ON LIBRARIES: A Vital Mind

An almost universal complaint these days is being exhausted.  The pandemic has drained our energy in so many ways.  Our workloads have increased.  Our routines have been overturned.  We seem to need to re-create ourselves daily.  And then there is the underlying fear of the virus itself.   There are good reasons to be and feel physically and mentally exhausted.  But what if you could turn around the mental exhaustion? To what extent would that affect you physically as well?

Our brains are incredibly powerful, and even if we’ve only begun to understand all they do, we recognize our minds affect our moods and emotions. It’s what we mean when we talk about changing our mindset.  It’s helpful to realize is that our brains also affect us physiologically.  When we do, we can exercise control and allow body and mind to work together.

Physical energy is restored by having enough sleep, eating healthy, and getting exercise.  But what if you eat right, exercise and get a good night’s sleep, yet still have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning?  According to Susan Fowler, that has nothing to do with physical energy. It has to do with psychological energy or vitality. In her article The Myth of Low Energy – How to Generate the Vitality Your Need Right Now, Fowler proposes that our faulty belief in having a fixed amount of energy is part of what causes us to feel depleted. We need to understand the difference between energy and vitality.

Fowler writes, “Vitality is the energy available to you for taking action. It is the energy that enables you to self-regulate and still have the energy you need to pursue your goals. Vitality is the feeling of being alive, vigorous and energetic. When you have vitality, you are fully functioning.” Vitality is proactive and renewable by changing your mindset.  Because it is psychological and not physiological, it isn’t drained the way physical energy can be. It is what you need to be in control of your day and focus on your goals.

According to Fowler, vitality has three components which are the key to not feeling drained:  choice, connection, and competence.

Choice- Take time to notice where your actions are a choice rather than something you just have to do. I find it both empowering and, at times, uncomfortable to recognize that everything I do or don’t do is a choice, but this is key to increasing vitality. Noticing choice empowers you.  When you have a task to accomplish, consider why you are doing it. Is it because it’s required?  Would you do it if it weren’t?  If it’s required, how can you frame it so that if fits with your philosophy and goals?  Put your mind in control and discover that what you choose and how you choose it affect the amount of energy it will use.

Connection- The changes in the way we socialize have made us more aware of the importance of connection. Although how we reach out to or visit with people has changed, the value of those connections is the same – maybe greater.  Take the time to notice them, enjoy them, no matter how they occur. Take time to value the connections in your life. Remember to view your interactions with others not only for how you make their lives better, but how you benefit as well.

Competence – What we know, what we can do, and where we can learn contributes to our vitality.  Fortunately, librarians are lifelong learners. Recognize that the pandemic has given us new opportunities to learn and be of help and service to others. Take joy in this process while remembering not to take yourself too seriously. Part of learning has always been making mistakes. Laugh at them then find out what needs to be done to fix them.

Even when our bodies feel rundown, with choice, connection, and competence, we can make a shift to put our minds in control and bring out our vitality.

ON LIBRARIES: Safety First

One of our cherished core values is that the library be a safe, welcoming space for all. The word “safe” is an umbrella term sheltering a broad variety of things we do and what we provide for others – and ourselves – from creating a collection with diverse books and resources to providing a sanctuary for those who sought to escape bullying and other torments of school. Today, COVID-19 is integral to our thoughts about safety. The pandemic has added an important layer of meaning to the term. No matter the aspect we are focusing on, safety is imperative for student learning and success, and we have to do all we can to ensure our libraries are safe.

Abraham Maslow first proposed his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. In the 77 years since, educators have gone from embracing it to ignoring it and then returning to it. The stages of this pyramid feel relevant again especially since the second level is Safety.

According to Maslow’s pyramid structure, until you have secured one level, you can’t move up to the next. The base includes your physiological needs for survival   — food, water, warmth, and rest. The financial impact of the virus is making this a challenge for more of our students and without it, they cannot move to Safety.

When we don’t feel safe, our cognitive processes shut down as the brain searches for ways to make us feel secure. Our students and staff are not feeling safe. While there is usually some percentage of our school population who feel threatened in some ways, we are faced with the entire population we support experiencing this which impacts everyone’s ability to move up to higher levels.

For the library to be a safe and welcoming place, we have to look out for our needs, take care of ourselves, and then address the needs of others. Executive Coach Ed Batista provides some direction in his article, Feeling Safe in an Unsafe World. He suggests that trying to control the uncontrollable and finding certainty in an uncertain world will not solve our problems. Instead, he recommends getting more in control of our emotions, which affect our worldview. To do so, he offers the acronym MESS as a path for regulating our emotions.

Mindfulness – Batista recommends 10 minutes (or more) of meditation a day as the best way to develop mindfulness. Whatever method works for you – sitting in mediation, walking, yoga – is an important place to start. It gives you the ability and opportunity to be aware of your emotions, and from there you can be more in control.

Exercise – Physical activity is important since, as Batista points out, your emotions are physiological before you even aware of them. Moving our body allows our emotions to move through us and allows us to be more aware and then more in control of them. Exercise allows us to be “better attuned” to our bodies. As a bonus – walking and yoga address both mindfulness and exercise.

Sleep – Your body requires it and racing thoughts makes it harder. The difference between a good and bad day can sometimes be as simple as how we slept the night before. When we’re not well rested, it’s harder to understand and manage our emotions. Just as you had a bedtime routine as a child, stick to one now – preferably one that gets you off your devices an hour or more before bed (e-readers not included but physical books at bedtime may be preferable).

Stress reduction –  Batista rightly points out that stress-free is not an option, and stress isn’t always inherently negative. Plan a big project and you’ll feel stress – but it’s worth it for the results you want. What’s important is noticing how you are responding to that stress. If your stress levels are increasing, look at the things that may contribute (the news and social media are likely high on that list). Step away from the things that aren’t supporting you and increase your time for meditation, exercise and sleep.

When we feel safe, when our emotions are not in a constant turmoil, we can make others feel safe. Life is not neat and tidy. It never was, and it is far from that now. So be a MESS to make your physical and virtual library a safe, welcoming space.

ON LIBRARIES: Good vs. Great

Do you have a good school library program or a great one? Answer honestly. The difference between the two is crucial to how you are perceived and valued.

Years ago, I had a superintendent who allegedly said, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  Many teachers were furious. Unfortunately, they weren’t listening to the underlying message. My superintendent was right. You can’t improve if you think you are doing well. For all its negative impact on our lives, the pandemic has made us see what is important – and broken – and make changes we never thought we would.

James C. Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great.” Every time I see that quote, I pause. It makes me wonder where I am settling. In his book, GOOD TO GREAT: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t, he says,

“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have excellent schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

The resumption of school, with all its uncertainty, is a perfect time to move your program from good to great. Those who have a great program incorporate growth and change as part of their continuing success. Those who have a good program rarely think about how to make it better, but with budgets being slashed, great is necessary.

One important step for a great program is that the administration knows the difference it makes for students. No matter how great your program is, no matter how much your teachers value you, if your administration is not aware of it, it isn’t reaching its full potential. In a post for Glassdoor, Mark Anthony Dyson discusses Good vs. Great! How to Show Employers the Difference. Although he is talking about the business world, his recommendations work for librarians as well.

  1. Show your work is known – As the saying goes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it….” You don’t have to brag to let your work be known. Choose the social media or communication platform most used by your intended audience to spotlight those you have worked with. Praising others will show your contribution – and build a relationship with the ones you showcased.
  2. Quantify your impact (when you can)– Make sure your numbers are meaningful. In the past, librarians would point to circulation statistics. In the eyes of the administration, anyone can check books in and out. What have kids produced? Pre-COVID librarians often struggled to cooperate with teachers let alone collaborate or co-teach. Now many of you have. Share the number and names (teacher and unit) of the ones you worked on.
  3. Show your growth and improvement over time – As part of your communication with your principal, keep track of new tools and resources you have added. Note the webinars you have attended and how you implemented the learning you received. Show the benefit to the students and teachers.
  4. Show your depth with upper management – In education, upper management is the superintendent as well as the Board of Education. What do they know of your work? How has it impacted students? Here you can showcase student work and voices. Be sure your principal knows and approves of your reaching out to upper management. Don’t let him/her be surprised.
  5. Show that your network is a resourceful team – You have two networks. The first is the one you have established in your school. You are showing this in the previous ideas. But you also have a Professional Learning Network – those memberships and social media groups where librarians ask for and share advice and experiences. This keeps you ahead of the curve, and you can bring that knowledge when your principal needs it. Explain what your learned from your PLN and how you used it.
  6. Show a quick response to challenges – You have done this and more during the pandemic. Flexibility and lifelong learning are part of our job requirement. Now more than ever (I am tiring of this phrase, but it’s true) others will value this skill. If you can, show how a challenge became an opportunity.
  7. Show you’re adept at all kinds of new learning – Very similar to #6, but it means you are creating new knowledge. It’s similar to my curating business sites and seeing how they apply to school librarians, which is part of why I always give you the link. Going outside the box, and, better yet, recognizing there is no box, will make you stand out. Libraries and schools can benefit from what non-education platforms have done to succeed.

Your administrators are under extreme pressure. More than you and the teachers. They need help, and you can give them that. By being more proactive in bringing your achievements to your administrators (including upper management) and supporting them as they struggle to find the best way to move the school and district forward, you will move your program from good to great. One of my favorite quotes is “If you are not growing, you are dying.” Remember this and look for ways to grow your program from good to great.