ON LIBRARIES – Making Your Presence Known

Schools are creating – and recreating – their reopening plans for the fall. Budgets are being slashed in the wake of the pandemic. As administrators wrestle with tough decisions, you need to ensure that you and the library are seen as essential to making the new configurations work and work effectively.  If you haven’t been sending this message, start immediately, or it may be too late.

The workshop I give, “Making Your Presence Known,” was designed for what, in retrospect, was a simpler time, however its central premise, using Emotional Intelligence and the Four Truths, is extremely relevant now.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is vital to your success because it means you know yourself, manage your emotions, and, most critically at this juncture, know how to read others’ emotions – whether in a Zoom-type meeting, in an email, or in person.  What messages are you getting from your administrators’ emotions? Your teachers’ emotions? What can you do to act on those?

Four Truths:

  • All libraries, regardless of their type, are part of a larger host system.
  • All libraries, regardless of their type, get all their funds from this host system.
  • These funds are dependent on the value of the library to the host system.
  • That value is determined by the host system, not the library.

Are you valued by your host system?  If you are not, you are likely to be gone.

Now is the time to make sure you are highly regarded by your administrators, recognized for what you do, and turned to for ideas and advice.  It’s time to increase the volume as you speak and speak out.

Joel Garfinkle in an article entitled How Fauci Exemplifies Executive Presence  identifies these four necessary characteristics which are key to combining EI and the Four Truths:

Gravitas: It’s the ability to project calmness in a crisis. You may be churning inside, but you don’t show it.  This is the managing your emotions/self-regulation part of EI as well as being aware of the emotions of others. Where is their fear?  How can you address it and, even if only part, ease it?  You are bringing a perspective to the table others might not have. If you work on this now, you stand a good chance of staying at that table because you will show your value to the “host system”.

Acts with Authority:  Yes, you do have authority when you speak from your strengths.  You have been curating information on COVID-19, on alternatives to managing it within the school environment, and the pros and cons of the possibilities.  Because of the help you have been giving teachers and students, you have direct knowledge of their challenges.  As Fauci does, you can bring the downside while you inform them of the upside.  You tell the truth.  It’s not sugar-coating; it’s reality put in a constructive framework and that becomes usable information, something everyone needs.

Establishes Credibility: You can cite the research.  You know your stuff. This is part of where your authority comes from. But you also have built relationships.  People trust you because you have proven yourself to be trustworthy. Again, your EI comes into play as you empathize with others’ fears. By doing so you reduce their concerns and increase your value.

Communicates Powerfully: Keep your administration informed about what you are and have been doing. Use infographics and other visual means. In a Zoom-type meeting don’t dominate the conversation.  Be succinct and don’t use library jargon.  People are tense and overwrought.  Speak simply and clearly – with gravitas. Speak slowly and don’t end your sentences with your voice going up as if you are asking a question, which sends a message that you are uncertain.

You already have some of these four skills.  Now that you are aware of them you can make certain you are integrating them into your communications, particularly with the administration. This will put you in a position to show – and have them believe – that you and the library must be part of the new normal.

ON LIBRARIES: Turning Hope Into Action

The posts and comments are familiar and often repeated. We are exhausted.  It’s been going on too long.  We hoped it would be over by now. A note of despair has entered our lives. The old normal will never be back. I’m hearing and reading more absolute terms being used such as the “never” in the previous sentence.  Or “always” as in, “it’s always going to be this way.”  We need to be careful of thoughts like that. It is a mindset that feeds despair and drains us of something vital – hope.

Our world has always been filled with “ills and diseases,” but hope is there as well. As Emily Dickinson has said, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”  Perhaps we need to give the tune words. Hope is vital to our well-being.  We need to nourish it. Instead of thinking of hope as wish, take steps that will bring it to life.

In a long post on 3 Things the Most Resilient People Do Every Day, Eric Barker proposes a simple approach for creating hope.  His idea is to “Fill the Gap” with the formula:

Goals + Agency + Pathways = Hope.

Only three steps, but it takes work  – and time – to correct our negative mindsets.

Goals – Always a powerful place to start.  You write them for your library and for your lessons. Perhaps you write them for personal achievements.  But to use goals for creating hope is a bit different.

If you are accustomed to writing SMART goals (Specific Measurable Attainable, Relevant, and Timely), how can this work for Hope? Baker says begin the process by starting a sentence with “I want …”  But then make it more specific.  For example, if you start with “I want to build a relationship with my principal,” drill down to “I will research my principal online, and regularly send them a link to something that interests them along with new achievements from the library.”

What goal might foster hope?  Perhaps if you notice yourself using never and always too often, you can set a goal of “I will decrease (don’t try to eliminate) absolutes in my language by changing the wording after I use them.”

Agency – This is the action step.  Agency is what gets and keeps you moving. It’s related to persistence and perseverance.

As I have seen in WW (formerly Weight Watchers), it’s easy for people to leave the program when they experience a setback.  Agency means you make a choice to continue even when it gets difficult.  If you think you quit, share your goal with a friend.  That tends to cause you to be more accountable.

And to keep yourself going, don’t beat yourself up when you have a bad day and fail to follow one of the steps towards your goal.  That way leads to defeatism and abandoning what you want to achieve (and an absolute “See, I’m never going to get this right”).  Instead, focus on previous successes you have had after experiencing a setback. You have done it before, and you can do it again. This is part of the process not an end to it.

Pathways – You have to have a plan.  As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  Barker says to visualize the path, and by that he doesn’t mean dream.  That might be how you start, but you must take action and move along the path in specific ways to get to your goal.

Your opening steps are probably obvious. You are going to outline textually or visually how you are going to reach the end.  The opening is easy.  The middle is where things tend not to go as planned (and where agency helps).  You are on your way.  If things veer off course, you need to find an alternative or create a new plan.  It happens.  Just remember what I said in Agency, “you have succeeded before and you will succeed again.”

These three pieces together – a goal, the agency to stick with it, and a path to follow – can lead to an increase in hope. According to the Greek legend, Pandora was given a box with all the world’s ills and diseases. She opened it, letting them all out. When the box was shut, only hope remained inside. I like to believe she opened the box once more and let it out. The uncertainty of our time, not knowing what will happen next, and fear tend to keep us in despair. By giving yourself a direction you want to go – something with more certainty – will bring hope.  And that hope will make you feel more positive about today, tomorrow, and the days beyond.

ON LIBRARIES – Do You Need a Mental Reboot?

Are you feeling drained?  Let’s see why:

  • You have been working hard to keep your library a valuable presence while we are doing distant learning and you still don’t know what’s coming for the fall.
  • Although you have been aware of the importance of having a diverse collection for some time, Black Lives Matter has put the challenge front and center in everyone’s mind. You need to be ready to communicate to the administration and teachers the diverse resources you have acquired for your collection.
  • Your own fears about the virus and coping with stresses at home which can include your children, partner, and parents combined with health and economic challenges you may be facing.

It’s a lot. You are handling so much; you don’t have time to think.  And therein lies a problem.

When you don’t think – you just react and that isn’t sustainable. What you need is a mental reboot. A chance to clear your deck and allow yourself the time to get your head back in order.  The first recommendation of most health practitioners is to breathe deeply. When we are harried, we shallow breathe which reduces the oxygen flow to the brain.  You need your brain working on full power. Deep slow breathing helps. It also slows our heart rate, making us feel instantly calmer and more focused.

Another common recommendation is to get outside and walk. This is a favorite of mine. (Take a mask with you if there is any likelihood that you will encounter other walkers and bikers.)  If there are woods nearby, so much the better. The combination of a change in scenery, fresh air, and physical activity does wonders – and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  Fifteen to twenty minutes can make a difference.

After your deep breaths and walk (and any other self-care that works for you), you can then contemplate the advice given by Marcia Reynolds in How to Help Others Do a Mental Reboot. In this instance, it’s a case of “physician heal thyself.”  Once you get your head back in place, you can help others do the same. She has a relatively simple two-step approach, and simple is needed now.

Her first recommendation is to do a safety check.  When you feel threatened, you go into fight or flight mode which, as you know, shuts down the cognitive part of your brain.  Ask yourself “Do I feel safe?” or, perhaps a better questions is “What is making me feel unsafe?” The virus is ever present in our minds, but have you been following the guidelines?  Is there anything you could do differently? You have been managing it well so far.  Is there any reason to think you won’t continue to do so? If you can start noticing where you’re doing well, you will start to relax.

Perhaps you’re feeling unsafe about how school will look in the fall. It may be distance learning or back to a physical space with differences.  Or a combination of both.  Yes, there are unknowns and things you can’t control, but, as a librarian, you are flexible and good at adapting to change.  You will adjust.

You may also be feeling unsafe about job security.  Many places are making cuts. To help you feel safer, up your advocacy.  Consider giving your principal reports on the ways you have supporting teachers and students.  Have you been talking to them about the diversity issue and what you are doing and can do to help with it? You are needed now more than ever.  Be sure administrators know how vital your work is to the continued success of their school.

The second step is to take time for reflective inquiry. Reflective inquiry allows us to separate what is real from what we imagine.  It’s not that we don’t have concerns, but we may be worried about things that haven’t happened. We take what we know and project it into the future.

To make a change, consider what you can do about each of the situations that have been draining you or taking up space in your thoughts. Then, decide whether to tackle the one that is most concerning or least concerning.  Identify it clearly, recognizing why it has been wearing on you. Gently ask yourself

  • How real is the possibility?
  • What did you see/read/hear that is making you more concerned? Is the information accurate and reliable? (We’re good at checking that!)
  • What can you do about it?

While advocacy should always be part of what you do, you may have been worrying unnecessarily. Even though other places may be losing jobs, that might not be the case for you. If you have a good relationship with your principal, you cab even ask about it.

Are you very worried about getting the virus?  Tests are much more available now.  See if you can have one done. It will be a relief to know you are not infected.

Finding the daily tasks of managing your home overpowering?  Maybe you can have a family discussion and find a way to organize it better. There could be things you don’t have to do or things other people would be willing to help with.

And once you’ve taken time for doing a safety check and a reflective inquiry for yourself, you’ll be better able to check in with the people around you and give them support. Reynolds quotes John Dewey (so appropriate!) who said that provoking people to think about their thinking is the “single most powerful antidote to erroneous beliefs and autopilot.”

We’re all prone to unhelpful, panicky thoughts. Do what you can to give yourself a break. Once you do that, you’ll not only feel calmer and more focused, you’ll be able to help you colleagues and family do the same.

ON LIBRARIES: Taking a Stand Against Racism

The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.”  In our schools, virtual or physical, we must actively fight racism – in our collection, in our educational community, and in ourselves. Many of you have been working on making your collection more diverse, but when creating a collection which includes “mirrors and windows,” ensuring that our students can find books that reflect their lives and let students see into the lives of others, how successful have you been?

Sadly our efforts have fallen short if too many of our diverse books fall into one of the four “F” categories: Folklore, Fashion, Food, and Festivals. This not only misses the mark when it comes to multiculturalism, but potentially veers into stereotyping cultures in terms of language, ethnicity and traits. True multiculturalism can only happen when significant attention is given to many different backgrounds in a particular setting.

What proportion of your books on Blacks are about slavery or the Civil Rights Movement?  That isn’t a mirror.  We need to be more pro-active about having a more representational collection. There are some very helpful websites such as https://diversebooks.org/ and if you do searches for titles under Own Voices.

Even better is to do a Diversity Audit. Library Collection Shelf Audit for Diversity and Inclusion is a relatively simple one. As you check the books, note whether the author is writing in their own voice.  Too many books are authored by those not sharing the history they are writing about, although more publishers are now actively seeking those who write from their own voice. Diversity audits take time, and you probably cannot accomplish it in the virtual world, but plan on doing one when you have physical time in your library.

To make a change in your educational community, you need to step out and lead. Adding diverse books to your collection does not mean that students – or teachers- will read them.  How can you promote them?  One way is a book tasting with book jackets covered as you offer students a sample of what’s inside the book, piquing their interests without engaging biases. New books that increase your collection’s diversity and inclusion should be shared with teachers along with suggestions for ways to bring them into either library or classroom projects.

Going further, look for ways to curate information on microaggressions and related topics and make it available to teachers and administrators – this can go beyond books to websites, podcasts, and videos.  Become informed and give a workshop on it. You want the entire school addressing the issue. If there are books in your collection which are problematic, use it as an opportunity to create a program about racism and how race is portrayed (don’t remove the books or we start down the slippery slope of censorship). See if the PTA/O is open to doing an event around resources available at the library and offer support for parents who want to talk more with their children.

While it’s important to fight racism in our collection and look for ways to lead our educational community in becoming anti-racist we also need to look at ourselves. The more we learn about how we’ve been taught and raised to look at the world through a white lens the better we become about changing how we think.  I know I have benefited from White Privilege. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect people no matter their ethnicity, gender, religion, or any other of the many ways are different.  It means my life has not been made harder because of the color of my skin. When I am in a store, I don’t expect to be watched by security.  When a policeman stops me, I am not afraid.  I don’t worry about my grandkids going out with their friends at any time of day.

Recognizing White Privilege is only a start.  As a lifelong learner I am committed to learning more, to leading by example, and to speaking up when I see racism. I am a leader for change, and I accept that this starts with me. The Chicago Public Library posted Ibram X. Kendi’s, author of How to Be An Antiracist, Anti-Racist Reading List, and I highly recommend it. (It is also a good list for expanding your collection, especially at the high school level).

As librarians we are staunch defenders of the First Amendment. We are committed to making our libraries safe, welcoming spaces for ALL. We support Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as a basis, along with curriculum connections, for building our collections. We have not been just talking the talk.  We have been walking the walk, but it is likely we can and need to do more. We are not only responsible for our actions but tremendously influence the future of the communities we serve.

ON LIBRARIES: Mission, Vision and a Virus

Mission and Vision work together for your long-term success – even and especially during a pandemic. A Mission is your purpose.  Most of you have written one for your school library. It has guided your decisions on where to put your energy and in assessing how successful you have been.  Your Vision has been your inspiration, opening your mind –and planning—to what might be possible someday.

Your Mission and Vision are core to your school library and they can stay the same for years, even when times and circumstances affect how you do your job.  However, the last few months have you dealing with a major shifts in what and how you work.  For your own guidance and the future of your program, it’s a good time to revisit your statements.

Here are two sample Mission Statements:

  • The Mission of the School Library 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.
  • The Mission of the School Library 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.

Here are two sample Vision Statements:

  • The School Library is a safe, open, accessible and inviting learning library commons, essential to student achievement, citizenship and support the principles of intellectual freedom. Our students think globally and are capable of creating new knowledge.
  • The School Library is a user-centered environment where up-to-date resources and technology and a responsive staff empower students and teachers to achieve their academic and personal goals.

All four are powerful statements declaring the value of the school library. (NOTE: I have dropped the word “program” because the National School Library Standards states that we should say “school library” not “school library program”.)  As written, they reflect what you have been doing during quarantining event though you have been doing so differently. And it’s that “differently” which is necessary to address.

What else have you been doing as part of distance learning?  From what I have been reading, you have been building and strengthening your educational community.  And that community is larger than it was.  Parents are now an integral part of the community you have created.

You also have drawn on national library association sources, primarily ALA and AASL, to bring the latest information on the virus and how it affects schools. Your PLNs such as the library-based Facebook groups have been a source of creative ideas to further help your students, teachers, parents, and, hopefully, your administrators.

You have shown teachers new digital tools for distance teaching. While you have always been a tech integrator, now more than ever you have become their tech expert, hand-holding many of them through the steps need to get their lessons to students and helping parents get online.

Distance learning has also highlighted the digital divide.  What have you contributed in helping students who have limited or no access to wi-fi? (See ALA’s Equity, Diversity Inclusion: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.)  How will you be able to help the administration deal with the issue?

Reflect on the changes and all you have contributed.  Come up with a list of words that highlight your new role.  If “community” wasn’t in your old statements, it needs to be now.  And be sure that community means the larger community.  If possible. include your role with administrators.  If technology wasn’t mentioned consider phrases like “bridges the divide between…” or “supports the use of … for…”

As discussions begin on what it will be like when we return to school, you need to expand your advocacy work.  Schools are facing budget cuts (yet again), and all to often that has meant eliminating librarians. Don’t wait until cuts are announced. Be proactive. Send out information on your updated Mission to show administrators and parents the key role you and the library play for students’ success. Volunteer to be on any committee working on what it will look like when your district returns so that the library is part of the plan.

Collect evidence that shows how you have been a leader. Show what you have done in making your library a safe, welcoming environment even when you aren’t in your physical space. Check for graphics created by different states to present what librarians have been doing during the pandemic.

And if you do make changes, don’t forget to use your tech expertise to showcase your new Mission. Share it widely – with teachers, parents, and the administration.