ON LIBRARIES – The Library Ecosystem

Are you familiar with the intertwined roots of redwood trees? Walking in a redwood forest, the size and strength of the trees amaze you.  They have lived for centuries and grown so tall.  And yet, as I learned to my surprise, they have shallow roots. But the reason they can stand and are not knocked down by strong winds is because their roots are intertwined.  Linked as they are, they help each other, and in so doing they are all strengthened.

We are all aware of the challenges school libraries and school librarians are facing, but our colleagues in public and academic libraries are dealing with a similar situation and we should look for ways to connect our roots to strengthen us all. In the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, the Key Commitment of Shared Foundation III Collaborate is “Work effectively with others to broaden perspectives and work toward common goals.”  We share many common goals with all types of libraries. Together, we are stronger.

On the national level, ALA has the Libraries Transform initiative. The opening sound bite is “Because Transformation Is Essential to the Communities We Serve.”  The statement is true of many libraries.  Many of the other “hooks” are equally universal to libraries. When you click on pieces of the initiative, they all have additional information, perfect for helping you discuss this to anyone. (If you haven’t signed on to the site, it’s worth doing.)

Additionally, the ALA Youth Council Caucus (YALSA, ALSC, and AASL) have launched the State Ecosystem Initiative.  Headed by Dorcas Hand, she offers the following definition and explanation:

A library ecosystem is the interconnected network of all types of libraries, library workers, volunteers, and associations that provide and facilitate library services for community members; families; K-20 learners; college and university communities; local, state and federal legislatures and government offices; businesses; nonprofits; and other organizations with specific information needs.

A patron of one library is the potential patron of any other library at a different time of life or location. No library exists independent of the library ecosystem. When we stand together in mutual support using common messaging themes that demonstrate this interconnectedness, every library is stronger.

So to support these roots, what is your state school library association doing and what are you doing?  Ideally, you should have representation on the board of the state association — and on the state association of ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) and they should have a liaison to your board.  This keeps you aware of what is happening to libraries throughout your state.

You, too, need to create a library ecosystem in your community. First connect with the other school librarians in your district. Together, reach out to the Children’s and YA librarians in the local public library. Build a relationship and start sharing. You can learn handouts are the public librarians giving to their patrons and find out if you distribute them to students.  Would they be willing to post work by your students?  They can then promote them on their website and or e-bulletin they send.  In return, you can report about this collaboration on your website.

You could ask the Children’s Librarian if she would visit and do a shared story telling session with your students and leave information about getting a library card.  Consider having the Children’s Librarian visit before school ends to talk about their summer reading program.

Another possibility is to devote a space in your library to post “happenings” in the public library.  Promote public library events on your website.  If you are doing something special such as “Read Across America,” (Monday, March 20, 2020) have the public library do the same for your program.

Don’t forget the academic librarians. If you are in a high school, reach out to librarians in local community colleges and/or any local 4-year colleges and universities.  Invite them to visit when you are starting–or even in the middle of-a research project. The students who may tune you out could be differently willing to listen to a college librarian who tells them what they can expect.

You want the people in your district to see the libraries as that interconnected strength that transforms the community.  We are all in the relationship and information business. By being present in different venues, parents and other community members will see how we work together and enrich all. Lead the way in building your library ecosystem and become a tall, strong redwood.

ON LIBRARIES – What’s Your Plan?

Can you believe it’s the new year? Vacation has, once again, flown by, and I almost hate to say it but if you have given no thought about what the rest of the school year will bring, now is the time. Ask yourself where do you want to be at the end of the school year?  I often quote Yogi Berra’s sage advice, “If you don’t know where you are going, you are going to wind up someplace else.”  Nothing will change, certainly not for the better, unless you have a plan.

Whatever job you tackle, it should connect to your Mission Statement, your Vision, and your Philosophy.  No matter what you choose to do, it will take effort so it is a waste of your time unless it takes you where you want to go.

To begin, list your ideas.  Which are the biggest jobs?  Which are relatively easy?  And then ask the big question — Why do I want to do it? How does it connect? Don’t just pick a project you have heard of because it sounded like a good idea.  It might have been great for another school librarian and library, but it may not be the best choice for you. Before plunging in, first ask yourself, “What do I want to do?

Most Mission Statements are broad enough to give you room to go in many directions, but knowing that your plan connects to it will give it a greater focus.  For example, here is one Mission Statement.

  • The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become not only lifelong users of information but also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.

The first sentence of that statement can lead to creating a Makerspace. But if you are thinking of a plan, you want to think bigger.  Perhaps your purpose for the Makerspace is to have students developing products that might help others. If creating information is part of your Mission, then how else can you use this Makerspace?

The second sentence is about developing more collaborative projects with teachers.  Are there teachers you haven’t reached as yet?  Are there subject areas that could benefit from working with you that haven’t come into the library as yet? And if a Makerspace is still what you want – which teachers would be best to contact for collaboration?

The second half of that sentence is about diversity.  Is your collection truly diverse? Does it go beyond race, ethnicity, and gender?  What percentage of the authors of your diverse titles are members of the community they are writing about? Is there a way to blend students acting as users and creators of information with diversity? That links it more tightly to your mission.

So, you know what you want in your plan. Next step—How?

Let’s return to the Makerspace. HOW can you do this? Whether you have one or want to expand an existing one, you’ll want to start by gathering information. Who is already doing this? Who is doing this with resources that match yours? Ask your PLN for help and search on topics such as project-based learning and design thinking. (I’m guessing members of the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group would offer support!).

Next, identify WHAT you will need to accomplish it.  Will it require funding?  If so, where can you get it—grants? GoFundMe?  Will you need volunteers? Can they be students? Alumni? Parents?

Knowing WHO is also an important part of the second plan–collaboration. The Who are the teachers you want to reach.  Why have they not collaborated with you before? What do they need?  How can you help with that?  How can you quickly build a relationship with them? Who will you start with? Then there are two more questions: Why? (Why this teacher?) When? (When will you reach out and share your idea?)

The third project requires a diversity audit to assess your collection. Again – How, What, Who, Why, When. Do you know anyone who has done this?  Can they send you their templates for doing this?  Who can help you in compiling it?  What are sources you use to increase the diversity of your collection.  What resources do ALA and AASL provide? When are you going to seek the initial information?  When will you begin the project?

Put all of your plans in writing.  Name the projects, list your steps, and create manageable deadlines. Whether you use a spreadsheet or a Google doc doesn’t matter.  What matters is having it recorded and making a commitment to it.

The last and a very important part of your planning is knowing what you will do with the results. How will you use it to promote your library program?

You can record the Makerspace project in photos and videos.  Capture students working on their designs, Showcase their final creations. Share with your administrators and contact local news outlets.

You should display projects from collaborations with teachers, possibly on the library’s or school’s website.  Send information to the principal on what the students achieved and commend the teachers involved.  This will eventually lead to further collaboration.

Share the results of your diversity audit with the principal.  Discuss how you plan to build a collection that will promote students’ feelings of safety and belonging in the school and beyond. Perhaps you can get a one-time funding to purchase books you have put on a list to acquire.  Again, consider grants and GoFundMe for help.  Look also into the possibility of getting speakers in for the teachers and/or students. But that’s another plan.

With a well-constructed plan, you will reach the end of the school year with a sense of accomplishment.  The important part is to get started now and let your plan guide your success.

Good luck!

ON LIBRARIES – Three R’s for Librarians – A Reminder

It occurred to me if librarians focused on the three “R’s” central what we do, our leadership will emerge naturally and advocacy will follow. Since so many of you feel becoming a building leader is hard to do, and advocacy is even more difficult, I thought this might be an easy way to concentrate efforts, and get positive result.

keep calm and love readingReading– Reading is at the heart of what we as librarians are about.  You can’t do research or much of anything else if you can’t read.  Of course, we are not responsible for the teaching of reading, but we are responsible for instilling a love of reading. The first of the “Common Beliefs” in AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.”  The explanation that follows is:

“Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.  The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) and all contexts is a key indicator of success in school and in life. As a lifelong learning skill, reading goes beyond decoding and comprehension to interpretation and development of new understandings.”

When students fall in love with reading, they become lifelong readers. Their curiosity stays present and grows, and they search out information.  In other words, lifelong readers are lifelong learners—and in our constantly changing world this is a vital attribute.

So how do we develop this love of reading?  On an individual level we pay attention to each student. We listen for their likes and interests.  We are alert to what they don’t enjoy. Not having to compel students to read a particular book or type of book, we connect students to just the right book for them.  In so many casual conversations with adults, I have heard how one book set them on a course to loving to read.lifelong readers

As I have said, forcing students to read leveled books doesn’t do this. And I don’t believe reading for a prize works either whether it’s AR or a contest to see who reads the most.  I would much rather for example see a reading motivation program that seeks to find out what types of books is the most popular.  You could set up a genre bulletin board (and be prepared to add as students choose from new areas).  When they complete a book they like, have then fill in a book-shaped cut-out with the author/title/call# and their name. Staple it to the bulletin board, creating an ever-growing graph.  You can probably come up any number of other ways to do this.

Give a small reward for the first book a student posts.  You can do the same for a post in a new category. This type of non-competitive program, doesn’t put pressure on students to read a certain number of pages or try to best others. It’s personal.

At the elementary grades, librarians are charged with the first step in creating lifelong readers.  They choose a variety of stories to read aloud.  Stories with refrains encourage group involvement. Discussions about the stories builds critical thinking and visual literacy, while cultivating an appreciation of the sounds of language, word choice, and literary heritage.

As one of the bookmarks from the Libraries Transform initiative says, “Because Learning to Read Comes Before Reading to Learn” and learning to love reading is the middle step.”

research 2Research – From the time libraries came into existence, their central purpose has been research. In an age when information is at everyone’s fingertips, the role of libraries and librarians has become ever more critical. Another bookmark from Libraries Transform says, “Because There Is No Single Source for Information. (Sorry Wikipedia.)”  We have an obligation to teach students how to search efficiently – which means to quickly locate relevant and accurate sources rather than what they get with their non-specific Google searches.

We teach how to use information responsibly and ethically as well as digital literacy which encompasses understanding multiple platforms for accessing information.  Students need to learn which is likely not only to be the best one for their current need but also which one to use to share their knowledge.

An ongoing challenge for us is helping teachers restructure assignments so they are not just asking students to collect facts – which can be one-stop shopping-but rather to weigh and interpret their findings to make meaning from them.  Even better is to have students produce something of value to others.

Without proselytizing we must show students and teachers the difference between search and research.  By being mindful of this ourselves, we can guide them into more meaningful interactions with information and truly prepare them to be successful in college and their future lives.building relationships

Relationships – At the beginning of last month I blogged on relationships and why it is vital for the success of our programs. I won’t repeat what I said then, but recognize in order to instill in students a love of reading, you need to develop some relationship with them. Teachers are far more likely to listen to your suggestions on modifying their assignments if you have a relationship with them.

When your relationships are in place, students, teachers (and administrators) are comfortable coming to you with questions and asking for help. You become a guide for new technology and trends in education.  You are trusted.  You discover that you have become a leader.  And because what you bring has become so necessary to the success of all within the building, you have built advocates for your program.

ON LIBRARIES: Treat Yourself

Respect contributes to creating the safe, welcoming space our students–and teachers—need.  But it’s also a word we need to take to heart for us.  Now that so many are on break, it’s time to give ourselves the gift of respect.  What does that look like? To help you–and me—not lose this precious downtime to the holiday scramble, I have devised an acronym to remind us of some important things we need to do for us.

The seven steps that spell out RESPECT are not meant to go in any particular order. We just need to be mindful of all of them, so we don’t drop any out.  Here is how I plan to RESPECT myself, and I hope you do the same.

R is for Read, Relax, Rejuvenate

I cheated here with three words, but they are all related.  As librarians, we always read, but much of it is for the job.  Now is the time to read for yourself.  Start digging into the books on your night table.  Give yourself time to read what you want to read. Immerse yourself in some other. Relax means allowing yourself to sleep late, stay up late watching a television show, or binge watch something you haven’t had time to see. Permit yourself this free time without fretting about what you could be doing that is more productive. Rejuvenate is about doing something that gets you excited again about your job. This maybe the time to listen to an archived webinar you haven’t had the time to get to or check out a Twitter Chat. Perhaps you might contribute to a thread on your PLN.

E is for Engage

Be fully present with your family and friends. Too often, our minds our only half there when we are with our family. We are busy thinking of what we have to do the next.  We are missing the most important moments in our lives and that drains us, making us less enthusiastic (another “E” word) about our jobs.  Listen to what others are saying without thinking about your response or anything else.  It’s good practice for your job, and it helps build relationships at home. We count on our families to love and understand us, but if we always put our work first, we lose an important part of who we are. Now is the time to rebuild those connections and hopefully continue it throughout the year.

S is for Self-Care

Much has been written about this.  It’s part of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), but we have a tendency to overlook it.  Take time to pamper yourself.  Get a massage or facial.  Take a walk (one of my favorites).   Buy yourself flowers for your office. Go to a favorite store, whether it’s for stationery, crafts, or clothes, and buy something just for you. See a movie. And yes, reading falls into this category for a lot of us.

P is for plan

Do this early or late in your vacation so you don’t have to think about it at other times. Reflect (yup, another “R” word) on how your school year has been going. What worked?  What could have been done better?  What isn’t working at all? What can you differently?  Where do you want to take the library program next? You have some time during vacation to create a plan that will power your program for the rest of the school year. Give yourself a specific time to do this so it’s not on your mind for your whole break.

E is for Eating Well

How many of you eat lunch every day? So many of us grab something -or skip it- because we have a class to teach. Holidays may not be the best time for healthy eating, but it’s worth trying to incorporate getting enough fruits and vegetables into your diet, hydrating, and not going much over three hours without eating. Of course, it can also include eating out at a special restaurant, which means it doubles as self-care.

C is for celebrate.

Acknowledge yourself.  Write down all your accomplishments. Include small successes such as a students thanking you for a book you found for them.  Glory in the big successes—those programs the kids loved and which attracted attention.  Did you finally get a teacher who was a holdout to collaborate with you?  Did the principal make a positive comment on your program?  If you don’t write them down and take time to recall them, they will slip away.  You will be a better leader and librarian if you make time to celebrate your achievements.

T is for Try Something New

This is a good time to explore (another E word) a new hobby or a variant on one you have. Look for an exercise you might like and therefore enjoy doing regularly.  Maybe it’s time for a new recipe or to check out a video game recommended by your students. We’re lifelong learners too.

Give yourself the RESPECT you deserve.  Reflect and act on your priorities.  Enjoy your time off fully. Socialize with friends and family. Be positive about yourself and your accomplishments. Explore new possibilities. Connect with others – consider sending snail mail messages. Thank those who have helped you grow and learn.

Happy Holidays.

ON LIBRARIES: Seasons’ Decisions

In many ways, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but holidays bring their own stress, and there is one in particular which impacts many librarians.

There was a time when only Christmas was celebrated in public locations such as municipal buildings and schools. Department stores only featured Christmas displays, and no one thought much of it. Eventually, other December holidays were included as well. Schools reacted to this expansion in different ways, usually depending on location. Some continued to feature only Christmas decorations. Some had both Christmas and Hanukkah. Others included Kwanzaa.  And then there are places that don’t allow any indications of a religious celebration.

Where does that leave librarians?  How do you decorate for the holidays? Some of you live in an area where it is expected that you be inclusive.  Others have more restrictions.  How and why do you decide what to do?

This is an ideal time to look at your philosophy. You probably have something in it about creating a safe, welcoming space. You might address equity, diversity, and inclusion.  To what extent do your holiday decorations reflect and promote those ideas? If they don’t, then you might keep any December theme focused on the season rather than the holidays.

You also need to consider your student population. What is its religious /ethnic make-up? The more diverse it is, the more your displays need to reflect that.  We want to have “mirrors” for our students. Their feelings of safety come from seeing themselves reflected in the school community—and the library. If their holiday isn’t represented, they feel invisible.

If your population is mainly Christian, you probably will make Christmas central to your displays. Most of these are not overtly religious, although some occasionally include a crèche. But should you also have some Hanukkah decorations to acknowledge the diversity that is out there? It depends on your community and their concerns, but this is where you have the opportunity to create “windows.”  While mirrors let students see themselves in books – and displays – windows show them the lives of those who are not like them. In her essay, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” , Rudine Sims Bishop says when children only see themselves they develop an exaggerated sense of self-importance. A thought to consider.

What can you do if your community is not open to diversity and inclusion? The choice is yours, but you can make tiny inroads. Consider a small display of books on Hanukkah (and maybe Kwanzaa) with no decorations.

This is the same approach you can take with “controversial materials.” I have written before about the choices librarians make to purchase or not purchase a title. No one wants to risk their job and possibly lose friends by making choices the school and community would emphatically reject. Once again, the key is usually in small steps. They are hardly noticeable, but each one puts you a little further down the road and creates a library with more windows to the world at large.

Hopefully, as communities become more diverse, there will be an increasing number of schools open to having students discover how their neighbors celebrate.  Then you can mark the month of Ramadan beginning on April 24, 2020, and the 5-day Diwali celebration beginning on November 14, 2020. In the meantime, enjoy your holiday, whatever and whenever it is and however you choose to celebrate it.

ON LIBRARIES: Being Charismatic

According to John R. P. French and Bertram Raven there are five types of power. The fifth type, which they call Referent Power, is the power of charisma. Different manifestations of power can contribute or detract from being a successful leader. Charismatic leaders are very powerful, but as history has shown, they can use their power for good or ill. You have undoubtedly encountered charismatic administrators and teachers in your schools.

Watching these people in action is amazing.  Everything around them seems to flow so smoothly. People—students and colleagues—respond to them easily, and things get done apparently effortlessly.  While it may be true that some people are naturally charismatic and born leaders, all is not lost if you don’t have the ability naturally.  You can learn to be a leader, and you can learn to be charismatic.

Charisma is a rarely discussed soft skill, but as with many soft skills, it is more effective than knowledge and skill.  When combined with knowledge and skill, it results in great leadership.  You have the skill sets, now build your charisma.

Loue Solomon explains 6 Ways to Learn to Radiate Charisma If You Don’t Have It at First. If you click to the article, you’ll read that it’s directed to the business world, but the method works very well for us.

  1. Be attentive – This advice keeps recurring because it’s vital, and we don’t always do it well or consistently. When someone is speaking with you, are you thinking of the next thing you have to do? Sometimes we are stopped at an inopportune time, and we are twitching waiting for the person to complete whatever they have to say so we can get on with what we were doing. They will get the message. Why should they want to be with you when you have no time for them? Instead, be honest. Tell them you want to hear what they have to say but now isn’t a good time then let them know when you can listen more attentively.
  1. Recognize humanness before rank Although phrased in terms more suited to the business world, it applies to us as well. There is a hierarchy in schools, and some of us lose opportunities to build important relationships when we react to people based on that hierarchy. You are working with a student and a teacher comes in with an important question. How you handle this will speak volumes to the student. Rather than telling the student to “wait a minute,” address the teacher and ask for a minute or two to complete with the student.  A variation on this is when an administrator comes in while you are working with a teacher or student.  The one you are with deserves your attention.  If you have to wrap it up quickly, show you know and will be back to check if there are any questions. 
  1. Draw people out- Be curious about others. Compliment them on something you admire or notice.  Ask questions. People enjoy talking about themselves.  When they do, a connection forms—as long as you are listening. The more you know about someone, the more you know and understand their wants and needs.  Knowing that helps you meet them better and they come to appreciate and value who and what you are. 
  1. Notice your second language–By now you are well aware of the messages you send (and receive) non-verbally. Smiling is always a welcoming invitation to others. It doesn’t mean you have a broad smile all day long. It would look ridiculous. Rather, have a soft smile as you walk the halls and as you work. Then when someone approaches you, your smile widens in welcome. You look the person in the eye, letting them know you are focused on them. With the smile on your face, as long as your mind isn’t going elsewhere, your body will follow in extending the welcome. 
  1. Show strength in your vulnerability–This is tough. It feels risky because it can be, but it’s about honest human contact. Share personal stories as appropriate. It opens the avenue of communication. Whether the stories are funny or show a mistake you made, it shows others you are human. Not perfect, but open to always learning. 
  1. Never try to fake it–When you are interacting with others, faking it never works and it will result in the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Becoming charismatic is not about manipulating people. It’s about connecting so you can work better together and accomplish more.

Practice these steps in your personal life as well.  Charisma should not be something you just turn on at work. Make your life easier – radiate charisma. And I’ll trust you to use your power for good.

ON LIBRARIES: Who Are You?

The great philosopher, Socrates, said in the 400s B.C.E. “Know thyself.”  Truly words of wisdom. Do you know yourself?  In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true.” If you don’t know yourself, it’s more than a little difficult to be true to yourself.  Strong, confident leaders must know themselves and be true to themselves. It is one of the reasons people follow them.

This starts with being honest with yourself about who you are. You may not imagine yourself better than you are, but it is equally dishonest to consider yourself as less. Remember, leaders know their strengths and weakness and look to others to fill in where they need help. They accept their mistakes and where they struggle even as they work to improve.  But the imperfections don’t detract from their confidence.  It’s part of their self-awareness.

Laurie Ruetimann’s post Self-Leadership is Self-Awareness points out there is no leadership without self-leadership, and self-leadership begins with self-awareness. She addresses these three components of self-leadership:

Self-awareness of Personal Values – This goes back to your philosophy. You have a professional and a personal one. As a school librarian, you should hold the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and its Code of Ethics as core values.  It means we stand up for intellectual freedom and access to information.  It may mean that when faced with a job situation that violates your personal values, you recognize it as such and make a decision as to whether you leave.  If you stay, you know why you made that choice and accept it honestly.

Self-awareness of Intentions and Behaviors – Your word has value. Leaders know their goals and work toward achieving them. They recognize they are the ones ultimately responsible, so they take responsibility for what goes wrong they don’t blame or look to others to solve the problem.  It’s on them. In addition, they praise others for their successes because they know success doesn’t depend on one person.

Self-awareness of Personal Perspective – An emotionally intelligent leader accepts bad days and failures as part of life, not as a sign of failure or a reason to give up. When these days happen, take a short while to be upset with what went wrong but don’t dwell on it. Instead, look for solutions.  What can potentially be done to make the situation better?  What should you differently next time? Knowing your personal perspective allowed you to move forward not get stuck in the past.

How can you become self-aware? Laurie Ruetimann lists 10 questions for you to answer?

1.     What am I good at? – Be honest with yourself.  List both your professional strengths and your personal ones.

2.     What exhausts me? An interesting question. It’s not just the physical tasks. It could also be dealing with certain people. Again, look personally and professionally.

3.     What is the most important thing in my life? This list should include personal ones first, in my opinion.

4.     Who do I love? Be sure to put yourself on the list.

5.     What stresses me out?  This is close to #2, but not the same. Working to meet deadlines can stress me out, but it’s not what exhausts me.

6.     What’s my definition of success? Another interesting question, and one that should take your time to answer.

7.     What type of worker am I? Team player? Self-directed? Over-achiever?

8.     How do I want others to see me? Trustworthy? Helpful? Knowledgeable?

9.     What type of person do I want to be? Is it different from #8?

10.  What things do I value in life? Similar to knowing your personal values, but consider looking at what you value in others.

 

Ruetiman’s final question is “Does it feel awkward to be self-aware? Her answer – “Probably at first.” We tend to be so focused on looking outwards, we don’t spend enough time looking inwards. We have come to realize the importance of reflection.  Self-awareness is part of that.  And remember the advice of Socrates and Shakespeare.

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe and Welcoming Face

Last week I blogged about A Safe, Welcoming Space, but a recent event coupled with some personal experiences has made me think about the face we present to the world. I see people in the supermarket, restaurants, and other places, and more often than not their faces seem closed as though they don’t want to let anyone in.  Sometimes it’s because they are focused on their smartphone, other times it’s just that they are in their private world.

We need to be more mindful of the face we show the world.  If we want kids to feel comfortable in approaching us, we have to be present to them, not lost in our thoughts. It’s hard sometimes when there is so much to do, but I have been finding that having a welcoming demeanor and showing kindness will open you up to a richer world.

It has been scientifically proven that humans need contact with other humans – face-to-face.  As much as social media can keep us connected (personally I use Facebook and Twitter a lot to stay in touch with friends and family I can’t see often), for too many of us it has become our main or the most relied on source for social interaction. When we smile at others and speak with them, there’s a double-sided bonus. It makes us feel good and allows us to be kind.  And when we smile and are kind, everyone around us benefits from the connection.

I had a dramatic example of this while at the recent AASL Conference.  I was standing by the ALA Store preparing to go to the general session to hear the opening speaker when I saw a man walking past me with dreadlocks, a headband, and a long white smock that went past his knees. I said to him, “I love your hair.  I love seeing different hairstyles and colors as I am not able to do much with mine.”

He immediately stopped and began a conversation with me. We began walking and talking and as we did I asked him if he had a purpose in life.  He said his was to bring kindness into the world. In return, I told him mine was to reflect back to others the greatness I see in them, and when appropriate help them manifest it.

Watching the time, I said I need to start heading out to hear the speaker for the morning, which is when he told me he was Dr. Adolph Brown, the speaker. The dreads and the outfit he wore to go with them were part of a persona he dons to test the reactions of people he meets. Because of our interaction, he mentioned me in the talk he gave and afterward said to me that I saw him.

In his talk with us, Dr. Brown said, “Stop believing everything you think.  Any time you have to deal with another human being, challenge your brain. What you think about others says more about you than them.” We do make judgments about people based on their looks and other surface indicators – and then we act as though they are correct. Instead, try Dr. Brown’s purpose and work at “bringing kindness to the world.”  It’s a world that needs it greatly.  Your students and teachers will certainly benefit from it – and so will you.

In her Harvard Medical School post, The Heart and Science of Kindness, Melissa Brodrick gives seven ways to give and receive kindness.

Kindness starts with being kind to yourself – You’ve heard this many times.  But you can’t be kind when you are being hard on yourself.  And certainly, it is difficult to do if you are working so hard, you don’t take care of yourself.

We feel happier when we act in service to others – The old adage, “It is better to give than receive” is at play. Being kind to someone gives you an inner glow that helps you through the day.

Choose kindness – Most of us would respond with “Why wouldn’t you”, but the truth is kindness needs to be an active choice, and when you are having a stressful day or in the middle of yet another crisis, the choice isn’t just a good idea, it’s an act of courage.

Give to give, not to receive – If you give with an expectation of getting something, it’s a trade not an act of giving. Let the giving and the possibility that creates be your reason.

We become kinder with practice – Like choosing kindness, being kind is a practice. The more we remember to act with kindness the easier and more automatic it becomes. The result is a library where people expect and act with kindness.

Kindness begets kindness – When an act of kindness makes someone’s day a little lighter, they feel better about themselves.  In turn, they are more likely to be kind to someone else – or to themselves.  This is how we change the world.

Kindness is lasting – Melissa Brodrick recalls someone telling her forty years ago that she has a pretty face.  That simple act of kindness stayed with her all these years.  We often think someone is wearing a nice blouse or whatever. If I think that, I say it. Invariably, I get a smile in return and sometimes a conversation starts.  I love making someone’s day.

An online post I read (can’t remember where now) suggested a good question to ask students is “How were you kind today?”  Now I ask you, “How were you kind today?”

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe Welcoming Space

In the aftermath of another school shooting, I felt this was an important topic to revisit because it is clearly an ongoing struggle. For learning to happen, students need to feel safe. Equally important, they need to feel welcome. It is our charge as librarians to create a space where both exist. Doing this is vital to your program’s success.

The way you have arranged your facility, the furniture, the displays, and how you greet students show them the library welcomes them.  To truly make all students feel safe and give them a sense of belonging requires a more concentrated effort. It starts with a collection that reflects a diversity of culture, ethnicity, and race of your students as well as the various lifestyles they lead. Even if your school is culturally homogenous, there is a need to show students what the larger world looks like. In addition, it’s important to be aware of differences that may not show so that these can also be addressed.

For example, how are socio-economic differences and physical disabilities being acknowledged in your collection? We need to pay attention to how these students access information, making it as barrier-free as possible. In creating a safe environment, you need to continually learn about those who are “other” in some ways and work to make them feel recognized, valued and welcome as well.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Against a backdrop of differences and in a time when differences continue to face suspicion and prejudice, librarians need to develop a collection policy that consciously pays attention to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI).  While the three terms seem similar, they encompass important differences. Understanding them helps you be more attuned to your students’ needs.

Equity is often confused with equality. Equality is giving everyone the same thing, i.e. all students get a Chromebook. Equity is ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity. If a computer is needed for homework, do all students have access to one at home? Can they access the internet? If not, then you don’t have equity.

An illustration appearing on many websites explains the distinction. Three boys of different heights are trying to watch a baseball game from outside a solid fence. Equality shows them now standing on boxes of the same height. The tallest boy has an excellent view. The next one can just see over the fence. The shortest one still cannot see the game. Equity gives the boys boxes of different heights, so they all have a good view.  A third panel shows the boys viewing the game from behind a fence with an open weave. This takes access to a higher level by completely removing the barrier for all.

Diversity is usually thought of as referring to the various ethnicities, religions, and cultures, but it includes far more. Gender, gender identification, socio-economic status is part of diversity. So are physical and emotional challenges. Diversity is so all-encompassing it can be hard to wrap your arms around all the differences. Adding to the challenge is that so many of these differences aren’t observable, certainly not on the surface. Despite that, libraries must strive to meet the needs of all these students. Lower check out areas for students in wheelchairs. No fines so as not to penalize those having financial challenges or spending time in two households. Books which represent different challenges, choices, and traumas.

Inclusion means that all are a part of the whole.  It seeks to keep students in age-appropriate classes. Students are not judged to be inferior for any reason. Ever.

Another recent image going around social media captured the distinction among the three terms in this way: “Accessibility is being able to get in the building. Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. Belonging is having your voice heard at the table!”

Although EDI is the phrase used most of the time to describe what we are trying to achieve, a better visualization of what this means is the phrase Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors as coined in an essay by Rudine Sims Bishop. Mirrors are the stories that show students they are not invisible in the library collection. Bishop notes if children only see themselves, they develop an exaggerated sense of self-importance. These same books offer other students windows – the ability to see and better understand their peers and the challenges that they might face.

By now we are all aware of the importance of having books so that African Americans, Latinx, and Islamic students and others can see themselves in our collections. Many of you have acquired titles about LGBTQ+ kids and families while others face challenges to this step. But diversity goes beyond these areas.

The library’s collection needs books that include kids who have physical disabilities as well as mental and emotional problems. You also need stories about students who are homeless, have a parent or close relative who is incarcerated, or a parent who is in the military and is in an active war zone. Even Sesame Street, which has always worked to be diverse, currently has Muppets who have autism and are in foster care.

How do you do it all – particularly when your budget is small? There is no simple solution. Do your best to tune into the diversity that exists in your school population and make that your initial focus. Look for materials to meet them. And then check for grants. There may be an organization that offers grants to your school district.

It’s not easy and it takes time, but we all agree our students are worth the effort.  With windows and doors, we make our libraries safe, welcoming spaces for all.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Should Have – Could Have

Do you give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing?  Our days are jam-packed.  Many of you stay late to complete tasks that can’t fit within the regular school day.  By the time you get home, there are more things that need to be done.  You are tired, cranky more often than you like, and are feeling worn out.  And as it is now November, you’re facing getting ready for the holidays.

We are experts at finding fault with ourselves, but it doesn’t help us do better. More often it becomes a type of self-sabotage because these thoughts make us believe we are failures. Too often we speak to ourselves in ways we’d never speak to another, focusing on our weaknesses and believing everyone else does or achieves more. Of course, this isn’t true. We know we have had successes, but when all we can hear is the negative self-talk, none of that matters.

So I ask you again – Do you give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing?  Probably not. You are

most likely mentally beating yourself up with “Should Have” and “Could Have.”  You should have gotten more done. You could have if only you were more organized.  If only… you fill in the blank. I’m sure you have a list. What would support us better is go through the important process of deciding what priority, what isn’t, and do what we can to stop listening to the rest of the noise that’s distracting us.

Kristin Hendrix reminds us of the power of self-talk in her article Words Matter, Choose Carefully. We tend to be aware of that with others, but don’t treat ourselves with the same consideration.  As goal-driven people, we have a lot of “need to’s” in addition to the “should have’s” and “could have’s.”  It’s important to take a realistic look at what you have been saying to yourself and consider whether it’s really true.

Very often, negative self-talk is a story we tell ourselves, and it keeps us from focusing on what is important and remembering where our strengths lie.  Hendrix suggests you begin by looking more closely at the “need to’s” that have been swirling around in your brain and ask yourself – Is this true?  Do you really need to do it, or is it something you would like to do?  Is it a priority? What level of importance does it have – honestly?

If it isn’t a high priority, you might not need to do it.  If it is, then take the time to look at why you haven’t made the commitment yet.  Is fear behind it? If you’re unsure if you can do it, maybe you need a mentor. Or if the project is too big, perhaps you can delegate part of it.  Be honest with yourself and get you’ll find it easier to either move forward or delete it for good.

How many times do you say, “I should…?”   Unless you figure out if this is true, you will continue saying it and make yourself feel unworthy because of it.  Should you exercise more? Take a course related to librarianship? Maybe the answer is yes, but the answer could be ‘not yet’. Whatever it is, do your best to be honest (and kind!) with yourself. Too many times things are on the list because we’ve bought into the belief that they should be (ironic, yes?) on the list. They aren’t our priorities yet we’ve taken them on. Taking the time to look at the truth then accepting what’s true for you can go a long way in stopping the negative self-talk.

Hendrix notes that we complicate this problem by saying we don’t have time.  We can’t because we’re too busy. As I have written in past blogs, this, too, is a story we tell ourselves.  It has an element of truth as we are exhausted by the time we fall into bed (or long before we fall into bed), but it’s far from the whole truth. When something is important and we know and can feel why it is important, we take the time to do it.

For years I said I should exercise.  I didn’t. When I made it a priority, I was able to fit it into my life and it’s off my “should have” list. I also make it a point to turn off my computer by 6 p.m. each day. Maybe I should continue.  If I did maybe I could have finished the task.  But turning the computer off is the priority because it gives me the time I need in the evening to be with my husband and do other things for myself.  And I don’t think about those “should have’s” or “could have” because I’m clear about my priority.

Do I manage to stick to my priorities every day?  No.  Some days I goof off.  Too many games of Klondike (my weakness as you know). But I have learned not to beat myself up for it.  Rather than fall into negative self-talk, I know there’s a chance I needed the day off, and I can get back to my priorities tomorrow.

The golden rule of treating others the way you wish to be treated may need to be revised.  We need to treat ourselves the way we treat others.  We are much more understanding of the shortcomings of others than we are about our own self-styled failures. Be good to yourself this week. Notice where the negative words are draining you. Take a breath, look for the truth, and let the rest go. Honor yourself and your priorities, leave the shoulds and coulds behind, and – one more time –  give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing.