ON LIBRARIES – The Library Ecosystem

Are you familiar with the intertwined roots of redwood trees? Walking in a redwood forest, the size and strength of the trees amaze you.  They have lived for centuries and grown so tall.  And yet, as I learned to my surprise, they have shallow roots. But the reason they can stand and are not knocked down by strong winds is because their roots are intertwined.  Linked as they are, they help each other, and in so doing they are all strengthened.

We are all aware of the challenges school libraries and school librarians are facing, but our colleagues in public and academic libraries are dealing with a similar situation and we should look for ways to connect our roots to strengthen us all. In the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, the Key Commitment of Shared Foundation III Collaborate is “Work effectively with others to broaden perspectives and work toward common goals.”  We share many common goals with all types of libraries. Together, we are stronger.

On the national level, ALA has the Libraries Transform initiative. The opening sound bite is “Because Transformation Is Essential to the Communities We Serve.”  The statement is true of many libraries.  Many of the other “hooks” are equally universal to libraries. When you click on pieces of the initiative, they all have additional information, perfect for helping you discuss this to anyone. (If you haven’t signed on to the site, it’s worth doing.)

Additionally, the ALA Youth Council Caucus (YALSA, ALSC, and AASL) have launched the State Ecosystem Initiative.  Headed by Dorcas Hand, she offers the following definition and explanation:

A library ecosystem is the interconnected network of all types of libraries, library workers, volunteers, and associations that provide and facilitate library services for community members; families; K-20 learners; college and university communities; local, state and federal legislatures and government offices; businesses; nonprofits; and other organizations with specific information needs.

A patron of one library is the potential patron of any other library at a different time of life or location. No library exists independent of the library ecosystem. When we stand together in mutual support using common messaging themes that demonstrate this interconnectedness, every library is stronger.

So to support these roots, what is your state school library association doing and what are you doing?  Ideally, you should have representation on the board of the state association — and on the state association of ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) and they should have a liaison to your board.  This keeps you aware of what is happening to libraries throughout your state.

You, too, need to create a library ecosystem in your community. First connect with the other school librarians in your district. Together, reach out to the Children’s and YA librarians in the local public library. Build a relationship and start sharing. You can learn handouts are the public librarians giving to their patrons and find out if you distribute them to students.  Would they be willing to post work by your students?  They can then promote them on their website and or e-bulletin they send.  In return, you can report about this collaboration on your website.

You could ask the Children’s Librarian if she would visit and do a shared story telling session with your students and leave information about getting a library card.  Consider having the Children’s Librarian visit before school ends to talk about their summer reading program.

Another possibility is to devote a space in your library to post “happenings” in the public library.  Promote public library events on your website.  If you are doing something special such as “Read Across America,” (Monday, March 20, 2020) have the public library do the same for your program.

Don’t forget the academic librarians. If you are in a high school, reach out to librarians in local community colleges and/or any local 4-year colleges and universities.  Invite them to visit when you are starting–or even in the middle of-a research project. The students who may tune you out could be differently willing to listen to a college librarian who tells them what they can expect.

You want the people in your district to see the libraries as that interconnected strength that transforms the community.  We are all in the relationship and information business. By being present in different venues, parents and other community members will see how we work together and enrich all. Lead the way in building your library ecosystem and become a tall, strong redwood.

ON LIBRARIES – What’s Your Plan?

Can you believe it’s the new year? Vacation has, once again, flown by, and I almost hate to say it but if you have given no thought about what the rest of the school year will bring, now is the time. Ask yourself where do you want to be at the end of the school year?  I often quote Yogi Berra’s sage advice, “If you don’t know where you are going, you are going to wind up someplace else.”  Nothing will change, certainly not for the better, unless you have a plan.

Whatever job you tackle, it should connect to your Mission Statement, your Vision, and your Philosophy.  No matter what you choose to do, it will take effort so it is a waste of your time unless it takes you where you want to go.

To begin, list your ideas.  Which are the biggest jobs?  Which are relatively easy?  And then ask the big question — Why do I want to do it? How does it connect? Don’t just pick a project you have heard of because it sounded like a good idea.  It might have been great for another school librarian and library, but it may not be the best choice for you. Before plunging in, first ask yourself, “What do I want to do?

Most Mission Statements are broad enough to give you room to go in many directions, but knowing that your plan connects to it will give it a greater focus.  For example, here is one Mission Statement.

  • The mission of the Blank 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 first sentence of that statement can lead to creating a Makerspace. But if you are thinking of a plan, you want to think bigger.  Perhaps your purpose for the Makerspace is to have students developing products that might help others. If creating information is part of your Mission, then how else can you use this Makerspace?

The second sentence is about developing more collaborative projects with teachers.  Are there teachers you haven’t reached as yet?  Are there subject areas that could benefit from working with you that haven’t come into the library as yet? And if a Makerspace is still what you want – which teachers would be best to contact for collaboration?

The second half of that sentence is about diversity.  Is your collection truly diverse? Does it go beyond race, ethnicity, and gender?  What percentage of the authors of your diverse titles are members of the community they are writing about? Is there a way to blend students acting as users and creators of information with diversity? That links it more tightly to your mission.

So, you know what you want in your plan. Next step—How?

Let’s return to the Makerspace. HOW can you do this? Whether you have one or want to expand an existing one, you’ll want to start by gathering information. Who is already doing this? Who is doing this with resources that match yours? Ask your PLN for help and search on topics such as project-based learning and design thinking. (I’m guessing members of the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group would offer support!).

Next, identify WHAT you will need to accomplish it.  Will it require funding?  If so, where can you get it—grants? GoFundMe?  Will you need volunteers? Can they be students? Alumni? Parents?

Knowing WHO is also an important part of the second plan–collaboration. The Who are the teachers you want to reach.  Why have they not collaborated with you before? What do they need?  How can you help with that?  How can you quickly build a relationship with them? Who will you start with? Then there are two more questions: Why? (Why this teacher?) When? (When will you reach out and share your idea?)

The third project requires a diversity audit to assess your collection. Again – How, What, Who, Why, When. Do you know anyone who has done this?  Can they send you their templates for doing this?  Who can help you in compiling it?  What are sources you use to increase the diversity of your collection.  What resources do ALA and AASL provide? When are you going to seek the initial information?  When will you begin the project?

Put all of your plans in writing.  Name the projects, list your steps, and create manageable deadlines. Whether you use a spreadsheet or a Google doc doesn’t matter.  What matters is having it recorded and making a commitment to it.

The last and a very important part of your planning is knowing what you will do with the results. How will you use it to promote your library program?

You can record the Makerspace project in photos and videos.  Capture students working on their designs, Showcase their final creations. Share with your administrators and contact local news outlets.

You should display projects from collaborations with teachers, possibly on the library’s or school’s website.  Send information to the principal on what the students achieved and commend the teachers involved.  This will eventually lead to further collaboration.

Share the results of your diversity audit with the principal.  Discuss how you plan to build a collection that will promote students’ feelings of safety and belonging in the school and beyond. Perhaps you can get a one-time funding to purchase books you have put on a list to acquire.  Again, consider grants and GoFundMe for help.  Look also into the possibility of getting speakers in for the teachers and/or students. But that’s another plan.

With a well-constructed plan, you will reach the end of the school year with a sense of accomplishment.  The important part is to get started now and let your plan guide your success.

Good luck!