The recent rise in book banning and attacks on school librarians have made our already stressful lives even more so. Dealing with challenges – or anticipating them when preparing a book order— has been something school librarians have typically faced alone. But the nation-wide organized campaign has taken the issue to a much more intense level.

ALA, AASL, and many of our state library associations have joined with other groups to respond and defend intellectual freedom and freedom of access to information. The resources on ALA’s Fight Censorship page keep growing. But at some point, it’s one school librarian making a choice that will impact their lives and the lives of their students. Until recently, that private decision didn’t stress or threaten job security for most school librarians. Today, we are all in the crosshairs, and the stakes are higher than ever. How do you decide?

In Leading with SPINE, John Baldoni presents the following acronym to guide you in taking stock of how strong your spine is, and possibly what you might want to do to strengthen it.

Strength – Are you standing up for your beliefs? Speaking out? This is one of the hardest things to do. Silence is consent, but voluntarily choosing to put your beliefs out in the open, leaving yourself open to attack is scary. Look for others who do it and stand with them. Speaking out as part of a group is easier and helps you build that strength.

Principle Baldoni equates principle with your purpose. What is your Mission? Are you acting in a way that furthers or hinders that Mission? He quotes Confucius, “To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage, or of principle.” Your choices need to be in support of your Mission whenever possible.

Integrity – Integrity is always cited as a core leadership quality. It describes who you fundamentally are. You keep your word and behave justly. It’s living with a moral code. Politicians and companies are often accused of not having that moral compass that guides their decision-making when they act only in their best interests. What is your moral code, and how do you live up to it?

Nurture – This is a great addition which refers to developing others’ capabilities. Leadership is not about creating followers. It’s about creating more leaders. You need your spinal strength to help them grow strong and take on the risks of leadership. It also includes nurturing yourself. What are you doing to grow as a librarian and a leader? Who are you learning from?

Energy – Being a leader is hard work. It requires Vision, self-reflection, and assessment. It means not being satisfied with doing a good job but looking to do a better one. With so much of library ethics and core values under attack, we need to keep growing and learning. Becoming more knowledgeable about how to get the word out and build advocates will strengthen our spines. Build and create momentum that will help carry you through the challenges.

Our spines hold us up, physically and metaphorically. To be spineless is to not have the courage to do what we can when we can. Being a librarian takes courage. Although we are stronger together and getting stronger at dealing with the book bannings, the reality is there will come a point when it’s just you making a decision for your library potentially taking a huge risk as you take a stand. Hopefully, we can all do our best to strengthen our SPINE.

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