ON LIBRARIES – Move Past Your Barriers

I was talking with someone recently and said my Vision is that every librarian is living as a leader or working to be a bigger leader.  We won’t be successful until we are all successful.  Yes, I know that’s a tall order.  Like any Vision, it may never fully happen, but by working toward it, I will get closer than I would without it. To that end, today’s blog, like several in the past few weeks, is intended to help you notice where you may be holding yourself back. When we notice what’s getting in our way, we are more likely and able to make a change. Because there is no option. You must become a leader.

Back in 2015 I first wrote about  The Stories We Tell Ourselves as being a barrier we have put in our way.  I followed it up last year with More Stories – we are very creative in finding ways to avoid being a leader. Two weeks ago, I asked Are You the Problem? to show how we get in our way by our habits and attitudes. Barriers, whether big or small, don’t get erected overnight. It will take time to dismantle many of these, but my hope is that on a deep level, you recognize the truth about being a leader. You realize that you are likely the one that has stopped you and now you must be willing to learn how to get out of your own way.

Your situation is not unique.  Many people find ways to avoid becoming leaders.  But in any profession, that avoidance keeps you from being as successful as you can and need to be. , Today I am referencing Lolly Daskins who offers six ways How You Can Break Through Your Own Leadership Limits.

Change the lens through which you view yourself – For most people our self-image is rooted in our past.  Before I went to Weight Watchers, I would be surprised and unhappy when I caught my reflection in a window.  I thought I was thinner than that. For several years after I lost fifty pounds, I was startled when I saw my reflection. I thought I was heavier than that.

A long time ago, a well-know library colleague of mine was despondent.  He lost a job he had held for a quarter of a century and was moving to a new state.  I told him he would be very much appreciated in his new position. When I saw him six months later, he was beaming. I had been right.  Not only had his former employer took him for granted, but he had also taken himself for granted, not seeing how much he had grown and learned on the job until he had a better one.

Look to your accomplishments and successes. Let go of outdated reflections. See yourself through a new lens.

Know what you need to changeNo, the answer is not “everything.”  Do a self-analysis using SOAR.  What are your Strengths? What Opportunities exist for demonstrating those strengths? What are your Aspirations?  In other words, what are you most passionate about? What would want to achieve? What Results are you looking for?  Look at your answers and made some decisions. When you get specific you get better results.

Be willing to do the work – Now that you know what you want to achieve, commit to working towards getting your aims. Put in start dates for what you are going to do and end dates (remembering to be flexible because the unexpected will happen).  This will keep you honest. Remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always had. Be ready to do something different.

Identify and remove any obstacles standing in your waySome of these obstacles are real.  Time, budgets, resources. Others are the familiar barriers – the stories you have told yourself.  Look at them realistically.  Are they really true? Sure, there are truthful aspects to them, but if they are important –and they are – you know you can figure a way around them. The same is probably true about stretching your budget, finding new resources, and better allocating your time.

Leverage your limits – This means taking a hard look at your weaknesses.  How can they be used?  Get yourself a mentor. Working on a weakness will strengthen you and give you confidence. It will make you better understand yourself as a person.  You are a combination of your strengths and weaknesses. Too often you focus only on the weaknesses but focusing only on strengths can be equally unhelpful. It blinds you to what might trip you up. You can also consider this a good place for collaboration. Is there a teacher who is great with detail and you’re a big picture person?  Working together will use both your strengths.

Lead from within Daskin says this is about leading from your potential rather than your limits.  I also believe it means building your self-confidence and leading from the middle.  It’s amazing what you can do to lead as a member of a committee.  You don’t have to be the chair to lead.  If you have a clear vision of where a group wants/needs to go or if you understand the vision set out by the committee head, you can help ease the path, simplify choices, and make everyone’s job easier.

Leadership shows up in many ways.  Be alert to the possibilities and notice the noise in your head that may be holding you back. Put new, positive voices in its place and then you will always be prepared to lead.

 

 

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ON LIBRARIES: LEAP into Leadership – And Beyond

I recently returned from ALA Annual where, as the delegate from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, I attended Affiliate Assembly.  Everyone there was a leader. Some early in their journey, others who have been active in both state and national level for some time.  As I worked with my colleagues on ways to promote school librarianship, I thought of those who weren’t in attendance but were leaders in their own right.

The bottom line is you are all leaders. Leadership is built into what we do each day.  Whether it’s being a technology integrator or managing the library, we are leaders.  What some of us are not doing is recognizing our strengths and finding ways to promote it.  It’s time to see and show how terrific you and your program are.

Dr. Cathi Fuhrman

LEAP is an acronym created by Dr. Cathi Fuhrman, president-elect of the Pennsylvania School Library Association. She shared it with the delegates and gave me permission to share it here:

L – Listen with your mind and your heart. What are others trying to tell you that your mind NEEDS to comprehend, and you can act on – but also what are they saying that your heart needs to hear? Being a leader isn’t just about being logical – our lives and our work are wrapped up with our heart.

E – Energy and Empathy. Energy for the work that needs to be done and empathy for all those that you’re leading.

A – Accountability– As a leader you’re accountable to the work that you’ve agreed to do. The buck stops here.

P – Passion. You have to be passionate about the work you’re doing as a leader. And you have to share that passion with who you are leading. They have to see and feel your passion – because the passion we have for this profession – the passion we have for students and how we impact them – it’s everything!

I think the one most of us struggle with is Listen because we don’t trust ourselves enough. Cathi is so right that the best leadership is tied to heart. Leaders without heart are not really followed – they are obeyed.  She also points out that it is also important to listen for the things we gloss over. Is there encouragement, and support being offered that you didn’t notice?  Take them in.  We’re so ready to hear the complaints and concerns we don’t hear the compliments.

Our job requires enormous Energy for the day to day requirements, but to build and maintain the relationships, Empathy is required. When those two work together, the library becomes a safe space, sometimes the first safe place a student finds.

You have full responsibility for the library from the budget to the collection and to the teaching you do formally and informally.  For all this, you hold yourself AccountaBLE. Take time to notice what you’ve accomplished because you’ve owned the success of your program.

And as for Passion, I know you have it. I can’t improve on Cathi’s words describing it.

To strengthen the qualities in LEAP, it helps to add in the soft skills of Emotional Intelligence which is widely recognized as vital for true leadership.  Joel Garfinkle lists 5 Qualities of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders (one of which duplicates Cathi). Garfinkle recommends that we be:

  1. Empathetic – Both Fuhrman and Garfinkle note the importance of this quality. It’s the process of putting yourself in another’s shoes before responding.
  2. Self-Aware – You probably are well aware of your weaknesses, but do you know your strengths? Focus on developing projects that require them.  What types of situations cause you to stress, feel panic, or get you angry?  Plan how to handle these before they arise.
  3. Positive – As I have often noted, people don’t like to be around those who have a negative attitude. Being positive is about mindset.  It’s how you reframe adverse situations, which will happen. It can be anything from the Internet going down to being given additional responsibilities.  How you handle it will define how you are as a leader.
  4. Considerate – In some ways this ties to empathy. We sometimes get so wound up in believing we are not valued, we forget the teachers feel the same way. By listening (back to the L in LEAP) we make the library a safe, welcoming environment.  And that is often the route to collaboration.  Don’t forget your administrator in this. Principals are drowning in details. They often feel assailed on all sides.  Look for ways you can help them out.
  5. Authentic – None of this works if it’s not real. You can’t use Emotional Intelligence to manipulate people.  It will eventually be recognized.  A leader has integrity.  There needs to be an honest caring for the people you work with.

The librarians I know have most these qualities.  They may not always be positive (it’s hard to do every day) and aren’t as aware of their strengths as they should be, but they all have everything necessary to be a leader.  Make your own LEAP and you’ll soon make your mark in your school – and your state – as a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You The Problem?

I have recently blogged about Dealing with Failure and Dealing with Criticism but I have steered away from discussing behaviors we have that may be contributing to the problem. However, since we can’t fix what we don’t know, let’s uncover ways we may have inadvertently added to our problems.  The good news is, you can change.

There are librarians who still focus solely on the tasks needed to run your library. No matter what you hear, you feel too overworked to proactively promote your library program and yourself.  It’s no wonder no one knows what you do or believes you have anything to contribute. Others have gotten sucked into the negativity that pervades schools today.  The problems (challenges) are easy to see.  Rather than tackling them, they endlessly discuss them with like-minded teachers.  This contributes nothing to your program, and, as I’ve written, it’s the opposite of how a leader behaves.

Leaders inspire. By holding a bigger picture, they find alternatives and new directions. No one enjoys being with someone who only complains and sees what’s not working.  This is the time to launch a new program. It could be small, but it needs to be new.  Something to bring a positive focus on the library—and in some ways to offer hope to teachers who, just like you, are feeling undervalued and overworked.

I was inspired by Bryan Robinson’s article identifying 10 Reliable Career Killers: How Many Do You Practice on a Daily Basis?  Most of us do some of these things. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the behaviors.

  1. Multitask – You know it. I know it.  Studies have proven it.  Multitasking doesn’t work.  Yet we continue to think by doing several things at once we will get through faster.  Remember the old adage, “Haste Makes Waste.”  This is how you send an email to the wrong person.  Or put something in a place you can’t remember later.  The errors happen because your mind wasn’t fully on what you were doing.  This is a tough habit to break.  Work on catching yourself and pulling your mind back to focus on the priority at hand.
  2. Play It Safe – This especially happens after you have had a project fail. You crawl into your shell and hope nobody sees you.  But that will do nothing for your program, and you certainly won’t be seen as a leader. Stay “safe” for too long and you will be viewed as expendable.  Leaders need to be out there.
  3. Work More Hours – Your job is huge. There aren’t enough hours in the school day to get it done.  So, you come in early.  You stay late.  You are always somewhat behind, but that doesn’t stop you from getting on the hamster wheel each day. Stop! That behavior leads to burnout (and multitasking!). Prioritize.  What must be done? What is less necessary?  (And don’t forget family and friends time in the priorities.)  Once your list is done, schedule a meeting with your principal and discuss those priorities. Does s/he agree?  What suggestions does s/he have?  And come with your own suggestions.
  4. Focus on Problems –If all you can see are problems, you become a negative person. It’s hard to build relationships when all you are giving off are negative thoughts and/or in a bad mood. You are likely to attract equally negative people. Leaders seek solutions and often do so in collaboration with others.
  5. Put Yourself Down – When we are feeling low, we can resort to self-deprecation, believing we are saying what others are thinking about us. It is rarely true, but by repeating such comments often enough, we convince others we are failures. Try positive self-talk, internally and aloud, for a change.  If this is one of your typical behaviors, find a good friend and ask him/her to help talk you out of that negative mindset. If your friend suffers from the same syndrome, you can be partners.
  6. Practice Self-Neglect – There’s a host of ways you can neglect yourself. Not getting enough sleep.  Not taking downtime. Not exercising. Unhealthy eating.  Airplane safety says to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.  It’s the only way to survive. When you neglect yourself, you invariably neglect others whether it’s your family, students or program.  If you are drained, you can’t be your best self.
  7. Harbor Self-Doubt –You are better than you know you are, but you won’t find out unless you give yourself a chance. Every leader has doubts, but they act despite those niggling thoughts. Focus on the places you have succeeded.  Use that to power you rather than rehashing any failures.  I have been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers for years and have seen how those who look at the week they gained weight as a failure are more apt to quit—and then they really fail.  Those who succeed point to the progress they are making, knowing it won’t be a straight line.
  8. Fear Failure – No one succeeds all the time. You are trying to teach your students to see failure as part of the learning process.  You need to embrace that as well. You don’t have to love failure, but there’s no need to fear it.
  9. Set Unreasonable Deadlines – This leads back to multitasking and working more hours, which leads to other defeating habits. Recognize life happens and the best-laid plans don’t always work. Be realistic in your deadline.  Build in a “cushion” for things going wrong.  And set short-term deadlines on large projects so you know if you are on target or need to adjust the final deadline.
  10. Eschew an Idle Mind – Believe it or not, we need more idle mental time. This is the pause for reflection and rejuvenation. I walk. Some of you meditate, color, or do yoga.  All good ways to have an idle mind. Look for SEL activities that work for you.

Life is hard enough.  We shouldn’t be making it harder. Notice which of these behaviors might be holding you back.  If you can overcome these habits, you will make your life easier – and you will make it easier for others.  It’s what leaders do.

The Forest, the Trees, and Sometimes the Leaves

In last week’s blog, Should You Be a Leader or a Manager?, I didn’t specifically mention one big distinction: Leaders hold the big picture. Managers focus on the here and now.  While you can’t only look at the big picture, you also will miss the forest if you are only seeing the trees.  And some of you have gotten so caught up in the day-to-day details, you are only seeing the leaves.

Our world changes fast, and, as we have learned, the library program needs to constantly prove its value to the educational program.  In a few short years, for example, we have incorporated (and sometimes moved beyond) Makerspaces, Genius Hour, Hours of Code, and any number of other variations you may have experienced into the library program.

Those who hold the big picture were among the first adopters of these changes.  By doing so, they solidified the position of the library and proved its importance.  Those who weren’t focused on the big picture missed the opportunity. Sometimes, by the time they got to it, they discovered other departments had taken the lead, and the library was left out.

Today early adopters are looking at to incorporate “soft skills.” The business world is talking about them and so are some schools. How will you be incorporating communication, teamwork, and problem-solving into your library program? You are probably are doing it, but have you communicated to teachers and administrators that you are building students’ critical soft skills?  Maybe not, because you are too busy with the everyday needs of your program.

So, what keeps you from seeing the big picture?  You aren’t alone in dealing with this challenge. The business world is also concerned with and focused on what’s next, knowing that in order to be responsive to change they can’t just deal with what’s new. Those who want to get ahead discover what is holding them back from taking the larger view and getting past it.

A post by Joel Garfinkle looks at The Importance of Big Picture Thinking. He identifies five habits that may be preventing you from seeing the big picture and offers ways to combat them.

Overanalyzing – This is what happens when you closely examine every possibility.  Then you relook at them. General Colin Powell once said he made military decisions with only 60% of the information because if he waited for all the information to be in, it would be too late.  He referred to the practice of over-gathering information as “analysis paralysis.” It’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re too worried about not being right or the danger of taking a risk.

Fixating on Results – Stop being on the hamster wheel. Trying to do it better and faster is draining.  If you are leading, you are not the one who should be doing all the work.  This is when you empower others to become a part of what you are doing.  Big jigsaw puzzles get done faster when you know how the finished picture should look – and when many hands help.

Managing Reactively – When you are focused on the little tasks, every bump in the road becomes a mountain. It’s why Vision and Mission Statements are so important.  When you know where you are going and why you get past these minor setbacks.  I have said that librarians who don’t have a Mission or a Vision Statement spend their day with a fire extinguisher and duct tape.  They are either putting out blazes or patching things up. By the end of the school year, they are exhausted and don’t know what they accomplished.

Going Solo – This is a bad approach on so many levels. You don’t build advocacy when you are going alone.  Ideas are fleshed out better when there is more than one mind working on them.  And it’s great when you have a big picture person working with someone who is more detail oriented.  They complement each other.  The big picture person may miss details, while the detailed thinker may lose sight of what the ultimate goal is.  Together, everything gets covered. We teach our students the importance of collaboration. We need to practice it.

Overfilling the Calendar – We all have a tendency to do this.  It is vital to have the opportunity to step away from the tasks at hand.  Make time for reflection. This is when you can strategize and plan.  For me, it happens on my walks.  I am regularly amazed at the ideas that I get during these times, and I’m not always trying.  I might be looking at work being done on a house I’m passing, and suddenly I get a thought about a future blog post or a way to better explain a concept to my grad students. Or sometimes it’s about nothing more substantial than dinner.  But the constant swirling of my brain when I am at the computer is now at rest and open.  We all need that.

So, as I said last week, scan the larger environment to identify innovations and ideas that will potentially impact the library program.  And take a walk in the forest.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Should You Be A Leader or A Manager?

The title is a trick question.

The answer is as a school librarian you need to be both. However, too many are almost always managers and the role of leader is sacrificed to the demands of managing. For your program to be successful, you need to employ the characteristics of both and know which role is necessary in the moment.

In the corporate world, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) is the manager, while the Chief Executive Officer is the leader.  As a librarian, you are both the COO and the CEO of your library program (minus the double salary).  It’s up to you to decide which hat to wear, and the decision is not always easy.

To recognize when you need to be one or the other, you must know what the differences are. In an article for Forbes, William Arruda defines 9 Differences Between Being a Leader and a Manager. Much that he says applies to the unique job you have as a school librarian.

Here is his list- with my translations into the education environment:

  1. Leaders create a vision; managers create goals. Having a Vision is a required attribute of leaders. You need to know where you are going. Hopefully, you all have Vision and Mission Statements. It’s the leader part of you that created the Vision. As a manager, you develop the goals to execute your Mission, which is your path to your Vision.
  2. Leaders are change agents; managers maintain the status quo. Leaders hold the big picture. They look to see what is likely to be the “next thing.” Their external scan of the environment goes beyond the library and even education. They are aware of developments in technology, psychology, and politics. Don’t panic.  It’s a scan.  Not an in-depth study.  The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the less time it takes.  The manager in you will want to focus on getting today’s job done.  While that is necessary, you can’t let it be the sole focus of what you do.
  3. Leaders are unique; managers copy. Leaders don’t try to reproduce the past even when it was successful. When I left one job where my library program was highly regarded, my successor, who had worked with me, tried to do everything the way I did it. But she wasn’t me, and it didn’t fit. Slowly the library program was reduced. When I retired from another school system, the librarian who took over had also worked with me, but she drew on her own strengths and expertise to move the library in another direction while keeping the values which she also embraced.  The program grew.
  4. Leaders take risks; managers control risk. Those of you who read this blog, read my books, or seen my presentations, know I am always encouraging librarians to step out of their comfort zones. Your Vision requires it. Managers fear failure, but as I said in my blog Dealing with Failure, it’s part of the process that gets you to success.
  5. Leaders are in it for the long haul; managers think short-term. You won’t attain your Vision in a year. You may never reach it. But those who know that is where they want their program to go will keep getting closer to it.  Some librarians may write their Vision because it’s what they are supposed to do, but they regard it as unattainable.  Then they don’t create strategic plans to achieve it—which guarantees it will never happen.
  6. Leaders grow personally; managers rely on existing, proven skills. If you aren’t growing, you are dying. We are role models for lifelong learning. What have you learned today? How can you use it in your program? Reflect on how many skills you have that you didn’t when you first became a librarian. Where would you be if you hadn’t learned them?
  7. Leaders build relationships; managers build systems and processes. Relationships are the key to our success. It’s through relationships that we build collaboration and create advocates for our program. No matter how busy you are, you cannot limit your attention to managing the library.  It won’t work without the relationships.
  8. Leaders coach; managers direct. This is about trusting that others have good ideas about the library program. Be open to suggestions from others and discuss whether or these can be integrated into the program. The more you recognize others, the stronger your program will become.
  9. Leaders create fans; managers have employees. I love this one. Your job is to empower others to be their best. As the saying goes, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create new leaders.” You not only need to empower your students; you also need to empower your teachers – and everyone else in the school community. Even, and sometimes especially, your administrators. The library has a huge reach. Use that to your program’s advantage.

Going from leading to managing and back to leading is a juggling act.  It’s easier when you are aware of the differences and know when it’s time to switch roles. One is not better than the other, but one to the exclusion of the other will not give you the success you want.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Know The Buzz

When you are in education long enough, you can become cynical about the latest buzzword that’s going to change everything.  And yet, the world keeps changing so we can’t keep doing things the same way. Sometimes the latest is merely something old cloaked in a new name.  As I wrote in last week’s blog Word Wise, words carry emotional meaning and every change reflect an altered perspective, which is why you need to keep up with the latest buzzwords.

When you know and understand current buzzwords, you show your leadership by presenting yourself as an expert in current trends. You should also check to ensure you are aware of buzzwords that go beyond librarianship and are circulating among administrators.  Even better is to know what’s happening in business and technology because it is likely they will affect education – and therefore your library program.

I am a member of ASCD so I can get their journal Educational Leadership. The themes of each issue are strong indicators of where administrators are going.  I also get SmartBriefs on a variety of topics, including leadership (invariably business leadership) and technology in my inbox daily.  These SmartBriefs lead me to relevant online columns and blogs. I interpret what I discover through the lens of school librarianship and you’ve seen many of these articles referenced in this blog.

Anjana Deepak’s article Buzzwords Make an Impact Paving the Way to Learn Something New, and Creating Value for and within, the Profession, lists 23 current buzzwords along with an explanation of buzzwords, differentiating them from jargon and slang. You will know many of them, but for the ones you don’t know, take time to research them so you are up to speed.  When and if they are relevant, you want to be able to use them in your conversations with principals and teachers in your building.

In addition to Deepak’s list, I came up with seven more which I have been noticing, bringing the total up to thirty.

  • Agency – Ability to make free choices and act independently as opposed to structure such as social class, gender, ethnicity which can determine or limit one’s decisions.
  • Competency-based education -A system using instruction, assessments, grading and other techniques to determine if students have learned the skills and competencies they are expected to learn. Usually tied to state and national standards, its goal is to ensure students are prepared for school, college, career, and life. (Based on the definition from Edglossary)
  • Computational thinking – A problem-solving approach formulated in a way that it can be solved by humans or computers. It has four stages: Decomposition – breaking the problem down into smaller parts; Pattern recognition – seeing commonalities among the parts; Abstraction – focusing only on the important parts; Algorithms – forming a step-by-step solution.
  • Growth Mindset – Mindset is how you see yourself. Unlike those with a fixed mindset who view their positive and negative abilities (and attitudes) as unchangeable, people with a growth mindset believe they can improve or change. Having a growth mindset makes you open to learning.
  • Personalized Learning– As opposed to the one-size-fits-all instruction, this approach uses multiple avenues to tailor learning experiences to meet individual student needs including small learning “academies “and allowing students to design their own learning routes such as taking an internship or enrolling in a college course.
  • Proficiency-based learning – A system that requires students to demonstrate they have acquired the knowledge and skills deemed necessary (usually according to set standards). Those who don’t meet the standards are given additional instruction and practice time.
  • Social and Emotional Learning – Commonly called SEL. Districts are embracing it in various degrees. In essence, it’s about developing Emotional Intelligence as it helps students and teachers to understand and manage their emotions, leading to improved relationships and decision-making. CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) has an easy-to-access website on what SEL means and how to implement it.

Knowing the current buzzwords is integral to being recognized as a leader. I remember when rubrics came in.  I knew about them, although I had never created one. When a teacher came to me to help her make a rubric for an assignment as her department chair required (and had given no help), I knew enough to work with her, and her department chair was pleased.

There is a caveat.  Don’t flaunt or overuse buzzwords. Your conversation shouldn’t be filled with them. It can sound forced, making the listener uncomfortable either because they don’t know what you’re talking about or because it sounds like you’re talking at them rather than to them. A.  Too often buzzwords descend into jargon which shuts people out.  Think of legal or medical language and how off-putting that can be.  You want to be inclusive. The library is a safe, welcoming environment for all – not just those who know the buzz.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Weed to Lead

Ongoing discussions (and some very funny pictures) in our Facebook group have made it clear that weeding is a critical library task. Believe it or not, if you leverage it, it is one more way you show you are a leader.  To do so, you need to be mindful of the process. The why, what, when, and how you weed each requires an awareness of what you are doing.

To begin with, keep weeding in line with the rest of your program, and connect it to your Mission Statement as well as to the National School Library Standards (NSLS). For example, if you have a statement that reads:

The mission of the School Library Media Program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users and producers of ideas and information, promote literacy, and develop students’ competencies to be ethical participants in a global society.

then weeding is important because the relevance of your collection is important to your ability to deliver your mission. To be a producer of information, students need current information.  The collection needs to rise to that challenge. Additionally, in NSLS, the Standard D. Grow and IV. Curate for School Library states:

The school library engages the learning community in exploring resources by:

  1. Describing, organizing, and promoting the collection for maximum and effective uses for multiple learning applications.
  2. Maintaining a collection of sufficient breadth and currency to be pertinent to the school’s program of studies. (p. 95)

Some of what you weed seems obvious.  Certain sections of nonfiction, such as technology and science which become dated quickly, are easy to make eliminations. But what about other parts of the collection?

History books may seem to be relevant even if they don’t have the latest material, but the older stuff is still correct—or is it?  Sometimes older books have a bias we no longer find acceptable.  I once found a book on the Conquistadores that discussed the “heathen Indians.”   Other areas also have these less obvious issues but still need to be discarded

Reference frequently leads to a challenge because a set of encyclopedias cost so much money, and now you are throwing them out.  But the truth is, even if there is some information there, the articles are not up-to-date, and there is misinformation.  It’s tough, but they must go.

Fiction is possibly the hardest to weed.  How can that be outdated?  The dust jackets are one indicator.  Among the howlers I have come across is a book I remembered reading myself (which shows how old it was) A Cap for Mary, copyright 1952. It’s been a long time since nurses were capped – before men came into the profession.

Then there are outdated DVDs – and any VCRs you have.  Old and no longer used technology and equipment need to be removed as well.

When you weed is usually a personal decision.  You can do a form of continuous weeding. As you shelve a book, you may see one nearby that should be discarded, or you can focus on one section at a time, covering the entire library over the course of a set period of time. The most common time for weeding is when you are doing inventory since your focus at that time is on the collection. And, you might plan on a few days after school closes to deal with the ones that require more thought.

And now for the “how” of weeding which is the part that makes you a leader.

Promote your weeding.  You might say, “The library is doing spring cleaning to keep resources current and fresh.  Come see our howlers.”  Make sure you have books and other items that explain the term howler (it’s not just a letter from your parents when you’re at Hogwarts) will show why you need to weed.

Post a copy of your Mission Statement where you have displayed these weeded items.  Highlight the keywords showing why this is a vital part of how the library serves the educational community. List the criteria for weeding. Invite the principal to see what you are doing.

You also need a plan for what you will do with the discarded material.  Check to see if the district has a procedure you need to follow.  It may only be for the technology, but it may include books as well. If you throw the books in the garbage, either tear off the covers or at least rip out any pages identifying the book as belonging to the library.  You don’t want a Board member finding the book for sale at a flea market.

Many librarians give the books away, but this isn’t always a good idea.  It seems such a shame to throw them out, but you had a reason for doing so.  Think twice before passing them on to others. Sending them to schools in need of books, usually in a poor country is a difficult choice for me.  I dislike the idea of sending outdated information to kids too poor to get current material. The truth is, these books likely aren’t a benefit for anyone.

Teachers might like fiction books they remember. You can certainly let them have those titles. Anything else they want should be for personal use only—not for classroom collections—or all you have done is move the books to a new location.

If you don’t have a collection development policy, use the summer to create one.  Include weeding and the criteria for doing so in it. Try have the Board approve it. It’s one more way you show you are a leader.

Weeding may not be a favorite part of our work and there are, of course, challenges involved but it is another great opportunity to take a task and use it as a way to shine and show up as a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: Brand Your Library

Your message about the library program and its value to the educational community needs to out there constantly.  You work at collaborating with teachers.  You build advocates for your library program. You create programs that demonstrate the vital role you play. Leadership and advocacy have become an integral part of your program. To make sure that parents, administrators and school board members are aware of and connect with all you’re doing you need a library brand that is recognizable. I blogged about Branding Your Library over a year ago, but the topic is one worth repeating. Once you have established your brand—and consistently maintain it—it becomes a 24/7 messenger of your value.

Believe it or not, you already have a brand.  Or possibly multiple brands.  It’s what people think when they hear your library mentioned. As I noted in that blog post, it could be “the shushing place,” or the “dusty book place.”  Your brand carries an emotional message. It’s what you promise your customers, and it’s how they connect to you. If your brand is the dusty book place, you are not likely valued.  Any messages you send are going to hit up against that emotional reaction to your library.

You need to carefully and consciously create the brand that will add weight to your message. Doing so takes time, but you can do a lot of it when you are away from your desk. It’s the kind of thinking and connection making I do when I am walking.

In the Basics of Branding, John Williams takes you through the steps, starting with preparatory ones.

  • What is the Mission of your program? (I would add Vision as well). – This gives you the foundation on which your brand will be based. Some of the keywords you use here could be in your brand.
  • What benefits do you provide? – In answering this, be sure these benefits are unique, that no one else in the school is doing it.  And do these benefits have value for your stakeholders. In other words, are these benefits something they need and want?
  • What do your customers think of you? – What do you want them to think of you? Are you the dusty book place or the place everyone wants to be? If it’s the former, you must work extra hard to correct that image.
  • What qualities do you want stakeholders to associate with your library? – This may vary with your stakeholders, but there should be a unifying theme.

These four steps should lead you to your brand but play with the wording for a while.  Brands are not taglines which may change with your target audience or over time.  Your taglines will reflect your brand, but they are not interchangeable. Your brand is core to who you are, the heart of what you want people to feel when they think of the library.

When I go to the supermarket, I often look at how brands are ingrained in us by the various companies.  My current favorite is Oreos. When I was growing up, Oreos meant two chocolate cookies with a distinctive design and a cream filling.  Today they come in many different configurations, but they are still Oreos.  And you still think of how you eat (and savor) them, which is the emotional connection. If they tried to make this change as a new product, they would have had more trouble creating their brand as the world’s most fun cookie.

My personal brand is “Inspiring librarians to be indispensable leaders.” When people in school librarianship think of me, they think of leadership.  They know my books and workshops are all about how to become a leader.

Your brand might be “Finding your answers in a safe and welcoming space.” This works even if your library goes beyond its four walls.

Once you know your brand, your next step is to live it. How do you talk to students, teachers, administrators if “Finding your answers in a safe and welcoming space” is your brand?  What could you use as a tagline?  Perhaps, “You have questions.  We have answers.”  Note that the brand has emotion while the tagline, in this case, doesn’t.

Williams suggests you write down the key messages you want to communicate with your brand.  This will help with taglines as well as solidifying in your mind what your brand is. You need to know who you are first.  Then find ways to send it out.

As a final piece, a logo can help to get your brand ingrained in your stakeholder’s awareness. Designing one makes a great project for art or marketing students.  Find out if it’s possible.  Even if you are in the middle or elementary school, speak with the art and/or marketing teachers at the high school.  They can decide if students should do it individually or as a team.

Be prepared to explain your needs.  For example, if you are using “Finding your answers in a safe and welcoming space,” the logo needs to reflect the safe space and the answers. Have some sort of prize for the winning design or an event for all who contributed.

Let your world know who you are. Make an emotional connection.  In the words of Staples (brand and tagline), “That was easy.”

ON LIBRARIES: Making Leadership a Habit

When you want to change a behavior or achieve something, one of the best ways to ensure success is to turn it into a habit.  Whether it’s daily exercise, going to bed earlier, or making sure you have a monthly date with your significant other, when a positive action becomes a habit, success is the result. Leadership can become a habit if you tune into the behaviors which are a part of it.  To give you momentum – and early success – start by choosing the ones most comfortable to you.

To get you started, Lolly Daskal presents twelve “C’s” in a post, saying It’s Never Too Late to Learn These 12 Powerful Leadership Habits:

  1. Care – As the saying goes, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Good leadership is built on relationships.  It’s through caring about others you grow as a leader.  I used to tell my staff (unbelievably in today’s world I had a co-librarian, a secretary and two clerks in a 12,000-student high school), “Don’t leave your problems at home.  Let us know and help you.”  This way, I never expected too much from someone who was struggling.
  2. Conviction – Your philosophy about what school librarianship must be, along with your Mission Statement, form your convictions. When they are strong, they are part of who you are.  The passion is communicated to others who are then more inclined to follow where you lead.
  3. Clarity – You need to be able to succinctly set a direction. Too much verbiage or including too many alternatives clouds the issue. Where do you want to go?  A leader knows and can express it easily and whenever asked.
  4. Confidence – This goes hand in hand with clarity. People don’t feel confident following leaders who continually waver and change direction.  This doesn’t mean you have to know everything or have all the answers all the time. You do need to have confidence in your skills, your mission and your ability to get things done eventually if not always immediately.
  5. Courage – For me, this is all about being confident enough to take risks. You need to be willing to leave your comfort zone. You will not do this every day, but you have to be ready to take the chance when the idea or opportunity surfaces. It goes well with confidence and clarity. It also includes taking responsibility for any mistakes. This can be a huge challenge and feel risky and uncomfortable, but when people see you doing it, it goes a long way toward them trusting you in the future.
  6. Commitment – Your stakeholders need to know you will follow through on what you propose. In a district (not the one with a staff of 5) that voted down 20 budgets in 22 years, I regularly got funds for projects because the superintendent knew I would produce results. The more you can show this, the more often you will get the “yes” you are looking for.
  7. Celebration – Recognize and celebrate the achievement of others. No project gets done alone. Praise and gratitude go to those who participate.  Everyone likes to be recognized. It’s the first step to them saying yes again.
  8. Collaboration – I know you are trying hard to do this and there are times when it feels as though the door is continually slammed in your face. Remember, collaboration is also about being open and willing to get ideas from others. Teachers, students, administrators, IT people, and others bring a different perspective. Keep an open mind and listen attentively. (And then celebrate the collaboration after!)
  9. Communication – Getting the word out to the right people at the right time with the right message and using the right platform is a critical leadership skill in today’s world. Who needs to know? How can you best reach them?
  10. Candor – Tell the truth. Never blindside an administrator.  Be willing to admit you are seeking help and advice.  You can still be confident when doing so. Hiding full truths (expense, the time necessary, etc.) will not endear you to other people in leadership roles.
  11. Courtesy – This is closely related to care. We are in a relationship occupation. Whether it’s a custodian or an administrator, show you value them as people. You should treat your students with respect as well. It’s amazing how memorable courtesy is.
  12. Credibility – Your track record builds credibility. People believe you will get something done based on what you have accomplished before.  Success breeds success. This doesn’t mean you can’t fail.  Keep going so any failures are outweighed by all your successes.

That’s Lolly Daskal’s list.  I have one more “C” to add:

  1. Confidentiality – You don’t repeat gossip. What a teacher or administrator says to you does not get circulated.  You are trustworthy. Remember at the beginning I mentioned encouraging staff and volunteers not to leave problems at home. Keeping what they say confidential is critical.

To add to your success and see your progress, I also recommend creating a leadership notebook where you record when you have exhibited the leadership behaviors/qualities you are focusing on.  There’s nothing like filling up those pages to see how far your habit has come.

Which habits from this list struck a chord with you? Choose two or three habits that you’d like to start. See how often you can practice them. Over time you will find that leadership is really habit-forming.

 

 

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.