The Core of Librarianship – Ethics, Courage, and Planning

In the United States, you can’t escape news of the nation-wide movement to ban library books. Almost daily, social media, television, and newspapers have stories about books being removed from library shelves and legislation that could mean jail time for librarians. You want the library to be a safe place for all, and now it doesn’t even feel safe for you. All this is happening and you’ve barely had time to get your library program going in the new school year.

How do you manage within this turmoil?  What choices should you be making? 

My recommendation is to anchor yourself and use the resources available from the American Library Association (ALA) as well as the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). Start by reviewing ALA’s Code of Ethics. Number 7 and the newly added number 9 are of particular importance at this time.

Number 7 reads: “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”

Number 9 states: “We affirm the inherent dignity and rights of every person. We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession, and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services, and allocation of resources and spaces.”

Those are powerful and often difficult principles to maintain. Number 7 is the basis for the idea that a library should have something in it to offend everyone, including the librarian who purchased it. Number 9 flies in the face of the restrictions and bannings centered on LGBTQ+ themes and the history of racial injustice in the United States.

The Library Bill of Rights adds another dimension by listing eight statements that should be part of library policies. It defines what libraries must do – and not do – to provide equitable services to all. They further delineate what is in the Code of Ethics.

Additionally, school librarians can also look to our Common Beliefs as given in the AASL Standards Framework for Learners. The fifth Common Belief is “Intellectual Freedom is every learner’s right.” The explanatory sentence states: “Learners have the freedom to speak and hear what others have to say rather than allowing others to control their access to ideas and information….” These statements represent the core purpose of librarianship. They are what guide what we purchase, how we arrange our facility and resources, and the displays we create. It is who we are.

This is where courage comes into the picture. You don’t have to do any of it. If you choose not to buy a book because you don’t approve of the author’s viewpoint, you won’t be drummed out of the profession. These documents carry no legal weight. No one even needs to know how you made your choices. It is up to you to decide how deeply you are committed to the ethics of our profession. You are the one who must make choices based on what could be the personal cost of that decision.

 Everyone has different things at stake. I, and other librarians, won’t fault you even as we hope you are willing to hold these ethics. Sometimes you figure out ways to bend them in order to do the best you can. Holding them can be impossible in some situations, but the workarounds are better than nothing.

No matter where you live, whether it’s a liberal or conservative community, challenges are now almost inevitable. You need to be prepared for them, or you will not be able to respond in a way to get the best possible results for your students, teachers, and yourself. As always, planning is required.

Build your plan around your resources and your allies What resources do you have on hand? You should have a board approved selection and reconsideration policy. If not board approved, the one you have been using is a good start. Even better, work with the ALA Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries.

Be familiar with the ALA Challenge Support page. It gives you all the go-to information you need as soon as soon as you hear about a challenge. Also know what help your state association provides.

Look for allies among your teachers, administration, and community. Well before a challenge arrives, let people know how you make your book selections. Share the Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. Discuss the library as being a safe place for all. If – and probably when—you are faced with a challenge, these are the ones who will show up for you and come to Board meetings as needed.

It has never been easy to uphold the ethics of our profession, but it has become much harder in the past year. The issue is not going away. Understand our ethics, be as courageous as you can, reach out for help and support when you need it, and plan so you are prepared.

Are You Being Defensive?

Last week I wrote about the importance of listening. Somtimes listening is most significant when what’s being said is not something you want to hear.

Whether it’s intended as criticism or feedback, how do you respond when someone says something negative about you? Most of us immediately rise to the defensive, although some go on the offensive. Neither is the best course of action. The word “immediately” is the cue. Anytime we react without thinking, we are apt to make a mistake. Responding from our emotional first reaction is in gear is likely to produce a damaging result.

Whether it’s an administrator, teacher, student, or parent who made the comment, as a leader you want to be seen as someone who respects what others say. It doesn’t mean you agree with them, but you also don’t want to attack them. A defensive response is an attack, as its purpose is to invalidate what the other party said. And a relationship damaged by defensiveness can be hard to repair.

Lolly Daskol shares How the Best Leaders Overcome Their Own Defense Mechanisms. These five ideas, coupled with my comments, can keep you from reacting in the moment,

  • Cultivate self-awareness–Use your Emotional Intelligence (EI) to prepare you for these situations. No one likes to be criticized, but it happens to us all. Daskol suggests you recognize what your triggers are and how you are likely to react. Whether the comments came in a one-on-one or where others were present, your response will affect how people see you as a leader.
  • Make room for acceptance–One of the best tools a leader can have is the ability to pause. Settle yourself mentally. Take stock of your feelings. Daskol says to accept them without judgement in order to respond in a way that will move you forward with this person and continue to build on your relationship.
  • Hold yourself accountable–You may not have liked what you heard, but was it true? It may have been presented in a way that was hard to hear but listen for the message. While the method of delivery may have caused your trigger response, there is likely a kernel of truth in what is being said. Leaders take responsibility for their actions and learn from their successes as well as their setbacks.

Thank the party for calling your attention to a potential problem. Your open way of handling the criticism may even lead to developing or deepening a relationship. After, Daskol recommends you reflect on how you handled the situation. Did you respond reasonably? Remember, you can’t control how others think or behave, but you can control yourself.

  • Break the code–Rising to your own defense is natural. It’s a survival skill that animals as well as humans have learned. However, we are not fighting for our lives here, and the ingrained behavior doesn’t serve us in this instance. It takes work to change an automatic response, but it can be done. Starting with becoming more self-aware of how you react in these situations will help in resisting that immediate response and allow you to behave in a productive way.
  • Lead from within–Every time you avoid a deep-rooted response and substitute a thoughtful one, you grow as a leader. In addition to self-awareness, EI requires self-management. Leaders need to continually build their EI. It makes others see them as trustworthy and empathetic to their needs.

None of us will never like being criticized, and a voice in our heads will always rise to our defense. The object is not to let the criticism derail you. By moderating your response, hearing what the other person is saying, and responding appropriately, you will continue to be seen as the leader you are and want to be.

Listening is Leading

When we ask someone “Are you listening to me”, we’re typically expressing our exasperation. We don’t feel as though what we’re saying is being heard, and that’s frustrating. But what about the reverse? Are we really listening to what others are saying? And are we listening to ourselves?

Active listening, like emotional intelligence, is an important skill to master. So many messages come at us, verbal and unspoken, it can be hard to focus during a conversation. However, the skill is too valuable for our leadership and for our lives in general not to work at getting better at it.

Learning to listen opens the door to expanding relationships, which is key to our ongoing success. In Nine Practices All Leaders Share, Dr. Alan Patterson shows what can be built by improving your ability to listen. Some of his advice is more of a reminder, but reinforcing the basics helps you reach the next level in your leadership. Here are Patterson’s recommended practices, annotated:

  1. Listen with Intent—Focus on what is being said, not the answer you plan on giving. It’s about respect. If you can, use restating to keep you on track and let the other party know that you think what they said matters. It’s an early step in relationship building.
  2. Ask Probing Questions—After listening, go deeper to increase connection and understanding. “Could you explain?” and “Why?’ take you past restating and opens the discussion. A good leader needs to know the concerns and issues of those they work with, whether it’s teachers or students.
  3. Study People—Listening includes reading body language and other non-verbal cues. Be careful about the implicit biases and judgements we all make. You need to see and listen to what the person inside is telling you. It’s not easy, but it is a skill worth developing. Patterson adds that as you get to know a person, you learn what is important to them.
  4. Share observations about the broader horizon with your team, colleagues, and senior leaders—Share your Vision and how you think it can become a reality with teachers and administrators. Contact teacher friends who you think would be open to trying something new and collaborate. School vacation is also the best time of year to have a meeting with your principal and outline your path for going forward. Listen for their responses so that you can see how your work will support them as well.
  5. Look for opportunities to engage in a dialogue—Have conversations that are not only about work problems or situations. Patterson recommends asking “how” and “why” questions to better understand what people need and want. Relationships, connection, and advocacy grow when your colleagues see you are aware of and responsive to their needs. Knowing who your colleagues really are–including as people outside of school–develops the relationships critical to your success. And when they answer–listen with intent and ask probing question.
  6. Practice translating a project or concept into the language of the audience—We do this all the time when we are teaching students. Use the same thinking process when making a presentation to a group, whether it’s parents or a grade/subject meeting. This is not the time for “library language.” What do they already know? What do they need to know? Why? What do you want them to do as a result? Using language that everyone understands makes people feel included and allows them to listen to you better.
  7. Translate vision into individualized responsibilities for your team members—Whether it’s students or teachers with whom you are collaborating (or cooperating) with on a project, be sure all concerned know who is doing what. This will show that you’re listening to what they need and that you’re available if they need help. And be sure to acknowledge their work to the principal.
  8. Trust that your success is based on your ability to create the conditions for other to succeed—You need feedback. That is an important part of listening. Ask in such a way as to get an accurate response. “What did you think of the project?” is not likely to get any helpful feedback. “What could I have done better?” or “Was anything missing?” will get the discussion started in a meaningful way. And listen to the responses you are getting. Receiving feedback builds trust.
  9. Focus on impact and meaning—Reflect on your week. Where did you make a difference? Where do you want to go next? Go an extra step. Ask others where they saw themselves making a difference–and listen to their answer.

Listening is at the heart these leadership skills. It’s also at the center of building the relationships you need to be successful as a leader in a school. Take the time to listen to others and yourself and you will find yourself making a greater impact.

Always Leading

Leadership should not be something you turn on and off and it’s more than something you do. It’s a mindset and a way of being. When you see yourself as a leader, you carry your leadership qualities and skill set into all situations and regardless of the type of administrator you work for.

By being aware of what your administrator(s) want and need, and responding as a leader, you sharpen your leadership skills. Other people respond to your actions by seeing you as a leader. The more naturally you assume the role, the more you own this identification. Your colleagues and administrators come to view you as one of the building leaders and respond positively to your suggestions and proposals.

Managing or leading up can be critical in a building or school district where administrators change frequently or the one in place is inept. Jenn David-Lang and Donna Spangler explain why and “How to Manage Up in a School Setting.”  They identify six different administrators and what skills you want to employ:

  • Brand new – Get in early and be regarded as a helper as the administrator becoming acclimated. Learn their goals and show how your work supports this.
  • Hands-off or distracted – Take the reins and run. They won’t notice it, but the teachers will, and many will be grateful.
  • Micromanager – Sending detailed reports shows you know how to do your job – and how they like to do theirs.
  • Inexperienced with teaching and learning – Infographics are a good source of help. You want to present information as succinctly as possible so they can absorb it and see the connection.
  • Know-it-all – Show that you’re aware of their knowledge. Introduce ideas with phrases like, “As you know…”
  • Indecisive – Present options (but not too many) and offer rankings along with reasons or evidence for choices.

David-Lang and Spangler expand on dealing with these six types of administrators with their “AAHH” strategy.

Ask – You need information to prevent missteps. Ask questions to learn their vision, what they see as success, and gain a sense of who they are. You also want to know what issues the administrator is focused on and any background information on it.

Adjust – Change tactics depending on which of the type of supervisor you are dealing with. What worked for a previous administrator, might not work for your new one. For example, if you were a micromanager, presenting a plan of action and having a written agreement on who will do what (and probably by when) works well. With a hands-off administrator, you can be more general in your plan and stay focused on presenting the successful end result.

Head or Heart – Some administrators want just the facts. They love data. Others respond better to the emotion behind a project. Micromanagers and Know-it-alls tend to be the former. The others can fall into either category, so it helps to identify early how they react to information and present it in a way that facilitates their hearing you.

Hands – When you make a proposal, you need to support it with an action plan. All types of administrators need to know they can count on you to deliver—and make them look good.

Get to know your administrators and their style. Present yourself and your work in the best light by giving them what they need, the way they can you it best. When you do, you are better able to lead everywhere.

Leading Today, Tomorrow and Beyond

Success feels good – it feels great. You worked hard to get there. Unfortunately, if you get too comfortable with what you have achieved, you risk to sliding backwards.

Remember Blockbuster? Xerox? Blackberry? Sears? They were all leaders in the field for a significant period and are nowhere today. These giants, and many others along with them, didn’t see the change coming and didn’t adjust and move forward. You don’t want your library to suffer a similar fate.

As lifelong learners we must keep our leadership focused on the future or our libraries will be rooted in the past. “We have always done it that way” leads to stagnation. Policies, procedures, and programs must be reviewed regularly and be open to change and new ideas.  Equity, SEL and other current issues need to be thoroughly integrated into the library program. What else is happening? How can you predict where you need to go?

One way is to think laterally. Expand your reading beyond library and education issues by looking at what is happening in business and technology. Consider how new developments and concerns in those areas might impact libraries and schools. From this you may find unique inspiration to bring into your school.

In How to Keep Learning as a Leader, David Burkus presents four ways in which you can be ready for what may be coming next.

  1. Linger on Failure – Take the time to notice what you learned, achieved and will do differently as a result of setbacks. Accept your failures as part of your process – and proof that you’re growing as a leader.. Failure is feedback when you know how to use it. It isn’t comfortable to review your mistakes, but this is not about being comfortable. It’s about growing and learning.
  2. Stay Curious – Listen, read, view, and keep learning. A random conversation can give you a new idea. Watching television or seeing a movie can start an unanticipated thought process. You just need to be open to the possibility.  Burkus talks about listening to experts in different fields. The wider your scan of the environment, the greater your opportunity to discover something new. It doesn’t have to be a deep dive into these subjects, unless you uncover a treasure you want pursue.
  3. Experiment – Put your new idea into practice. If it only stays in your head, tomorrow will have arrived before you are ready for it. Yes, you will fail sometimes (see #1) but the trying is worth it! Burkus suggests creating a decision journal and log what you decided to do. What was your intended outcome? Did it work? Can you tweak it? The journal can give you a record of your thinking and how productive it is.
  4. Cultivate Conflicts -This is the scariest step. It doesn’t mean instigating them but it does mean developing your awareness of them. We live in highly polarized time. While you don’t want to engage, listening can lead to amazing opportunities. The more you know about how others around you think and why they do, the better able you are to anticipate resistance to different ideas and projects. Knowing where pushback is likely to arise, you can plan. You might make modifications, provide background information, or include others in the planning process, which always a good idea.

In the words of Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow/ Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here…Yesterday’s gone.” Be staying curious, learning from setbacks, trying new things, and listening to those around you, you’ll be ready for tomorrow and continue to grow and thrive as a leader.

Reach for Your Leadership Vision

I often write and speak on the importance of knowing your Mission and Vision. Missions focus on what you do. It’s your purpose or your “perspiration.” Visions are your “inspirations” and “aspirations.” They are where you would love to have happen. Both grow from your core values, your philosophy. And you can’t reach your school library Vision unless you have one for yourself as a leader. Without that self-Vision, it is difficult to step out of your comfort zone and the take risks leadership requires.

In Think Deeply About the Leader You Aspire to Be, Art Petty suggests you “mine for early influences and marry them to future aspirations to develop a clear picture of your desired leadership self.” Connecting what you’ve seen and done with what you want can guide you in constructing your leadership Vision using the following four steps:

  1. Start by exploring your leadership inspirations – Look inwardly and widely. Consider the values you hold. What are you passionate about? Who are the people you admire in librarianship and elsewhere? Why do you admire them? Petty suggests you look at the behavior of those people. If they had a direct contact in your life, how did they reach out to you? I became active in school librarianship and began writing because of the people who reached out. Their trust and belief encouraged me to leave my comfort zone.
  2. Spend time reflecting on your best self – Think of those moments when you were proud of something you did as a leader. You may have put together a difficult project or you gave a workshop for teachers, and they were all engaged and participating. Consider what you did to make those instances happen. What aspects of yourself as a person did you draw on? Think of the values that motivated your behavior and/or achievement. Look to the moments when you were proud of yourself and your behavior. It may have been how you connected a reluctant reader to the perfect book. Perhaps you turned a confrontation into the start of a relationship.
  3. Your Leadership AspirationsImagine this was your last year at your current position. You’re either moving on or retiring. What would you hope your students would say about their library experience? How about teachers and administrators? Take time to think about the legacy you want to leave, the impact you want to have, as a librarian and a leader and from that, pull out the pieces you want to include in your Leadership Vision.
  4. What’s most important to you as a leader? Petty recommends answering the following questions:
  • What do I care most about doing and achieving as a leader?
  • How will I guide, teach, and coach?
  • How will I support creating great results through others?
  • How do I want to affect those I come in contact with along the way?

My Leadership Vision is “School Librarians are recognized everywhere as vital leaders.” I know it will never be universal, but I always work to be a force for change. It inspires all I do.

Taking the time to see yourself as a leader and the impact your leadership will have on your library can inspire and should inspire you. Reach high and fearlessly create your own leadership Vision.  

You are Successful Now

Do you see yourself as successful, or do you consider success something off in the distance? Unless you have recently completed a major project, you are more likely to think you are doing well, but nothing special. It’s not negative thinking exactly, but it certainly isn’t positive.

We tend to see and find what we are looking for, and we train our brain to confirm our thoughts. If you believe what you do is ordinary but find other librarians’ creativity and knowledge remarkable, you won’t see your ongoing achievements. As a result, you won’t feel like a leader or present yourself to others as a leader.

The truth is, you are successful. I can prove it. You are successful when you teach, and when you find that perfect book. You are successful when you help a teacher out. You are successful when you see a student stop and look at a display or bulletin board you created. When you make a difference, no matter how small, you have been successful. There may be many successes you’re missing. When you take the time to notice, you find what you’re looking for – this includes success. One thing I do to help me notice these moments is writing daily in a Success Journal. Every success is a step in the right direction and seeing it written out can help you own it.

In his post, Tracking Your Accomplishments: Why to Do It, What to Document And How to Follow Through, Joel Garfinkle echoes my recommendation about recording your successes. He has even more reasons for doing so. Among them are:

  • You will forget – Of course you will especially when you don’t even notice many of them – and when the next problem/crisis/need is grabbing your focus.
  • Everyone else forgets – When you keep track, you’ll be able to share the specifies of your success when it’s time for your annual evaluation or when someone asks why you think a project will work..
  • You will be interview ready – No position is 100% secure, and even if you’re tenured, a change in administration could have you wanting to move on. Having a record of your successes allows you to be prepared – and remember the reasons you’re valuable to the schools you work for.

He suggests tracking the following:

  • Comments from your boss, clients or other stakeholders – For you this includes students, teachers, parents and perhaps other librarians as well. Take note of how they see your work and contribution.
  • Successful projects – In addition to writing the details of what happened, take pictures for your record (or portfolio). Add any comments you received (was there media coverage or postings of an event?).
  • Positive results from your efforts – Be clear about what goal(s) was achieved – intentional and unintentional, expected and unexpected. Make notes on the impact that you and your work made.
  • Regular responsibilities you have fulfilled – It isn’t only the big things that demonstrate your successes It’s also the successful day-to-day functioning of your library. Getting through that routine is definite accomplishment. And, back to the earlier comment, your principal is not likely to be aware of all you are doing unless you tell or show them.

Yes, tracking your successes might feel like one more thing for the to-do list, but as you see your successes add up, you might look forward to doing it. Find a time of day or location that works best for you. I keep it by my computer and track as I achieve something positive. This has the added benefit of giving me a boost of joy and motivation to tackle the next thing on the list.

Take the time to discover how successful you are. It will change your mindset. And that will change how people see you. Me? I’m going to put “wrote my blog post” on today’s success list. What’s going on yours?

The Centrality of Trust

image from Wavetop via Canva

Trust is the foundation of relationships. And we are in the relationship business. It is through relationship we build the collaboration with teachers – and administrators – which engages students in meaningful learning. Building trust requires trusting yourself and the willingness to trust others.

We have had many successful experiences that began with us not knowing everything necessary to do a task. In those cases we either get the information through our research or from the knowledge of our colleagues either locally or in social media. We may not know the answer – but we can find it. This builds our trust in ourselves

Trusting others is somewhat more difficult, but relationships are a two-way street. Most people have had an occasion where someone violated their trust. To build a relationship, you have to give trust even before it is accepted. This is not about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. It’s letting people know who you are as a person and following through on what you say, which makes it safe for them to share themselves with you.

In How Successful Leaders Build Trust with Their People Lolly Daskal discusses “trust-inducing behaviors” which build relationships.  You probably exhibit many if not most, of these, but it is helpful to be aware of what you are creating. Work on any you find challenging. Many of them weave together. Here is her list of eleven behaviors:

  1. Being accessible – Of course you are… except for when you are feeling rushed and harried. You can’t always just drop everything, but you can ask when you can get back to someone. Being honest about where you are, combined with being available when you say you will be, builds trust.
  2. Being confident – It’s not arrogance. It’s being efficacious. When you are confident, teachers and students know they can count on you to help them. People come to you for what you know or what you can do to support them. Be willing to show them they’re right to trust you for this.
  3. Being credible – We build credibility when we are willing to share both our mistakes and our successes. Acknowledging our goofs, large and small, along with our wins lets people see we are human. Admitting we are wrong doesn’t make us less in the eyes of others. It makes usmore worthy of trust.
  4. Being honest – There are times when we might want to skirt an unpleasant truth but telling hard truths builds trust. People know when you’re avoiding saying something. Instead, pause to choose your words and give honest feedback.
  5. Being supportive – Others make mistakes, too. If theirs has a direct effect on you, it might be hard not to jump on them for it. Go for “being honest,” and acknowledge it happens to us all (“being credible”). Look for the lesson you both get. If they are sharing something that doesn’t have to do with you, be prepared to listen (“being accessible”). If they ask, you can help them find a solution or fix. Your support will build trust.
  6. Being dependable – Keep your word. When you make a commitment, see it through. You build trust when you can be counted on to do what you say.
  7. Being consistent –We are known by our actions. Our actions must match our words. Students – and teachers – need to know how you will react. If you allow them to behave one way on a given day and then rebuke them for it on another, they will not trust you.
  8. Being open – Listen to others. Show by your actions that you see and care about them. Give them the space to give you honest feedback. When people know you listen, their trust will grow.
  9. Being empathetic – Everyone is dealing with something. We try to put it aside when we get to school, but it is there, and sometimes it is significant. Despite what they are showing on the surface, be attuned to the body language and behavior of others. It will help in your dealings with them, and when you’re “being open” and “being supportive”, they will share as needed, further building trust.
  10. Being appreciative – Acknowledge the success of others. In collaborative projects, give them the limelight. Emails or, even better, hand-written notes brighten someone’s day. They also realize you see them.
  11. Lead from within – Take trust very seriously. When you display the previous ten behaviors, people feel safe in having a relationship with you because you are trustworthy. This allows you to be an effective leader.

Good leadership begins with trust. Leadership is not something you take on when you want to get a project done. Leading is how you interact with people every day. By acting in the ways listed, people recognize you are a leader and someone they can trust.

A Librarian and a Leader

If you’ve read my books, my blog or my Facebook posts or seen me speak at a conference you know my most passionate belief: Leadership is not an option for librarians. It’s part of the job description. The National Standards School Library Standards (2018) lists Leader as one of our roles. However, our job description as defined and understood by our districts rarely if ever makes mention of this.

It’s easier to be a leader when your title and description grant you that right. Instead librarians need to create that “mantle” on their own. And we need to make it an ongoing priority. When you are identified as a leader, you are viewed as indispensable. In a world where librarians and libraries are threatened, being seen as indispensable is a worthwhile goal.

What does this mean? It means that when you institute new programs, collaborate with teachers and students on curriculum and tech issues, you look for ways to make certain that the administration and teachers are aware of your role in the process. This way when they think of the building leaders they think of you. Reaching that stage is not simple, but it’s important to work towards it.

Dan Rockwell, “The Leadership Freak”, suggests a possible means of achieving this goal in an internet post on How to Act Like a CEO When You’re Not. This is how I interpret his seven recommendations:

  1. Own your realm: This is about mindset. Of course, you have taken charge of your library and have established your guidelines and decorated to represent your values as a school librarian, but you need to take it a step further. Own the library and the decisions you make as a physical manifestation of how you view the values and worth of the library and you. It is more than a sense of pride. It’s how you present yourself as a leader through the look, feel, and activities of the library.
  2. Set your goals: While you want your program aligned with the school’s goals, it is vital that the goals are significant to you and the library program. Your goal, tied to your Mission, Vision, and Core Values should put your role and the value of the library front and center. Leaders must be visible — even more so when the title doesn’t indicate it.
  3. Don’t threaten higher ups: Never blindside your administrators. When you update them, be brief but keep them informed of what you are doing and why. If they have a problem with what you are doing, it’s best to discover the matter right away. That also gives you the opportunity to discuss it and make adaptations as needed. It also encourages them to reach out to you when and if their priorities change because you are seen as someone they can trust.
  4. Serve six constituencies: Believe it or not librarians do have this many – or at least five. They are: (1) Administrators (You always need to keep them in mind.) (2) Students (Your primary purpose) (3) Teachers (Gateway to students) (4) Parents (So they know what their children are accomplishing because of the library) (5) Yourself (Never forget to “serve” yourself), and (6) And possibly, the outside community- such as the public library—so that more people are aware of the values of libraries and school libraries in particular.
  5. Think big, act small: Your end game needs to be large. Hold as big a Vision as you can for your program. Then map out the small baby steps that will start you on your journey. And then think what’s next after that. And after that.
  6. Spend time with medium-performers: This doesn’t easily translate into our work world. Instead, consider who are your natural allies. Who are the people who like working with you? How can you build on this relationship to develop more allies and get people seeing how vital the library is to their success?
  7. Lead yourself: The oft-repeated reminder to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Your “constituencies” can’t afford to lose you. Make sure you are on your own to-do list.

Next time when you are in workshop and you are asked “Who are you?” I hope you will confidently say, “I am a Leader and a Librarian.”

Beyond Either-Or

Not all our colleagues hold the same views as we do, but we can’t afford to lose our relationships with them based on those strongly held opinions. This is not only true when politics comes into the workspace but also when we seek budget funds or have other issues with the administration. We need to listen even as we disagree with their occasionally erroneous views of school librarians and libraries. Can we hear what their truths are? Unless we can, we won’t be heard.

Disagreement can be helpful unless we assume there are only two approaches or ideas– ours and the wrong ones. As librarians, part of our work, hopefully, includes not suppressing one point of view because we disagree with it. While we champion our beliefs, we must also listen to the other side. We need to hear the elements of truth in what the other party says and then hopefully come up with a solution that incorporates more views.  

Sociology, psychology and philosophy have all wrestled with this challenge and determined that sometimes the best way to manage when there are two disparate ideas is to keep conversation open and flowing until a new interpretation or understanding comes about. Referred to as dialectics, Science ABC explains, dialectics is “a process that makes use of contradictory statements or ideas to reach an ultimate truth.” The challenge is to be able to go beyond our views to arrive at one that works for more people.

So, how do we get to this ultimate truth? In her article Kristin Hendrix in When We Find Ourselves Stuck, How to Find the Third Option,  Kristin Hendrix discusses the “Fallacy of Either/Or Thinking? and proposes four ideas:

Look for Another Perspective – Since experience and our personalities conditioned us to see things one way, get an additional perspective on an issue by talking it out with someone else—without heat or hostility. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” Since you initiated the discussion, it will be easier to listen intending to understand, which will serve you in such situations in the future. Talking out an issue can help you see where you’ve gotten yourself boxed into one way of thinking and help you arrive at the third – and unifying – option.

Find the “And” – Is there a way to incorporate both concepts/ideas that seem, at first, opposed? What are the two goals?  Can you do both if you can do one at a time? Considering the possibility opens up to new ways of thinking. In the process of looking for an “and,” you might find another solution entirely.  As Hendrix writes, “What option would combine the benefits of both and offset the challenges?”

For example, you are asked to cover a physical education class when the usual teacher is absent. To do so you must close the library. If you bring the class into the library and have them work on a topic related to physical education (or health), you have covered the class, AND the library stayed open.

The Calm in Acceptance – Hendrix recognizes sometimes you face two bad options. Fighting the truth of that becomes a constant frustration, affecting everything in your life. Choose one and accept that you made a choice.

A friend of mine in the corporate world, hated her job. Her only option for a new job was out of the state. She didn’t want to leave the state because her mother needed her. She decided to stay where she was and reduced the extra hours she was committing to the job. Once she knew why and how she was remaining, it was easier to live with it.

From Scarcity to Abundance – When you think there are only two opposing options, you have little to work with. Hendrix points out this is functioning from a scarcity mindset.  By considering that there may be other paths to get to where you want to go, you move to an abundance mindset. Change your mindset and allow possibilities in.

Out of the box thinking – or better yet thinking there is no box – is a more creative approach to dealing with how to look at a given situation. Find ways to resolve disagreements so you continue to strengthen your relationships and become a better problem solver in the process. Take the time to look for what third option might solve the issue.