ON LIBRARIES: The Art of Asking

You want to attend a conference or workshop, or you want to purchase something for the library that isn’t in the budget.  Spring and fall are the most common times for state library associations to have their conferences. These are always excellent sources of Professional Development (PD), but many librarians don’t attend because they aren’t given the time and/or the money.

What do you do?  Do you ask anyway?  Many choose not to if past experience has led to your administrator turning you down.  But we know – if you don’t ask, the answer is always, “No.”  Even when you are all but certain you know the answer, you can get heard and receive a different result if you frame your request differently.

The first thing to do is look at how you ask now.  Do you send an email with the information or ask in person? It’s far too easy for an administrator to send a quick refusal via e-mail. You need to meet in person, and you need to plan your campaign in advance.

Before your meeting go to your association’s website and carefully review the programs at the conference.  Which ones are you likely choose?  Invariably it’s those that have bearing on what you do with teachers and students.  Make a note of which ones you plan to attend along with how you hope to implement what you learn.

Check the keynote and luncheon speakers.  What topics will they be covering?  Do these have any relevant connection to what you are doing in your school? Or a connection to a goal of your administrator? Knowing these things and being able to speak to the benefits will support your cause for funding. If you also need to be looking at new purchases for the library, try to find out which vendors will be there.  You can assume that automation systems, some publishers, and database companies will be in attendance.

Prepare a bulleted list, divided by categories such as technology, literature, STEM, and critical thinking. Your list should be in order of what you principal most values. Armed with your information schedule a meeting with your principal.  Studies show that Friday at the end of the day is the best time.  Your principal is least harried then.

You don’t want to take more than ten minutes or your principal is likely to start checking his/her watch. Plan your presentation carefully. Lead with the needs of the students and/or teachers.  For example, you might say, “Our students are having difficulty finding valid pro/con sources for their papers. To deal with the problem, I want to investigate the best and most reasonably priced databases to help them.”  Then mention the conference.

Continue with one or two more items and give your principal the list you prepared.  State that the conference is PD directed towards school library programs, will be of benefit to the whole school. Then ask for the professional day(s).  If you get it, also try for reimbursement.  Remember, if you don’t ask, the answer is always, “No.”

Is this guaranteed to work?  Of course not, but it will certainly improve your chances. Having this meeting shows you are interested in improving the library program and your skills for the school, and when you come back next year and ask again (which you should no matter the answer!!) you very well might get a different answer.

If you are willing, let the principal know this is so important you will take a personal day.  After the conference write up a brief report (no more than one page) of what you learned and how you plan to use it. If you were given the time or funding, make sure to offer your thanks. When you have a lesson that incorporates something you got from the conference, invite the principal and/or video the highlights so he/she can see the benefits in action.

Asking for something larger (read: more expensive) requires even more planning.  Way back in the early 1990s, CDs were the emerging technology.  Encyclopedias and some databases were available in this form.  In order to easily access them, you could get a CD tower that enabled the switching to occur seamlessly to the user.  Unfortunately, the towers were expensive.  (I really think they may have been $20,000 since computers were costing about $9,000.)

I was working in a district that voted down the budget twenty times in my twenty-two years there. I scheduled a meeting with my Superintendent, knowing even my principal couldn’t authorize that much money without doing some begging for me which wasn’t going to happen. I met with her during the summer.  And I heartily recommend you do this every summer – normally with your principal.  This is the best time to negotiate for anything including getting professional days and reimbursement for conferences in anticipation of the upcoming budget preparation in the fall.

As I anticipated, my superintendent was somewhat taken aback by the price tag. I agreed but reviewed why we need it.  She said I had to cut my existing budget someplace.  After looking at the possibilities that would least impact the program, we ended up cutting some book money, some A-V purchases, and a few other places.

When fall came and I had to submit my budget for the next year, the CD tower was on it.  I made sure my principal knew it was “pre-approved,” explaining that because the cost was so high I wanted to be sure we would all be on the same page.

I didn’t always get what I wanted.  Sometimes I had to modify my requests or recognize it was a lost cause.  But I did get a high percentage because I was prepared, persistent, and flexible. Asking for what I wanted took work and planning, but it was always worth it – no matter the answer. I showed I was a leader and that I was always working to improve the library program to benefit students and teachers.

It pays to ask, otherwise… they are going to say “yes” to someone else.

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Confessions of a Conference Junkie

It’s true.  I admit it I am totally hooked on library conferences. On Wednesday afternoon I will be flying to Phoenix to attend the AASL Conference.  The following week I will be at my state library association’s conference.  I am already registered for ALA Midwinter in Denver (yes, winter in Denver) in February of 2018.

Those of you who haven’t attended any of these, particularly the ALA/AASL ones, may wonder how I got hooked and why I keep going.  It started innocently enough.  I went to my state conference. And one of the reasons I chose to go was because it was easy to get to the site.

It turned out to not only be familiar but a lot of fun. A number of my librarian friends were there and the vendor reps for the most part were the ones who called on me. I got to see several programs that were helpful, some of which were led by people I knew so I could follow up with them.  There were some nice freebies (now called swag), and I met more librarians from my state who I hadn’t known before.

I continued to attend and I became known by leadership people which led to my being asked to serve on committees.  Although it was a bit scary, I tried one.  It accelerated my learning curve, and I became a truly active member of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (then called EMAnj).

Then in 1979, (yes, I have been a librarian for a long time), I attended my first ALA Annual Conference.  Along with Ruth Toor, I had written my first book – The School Librarian’s Almanac – and thought it was time to look at the larger scene.

That year the site was easy again. It was held in New York City. As a New Jersey resident who was born in New York, I was comfortable there. Lots of the New Jersey librarians I had come to know also attended.

It was somewhat overwhelming, but thrilling at the same time.  It was SO much bigger. As I walked to the Convention Center I saw so many people wearing conference badges and carrying the bags attendees were given.  I struggled a bit to choose among so many programs.  There were more vendors than I ever heard of, but I did see a quite a few familiar faces among the reps. And the swag was amazing. I came home with bags, books, bookmarks and other great things for my library.

One of my best memories from that conference was meeting Isaac Asimov.  I had loved his works since I discovered them while in high school.  He even kissed my cheek.  I didn’t want to wash it.

Sitting at the food courts and sharing tables I met so many librarians from all over the country. There even were some from countries around the world.   I was learning even when I wasn’t at a program or in the exhibit hall.  I was hooked.  I never looked back.  I couldn’t wait for the next conference.  Fair Warning—conference going is addictive.

Since that time I have never missed an ALA Conference. I remember going to Toronto, Canada in 2003 for the first joint conference with the Canadian Library Association.  It was made even more memorable because shortly before the conference, Canada experienced an outbreak of the SARS virus.  Those of us who didn’t decide to skip the conference were made extremely welcome.

After attending ALA Annual for several years, and taking volunteer positions in my state organization I became the president-elect of NJASL and was therefore a delegate to AASL’s Affiliate Assembly. Since it met at ALA Midwinter in addition to annual, I attended that.  And discovered it was the same and different from Annual.  Smaller in some ways, without as many programs, there were still committee meetings, great exhibits—and of course, swag.

In my new position I met our national leaders. I was surprised to discover how approachable they were. Before long I was serving on AASL committees.  In 1980, AASL had its first conference.  I didn’t the first or second (they are every other year), but I did go to the third held in Atlanta, GA. Aside from a family emergency that caused me to change plans at the last minute, I have attended every AASL Conference since then.

I had no choice but to be hooked. So many programs, so many vendors.  And all of them directed to school librarians.  It was perfect.  When AASL began holding its National Institutes, commonly known as the Fall Forum, I couldn’t wait to attend.  These were very small, and focused on a single topic/issue of importance to school librarians. It was the perfect setting for intense learning.

So here am I once again eagerly packing for an AASL Conference. (I will be skipping my blog next week as I will be in Phoenix.) What do I have to show for it?  Well, the swag does accumulate.  I will never need to buy a canvas bag.  I always have a huge supply of pens and post-it notes plus assorted helpful items from thumb drives to earphones.

More importantly, to a great extent, the leader I am today came about as a result of all my conference going.

Are you a conference junkie?  Which ones do you attend?  What are some of your best memories? What would be a good first one for you – state, AASL, or national? Wanna join me in New Orleans next year?