If you’ve read my books, my blog or my Facebook posts or seen me speak at a conference you know my most passionate belief: Leadership is not an option for librarians. It’s part of the job description. The National Standards School Library Standards (2018) lists Leader as one of our roles. However, our job description as defined and understood by our districts rarely if ever makes mention of this.
It’s easier to be a leader when your title and description grant you that right. Instead librarians need to create that “mantle” on their own. And we need to make it an ongoing priority. When you are identified as a leader, you are viewed as indispensable. In a world where librarians and libraries are threatened, being seen as indispensable is a worthwhile goal.
What does this mean? It means that when you institute new programs, collaborate with teachers and students on curriculum and tech issues, you look for ways to make certain that the administration and teachers are aware of your role in the process. This way when they think of the building leaders they think of you. Reaching that stage is not simple, but it’s important to work towards it.
Dan Rockwell, “The Leadership Freak”, suggests a possible means of achieving this goal in an internet post on How to Act Like a CEO When You’re Not. This is how I interpret his seven recommendations:
- Own your realm: This is about mindset. Of course, you have taken charge of your library and have established your guidelines and decorated to represent your values as a school librarian, but you need to take it a step further. Own the library and the decisions you make as a physical manifestation of how you view the values and worth of the library and you. It is more than a sense of pride. It’s how you present yourself as a leader through the look, feel, and activities of the library.
- Set your goals: While you want your program aligned with the school’s goals, it is vital that the goals are significant to you and the library program. Your goal, tied to your Mission, Vision, and Core Values should put your role and the value of the library front and center. Leaders must be visible — even more so when the title doesn’t indicate it.
- Don’t threaten higher ups: Never blindside your administrators. When you update them, be brief but keep them informed of what you are doing and why. If they have a problem with what you are doing, it’s best to discover the matter right away. That also gives you the opportunity to discuss it and make adaptations as needed. It also encourages them to reach out to you when and if their priorities change because you are seen as someone they can trust.
- Serve six constituencies: Believe it or not librarians do have this many – or at least five. They are: (1) Administrators (You always need to keep them in mind.) (2) Students (Your primary purpose) (3) Teachers (Gateway to students) (4) Parents (So they know what their children are accomplishing because of the library) (5) Yourself (Never forget to “serve” yourself), and (6) And possibly, the outside community- such as the public library—so that more people are aware of the values of libraries and school libraries in particular.
- Think big, act small: Your end game needs to be large. Hold as big a Vision as you can for your program. Then map out the small baby steps that will start you on your journey. And then think what’s next after that. And after that.
- Spend time with medium-performers: This doesn’t easily translate into our work world. Instead, consider who are your natural allies. Who are the people who like working with you? How can you build on this relationship to develop more allies and get people seeing how vital the library is to their success?
- Lead yourself: The oft-repeated reminder to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Your “constituencies” can’t afford to lose you. Make sure you are on your own to-do list.
Next time when you are in workshop and you are asked “Who are you?” I hope you will confidently say, “I am a Leader and a Librarian.”