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 – Do You Need a Mental Reboot?

Are you feeling drained?  Let’s see why:

  • You have been working hard to keep your library a valuable presence while we are doing distant learning and you still don’t know what’s coming for the fall.
  • Although you have been aware of the importance of having a diverse collection for some time, Black Lives Matter has put the challenge front and center in everyone’s mind. You need to be ready to communicate to the administration and teachers the diverse resources you have acquired for your collection.
  • Your own fears about the virus and coping with stresses at home which can include your children, partner, and parents combined with health and economic challenges you may be facing.

It’s a lot. You are handling so much; you don’t have time to think.  And therein lies a problem.

When you don’t think – you just react and that isn’t sustainable. What you need is a mental reboot. A chance to clear your deck and allow yourself the time to get your head back in order.  The first recommendation of most health practitioners is to breathe deeply. When we are harried, we shallow breathe which reduces the oxygen flow to the brain.  You need your brain working on full power. Deep slow breathing helps. It also slows our heart rate, making us feel instantly calmer and more focused.

Another common recommendation is to get outside and walk. This is a favorite of mine. (Take a mask with you if there is any likelihood that you will encounter other walkers and bikers.)  If there are woods nearby, so much the better. The combination of a change in scenery, fresh air, and physical activity does wonders – and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  Fifteen to twenty minutes can make a difference.

After your deep breaths and walk (and any other self-care that works for you), you can then contemplate the advice given by Marcia Reynolds in How to Help Others Do a Mental Reboot. In this instance, it’s a case of “physician heal thyself.”  Once you get your head back in place, you can help others do the same. She has a relatively simple two-step approach, and simple is needed now.

Her first recommendation is to do a safety check.  When you feel threatened, you go into fight or flight mode which, as you know, shuts down the cognitive part of your brain.  Ask yourself “Do I feel safe?” or, perhaps a better questions is “What is making me feel unsafe?” The virus is ever present in our minds, but have you been following the guidelines?  Is there anything you could do differently? You have been managing it well so far.  Is there any reason to think you won’t continue to do so? If you can start noticing where you’re doing well, you will start to relax.

Perhaps you’re feeling unsafe about how school will look in the fall. It may be distance learning or back to a physical space with differences.  Or a combination of both.  Yes, there are unknowns and things you can’t control, but, as a librarian, you are flexible and good at adapting to change.  You will adjust.

You may also be feeling unsafe about job security.  Many places are making cuts. To help you feel safer, up your advocacy.  Consider giving your principal reports on the ways you have supporting teachers and students.  Have you been talking to them about the diversity issue and what you are doing and can do to help with it? You are needed now more than ever.  Be sure administrators know how vital your work is to the continued success of their school.

The second step is to take time for reflective inquiry. Reflective inquiry allows us to separate what is real from what we imagine.  It’s not that we don’t have concerns, but we may be worried about things that haven’t happened. We take what we know and project it into the future.

To make a change, consider what you can do about each of the situations that have been draining you or taking up space in your thoughts. Then, decide whether to tackle the one that is most concerning or least concerning.  Identify it clearly, recognizing why it has been wearing on you. Gently ask yourself

  • How real is the possibility?
  • What did you see/read/hear that is making you more concerned? Is the information accurate and reliable? (We’re good at checking that!)
  • What can you do about it?

While advocacy should always be part of what you do, you may have been worrying unnecessarily. Even though other places may be losing jobs, that might not be the case for you. If you have a good relationship with your principal, you cab even ask about it.

Are you very worried about getting the virus?  Tests are much more available now.  See if you can have one done. It will be a relief to know you are not infected.

Finding the daily tasks of managing your home overpowering?  Maybe you can have a family discussion and find a way to organize it better. There could be things you don’t have to do or things other people would be willing to help with.

And once you’ve taken time for doing a safety check and a reflective inquiry for yourself, you’ll be better able to check in with the people around you and give them support. Reynolds quotes John Dewey (so appropriate!) who said that provoking people to think about their thinking is the “single most powerful antidote to erroneous beliefs and autopilot.”

We’re all prone to unhelpful, panicky thoughts. Do what you can to give yourself a break. Once you do that, you’ll not only feel calmer and more focused, you’ll be able to help you colleagues and family do the same.

ON LIBRARIES: PLN’s and Advocacy during COVID-19

We are approaching two weeks into most of the school closures with the likelihood of at least another month.  From the first, librarians have been doing what we do best, getting information for ourselves and then out to our communities.  Many of you quickly tapped into your PLNs and began asking for and exchanging information, but this influx of resources has created an information overload that is adding to already existing stress. What can we do to meet the needs of our teachers and students without becoming more overwhelmed?

A good place to start, if you haven’t done so already, is to make a list of your priorities. Stop and think:

  • Are you doing any teaching? If so, you need resources for that.
  • What types of help do your teachers need? How can you be a resource?
  • Are your providing parent support?
  • How are you communicating with your administration and beyond?

In a Google doc, or whatever format you prefer, keep separate files/folders for the different topics. Go for quality rather than quantity. Even before this crisis, teachers frequently ignored what you showed them if you offered too much information. Now they are more overwhelmed. Keep things focused and brief. Add (and delete) to your lists as necessary.

Besides what you create for teachers, keep a separate file with the highlights of what you are doing. Every so often, send this to your administrator, website, and consider posting to the appropriate places on social media. This can be an important opportunity for advocacy.

Advocacy is about building partnerships with others who support you since you helped them. By showing your contribution, others will recognize that the library program is invaluable to the school system, even with the students can’t go to the library. You are the lifeline teachers and students need.  Parents and administrators need to see this as well.

And don’t forget to make time for yourself. I saw one meme showing a librarian working on her computer and saying, “I have this feeling that if I just curate everything, I can stop the virus.” While we are working hard to serve, we cannot forget the rule about taking care of ourselves first so we can do our best.

To practice what I preach, I am keeping this blog shorter than usual.  Less for you to read and me to write.  And since I have been sitting for an hour, and it’s too rainy for me to go out, I am going to walk 250 steps in my house.

Stay healthy and stay connected.

ON LIBRARIES: Taking A Stand

You can order this poster from the ALA store

We can all agree that being a school librarian is a rewarding, challenging, and frequently exhausting job. We never think of it as scary until the day we are faced with a book challenge that threatens our mission, the integrity of our program and possibly our personal beliefs. How you react if and when it happens can be a defining moment for you as a librarian and a person.

The Library Bill of Rights clearly defines our responsibilities as librarians.  The seven articles spell out the beliefs of the profession, such as article III: “Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” ALA’s Code of Ethics states, “ We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

AASL further recognizes the importance of access to information in the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. It highlights our obligation to implement these values in the fifth of the Common Beliefs: “Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right.”

Of course, you support intellectual freedom and the access to information — but what happens when you are faced with a decision regarding it.  I know there are librarians who don’t buy books that may trigger a challenge.  Some of them live in communities where they would be pilloried for such purchases.  I can understand and respect their fear. A few of them acquire the books with their own money and keep them in the office, handing them to a student when it seems appropriate. Still dangerous, but less so. In the public library, there are several librarians who can stand by each other in support. You are alone.  And it can be scary.

Hopefully, you have a Board-approved policy dealing with this.  If you don’t, get started on writing one now and getting it approved.  You may never have a challenge.  Most librarians never face the issue in their entire career, but you never know.  Because it can happen, it’s best to be prepared.  To help you, ALA has a new Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries.

Having a policy in place doesn’t mean all will go smoothly if someone challenges a book.  ALA offers help and a wealth of resources in Challenge Support  I also recommend reading How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources to get an idea of what it contains.  You can review it, if it becomes necessary.

There’s a specific story that sparked this week’s blog.  I’m not going to go into the details, but for the second time, I know a school librarian who had a book challenged.  Both courageously stood up for the principles of intellectual freedom, and it makes me proud to know they got a lot of support from the library community and from those in organizations that also strongly support the First Amendment.

In the most recent situation, there shouldn’t have been a problem.  There was a Board-approved selection and reconsideration policy. It was the principal who pulled the book.  When the librarian reminded him of the policy, he told her it didn’t apply since it wasn’t a challenge but rather an administrative decision. This put her in a particularly difficult dynamic.

What do you do when the censor is your administrator?  In this case, the librarian swung into action.  She reached out to high school librarians to see who owned the book without having problems. She contacted her state and county school library association, ALA, and AASL.  Those on the Board of the library association reached out to other library associations in the state. Soon advocates for intellectual freedom lined up including the National Coalition Against Censorship and the National Council of Teachers of English Intellectual Freedom Center.  Letters were sent to the Board of Education. Support was there when the Board met and the media covered the controversy.

Ultimately, the book was allowed back on the shelf. Or it was until a student checked it out.  The librarian kept detailed notes of the whole process.  She plans to share it with others who find themselves in a similar position.  Her next steps include working to mend her relationship with her principal and the administration who wanted to make this decision regardless of policy. Because even though the “fight” was won, she must continue to work in that environment and sustain and grow the success of her library program.

Judy Blume has said, “Librarians save lives: by handing the right book, at the right time, to a kid in need”. She’s long acknowledged the librarians and teachers who have put their jobs on the line to share her (often banned) books. It’s not something we want to face, but there are times it must be done. We are a strong community who fight for our beliefs. I salute all those librarians who have stood up for Intellectual Freedom. We are a vital part of our democracy.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Tell and Sell Your Story

This week’s blog is another entry in the ongoing discussion of the art of communication in an age of too much information.  It’s a reminder that data—even the beloved “big data” – is not what will carry the day.  For your message to be received you first must connect in some way with the receiver. Being able to make this connection depends on Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is now recognized as a major factor in success in school and beyond, which is why so many schools have incorporated Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into the curriculum.  The Core SEL Competencies are the same as those used to define EI.

Although you are probably incorporating SEL into your instruction, you may have not integrated it into your own advocacy program.  Emotions underlie all our decisions whether we are aware they are at work or not.  The more conscious you are of your emotions and those of the people you are speaking with, the more likely you are not only to be heard but to inspire action.

If your words have not yet penetrated the wall your listeners have built, Lisa Rabasca Roepe gathered These Techniques from Professional Speechwriters That Will Help You Get Your Point Across.  She presents seven ideas which are highly applicable to what you need.

Personify Your Data – Generalities contain no emotion. People hear them and can’t repeat them five minutes later.  If you want to discuss the problem of aging resources, don’t lead with a Titlewise collection analysis. Talk about a student who used out-of-date or incorrect information because the book she chose was twenty-years-old.  Or you can take one of those aging books and say, “Imagine what would happen if David (use a name to make the example more personal) was doing research on planets and found this book discussing Pluto.  If he researches what is known about Pluto from this book and other sources, he never discovers that Pluto is no longer considered a planet until after he turns in his assignment.” The story, focused on a single individual, captures attention.  You can then follow up with your collection analysis.

Know Your Listener – Be mindful of your listener’s attention span.  In my experience, principals have so much on their plate, they have a very limited amount of time to hear you out.  Get to the point quickly.  If they want more details, they will ask. When I would set up an appointment with my principal’s secretary, I asked for ten minutes and was prepared to finish in five – and leaving the data at the conclusion of the meeting. It made it much easier to continue getting appointments as I needed them.

Be Personal But Not Confessional – It’s always easier to connect with someone you feel you know.  Include some relevant stories of your experience. The most important word here is “relevant.”  The story about yourself should connect to and reinforce what you are discussing (such as my principal story above). Try to avoid topics such as politics, religion or others that lead to heated, not connected, dialogue.  It’s also best to steer clear of serious personal issues such as illness or loss, lest it seem like a bid for sympathy.

Be Specific – My husband reminds of this all the time.  He asks me, “Why are you telling me this?”  “What do you want me to do about it?”  We tend to slowly edge up to our request.  By the time we get there, our listener has tuned out. Don’t say, “I know you have seen our Makerspace and liked what the students are doing.”  Go right to what you want. “It is time to take our Makerspace to the next level.”

Aim for a Home Run – Play big.  Go for what you really want. The big idea captures attention.  Having done that, your back-up plan is likely to be approved, possibly with additional modifications.  If the issue of money is raised, you can offer ways to do your idea in stages or cut back somewhat. And your principal will know that you have big ideas that may well be used to showcase the school.

Re-enact Your Story, Don’t Just Tell It – Suppose you are trying to convince a teacher or administrator that books in the library shouldn’t be leveled. Don’t cite articles on the subject.  Make it personal by putting a face on the issue. Talk, for example, about Darrin, a boy who has hated reading. Last week he found a book in the library on his favorite baseball team, but it was below his reading level. You decided to break the rules and let him take it out.  Now he is reading so much more, and although he still wants books below his Lexile level, he’s more likely to improve because of this change.

Build a Story Bank – Be aware of the power of story and the emotions they carry. Keep track of incidents and moments that happen in the library which you can use at some later date. This may seem odd at first, but the more stories you collect, the more you will notice.

You can tell teachers, administrators, and others how important the library is, but, as you well know, that doesn’t mean they will hear you.  Bring story and the techniques of speechwriters to grab your listener’s attention, hold it, and get them to take action.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Understanding and Using Culture

What is your school’s culture?  What is your library’s culture? Both affect how you do your job, how you present yourself, and whether you are regarded as a leader. I blogged on this topic back in January, but a recent article made me want to revisit the topic.

Readers may recall I worked in two districts with dramatically different cultures. The first voted down twenty budgets in the twenty-two years I was there. The second district passed every budget in the nine years I was there.  This district prided itself on its history and its ability and willingness to support the school system. They viewed themselves as a lighthouse district.  Indeed, pride along with diversity are still present on the district’s home page, mission, and superintendent’s vision.

Knowing the culture of the two districts affected how I proposed my annual budget requests and projects. At the first school, everything was couched in terms of how my request(s) would be cost-saving. (Every dollar spent in the library affects all students.)  I overheard a business teacher speaking to her department chair saying, “We don’t need new textbooks as long as Hilda’s library is up-to-date.” In the second school, I promoted my requests and ideas as a means of moving the school forward. In preparatory discussions with administrators, I would compare what I was seeking with what was happening in other leading school districts and libraries. I could be asking for the same thing in each school, but I framed it differently to fit the culture.

So if you’re (still) struggling with working within your school’s culture, you may appreciate the idea s from an article in Harvard Business Review where John Coleman discusses the Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture. Although he is addressing the business world much of what he says relates or is adaptable to education and the school library.

Coleman starts with Vision. He states, “A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement.” I have been promoting this for years. Your Vision and/or Mission must guide every decision you make. It sets the tone for everything.  Don’t have one yet?  Get started.  You won’t be able to successfully advocate for your program without it. Also, make sure you know the vision for your school or school district. The more in line you can be, the easier your advocacy.

Next is Values.  According to Coleman, “A company’s values are the core of its culture.” This ties into your Philosophy which probably includes a statement that the library “is a safe, welcoming environment for all.”.  We also have our Common Beliefs as given in the National School Library Standards. As librarians, we have our ALA Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics.  To enhance your understanding, you might also reflect on your school’s and district’s values – both stated and unstated

Third is Practices. “Values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices.” How many times have we heard administrators say, “The library is the heart of the school,” only to see them eliminate the budget, close the library for numerous occasions, and in other ways indicate the statement is a platitude, not a reality. (This speaks to those unstated values). You can support this by truly doing all you can to carry out your Vision/Mission and Values. If this is something you are struggling with, how can you change this or get help?

People is (are?) fourth. As Coleman says, “No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values.” These “people” are your advocates.  Are there teachers who share your values and value the library? What about your administrator? Any outside volunteers? This is why you need to communicate your Vision – and your Values.  And are you showing you value the contributions of those around you? If you need support on this, go to the National School Library Standards portal, clicking on Administrators or Educators to get the appropriate resources.

The fifth contributor to an institution’s culture is Narrative. This is where the power of emotions comes in.  You need to tell your library’s story and embed it in the awareness of your stakeholders. Use emotional content and visuals to reach your audience. Where have you seen your program making a noticeable difference in the lives of students? Why is it not only valuable but indispensable? Have students worked on college applications at the library? Try to get pictures when they’re accepted. Have students put something they’ve learned in the library into action (such as a community garden)? Make sure to show the connection – and the excitement. Do quarterly reports highlighting student learning using various tech resources such as Canva, Piktochart or your favorite site. Get your narrative out into the community with social media.

Finally, there is Place.  The look of your facility is the first thing greeting all who enter.  What message is it sending? Is it aligned with your Vision and Values or is there a disconnect? I’ve written about a list of rules being the first thing people see and how that can be a barrier. Where is the visual excitement of your space?

You create the culture for your library.  By taking stock of how yours measures up to these six components, you can make it a strong statement of who, what, and why you are.  Also, match these six to identify your school culture.  How well is the library culture aligned with the school culture? Again, is there a disconnect?  If so, develop a strategic advocacy plan to make inroads on the school culture so that it will embrace the value of the school library and make certain you are using your awareness of the culture to support your initiatives.  A challenging culture doesn’t mean you won’t get what you need. It means you’ll have to look for or develop new ways to success.

ON LIBRARIES: Upping Your Advocacy Planning

I am always thrilled when I hear about librarians showing up as leaders in their building. They are stepping out of their comfort zones and taking on the challenge of leadership. For librarians, becoming a leader carries the implicit requirement for building advocacy for the library program which includes you.

While advocacy is a given, I am concerned that in the conversations I have been having, I don’t hear much about advocacy plans. Without a concrete plan, advocacy will occur in a hit or miss fashion.  And in that case, it will mostly be miss. As the eminent philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, “if you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

Start by creating a strategic plan which is ALWAYS about advocacy. Whatever you want to accomplish must also build relationships and partnerships for you and your program. All good plans start with your Mission (and Vision).  In brief, your Mission declares your Purpose—showing why the library program is vital.  It’s your “perspiration.

For example:

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.

Or

The Blank School Library mission is to empower and inspire all students to apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become creative thinkers and problem solvers, to experience individual and team success, and to become responsible, contributing members of our community.

Your Vision is what you wish to achieve and how you want to be perceived. It’s your inspiration and aspiration.

For example:

The Blank School Library Media Program is the center of collaborative learning producing creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self, and who are prepared to make a contribution to the world.

Or

The school library media program is a safe, open, accessible and inviting learning library commons, essential to student achievement, citizenship and support the principles of intellectual freedom. Our students think globally and are capable of creating new knowledge.

Now take the next step.  What would you want to achieve that would strengthen your program?  Who else would benefit? How does it promote your Mission? How long might it take to accomplish?  Whose support are you trying to get?  What does that person (or group) want?

Keep thinking and putting down questions.  Use the answers to create multi-year goals.  You can have one goal that builds collaboration with teachers and another for getting parents more involved with the library.

For every goal you need an Action Plan.  What are you going to do next year to get you closer to the goal?  What resources will you need?  What stakeholders can be part of it? How will you get the word out?  Create a timeline and an assessment for each of the key steps.  At the end of the year, develop your Action Plan for the next year.

Actually crafting an Advocacy Plan takes thought and commitment but it’s vital if you are going to build ongoing support for the library and the library program.  But you are just one person and are carrying a heavy load already.  Good news – there are some places to get help.

AASL to the rescue. Its Advocacy Page provides a wealth of resources for you.  Check out the Tools.  Definitely download the AASL Advocacy Toolkit.  As you go through it, note the Everyday Advocacy pages. Do any of those fit with the goals of your Advocacy Plan?

ALA has an Advocacy page as well. Although much of it relates to the legislative aspects of Advocacy, there is a link to the Libraries Transform campaign which I have discussed previously.  You can get great ideas for slogans from this page.

Finally, use your colleagues.  Ask for help on your state association’s listserv.  Check the various library-based Facebook groups.  Post your questions and challenges.  We are an incredibly supportive group.  You will be amazed at how much information you will get in response.

Don’t put this off until you have time to do it.  You will never have time.  Make the time – and START TODAY.

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Community Outreach

So you’ve have been working hard to be a leader in your building.  The teachers have come to rely on you and, hopefully, you have made your administrator aware of what you have been doing to improve student achievement, guiding them to being critical thinkers and lifelong learners. That is wonderful!

And it’s not enough.

Budget shortfalls can have a devastating effect. You need community support behind you and your library program.  The time to begin is now, not when the crisis hits. Remember, advocacy is not about you advocating for your program. It’s about getting others to advocate for it.  To recognize your value and that of your program.

You need to reach an audience beyond your school to build advocates who have discovered what a school library program means to students, teachers, and the community as a whole. Remember, in many places the whole town votes on the budget.  Some won’t want to support your program, particularly if they don’t have children in the schools. In addition, when most people think of school libraries, they picture the one they had when they were in school.  To their mind, it seems rather dated.  What can you do to change the picture – change the story about school libraries they have in their head?

Slowly become a presence in your community.  Start with the public library.  You can build a collaborative/cooperative program with them. See if they will allow you to showcase student learning happening in your library. Display student-produced work. You can return the support by posting information about the public library in your school showing the students how this additional resource can help them.

Next, consider the many groups in your town.  Is there a Historical Society? A garden club?  Perhaps they would like to do a display in your library – and you can augment it with material from your collection.  Get your local news outlet – newspaper or cable – to cover it.

Are there local businesses who might be able to contribute to your Makerspaces?  Either supplies or leading a session or both?  If you are in a high school, could they do a special program talking about what they want from interns or employees? Consider holding the event in the evening so that parents can come as well.

Just don’t tackle everything at once.  That will overwhelm you which leads to giving up, and you don’t want that. Have a goal then consider slow steps to achieve it.  To help you be more successful in your community outreach, ALA has to the School Library Health and Wellness Toolkit.  After an excellent explanation of advocacy and how it must be approached, it provides a systematic 5-step way to build support, including helpful resources.

In Step 1, you are directed to identify your stakeholders. The list starts with students and continues with parents, teachers, and administrators, ending with community members and legislators. For each stakeholder, the toolkit offers “sample issues, concerns, priorities, and needs.”

Step 2 has you think about ways to solve stakeholder problems and concerns through library programming. It reminds you when considering stakeholder priorities that your efforts need to be about their priorities, not the “library needs and wants.” Everyone wants to know what’s in it for them.

Step 3 briefly points to the need to market to your stakeholders and “educate” them about the library program.  Once again you need to consider to whom you are sending the message and what is the best way to deliver it.

Step 4 focuses on evaluation and evidence.  You need to measure how successful you are being so you can make adjustments.  And you need evidence to show what libraries do. Focus “on data that shows contributions to educational goals.  In particular, have data showing contributions to student achievement and the development of 21st Century work and learning skills”

The final step is sharing your findings. Don’t wait to be asked. “Sharing positive data and evidence before a situation is critical is key to preventing cuts. Make positive messages and proof of student learning part of the culture of the library program.”

A list of “Quick Tips” follows along with links to a number of resources including a Sample Library PowerPoint Presentation “Powerful Library School Program.”  And don’t forget the ALA initiative Libraries Transform. Scroll down to the colored boxes with their powerful slogans.  Clicking on each gives you more information to back up the statement.

Like Leadership, Community Outreach is not an option. It must be included in your strategic advocacy planning.  Again – start small, use the online resources as your PLN (including our Facebook page) and don’t stop.

ON LIBRARIES: The Many Layers of Diversity

An unquestioned tenet of librarianship is that the library collection will encompass diverse materials to meet the needs of all users.  Sounds good, but in practice this is not always easy to accomplish. There are challenges librarians must face along with difficult choices.

On the surface, a diverse collection contains fiction and non-fiction and all genres are represented in as many formats as possible. While it took a while in some places for graphic novels to be accepted, they now are in most if not all libraries. But there is far more to diversity.

As the liaison to ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) from ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics, this topic is on my mind frequently. Currently, IFC has a draft resolution in the works on Library Bill of Rights Interpretation – Equity, Diversity, Inclusion. In fully defining what those terms encompass, the draft is a strong reminder of what libraries stand for—and the challenging decisions implicit in this stance.

Here are some highlights of the document:

  • Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. In a school library, this means you can’t be limited to what the jobbers make available. If you need books in languages other than English (and Spanish), you need to seek out those publishers who have books for whatever ethnics are represented in your school. Fortunately, this information is becoming more widely available. Your collection should also include materials representing difficulties many students face such as homelessness, a parent in prison, a parent serving the military, foster homes, learning and physical limitations of self or siblings, and the stressful situations.  It’s important they see themselves reflected in the collection.  Those who have more traditional lives benefit from being made aware of their good fortune as well as developing empathy for their classmates.
  • Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Although those working in parochial schools which have a strong doctrinal view on certain subjects do not have to adhere to this, public school libraries are expected to follow this principle. Among the “current” issues that can cause a school librarian to pause before ordering would be climate change and evolution. In some places a sizable group does not accept the general scientific viewpoint.
  • Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment. This another area where it gets difficult for librarians, particularly those who are the sole librarian in their school. You are charged with meeting the needs of everyone in the school.  This means those who have same sex parents or are LGBTQ.  In some communities these topics are a red flag and are likely to bring forth challenges. It is easy to just not purchase them.  Who would know?  Your budget is limited in any case.  You can’t afford to put your job at risk.  All true statements. Each librarian needs to make a personal decision between doing what our ethics and philosophy require or taking the safe route. I can’t condemn their choice. But I do applaud and acknowledge those who face this head on.  We are supposed to create a safe, welcoming atmosphere for all our students.  Our LGBTQ students struggle to feel safe, in and out of school.  Countless adults have told stories of how important their school library was in giving them a measure of security and acceptance.
  • A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views. This is one is obvious, but it harkens back to the days of segregation. It’s important for students to know our history – the bad as well as the good- so they see injustice can be corrected. There is much nonfiction on the subject, but it’s in fiction—including picture books –that students can discover what it was like in those days, and develop empathy for those who lived then and extend it to those now who are targeted as being “other.”

It’s incumbent on every librarian to be familiar with the ALA Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Access to Library Resources and Services for Minors. Protect yourself and your students by having a Selection Policy approved by your Board of Education. You can get help in doing so from the Workbook for Selection Policy Writing.

Also, celebrate Choose Privacy Week May 1 -7, and Banned Books Week September 24-30.

Have you been faced with a difficult choice in purchasing a book for your collection?  What did you do?  How do you make your library a safe, welcoming environment? What help do you need or can you offer to others?

ON LIBRARIES: Advocacy – Results and Next Steps

signingOn December 10, President Obama signed the ESSA (Every Child Succeeds Act) into law. It was an historic moment, years in the making.  We have come close many times, with different variations but at the last moment Congress would keep the bill from coming to the floor.  It has finally happened and it took a lot of work to achieve.

A quick review is needed first so you can appreciate how we reached this stage.  You are probably familiar with previous laws such as ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) the first manifestation of which occurred in the early 1970s. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) which replaced the different version of ESEA soon was called No Child Left Untested, and most of you have been dealing with Common Core and the extreme testing which resulted.  We now move into a new phase.ala - ola

In addition to NEA working for a re-authorization of ESEA (which is what the first target was), ALA’s Washington Office, specifically its Office for Library Advocacy has been lobbying to get a bill through that would recognized the importance of school libraries and librarians, trying more than once to get what was then called the SKILLS Act Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) passed, without much success.

This was partly our own fault.  I kept hearing from people in the Washington Office that Congress pays little attention to our lobbyists unless the message is supported by a strong outpouring of support from voters –like us.  Unfortunately, despite sending delegates to Legislative Day in Washington, D.C. and some attending virtually, there really weren’t rousing responses to calls for action.

This time, working along with NEA, and many, many librarians on social networks exhorting others to make calls, and Tweet or email legislators, the message got heard.  I suspect in part this was due to the widespread frustrations with Common Core.  So, in addition to sending thanks to the Washington Office for a job well-done, and to your legislators if they support the bill, give yourself a pat on the back if you were among those who responded to the call to action.  This took more than a village.  It took a country.

advocacy heartAs with any bill, it isn’t perfect.  Compromise is part of the process so you never get everything you want. But we did get libraries written into it. As Washington Dispatch explains the bill includes the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program allowing the Secretary of Education  “award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements, on a competitive basis” to promote literacy programs in low-income areas, including “developing and enhancing effective school library programs.”  The money can be used both for purchasing library materials and for giving school librarians PD.

Moreover, Title II funds can now be used for “supporting the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.”  The part I really like is that the bill “encourages local education agencies to assist schools in developing effective school library programs, in part to help students gain digital skills.”  In an Education Week article on the bill, AASL President Leslie Preddy noted that school libraries and librarians as “critical educational partners.”

In essence it means the ball is now in your court. It is now up to you do advocacy work on the building and district level to ensure you have an effective library program.  What do you need? Why? What will you be doing?  How can the change be measured?

So take time to celebrate an achievement ten years in the making.  Then get down to work.  If you need it, look to your colleagues in your state association or in your district.  Reach out to your PLM for ideas if you need them.  Don’t waste this great opportunity.  Your students need it.