Farewell to a Friend and Leader

On Friday, September 7, the library world lost one of its stars, and I lost a friend with the passing of Ruth Toor.  Although Ruth withdrew four years ago from being an active presence in that world when Alzheimer’s made her unable to continue, her contributions were extensive and deserve to be celebrated, and I am honored to be in a position to do that.

Ruth became a librarian after her children started school.  For her entire career, she was the school librarian at Southern Boulevard School in Chatham, New Jersey.  She is still remembered there, but because of her commitment to libraries and librarians, her influence went much further.  Ruth was president of EMAnj (now NJASL) and in 1992-1993 was president of AASL.  She also was the recipient of the EMAnj President’s Award given to someone who “has demonstrated excellence and has advanced the profession of school library media specialist.”

During Ruth’s tenure as AASL President, the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund in conjunction with AASL created Library Power which invested $40 million in nineteen communities across the country to transform school libraries.  Schools receiving the funds had to have a school librarian.  Barbara Stripling wrote about the program after it had been in progress for several years.  It showed what we can do when the funds are there.

My connection with Ruth Toor began the summer of 1976 when we both took a course at Rutgers University leading to a Supervisory Certificate for librarians.  Purely by chance, we both chose the same topic, a Volunteers’ Manual, for our culminating project. Our classmates, all of whom were leaders or future leaders in the state found the manual to be such a good idea, they urged us to get it published.

Through one of my volunteer mothers, I was connected to an editor at a subsidiary of Prentice Hall.  He wanted us to go beyond just a volunteer manual. Seeing the possibilities he did, we expanded the book and The Elementary School Librarian’s Almanac was published in 1979.  No one had seen anything like it before.  Up until then, there were books on Children’s and Young Adult Literature and tools such as The Fiction Catalog.  No one had ever written about how to do a better job as a librarian.  It was assumed we learned it all in library school.  We were pleased to learn the book even reached high school librarians.

Because of the book’s strong sales, we were asked to do a 10-month newsletter for school librarians and the School Librarian’s Workshop was born. Ruth and I worked together almost once-a-week starting to get out the first issue in September 1980.  At the time, Ruth would do the final typing before sending it to the printer.  I remember how life improved when she, and then I, got our first computers.

Over the years we wrote many more books.  (You can still find many of them for resale on Amazon). The most recent ones we wrote for ALA Editions, and they are still available.  We started presenting first at our state’s conference and then at other ones across the country.  I remember when Ruth went to Alaska to give a week-long course to the librarians there.

These facts about Ruth are familiar to those who have been in librarianship for many years, but not many know about her past.  Ruth was born in Austria as Hitler was rising to power.  Her father wisely decided they needed to flee the country. Arriving with virtually no money, he took a job that paid far less than what he had been making (I believe he had been a lawyer.) and the family started over in the United States. By the time Ruth was fourteen, she had a job of her own working as a typist.  She was excellent at it, as she was with everything she did. And in the days before word processing programs, I was truly envious of her speed on the keyboard.  If I remember correctly, she eventually worked for the governor of Delaware.

Ruth and her husband have always been strong believers in “giving back.”  They funded a literary award at her alma mater, the University of Delaware and have also have been contributors to AASL.  She never self-promoted, and she and Jay live simply.  Ruth has been a role model for integrity and a life of service to one’s communities. Her husband, Jay Toor, has funded the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public Libraries in her honor so that her legacy and commitment can continues

In many ways, I lost my friend years ago when because of the disease, she could no longer remember me, but now it is time for a final good-bye.  Farewell, Ruth.  My life has been richer for knowing you.

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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 Gift of Gratitude and Generosity

Thanksgiving in North America is over and the December holidays will soon be upon us.  While many take time on Thanksgiving to reflect on all the reasons they have to be thankful, the day is barely over before we are bombarded with the frenzy typified by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Whether it’s adults scrambling to buy gifts and decorate the house, or kids campaigning to get something they can’t live without, the holidays can become more about material goods than people and celebration of thing that last beyond the life of a AA battery. It makes you want to hibernate instead.

We live in a stress-filled world. Our students are stressed as well.  Not only does this interfere with thinking clearly, it also causes us to focus on negatives.  It becomes so easy to complain, we forget what we have. You could easily fill a page with what is wrong on the job and in your life.  But what do you get from that? Let’s face it – it’s easy, but it doesn’t help or work. It’s not good for building relationships and it ends up making the library much less of a welcoming environment.

When I focus on having an “attitude of gratitude,” as corny and meme-like as that might sound, I recognize how fortunate I am.  I am grateful for the joy my family brings me, having work I enjoy doing, and the wonderful friendships I have within the library world. (Before I retired, I also recognized how fortunate I was in having colleagues who became friends and students who thanked me every day for the help I had given them.)  To ensure that I do think of the good things in my life, I keep a gratitude journal.  Each day I record two things for which I am grateful—big or small.

When you keep your focus on gratitude and the things that are going well in your life, the world becomes a nicer place.  Your problems don’t go away, but they don’t constantly dominate your thinking.  As a result, you feel less stressed which leads to additional positive benefits. It changes your body language and tone of your voice.  You become a calm port in the raging seas of others’ emotions, which run high at this time of year for many reasons.  People who interact with you come away feeling relaxed and supported.

In the spirit of the season, you could set up a Gratitude Jar near the circulation desk along with small pieces of paper and pens.  Encourage students and whoever else cares to join in to write something for which they are grateful and put it in the jar.  Signing is optional.  You might even set up a Gratitude bulletin board and post some submissions placed in the jar, changing them every few days. It’s someone everyone can participate in – teachers, students, volunteers, and administrators.

And since I always talk about this – while I have not seen it listed in any article I have read, I believe gratitude is a quality of leadership. Strong leaders are aware of what is working in their programs as much as they are aware of where there is potential for growth. They are grateful for what they have in their lives and the people who work with or for them.  And good leaders are quick to express that gratitude.

From Richer Life Journey

The season is also a reminder to be generous.  There are so many ways we can and do give to our family, friends, and communities.  It may be money, as many of us contribute to various charities this time of year, but it may also be the gift of time or sharing our talents with the world.

Time is a very precious commodity in our world.  Do you volunteer at a soup kitchen?  Serve on your state library association or AASL?  There are countless ways to give back.  My daughter’s childhood friend “scarf-bombs” Detroit, leaving hand knitted scarves that she makes all year long in key spots around the city. Each scarf has a note which reads: If you’re cold you can keep me. If you know someone who’s cold, please take me to them. She’s made and delivered over 400 scarves in the past three years.

Children love knowing their time and efforts can make a difference. In some schools, the produce of gardening projects is donated to soup kitchens and food banks. Other districts do food and/or coat drives or even collect gently used books to give to those who don’t have them.  What other ways can students show generosity?

You could also create a Generosity Jar to encourage students and others to be mindful of giving back.  Using the same system as with the Gratitude Jar, people can write all the ways they have helped others in the past year.  Consider posting some questions to help students recognize how they can give back. Did they clean up their room or the dishes without being asked?  Did they help a friend with homework?

We all have much in our lives to be grateful for and most of us do find ways to give.  I truly believe when we become aware of Gratitude and Generosity in our lives, we make our own world a better place and positively affect the larger world as well.

ON LIBRARIES: Make Your Presence Known

we-are-here-whosToo many librarians still think if they work hard and do a great job, their teachers and principal will recognize their value.  It doesn’t work like that.  If you don’t start self-promoting you might find yourself ignored and possibly eliminated. My daughter tells me the same thing about selling books – if you write well there’s still a very good chance you won’t make the royalties you want. You have to connect with your audience first.

Self-promotion smacks of bragging and most of us shy away from anything resembling it.  It just isn’t “nice.”  Instead of thinking of self-promotion as self-praise regard it as positioning your program. self-promotion

How many people in your building are aware of all you do?  What does central administration know about your contribution to student achievement, integration of technology, and the host of other ways your program transforms the learning community?  How are they going to find out unless you tell them?

Saskia Lefertnk in an OCLC post references Ranganathan, known as the founder of modern library science.  He said, ““If you want to be a reference librarian, you must learn to overcome not only your shyness but also the shyness of others.” While he was speaking specifically of reference librarians, there is much in that quote for school librarians.

shyness-quoteRanganathan wanted to encourage librarians to transition from being preservers of books to actively serving users.  While we have been doing this for decades, how we do it has undergone a change as drastic as the one Ranganathan was advocating.  Shyness or reticence doesn’t work when the playing field has altered so dramatically.

It is easier to promote yourself and your program in writing rather than speaking or conversation.  So your first step is actively informing your stakeholders of what the library program is doing and achieving. Document visually what is occurring in your library.  Show students at work. If you video them, have them talk about what they are doing and learning.

Consider who needs to see this.  If you aren’t doing at least quarterly reports to your principal, start now. Use the writers’ mantra, “Show, don’t tell.”  It carries a greater impact. Do make mention of the teachers who you worked with collaboratively or cooperatively.

There are several web resources such as Piktochart that make telling your story easy. Your principal might like it enough to share with the Superintendent or even include it with a report to the Board of Education. Depending on what you have pictured and district’s rules for posting pictures of students show the activities on your website.  You can always have photos without kids and have them do a voice over.

When you are planning a lesson that demonstrates what you contribute to student learning, invite your principal or supervisor to see it.  Send the plan in advance.  Although there is no guarantee he or she will come, it is still self-promotion for your program and you. Let any teacher you are working with know there is a possibility an administrator will be present.look

Did you attend a conference or a workshop?  Whether it was an official professional day or something you did on your own time, send a brief report to your principal specifically explaining how you will integrate what you learned into working with students and teachers. This sends the message that you are transforming learning and are actively involved professionally.

Volunteer to serve on a committee.  Select one such as technology where you can demonstrate your expertise. If a subject or grade is working on curriculum, try to become a part of it in order to inform them about resources, but also to show how you can work with the teachers in creating units that engage learners and build critical thinking and other skills.

Offer to give a professional development workshop for teachers (or if you are willing to really step out of your comfort zone) with administrators.  Consider showing teachers AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching and Learning or Best Apps for Teaching and Learning. Particularly at elementary and middle schools you might offer to give a talk to parents.  What they should know about digital footprints or the latest social media their kids are on are possible topics.

Apply for a grant.  Start small with your local education foundation.  Let your principal know if and when the grant is approved. Getting free stuff is always appealing to administrators. Once you have some practice with grant-writing, try going for a larger grant.

Check out AASL’s Grants and Awards.  The deadline for most of them is February 1, so you have time over the Christmas break to work on it.  The PR that results from winning one, will showcase you and your program.  If all your efforts are resulting in your principal becoming a supporter of your library program, propose him/her for AASL’s Distinguished School Administrator Award.

If your community has a “day” when vendors and businesses exhibit, see if your school/district is part of it. Find out if you can be there to inform everyone about what school libraries are like today.  AASL has brochures and a great infographic on their Advocacy page.  You can find others by searching the Internet.

get-noticedUse your tagline on whatever you distribute.  Keep looking for ways to bring your program front and center.  Leaders know how to self-promote successfully.  And they aren’t bragging. They are telling it like it is.

What are you doing to make your presence known? Where do you need help, support or recommendations?

 

 

 

 

 

Reach Your Prime Audience – Back To School Night Suggestions

back-to-schoolThe parents who show up for Back-To- School Night and Parent Conferences are the ones who tend to be most directly involved in their children’s learning.  They are the ones who will fight for what their kids need. Too many librarians spend these events alone in the library catching up on work. You want them to recognize your contribution to student success in school and for their futures in college and beyond.  Once you do, they will do everything in their power to ensure your program thrives. Don’t miss out on reaching your prime audience.

To bring them in, have a sign or signs where parents check in and/or post them on the walls.  At the elementary level they may have little free time to wander so have a table set up at the main school entry with information for them.  Check with your principal to see if you can be there instead of in your library.  This gives you a chance to meet and greet them.Parents-orientation

In preparing material, consider what parents want most from the school library.  At the lower levels they want their children to learn to love reading.  So have a hand-out with the heading “A Book for Every Child—Every Child a Reader.”  Highlight any reading programs originating from the library.  Have a brief annotated bibliography and give links to your website where they can find more suggested titles.  If you can’t do that, list the URL for ALSCs Notable Books.

Are you looking for volunteers? Have a sign-up sheet, but just don’t have lines for their names and contact information.   What will parents get as a result of volunteering?  Seeing their child while they work in the library?  Learning more about the library program?  Access to borrowing material they can use at home with their children?  Helping the library be a welcoming environment for all students?  Put that first–then the lines for signing up.

At upper levels where parents move from class to class to meet teachers, they may have more room in the schedule to actually drop by the library. Again in preparing, think about what they want for their children.  This the time when they begin worrying about college, so spotlight how the library program prepares students.

A flyer or a running program entitled “What Students Don’t Know about Research” lets you showcase the information literacy skills you incorporate into students’ learning experiences.  Link to articles on the topic, such as this one from Huffington Post and point out why students in your school don’t need to wait until college to learn the skills.  Have your computers open to the databases you available and have a hand-out with the passwords for accessing them at home.  (Your students should have it, but the parents are probably unaware of it.)

library resourcesAt all grade levels, have your Mission Statement prominently displayed and include it on all handouts—and the Volunteer Sign-up Sheet.  Let parents know they can always contact you via school email.  If you have them, inform parents about LibGuides you created just for them and how they can see projects their children have done on your website.

The more parents learn about the value of today’s school library program, the more they will fight to keep it.  Don’t let your best potential advocates walk out the door without discovering what you do for their kids.