Haste Makes Waste.”  This is how you send an email to the wrong person.  Or put something in a place you can’t remember later.  The errors happen because your mind wasn’t fully on what you were doing.  This is a tough habit to break.  Work on catching yourself and pulling your mind back to focus on the priority at hand.
  2. Play It Safe – This especially happens after you have had a project fail. You crawl into your shell and hope nobody sees you.  But that will do nothing for your program, and you certainly won’t be seen as a leader. Stay “safe” for too long and you will be viewed as expendable.  Leaders need to be out there.
  3. Work More Hours – Your job is huge. There aren’t enough hours in the school day to get it done.  So, you come in early.  You stay late.  You are always somewhat behind, but that doesn’t stop you from getting on the hamster wheel each day. Stop! That behavior leads to burnout (and multitasking!). Prioritize.  What must be done? What is less necessary?  (And don’t forget family and friends time in the priorities.)  Once your list is done, schedule a meeting with your principal and discuss those priorities. Does s/he agree?  What suggestions does s/he have?  And come with your own suggestions.
  4. Focus on Problems –If all you can see are problems, you become a negative person. It’s hard to build relationships when all you are giving off are negative thoughts and/or in a bad mood. You are likely to attract equally negative people. Leaders seek solutions and often do so in collaboration with others.
  5. Put Yourself Down – When we are feeling low, we can resort to self-deprecation, believing we are saying what others are thinking about us. It is rarely true, but by repeating such comments often enough, we convince others we are failures. Try positive self-talk, internally and aloud, for a change.  If this is one of your typical behaviors, find a good friend and ask him/her to help talk you out of that negative mindset. If your friend suffers from the same syndrome, you can be partners.
  6. Practice Self-Neglect – There’s a host of ways you can neglect yourself. Not getting enough sleep.  Not taking downtime. Not exercising. Unhealthy eating.  Airplane safety says to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.  It’s the only way to survive. When you neglect yourself, you invariably neglect others whether it’s your family, students or program.  If you are drained, you can’t be your best self.
  7. Harbor Self-Doubt –You are better than you know you are, but you won’t find out unless you give yourself a chance. Every leader has doubts, but they act despite those niggling thoughts. Focus on the places you have succeeded.  Use that to power you rather than rehashing any failures.  I have been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers for years and have seen how those who look at the week they gained weight as a failure are more apt to quit—and then they really fail.  Those who succeed point to the progress they are making, knowing it won’t be a straight line.
  8. Fear Failure – No one succeeds all the time. You are trying to teach your students to see failure as part of the learning process.  You need to embrace that as well. You don’t have to love failure, but there’s no need to fear it.
  9. Set Unreasonable Deadlines – This leads back to multitasking and working more hours, which leads to other defeating habits. Recognize life happens and the best-laid plans don’t always work. Be realistic in your deadline.  Build in a “cushion” for things going wrong.  And set short-term deadlines on large projects so you know if you are on target or need to adjust the final deadline.
  10. Eschew an Idle Mind – Believe it or not, we need more idle mental time. This is the pause for reflection and rejuvenation. I walk. Some of you meditate, color, or do yoga.  All good ways to have an idle mind. Look for SEL activities that work for you.

Life is hard enough.  We shouldn’t be making it harder. Notice which of these behaviors might be holding you back.  If you can overcome these habits, you will make your life easier – and you will make it easier for others.  It’s what leaders do.