ON LIBRARIES – Cultivating Curiousity

copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

For life-long learners and leaders, curiosity is often the inspiration that makes you better and more knowledgeable about everything in your life.  We are one of our students’ role models for lifelong learning and therefore must be continuously curious.  Whether it’s new ideas or technology, we should always be on a quest to discover and learn .  And it doesn’t stop there. Curiosity extends to building our relationships as it helps us to be more knowledgeable about and connected to the people in our lives.

As librarians, we often explore new ideas to see if they have merit or are being embraced simply because they are new (Fidget Spinners, anyone?) whether at the request of students and teachers or because of our own interests.  We look to sources outside our field to find out what is being done or discussed and seek to learn whether it might have valuable applications for our students and teachers. The knowledge we gain we bring to our students and share with our teachers.

The more regularly we do this, the more they rely on us to be able to help them.  For students, this means guiding them to the best resources for their assignments or a new book or author to read. For teachers, it means we show them new ways to engage their students in learning and to be more successful in what they are working toward.  We build awareness of our value each time we bring the fruits of our curiosity into our school library.

Many years ago when rubrics were just beginning to be used in education, a teacher came to me for help creating one.  At the time I had never done one, although I was acquainted with what they were.  We sat down together and developed what she needed.  Not wanting to confess to her supervisor that she didn’t know how to design a rubric, she chose me because from our previous interactions she trusted I was both knowledgeable and safe.

If we want our students to be lifelong learners, we need to help them develop their curiosity as well. Children are born curious.  Our brains are designed that way.  It’s how we learn. Anyone who has been around a two-year-old knows they are constantly asking why. Author Arnold Edinborough said, “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.”  Learning is not the memorization of facts, it’s using those facts for a purpose.

Unfortunately, the structure of many schools effectively curtails this vital instinct. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “It’s a miracle curiosity survives formal education.” This is truer than ever as high-stakes tests have focused teaching energy on correct answers.  It is our job to reach that innate curiosity that is in danger of being lost.

Curiosity propels civilization forward. I have said that knowing the answers only proves one has mastered the content. But that was already learned.  It is when we or our students take that information and ask new questions that don’t have answers yet, that knowledge moves forward.  Bernard Baruch said it better, “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.”

We want our students not only to ask “Why?” but also “What if?”  They need to have opportunities to wonder and see where that takes them. Through cooperative or collaborative inquiry-based learning experiences, we can engage students’ curiosity in topics that interest them and lead them to discover answers not in textbooks.  In this way, they become better prepared for whatever the world has in store for them.

In addition to being curious about ideas and things, good leaders are also curious about people. They go beyond the surface mask most people wear in their daily interactions.  They want to know who more about their colleagues, what they care about, and what motivates them.

Curiosity is also a factor in Emotional Intelligence.  While you can perceive the feelings of others with some success based on their outward persona, you will be more successful in using emotions if you know more about the people you are dealing with.  The more you know, and to learn you must be curious enough to ask, the easier it is to build relationships.

When I say we need to be curious about the people in our world, I don’t mean being nosy. It’s about caring about them and their situation.  It’s being empathetic.

I have told the story about seeing a teacher walking through the halls with her shoulders slumped:  her entire body language conveying misery.  While I was perceiving her emotions, I had no clue as to the cause.  Her first answer when I asked what was wrong was to claim she had an argument with her department chair.  I knew her past and her successes – no way was a disagreement with her department chair the occasion for such a reaction.

I invited her into the library to relax and have a cup of coffee and then asked for the real reason she was so unhappy.  She confessed her only child, who had done so well at school, had become a heroin addict.  She feared for his life.  It was not an easy confession to make, but it helped her unburdened.

There was no advice I could give her, but I could be a listening ear.  A confidential one.  While we had a comfortable relationship before, this new connection deepened it.  It led to more collaboration on research projects, but that was not the reason why I reached out to her.

A caring, curiosity was my motivating force in asking this teacher for a deeper truth.  Empathy and curiosity often go hand-in-hand, but they never should be used to manipulate others or you have negated the empathy.

We live so much in a task-filled world, spending our day in “doing,” we devote little time to wondering—being curious.  Embrace your natural curiosity in all things.  Ask more questions. Look for more creative answers. And get to really know the people you work with. Life will be more interesting and you will be a better leader.



ON LIBRARIES – Your Fourth Role – Program Administrator

In May, I did a blog “Role-ing Through Your Day” in which I highlighted the many roles we have both in and outside the library. Towards the end of the blog, I mentioned our role as Program Administrator. As I was covering so many of our jobs I didn’t spend much time on it, but it is worth paying it some attention.

In Empowering Learners AASL identifies the four roles we have as school librarians: teacher, information specialist, instructional partner, and program administrator.  The first three are our more visible roles, but all too often no one knows what we do or are even aware of our role as program administrator.  And when it’s the principal who doesn’t know you are doing it, it is a contributing factor in not understanding the full scope of what we do.

In the blog, I said of this fourth role that it “is far more than the basic management of the library program.  It comes to the heart of us as leaders.  It demands that we have vision and are willing to be a risk-taker in moving our program constantly forward so it’s not mired in the past. We incorporate the other three roles we have in order to create a program that is viewed as vital and indispensable to students, teachers, administrators, parents, and even the community.”

Here is what AASL says being a Program Administrator entails.

“As program administrator, the SLMS, ensures that all members of the learning community have access to resources that meet a variety of needs and interests. The implementation of a successful SLMP requires the collaborative development of the program mission, strategic plan, and policies, as well as the effective management of the staff, the program budget, and the physical and virtual spaces. To augment information resources available to the learning community, the SLMS works actively to form partnerships with stakeholders and sister organizations at local and global levels.  The SLMS also addresses broader educational issues with other educators in the building, at the district level, and at the professional association level.”

It is an exhausting description of your responsibilities.  And that’s on top of the other three. There is no way you can do more than the bare minimum of these without becoming a leader. My graduate students find this role intimidating and keep pointing to the small budgets as a barrier to making much of this happen.  And while budget issues are a problem, we cannot hide behind them to avoid doing a vital part of our job.

Let’s look at it sentence by sentence. The first does speak to a strong collection that represents diversity and curricular needs.  Not having sufficient funds to order new books can be a serious challenge to carrying this out.  But do you have interlibrary loan through your state or consortium?  Are you making effective use of it? Have you made students and teachers (and your administrators) aware of it?

The second sentence deals with developing a cohesive program based on a Mission (hopefully a Vision as well) and a strategic plan. That keeps everything you do on track.  If you don’t know how to create a strategic plan, look for a session on it at your state conference or check online for samples. If you can’t work collaboratively on developing the vision and plan (and you can possibly do it with other librarians in your district), try having some teachers and an administrator critique what you develop.  Most of you don’t have staff to manage, although if you do have volunteers they are included in this. High school librarians are accustomed to creating and expending their budgets and most elementary librarians are making do with what they have.

As to the physical and virtual space, you do need to look at your library with fresh eyes.  Is it getting tired?  How often are displays changed?  How much student work is present? Can the furniture be arranged better? Are your tables easily moveable?  If not, consider putting on casters. The virtual space is your website and other online presence.  How often do you update content on your website? Is it time to give it a new look? What do you have for parents on your site?

The last two sentences move you outside your building.  If you haven’t done so already, develop a collaborative partnership with the public library and reach out to any college in your area to work together. What businesses in your district would be interested in working with the library?  You may get funding this way as well.

And always, keep up with the trends and concerns in education in addition to libraries. This makes you a resource for your administrators and teachers. It also ensures you are ready for whatever the next “thing” is.

This is you as a leader.  Make the most of it.  And let your administrator know as part of your quarterly and annual reports.

How are rising to the challenge of this fourth role?  Where can you use some help?

ON LIBRARIES: Start With Emotion

Since the 1990’s education has focused almost exclusively on cognitive learning as high stakes tests became a nationwide obsession.  Along the way, we forgot that emotions are at the root of everything we do, and that means it affects learning.  It is time to review what we once knew and see how it can be implemented today. (EDITOR’S NOTE – Our images are larger than normal so you can see the details in each)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed his “Hierarchy of Needs” in an article entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation.”  All of us learned his pyramid during our educational studies, and if you were like me, you wondered whether you had achieved “self-actualization” which is at the pinnacle of the pyramid and if you are truly all you can be.  It’s what we want for ourselves and for our students.

To reach the top, Maslow said you needed to fulfill all the other lower levels of the hierarchy in your life.  Educators have long recognized that if the Physiological Needs of students such as shelter and food aren’t met students’ ability to learn will suffer.  And the efforts to eliminate bullying speak to the Safety Needs required for learning. There has been less appreciation for the importance of Love and Belonging.

As a librarian, you can’t provide family or intimacy, which are components of Love and Belonging, but you can focus on friendship, in this case meaning you show you care about the student. The safe, welcoming environment you create in your library addresses the Safety Needs along with the Love and Belonging Needs.  Once students find the library is a safe place, they are open to your interest in them as a unique person. Some of the students you reach out to feel alienated in the general school population for many reasons and so are prone to loneliness which can lead to depression.

Most important, in my opinion, is the need to build students’ Esteem. The overtures you make help them realize their self-worth.  This gives them the impetus to believe in their ability to tackle a task and succeed.  When you can do this, you have given that student a gift of inestimable value.

Bloom’s Taxonomy – In 1956, Harold Bloom published his Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain and followed it in 1964 with the Taxonomy of the Affective Domain. The Psychomotor Domain was released in the 1970s.  We are all familiar with the Cognitive Domain which has been used in developing higher order thinking skills, but since the 1990s we have ignored the Affective Domain as too “touchy/feely” and besides it can’t be reflected in high stakes test. This has been a serious error.

What we ignore is that the Affective Domain is emotions-based and therefore affects how students approach learning.  Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition provides a list of the categories of the hierarchy with examples and verbs associated with each level. In many ways, the Dispositions in Action and the Responsibility strands in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner reflect this domain, but there are librarians still focusing almost exclusively on the Skills strand.

What I hope you see is that the Affective Domain puts emphasis on students’ response to the material.  It gives you ways to guide them into making a connection with it. And the strongest connections are those that tie to emotions.  We all have seen how students’ beliefs about a task or subject affect their success.  “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.”

Harold Gardner – In 1983, Harold Gardner developed his theory of Multiple Intelligences Originally there were six intelligences which have subsequently been expanded to nine and there may still be more.  It was a revelation at the time to discover there was more to intelligence than Verbal/Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical.  He observed that excelling in either or both of those intelligences were not a good predictor of success in life.  Yet those two are still the prime focus of our testing.

Indeed, having high Interpersonal Intelligence was a far better indicator of success. Those who had high Interpersonal Intelligence have the “capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations, and desires of others.” Does that sound at all familiar?

Those skills are aligned with Emotional Intelligence which I have discussed in the past.  It’s imperative for leaders to have a high EI and continue to work on improving it.  Success in life is strongly rooted in understanding and managing emotions.

Most of our decisions are based on emotions (studies put it as high as 80%). If you can identify a student’s or adult’s emotions about a given topic, you can determine the best way to reach them.

The works of Maslow, Bloom, and Gardner were all published in the last century and, sadly, we seem to have forgotten their universal relevance. When business discovered Emotional Intelligence a decade or so, a shift back began to occur. It’s taking longer to fully reach education but some schools are beginning to see value in integrating emotions into teaching.

Education Week had an article on “How Students Emotions Affect their Schooling.” There are many more articles on the topic.  Emotions are more than just a series of faces we add to texts and posts. Isn’t it time you began incorporating it into how you work with students?  Are you already doing so?  What successes have you seen?



ON LIBRARIES: Why Are You a Librarian

whyIt’s not a question we are often asked, and we almost never ask that of ourselves.  But it is a worthwhile exercise, particularly when you feel stressed by your job and the world.  As Socrates is attributed to have said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,”

In my own case, I became a librarian because I needed a job, and it was available. I was graduating from college and getting married.  I needed to know where I would be working so my future husband and I could find a place to live.  The superintendent of schools who interviewed me was desperate to find a librarian. I had worked as a page in the public library for two years, and I could get an emergency certificate attached to my new teaching license.socrates

Not a very good reason for becoming a librarian, but despite being terrible at the job, I realized I truly liked it. So I continued going for my masters even when I was justifiably not rehired at the end of the year. I found another job as a librarian and began to get better at what I was doing.

truman-schoolAfter taking several years off to raise my children, I looked for another library position as soon as they were ready to go to school.  Although I had trained to be a high school teacher and my first jobs were at that level, I was happy to find something in a brand new elementary school.  The school was unusual and it gave me a new “why” for being a librarian.

As an elementary level novice, I learned from the teachers. And that is how my next “why” came to be. I discovered how being open to what teachers could show me made them willing to learn what I show them.  The collegial atmosphere bred collaboration.  I was a librarian because I could help teachers do a better job.

My professional growth continued when I decided to go back to school for additional graduate courses. Because I was going for a Supervisor certificate I met librarians who were looking to become leaders.  I also met Ruth Toor, and as a result of the course, we wrote our first book, The Elementary School Librarian’s Almanac.

My career continued and my ‘whys” evolved.  The reactions of my students to the help I offered made me realize they were a central reason for why I was a librarian.  The better I got at my job, the more they appreciated what I could teach them.

I am extremely active in ALA/AASL and this too has affected my “why.”  I am a librarian so I can be a resource to other librarians.  I do so through mentoring, the books I write and the workshops I give.  But we are all resources for our colleagues. question-2

I also now recognize that I wasn’t aware of another “why” when I was working in schools.  By my interactions with students, teachers, and administrators I was making a significant contribution to the whole school community.

My experiences and the research has led me to in essence share why I am a librarian with just about everyone I meet.  Whenever I can, I let them know the value of school librarians.  And even though I no longer work in a school library, I am still a librarian.  And I know why.

Yes, your “why” will change over time.  It will continue to change if you are open to the possibility.  When the “whys” are positive you become even better at what you do.

What are your “whys” and how have they changed?

ON LIBRARIES: Do You Have a Job, Career or Profession

It may be a strange question to ask and many won’t see too much of a difference among the three, but I find there is a different mindset for each.  Your true answer to the question defines how you are as a librarian in your school, district, and the world at large.

What are the differences?  What does each make you think of?

boring-jobJob – In some contexts, a job is a specific task sometimes as part of a larger one.  Merriam-Webster gives one definition as “a piece of work <doing odd jobs around the house> <Repairing the roof was a big job.>especially :  a small miscellaneous piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate <a car that needs a brake job>.” Another one it gives is, “a regular remunerative position <got a part-time job as a waiter> <she quit her job>.”

I have known people who have “jobs” they have worked at for many years. They work at these jobs solely for the paycheck.  While they may enjoy the social connection with those they work with, for the most part, they take no pleasure in what they are doing.  Just putting in their time.

 While some librarians have become disheartened by budget cuts and changes to their “jobs”, such as working 2 or 3 schools, and feeling they aren’t valued by teachers or administrators, I hope they haven’t succumbed to the job mentality. I can understand the frustration, but it’s important not to let it get the best of you.

If you do find yourself slipping into that on the bad days, focus on your students.  Think of them individually. Recall some of the connections you have made with them. Remember how their faces lighted up, the changes in their approach to reading, or their new belief in their ability to succeed.  You made a difference in their lives.  Don’t stop now. Also, refer back to your vision.  Your connection to that can keep you energized during difficult times.career

Career Auburn University’s Career Center provides this definition: “an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework.” Certainly librarianship qualifies under this definition.  I think a good percentage of you would think of yourself as having a career.

Pediaa uses that definition but goes on to state that it is, “An occupation undertaken for a major period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” The first half of that explanation certainly applies to librarianship, but the second half doesn’t seem to part of what is possible for school librarians.

For me, this is really where career and job have a real demarcation.  Note that it didn’t say “promotion” but rather “progress.”  What does that mean in your daily practice? It implies that you keep growing.  The special training you had is not the ending but the true beginning of you mastering your career.

Every librarian I know accepts the realization that what they learned in library school needs to be constantly upgraded. So many of you connect through your state association’s listserv or social media to get help in dealing with a current challenge or difficult question from a teacher. You use this as your PLN and discover new tech resources on the web or as an app.  Your learning, and therefore your progress, never stops.

professionProfession– What then is a profession?  This is where I hope most of you are and the rest of you aspire to be.  When I think of professions, like medicine and law, I think of canons of ethics that are core values and standards they uphold.

Librarians have this. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association succinctly puts forth the basic values we hold as a profession.  All librarians should be familiar with it. The Library Bill of Rights is another brief document but of equal importance in stating who we are and what we stand for as a profession. You should be aware of this document as well.  As librarians, we have many roles but whatever we are doing these two documents form the core of how we approach them.

I have some personal views of what a professional is that I didn’t find in any definition.  Professionals don’t define themselves by their current position. Their focus is not on the district or school but rather in the larger world any more than a doctor defines him/herself by the hospital they are in. Professionals recognize that to have the impact and make the changes they want to see, they need to be connected to their professional organizations.

If you’ve read any of these blogs or my books, you know I believe in taking responsibility for your own professional development.  If your district doesn’t give you time off to attend your state conference and one of the days is on a weekend, go then.  If not, take a personal day to attend at least one day of the conference.  Then prepare a brief report for your principal on what you learned that will benefit your students and teachers. Show this in action after six months.


ALA is holding its annual conference in Chicago from June 22-27.  It’s a great city to visit and most of you will be finished with school.  Register now and start saving for it. AASL has its biennial conference November 9-11, 2017 in Phoenix.  I will be at both.  I get no reimbursement and I, too, watch my expenses.  But I am a professional and this part of the cost of being one. It’s no different than having to have an appropriate wardrobe for work or gas for your commute.

I hope you join me at either or both.

So do you have a job?  A career?  A profession?


ON LIBRARIES: New Year’s Resolutions

new-yearIt’s that time of the year when we give thought to how we can do better in the New Year.  For you as a leader, as a librarian and as an individual, here are some you might consider:

Build Your Relationshipsbuilding-relationships

Start a new relationship with a teacher or other staff member. Remember, we are in the relationship business. Consider deepening an existing relationship.  Get to know that person’s interests outside of school.  You may find you have common ground, discover an “expert” who might help you with something you are doing, or add a dimension to someone you already know.  Are there any students who are library “regulars” whom you don’t know?  Strike up a conversation with them. Learn what their favorite app is or whether they are into gaming.  I found my students to be some of my best teachers. Don’t limit yourself to the school scene.  Is there a relative or friend you haven’t spoken with in some time.  Is your only contact with them on Facebook? Try an email and set up some face time. Resolve to add at least one person a month to your relationship sphere.  (This is one of my resolutions for the year.)

Keep Up With Trends

new-trendRead one professional article every month. Vary it. Don’t only look at library literature, be familiar with what administrators are saying. You can find blog posts and articles online.  Find and explore one new tech resource or app each month and think how it can best be used. Would it be helpful for a classroom teacher?  Which ones? And again, remember your students.  Ask them what they are reading or watching on YouTube.  You’ll be amazed at the relevance of what they enjoy.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zoneship-out-of-your-comfort-zone

You don’t grow unless you try new things.  A favorite quote of mine, attributed to James Conant, is “Behold the turtle who only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.”  Whether you decide to launch a book club for students or tackle an Hour of Code, you need to something that makes stakeholders aware of the contribution your program makes to the school community.  Even though you may be doing a Makerspace or have another project going, you need to do something more.  Once something is in place for a while people take it (and you) for granted.  If an idea doesn’t immediately come to mind, put out a request for ideas on your state association’s listserv, on a Twitter chat, LM_NET, or join my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group and ask there.  Choose the approach that works best for you.  Whatever your choice you will be amazed at the suggestions you get back. (I am doing this as well.  I will be giving my first AASL webinar this spring. This is new for me and I’ll announce the date as soon as I know it.)

Volunteer for Leadership

volunteerFor many, this might come under the heading of stepping out of your comfort zone, but it deserves special mention, and you all know it’s my passion.  Too many of you feel so burdened you can’t see how you can fit a leadership job into your life. You haven’t explored the possibilities.  No one is saying you have to run for president of your state association (although that’s a goal to have for the future).  You can .volunteer for a district committee. That will bring you into contact with a broader group of people—and give you an opportunity to “build your relationships.”  Can you help with an initiative your state association is taking on? Again, you don’t have to be the chair. Being an active, contributing committee member is a good start.  The same is true for national associations, which also now permit virtual members on many committees.  One AASL committee that I am on does all its business via conference calls.

Go for a Grant or an Awardgrants

I’ve mentioned this before and will probably continue to do so because this is something with such a tremendous payoff, in many ways. You get a lot of positive attention when you get a grant or award.  Even small grants such as those given by your local education foundation make your administration more aware of you and what you do. They always appreciate it if you can bring in “free” money.  Then there are the ones from the national associations.  Here again is the link to the grants and awards from AASL. You have one month to apply for this year’s awards since most have a February 1 deadline.  Don’t think they are out of reach.  See what has won previously and pick one to try for this year.  If you can’t make the February deadline, start to work on the application for the next year.

Get Healthier

get-healthyThis is a typical new year’s resolution, but it also applies to your leadership abilities.  Do you need/want to lose weight? Kick a habit? Exercise?  Stop saying you don’t have time.  Take time. It’s a priority and you deserve it.  Once you have chosen what you will do, make a plan to ensure you stick with it. Join Weight Watchers (my favorite) or another program.  Sign up at a gym and take a class. Find a yoga or a dance group and join.  Choose something that appeals and doesn’t sound like punishment.  Enlist a friend to join you.  You will be more successful that way. The healthier you are, the better you will like yourself, and the easier you will find it to take on other new roles.

Make Time for Funhave-fun

Don’t spend your life being a worker bee.  You are a human being not a human doing.  Always make time for your hobbies, personal reading, and going out with family and friends, or whatever you love.  This will rejuvenate you for all the things you have on your plate.  Put it on your list if you can’t “remember.”  Schedule the time for you. As I said last week, you need to make room for joy in your life – and it won’t happen unless you make it a priority.

Be Accountable

be-accountableResolutions are easily made and forgotten even more quickly as life intrudes. You don’t have to try all these resolutions but you should pick at least two – plus the last two.  Then keep track in print, on a spreadsheet, or a Google doc to record what you have done.  How many times did you exercise?  Which relationship did you develop? If the resolution was important to make, it’s important to keep.  The record will help you hold yourself responsible.

Which ones will you choose?  What other resolutions are you making? And what help can our community offer you?




ON LIBRARIES: (And life) Making Room for Joy

stressed-relaxedThe holiday cards remind us that this is the time for joy and peace – but I have a feeling that in truth, this season stresses us out more than it relaxes us.

So many of you are exhausted. Some districts didn’t close until Friday, December 23rd.  Not only were you dealing with kids – and faculty –  whose focus was on vacation and presents, your own focus was on keeping things from getting out of hand and figuring out how to get all your holiday tasks done.

Now the holiday is over.  Your house is almost back in order and you have a much lighter schedule until school resumes in January.  What are you going to do with this time?  Sleep may be a high priority, but there is something else you should take the time to do.pause

Pause and reflect.  Is this how you really want your life to go? Time is a gift and a finite commodity. How do you choose to spend it? Because no matter what you say about all the demands your job makes –and they are quite real – you are the one making choices.  Your choices tell other what you value.

I used to say my family was my highest priority, but that was not how I was living my life.  There was always another task that needed to be done, always another library committee that demanded my presence.  My family knows I love them.  But was I there for them?  How was I showing that?

Yes, there are times when you need to stay late.  Once in awhile you may go into work on a Saturday.  But if you are coming home late every night, you are cheating those you care most about and yourself.

You have been building relationships with your colleagues, learning enough about them so as to know what’s really going on for them. But are you doing the same with your significant other, good friends and whoever else is important in your life?  Are you accepting “I’mbalance fine” with a sense of relief because it means you don’t have to do anything?

If you are to survive and thrive as a leader you need to live a balanced life.  You can never get back moments you didn’t share with family and friends because you were too busy. If they are important, tasks always get done.  Moments not spent with those you care about are lost forever.

When you are home, be fully present.  Let school slip away from your consciousness. Don’t spend your time thinking about the job and your next project. Focus on the people around you.  Make time to have lunch or dinner with friends

When you pick your head up from the load of tasks you have and find the joy in being with those who matter to you, while still being a leader and an active member of the school library committee you will find you are less exhausted and stressed. The times with family and friends refresh and rejuvenate you.

Living a balanced life is also a gift to other librarians who are watching you.  As a leader you a role model.  You exemplify what leadership entails.  If all you are is a workaholic, reasonable people will not see the value in emulating you, and you do want to build more leaders. Tom Peters has said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/tompeters382508.html)

joyAnd in my efforts to be a role model for leadership, I am keeping this blog shorter than usual.  This is my time with family.

Are you leading a balanced life?  Where do you find joy?


ON LIBRARIES: What Type of Leader Are You?

leader-wordleAn odd question at first read.  A leader is a leader, right? From my past blogs you know there is a difference between managers and leaders, but how can there be leader types?

Step back a moment and reflect on the leaders you know or have worked with.   You may have had a principal or superintendent who was always coming up with new strategies to improve student performance and instruction.  Sometimes it seemed that the beginning of every school year an “exciting approach” was introduced.

Or you may have had one who made every feel respected and valued.  I had a superintendent who had to work with a district that kept school budgets as tight as possible.  She could get staff to go beyond requirements by knowing the right compliments to give people.  I was told I was a “true professional.”  I don’t know what she said to a Spanish teacher who had no problem teaching four different sections of Spanish. (Spanish IV and AP Spanish were included in one class.)  The union wasn’t happy at what teachers were “giving away,” but the district got an amazing return for very little money.leadership-archetypes

So what type of leader are you and how many types are there? Turning as I usually do to the business world for their answers I discovered there are quite a number. In his article on “Eight Archetypes of Leadership in the Harvard Business Review, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries identifies and discusses them.  I will give you my “library” interpretation of these archetypes.

The Strategist: leadership as a game of chess – These librarians keep current with changes in education, technology, and the politics of the district.  They see how to position the library program in the forefront, sometimes before anyone else knows what is coming.

chessThe Change-Catalyst: leadership as a turnaround activity – Although this seems similar to the Strategist there are significant differences.  While the Strategist works best in orderly situations, the Change-Catalyst is a true Disrupter (see last week’s blog) and functions best in messy almost chaotic situations. They shine when a new superintendent or principal is hired and no one knows what to expect.  In the midst of the chaos, they make the needed changes and the library program helps others through the difficult time.

The Transactor: leadership as deal making – Rarer in school librarianship, this type of leader knows how to negotiate with administrators to eke out more funds.  For example, with ESSA coming they approach their principal with ideas for resources which will help teachers make the change-over.  They might ask for one-time funding to cover the cost, or if it’s an electronic resource an ongoing increase to maintain it.

The Builder: leadership as an entrepreneurial activity – The Builder envisions something new and knows how to create it.  Those librarians who have transformed their libraries into a Learning Commons (particularly the first ones) are the Builders.

The Innovator: leadership as creative idea generation – The first ones I knew were the librarians who automated their libraries when computers were in the early stages and you sent your shelf list to one company to create the electronic records, to another vendor to put them into the purchased system, and still a third for barcodes.  Today they are the ones who brought Makerspaces to the library, implement the latest tech into their program and know how to get teachers on board. They run the Twitter chats or a Google Hangout.

processorThe Processor: leadership as an exercise in efficiency – No matter how hard pressed these leaders are, they know how get to the heart of the matter, eliminate what no longer is working, and make running a busy library look easy.  (For me, this is the least important of the types from a library perspective.)

The Coach: leadership as a form of people development – These are leaders with high Emotional Intelligence. As with the superintendent I had, they know how to get the most out of people. They know their volunteers’ skill sets and make the best use of them.  They are charismatic and teachers love working with them resulting in much collaboration or cooperation and support for the library program from the staff and administration.

stage-managementThe Communicator: leadership as stage management – Librarians who have mastered how to get the right message in the most productive format to various target audiences get enthusiastic support for their program since Communicators are skilled at “marketing” their product to the appropriate stakeholders.

With this list in mind, which type of leader are you?  You might be more than one.  Is there a type you would like to become.

ON LIBRARIES: Small Changes, Big Results, a More Welcome Library

welcomeWelcome to the Library

The words mirror the sentiment and the message you want everyone to receive when they step into your library, but words are not enough.  Some of you have signs outside your door or on a bulletin board just inside. Excellent.  But that won’t really convey the message. That’s telling, not showing and it doesn’t have the impact you want.

I blogged in December of last year about inadvertently sending mixed messages and spoke about posted negative rules and a library devoid of any student work.  Keeping rules positive – stressing what you are allowed to do and focusing on respect is important.  Displaying student creations does show the library is meant for them. But there is more.library-signage

In March of this year I blogged about transforming your library into a Learning Commons which I believe is ultimately the way to go. However, I am sure that many of you consider it too large a goal to tackle and I understand your constraints.  Split between schools, an overloaded schedule, and no help doesn’t give you time to take on big jobs.

You can make big changes in small ways, and you don’t have to do it all at once. To start, step outside your library.  Pretend you have never been in there before.  First impressions count, and although it really isn’t your first time to enter try to do so with fresh eyes.

Walk in the door and look around. What catches your eye?  Keep looking.  What message are you getting about what the library is about?  Is there anything off?  Is there something that is inviting you in for further exploration?

I once took over a library that was considered to be beautiful in its day, however the previous librarian had missed some things.  If you entered and looked to your left there was a wall of windows with counter height shelving just below them.  That’s what was beautiful.  The windows looked out on a scenic setting. Great idea by the architect.

But time and the exigencies of running a library had made some subtle changes.  Looking straight ahead from the entrance to the back wall, you could see the tall fiction book stacks.  Above them were an assortment of old shelving that had never been discarded. Libraries don’t have to be super neat. Those that are don’t have kids using them. (Mine were only at that “perfect” stage when the school year was over and the books were all neatly shelved and all magazines put away.)  But the clutter of the old book shelves was distracting.  They marred the attractiveness of the library.

What had happened was the librarian had stopped seeing her library. When you are in the library every day and have work to do, you no longer notice these things.  They have become part of your world.  Making time to see your library anew and spruce up what has been quietly disrupting the library environment will help you make some simple changes. You don’t need much time or money to do it.

When many librarians genre-fied their collection, they made sure to create great signage to help students and teachers find where the books were shelved. Signage is equally important if you are a Dewey library.  Remember signs are for your users, not for you.  You know that 500 is for Pure Science and 600 is for Technology, but they probably don’t.  Remember pictures are better than words and with clip art you can tailor them to what your students study and are interested in.learning-commons2

Counter height shelving is great for displaying books. Have different themes on different bookcases.  An appropriate sign will draw readers to the titles. Be sure to change them regularly or everyone will stop “seeing” them.

Some can displays can tie into your current bulletin board which should also change regularly. If you feel there isn’t enough time, try to get students to do some –under your direction.  If you are at the elementary level, contact a high school art teacher to find out if any of his or her students would like to take on the project for their portfolios

Next look at the “flow” of the library.  You naturally arrange your collection to follow the Dewey sequence (or alphabetical sequence if you genre-fied) but what about your floor plan.  How does traffic move when it enters your library.  Is this the way you want it to go?  If not, how can furniture be re-arranged to help it go in a better direction.  Do students have room to move around tables?  When your library is busy, step back for a few moments and consider whether the arrangement is working to help promote collaboration without creating unnecessary noise.  (I always had a fairly noisy library, but it was almost always under control—voices did not need to be raised to be heard.)

Do you like the way the computers are placed?  The printer(s)?  Does the arrangement work? If not, what needs to be changed?  You probably can’t do anything until school is out, but you need to know what you want done and you can start making and keeping notes.

Coffee and snack for break
Coffee and snack for break

Don’t forget about welcoming teachers. If you have the room, create a “teacher table.”  You can put a copy of a current education magazine such as Educational Leadership from ASCD and perhaps one or two new professional titles.

Keep the coffee pot on in your office and have snacks there.  It’s a tried-and-true way to bring teachers in. (It also brought in my IT people.) Once they are accustomed to hanging out there, you can show them some of your latest additions, mention a new website you think they’d like or want to use with students.  Start building new relationships with food and eventually you can branch out to collaboration or cooperation.

You have to show everyone that the Welcome Mat is always out at the library.

What are you doing to show the library is a safe, welcoming environment?




ON LIBRARIES: Mentors – Get One Or Be One

mentoringMentoring has long been a business practice, but it didn’t have much of a role in education until states began allowing people to become certified through alternate routes rather than taking traditional education course in college.  These new hires had limited knowledge of pedagogy and educational practices.  To get them up to speed quickly, many states instituted mentorships whereby an experienced teacher would guide these newbies through the routines, paperwork, and assorted requirements.

While it’s nice for a school librarian to have a teacher mentor, it does not solve most of the challenges facing someone who is new or relatively new on the job.  A teacher can show you the ropes as they apply to the building or district, but not the ones directly related to being librarian. Teachers don’t deal with budgets, purchase orders, people walking in and out of their rooms, a vague or non-existent curriculum, or administrators who don’t know what you are supposed to do other than teach.

In addition, as a librarian you deal with teacher demands, tech responsibilities, and the tech department for a host of issues ranging from updating your automation system and inputting new students and teachers into that system to loading any new databases.  Where can you get help?  Not from a teacher.  You need a school librarian as your mentor.

Getting a Mentorkeep calm - mentor

You have a few options as to how to acquire a mentor.  It might be simplest to find another librarian in your district and ask him or her to be your mentor.  They are familiar with how the district operates, probably order from the same vendor that you will, and know the people and practices of your districts’ tech department.

Another way to acquire a mentor is to go to your state library association’s website and see if they have a mentor program.  Many do and will find one for you, preferably located close to you geographically.  My own state of New Jersey has a detailed mentorship program with explanations of the responsibilities of mentors and mentees, the reporting process, and more.

If that avenue is not available, go to you association’s online discussion board (also called listserv).  Monitor it for a while to see who is most active and which contributors seem to be the most respected and well-versed in the latest practices in school librarianship.  Email one of these librarians and ask him or her to be your mentor.

reach the topBeing a Mentor

Those of you who are quite experienced and who are regarded as leaders in your state need to step up and become mentors. If you want school library programs to flourish, you are responsible to help all school librarians to be successful and to grow into being leaders. One of my favorite quotes is by Tom Peters who said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.

Now that you accept your responsibility to become a mentor, you need to find mentees.  If your state association doesn’t have a mentorship program, propose one.  Use a national forum such as LM_NET or AASL_Forum to find out which states have a program and are willing to share it with you.  No need to re-create the wheel.

In the meantime, check to see if your district has any new hires. Positions that once were eliminated are slowly (OK, very slowly) being restored in places.  More often than in the recent past, when a librarian leaves or retires the position is not being eliminated, so districts are getting more new librarians. Reach out to these newbies and offer you services.

You can also go on you state association’s discussion board and suggest a core of volunteer mentors for new librarians, saying you would want to be one to help those starting out be successful.  The simple act of putting yourself out there should bring both requests from those who recognize what a gift this is and volunteers who will join you in becoming mentors.

Mentor/Mentee Relationshipmentor wanted

Both mentors and mentees have responsibilities in this relationship and it’s best if these are discussed clearly from the beginning.  The mentee has the obligation of honoring the mentors’ time and using the communication channel the mentor prefers whether it’s phone, email, skype, or whatever seems best.  Sometimes the mentor can come to the mentee’s school. Also determine the frequency of communications. It can be on an as-needed basis or there can be a regular schedule.

Additionally the mentee must be clear as to his/her needs. What specifically does the mentee want to know or learn?  I have had mentees email me a copy of an evaluation they received, explained what happened, and asked for the best way to respond to it  I have been asked to help craft a memo to a principal regarding a problem situation and do it in a way the librarian didn’t sound as though she was whining or complaining.

It is also a good idea for the mentee to keep track of the number and content of the communications.  This serves as documentation of the mentees’ growth. If kept general enough, the mentee might be able to use it to show the principal what he/she learned.

The role of the mentor is more than simply being a coach.  Yes, the mentor cheers on the mentee on those down days when all seems to be going wrong and points to places where the mentee has shown growth, but in addition they need to be good listeners and not rush in with answers and advice.  They ask guiding questions, much the way we do with students.  It’s important that the mentee learn to think through problems and situations on his/her own.

The mentor is also the mentee’s link to resources. This included reminding them of national association websites, informing them of tech resources and apps as well as connecting and introducing them to other leaders.  Slowly the mentor guides the mentee not only to be confident and successful on the job, but more importantly, the mentor helps the mentee on the path to leadership.

help is on thewayDo you have a mentor or have you had one?  What did you learn?  Have you ever been a mentor? What did you learn and gain from it?


BONUS!!  Download your free Mentor-Mentee contract here!