ON LIBRARIES: Your Values Define You

What are your core values as a school librarian?  As a person?  Your answers affect the decisions you make and how you interact with others. Living by your values makes you trustworthy, which is essential in building relationships.  It makes you a leader people can count on.

As school librarians, we embrace the six Common Beliefs of the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018 p. 11-16). These are, in essence, core values.  What do they mean to you as you go about your day and build your program?

  1. The school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community – You undoubtedly believe it, but are students, teachers, administrators, and parents aware of how this is true? Be mindful of what makes you unique and look for ways to demonstrate it.  Make certain they see how the library contributes to the learning community? 
  2. Qualified school librarians lead effective school libraries – How effective are you?  What are you doing to increase your effectiveness – and making your stakeholders conscious of it?  One way to assess the effectiveness of your library is to download the School Library Evaluation Checklists. The checklists give the competencies for school librarians for each of the six Shared Foundations (Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, Engage).  Where can you increase the presence of these standards into the learning experiences you bring to learners and in your daily practice?
  3. Learners should be prepared for college, career, and life – How are you improving “all learners opportunities for success?” This means recognizing that learners are different.  They bring different strengths and weaknesses, different backgrounds and perspectives, as well as different goals and challenges. You work to ensure that your collection, digital and print respond to these individual needs. Make certain you also reach out to students to guide them to the resources that meet these needs.
  4. Reading is the core of personal and academic competencies – Libraries are always about reading.  The printed page is still fundamental, but e-books and audio books should not be minimized.  Students learn and experience stories and information differently.  All formats should be included – and in the days of COVID, e-books have become more important.  As librarians we ensure that our collections speak to our diverse student body.  We go beyond the five “F’s” (festivals, food, fashion, folklore, and famous people) to books about life in general written by people who live it.  Students need to see themselves in the collection – and to see normal life of other people.  That builds understanding and tolerance as well as seeing that they are accepted for who they are.
  5. Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right – This is a challenging area.  School librarians must deccide whether this is a truly a core value for them and what it means in practice.  The Top 100 Most Challenged and Banned Books of the Past Decade  show an inordinate number relate to LGBTQ+. We know those students need to see themselves in books but are you prepared to live the consequences if your library is in an area where this is topic is difficult to present? The choice is always yours, but you should be honest with yourself about it.
  6. Information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available – Much of this is out of your control, but it is important to advocate for it. In exposing the enormity of the digital divide, COVID has brought the inequities into the spotlight. Access to computers and internet is not equitable. This is your time to be among the leaders who are changing the environment. How accessible are your resources 24/7?  What is needed to change that? Can you apply for grants or other help to get the support your students need? Don’t forget to work on ensuring that your information technologies are accessible to disabled students.

The above may not be a complete list of the core values you hold as a librarian.  For me, creating a safe, welcoming environment for all is first on my list.  I want students to think the library is the best place in the school no matter what grade they are in, and I want teachers to feel the same. If this is true for you, look for ways to lure teachers in and make them comfortable. 

My personal code of values includes keeping my word, and this influenced me as a librarian.  If I say something, I mean it. I also believe in being helpful to all.  I work at listening carefully and letting people (students, teachers, and administrators) see where they are doing a great job. 

When you live by your values, when they define you, then people know who you are and what they can expect, no matter the context. If you’re not sure what yours are, look at your priorities and commitments – then look at the reason beneath them. That’s where you’ll find what you value. Once you know your code of values, you can use it help you make decisions which support your library.

ON LIBRARIES: The Impact of Small Words

The words we choose matter.  They are powerful conveyors of ideas and emotions.  We are aware of the fact when writing Mission and Vision Statements, but we may lose sight of their importance in our more casual interchanges. It’s the little words that can move us forward or trip us up. The words that we use or don’t use effect how we are perceived and received. When we are in a hurry to get to what’s next we have a tendency to drop what used to be called “social niceties.” It results in diminished civility that can cost us in our relationships.

Maybe it’s because we communicate more through texts and other electronic media, but I’ve noticed “please” is disappearing from many interactions. If we are approaching someone to assist them, we probably say, “please,” but all too often when working with others, we are quick to move to “Could you” or “Would you” without introducing the request with “Please.”

A small word yet changes the tone of the conversation. There is a difference between, “Can I have a word with you?” and “Please, may I have a moment of your time?” Once we put “please’ first, it changes how the rest of the sentence goes.  “Please” recognizes you are making a request of someone and acknowledges their right to refuse.  The good news is, when asked politely, most people won’t refuse.  Civility smooths the path.

If you remember to use “please,” it is natural to then say “Thank you” at the conclusion of the conversation. “Thanks” is not quite as good, but both show you appreciate what the other person has done or agreed to do. Either are far better than “great” which is how we too often close our conversations. This acknowledges the situation not the person. Again, a subtle but important difference.

You also want to use “thank you” when having been given a compliment and stopping there. There is a tendency to return a compliment.  This has the result of diminishing the ‘thank you,” as well as the compliment, reducing it into “I’m saying this because you said something nice.”  When you simply accept the praise, you show you value it.

After “thank you” easily comes “you’re welcome.” It’s gracious and acknowledges someone’s gratitude.

Just as there are words which improve your communication, there are the small words that detract from your impact.  These are the ones we insert unthinkingly and tend to be personal conversation idiosyncrasies. For example, you may have a tendency to use “actually” to introduce something. If you overuse it, it can sound like a contradiction. “For what it’s worth” is a filler that can make it sound as though what you are offering isn’t of value. Listeners may discount what you say over time. Tune into yourself to hear if there are phrases you use repeatedly. 

For other filler phrases (both spoken and written) Grammarly discusses What Are Filler Words and How You Can Cut Them. It’s worth reviewing. The more you eliminate filler words, the easier it is for readers and listeners to focus on the point you are making.

In being aware of and using the social niceties, you show the small touches of caring for others that make people enjoy working with you. It shows that despite the pressures and stress we’re under, you are mindful of what your colleagues and students mean to you. You take the time to show they matter. By dropping filler words, your communication is clearer, and your relationships are likely to be stronger.  You put yourself and your program in the best possible light by being mindful of both.

ON LIBRARIES: Living the Characteristics of a Leader

To become that indispensable member of the educational community, you must show exceptional leadership. It’s as simple as that. As a topic I speak and writing on frequently, I also know that many librarians hear this and worry. They are already doing so much. How can they add more to their work and be a leader?  What I am proposing is not so much an added list of things to do, but rather a reminder of how to be. We are, after all, in the relationship business, and true leadership comes from how we are with the people in our lives.

Assume that your Vision, Mission and initiatives are all supporting your school to take it a step further Scott Cochrane tells us How to Spot Leadership Character With 10 Easy Signs, and those signs are the ones you can incorporate into your actions with others. They are simple and straightforward.   You probably have many of them, but some may have been lost in your struggles.  It’s time to get them back.

Here’s how people with leadership character behave:

  1. They receive a compliment with grace That not only means saying, “thank you,” it means not minimizing what the giver said or trying to return an equal one.
  2. They receive negative feedback with humility and non-defensivenessThis one can be tough, especially when you are under stress.  The key is to assume positive intent.  If possible, thank the person and then take time when you don’t feel hurt to assess the negative feedback for validity.
  3. They give voice to disagreement while still extending respect It’s not about keeping silent. It’s about how you respond.  Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”
  4. They give thoughtful answers, not off-the-cuff reactions Learning to pause before responding will improve the quality of your answer (this is one I continue to work on!).  It will have the added benefit of improving your relationship with the person who asked the question. They will recognize you value what they say.
  5. They might criticize the merits of an idea, but not the person bringing the idea to the table In our contentious time, this is a most valuable reminder. It is an extension of #3. Don’t make the ideas of others personal. Discuss why and idea works or doesn’t and don’t discuss the person who suggested it.
  6. Their apologies are unreserved; they don’t say, “I’m sorry, but” or “I’m sorry if…”   “I’m sorry if I offended you,” is not an apology.  It’s blaming the other person for the offense they took.  Own what you said, accept that it may have landed wrong, and mean it.
  7. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they say so; they don’t bluff their way through There is nothing wrong with not have an immediate answer. Librarians recognize, we don’t know all the answers – just where to find them.  People see through a bluff, and the attempt diminishes you in their eyes.
  8. They never “humble-brag” Related to #1, being self-deprecating with the intention of calling attention to your work is not a leadership quality. When you say, “I really didn’t do that much,” “It wasn’t that hard,” you are fishing for a compliment or downplaying the work you did. Be careful. Eventually, people might believe that you didn’t do that much.
  9. Their conversation includes plenty of “pleases” and “thank you’s” Between texting and being harried, we have become lax in these once automatic phrases.  They have power, particularly if the way you say them shows you mean what you say.  I had a superintendent of schools in a district that kept education on a stringent budget.  She got incredible mileage of knowing how to specifically compliment key faculty and say a meaningful thanks. It costs nothing and strengthens relationships.
  10. Their words shine the spotlight on others – Always! As a leader you give credit to others for the successes and notice when things work. When you do that, not only do you get little or no negative feedback from what didn’t work, but others feel safe in working with you.  Teachers recognize that the focus on projects won’t be on mistakes, and they will be celebrated for their achievements.

Tune into how you are interacting with others.  Look for ways to put these leadership character traits into your day (at home as well as at work).  You will see a difference and without adding more to your workload you will be a stronger leader.

ON LIBRARIES: The Opportunities of Interesting Times

The quote “May you live in interesting times”, which supposedly has a Chinese origin, can be taken two ways. Is it a blessing or a curse? It all depends on how you see interesting times. For some the constant uncertainty is debilitating. Others see new possibilities. The difference is in how you respond, and your reaction is a choice even if you don’t notice making a conscious one.

Either you need to find a way to be proactive and choose to steer in a positive direction, or you’ll end up being reactive and allow the situation to steer you. Both can be exhausting, but with one you’ll likely be more energized and positive.

To actively steer your ship (read: be a leader), you need to be willing to carve out time to analyze your situation and develop a strategy which involves evaluating your assets, strengths and weaknesses, and learning from past behaviors and choices. Once you do this, you must commit to taking action.

In How to Turn Disaster Into Discovery — A Key to ResiliencyEileen McDargh proposes theses six questions to guide you into “intelligent optimism” which in turn will let you find the opportunities in these interesting times:

  1. What has become clear to you in the last few months? You should be able to come up with a number of items. What have you learned about relationships (professional and personal)?  What was true before the pandemic that is still true now?  How has your Mission Statement held up in the face of COVID-19?  How well do you handle ambiguity and uncertainty? Is this something you’d like to improve?  What’s making you feel successful?  Don’t forget to notice these.
  2. Where are you spending energy without getting the desired results? This is an important question. Are you still locked in tasks that belong to the past and don’t further your aims? The opposite question is equally important. Which use of your energy has been producing positive results? Your plate is very full. It is time to eliminate or minimize time spent on things that don’t move you forward. As we learn from the Pareto Principle or the Law of 80/20, 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. But sometimes 80% of the work only brings 20% of the results. It’s time to take a closer look at efforts and results.
  3. If you could start from scratch, how would you redesign your job, this business? This isn’t a question we normally think about, but since normal has taken a vacation, it’s worth considering. You have the opportunity to rethink how the library can function better, reach more students, and be a greater partner to teachers and administrators. Look for how the library can lead the way now and in whatever future is coming. The physical space is part of this envisioning, but so is the digital — and emotional—one. What can be done to make the library a safe, welcoming environment for all?  What is your role in this new ecosystem?
  4. What have you uncovered about your personal life that needs to be encouraged? Have you, like many, made more time for friends and relatives. Are you Zooming and calling them on a regular schedule?  How have your interactions at home changed? For the better?  What are you doing for yourself? It’s become very apparent in the last six months how important supportive relationships are. Continue to seek out and nourish these.
  5. How can we grow together as a supportive unit and what do you need from me? I love this question. It is essential that we build relationships and community. This question should be uppermost in your mind as you speak and deal with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. As the ALA initiative says, “Libraries transform communities.” How are you building and transforming yours? And as a bonus, this question may also work well at the dinner table or with your online/virtual social groups.
  6. What are the small steps you can create to work in a more collaborative way? This is where the other questions have been leading us. Here is where you create a plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs regular steps – of any size – to take you where you want to go.

Get started now to chart your future. Every few months stop and review these questions to see what new information you can use. Leaders need to know themselves and use that knowledge to plan for the future. When you do that, you can make these interesting times a growth opportunity.