ON LIBRARIES: Make Your Presence Known

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







ON LIBRARIES – Are You a Professional?

professional-2Of course you are. But what exactly does that mean?

The term came up when I was talking with my editor at ALA Editions.  I had just submitted the manuscript for my new book, Leading for School Librarians: There is No Option. It was slightly more than a month ahead of deadline and at something over 64,000 words met the contractual target of 55,000-65,000 words.  She also knew I completed it in less than five months while continually teaching several online courses, and she said in admiration, “You are a professional.”

It’s lovely to hear something like that and it took me back over thirty years to the superintendent of schools where I was working.  She skillfully led a district which voted down budgets twenty times in the twenty-two years I was there.  Knowing she had to operate on a shoestring, she very successfully learned the art of complimenting in ways to get faculty to do and give more.  In our conversation, she said “I can always count on you. You are a true professional.” I beamed and, of course, I did what she wanted.

But I have now begun thinking what does it mean to be a professional.  Of the definitions in Merriam Webster, one is particularly relevant –“relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill.” School librarians certainly meet that criteria.

In the more expanded form the criteria is somewhat less universally true of librarians. While many are “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession,” there are some who are either unaware of the ALA Code of Ethics or haven’t consulted it in a very long time and are not always following it. Indeed a far-too high percentage of school librarians don’t belong to AASL and some don’t even belong to their state library association.  Can you imagine a doctor who isn’t a member of the American Medical Association or a lawyer who isn’t a member of the American Bar Association?

Still not convinced I had addressed all the connotations of “professional,” I turned to the business world and found these two definitions in the online Business Dictionary:professional

  1. Person formally certified by a professional body of belonging to a specific profession by virtue of having completed a required course of studies and/or practice. And whose competence can usually be measured against an established set of standards.
  2. Person who has achieved an acclaimed level of proficiency in a calling or trade.”

Librarians do meet the first definition, but the only “acclaimed level of proficiency” we can attain is probably to have a NBPTS Library Media certification. It certainly demonstrates you are a professional, but only a small percentage of librarians have undertaken that arduous and costly route. (There are sources to help cover the cost.) nb-logo

Being a good librarian—and therefore a good searcher, I continued my exploration of the term professional.  I hit real pay dirt at the Tech Republic site where I found not so much a definition but rather an excellent list of how a professional behaves.   I think this is what we want to take to heart and use to become recognized by others as a “professional.”

Put Customers First

In order to meet this requirement, you have to identify your customers.  Your students are your obvious customers, but so are teachers, administrators, and any number of other stakeholders.  It means they will always have priority over any tasks waiting your attention. “Professionals identify and satisfy their customer’s needs.”

Make Expertise Your Specialty

If you are a professional, you are an expert at something.  Recognize the areas where you are an expert.  Know why this expertise is important to customers.  Keep getting better at it. And incorporate your expertise into your Mission Statement so your customers know the benefits they get from working with you. And you become more valued. “Professionals know their trade.”

Do More than Expectedexceed-expectations

So many of you are doing this.  Your day extends before and after the school day.  You also may be giving teachers more help than they expected from you.  Perhaps you send them weekly emails on online tech resources or apps they can use with their units and volunteer to help them master the sites. You go the extra mile with a student who is struggling to complete an assignment but has limited access to a computer and/or the Internet at home.  “Professionals meet or exceed expectations whenever possible.

Do What You Say and Say What You Can Do

Don’t promise more that you can deliver.  You can always go beyond what you promised (see above). You want your “customers” to know they can trust and count on you.”  It can be easy to get caught up in the moment either touting what school library programs can do or wanting to be seen as invaluable to a teacher, that you go beyond what is in your power to do given your staffing and time.  “Professionals deliver on promises made.”

Communicate Effectively

We are great communicators, but not necessarily on all platforms.  In today’s world you need to be able to send emails, create compelling reports, text on occasion in the education world, develop informative websites, tweet, and speak effectively and to the point. In addition, you need to know the best medium for your message.  It’s a tall order but if you didn’t choose the most effective means for a particular message, it’s likely to be overlooked or, worse, misinterpreted. “Whether verbal or written, professionals communicate clearly, concisely, thoroughly, and accurately.”

Follow Exceptional Guiding Principles

In this case, it’s back to the ethics of our profession as well as the Common Beliefs of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. Know and practice them. “Professionals adhere to high values and principles.”

good-jobPraise Your Peers Not Yourself

Always find opportunities to put teachers (and any staff you have) into the limelight. “Professionals are humble and generous in their praise of others.”

Share Your Knowledge

Of course.  We wouldn’t be librarians if we didn’t do this. “Professionals help their peers and are respected for doing so.

Say Thank You

I learned a lot from that Superintendent of Schools. A well-thought out thank you goes a long way. “Professionals thank others in a meaningful way that most benefits the recipient.”

Keep a Smile on Your Face and the Right Attitude in Your Heart

We want the library to be a warm, safe, welcoming environment. A smile is a good start.  And if you have a positive attitude it will be read in your body language.  Most communication is non-verbal. “Professionals are pleasant even during trying times.

You probably do more than half of these. Are there any that you need to cultivate?  My certification as a public librarian is “Professional Librarian.”  I wish the one for school librarians carried that designation.  Even so consider yourself a “Professional School Librarian” (or whatever you are called in your state), and work to be sure you live up to that every day.



ON LIBRARIES: Embracing Standards

Standards have several definitions among them, according to Merriam Webster, are “ideas about morally standardscorrect and acceptable behavior,” “something that is very good and that is used to make judgments about the quality of other things,” and “a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable.” The first definition is a personal one that guides our actions and choices in life.  We deal with the next two in our professional lives.

We have always had curricular standards, but Common Core pushed that into high gear.  It became tied to high stake tests, which in many places were use in the evaluations of teachers and librarians, affecting their future.  While this has been moderated somewhat, the underlying truth is that none of us can ignore national and state standards.

Common Core is in the process of disappearing as ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) takes its place.  We are still learning how it will be applied and how it will impact school library programs. While the Act includes libraries in funding, obtaining it is not automatic.  Librarians on the national, state, and local level need to be prepared in order to participate in the funding.essa

AASL has a “landing site” for information about ESSA.  It include a PDF from ALA’s Washington Office on Opportunities for School Librarians which is a good place to start. There is also a link to District Dispatch’s ESSA Updates and to Updates on Knowledge Quest. (Dorcas Hand’s posts from what the Texas Library Association is doing are particularly helpful.) Be sure to check both of these links regularly. Your own state library association is probably gathering information for you as well, and will undoubtedly be putting on programs at their annual conferences. You need to be aware of what they have on their website and to make attending the conference a priority.

In addition to these national standards, our teaching needs to be aligned with our own library standards. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has just updated its Standards for Students, replacing the 2007 ones. Standards for Teachers and another for Administrators will follow, along with standards for computer science educators and coaches. Based on the past, these will reflect the Standards for Students.

The changes between the old and the new are highly significant and highlight what has happened in the intervening nine years. The areas covered in the 2007 standards are:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Technology Operations and Concepts

At first glance they seem quite appropriate for today’s students—until you see the new areas which are:

  • Empowered Learner
  • Digital Citizen
  • Knowledge Constructor
  • Innovative Designer
  • Computational Thinker
  • Creative Communicator
  • Global Collaborator

A short paragraph explains the meaning and context of these areas and then gives four indicators for each.  We are putting much more demands on students being able to produce and contribute in new ways in order to succeed in the global society.

measuringThe ISTE Standards are available as a free download and you should start integrating them into your teaching.  Share them with your teachers and administrators.  Possibly because ISTE throws a wider net than just school librarians, administrators are often more interested in them.

The AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner were also published in 2007, and like the ISTE ones need to be updated.  The process began in March 2015 and the new standards will be released in the fall of 2017 along with implementation tools to help you incorporate them into your teaching.  The roll-out will coincide with AASL’s 18th National Conference and Exhibition to be held from November 9 to 12 in Phoenix, Arizona.  Start planning now to attend.

The links and list of standards seems overwhelming, but when you look more closely, you can see how many are the same just stated differently and/or from a slightly different perspective.  Work on including as many as you can into your teaching to demonstrate how you transform student learning and help them achieve on high stakes tests –and life.

Which standards are you now using?  Which challenge you? Which do you want to add?


ON LIBRARIES: Leadership – There Is No Other Option

On Saturday, June 25, I was honored at the AASL Awards Program to receive the 2016 aaslDistinguished Service Award.  As part of the presentation, I had the opportunity to speak and I addressed a topic I have been writing about for years. This is something you know I am passionate about, so I am sharing that brief speech as my blog for the week.


IMG_3562My deepest thanks to AASL, Baker & Taylor, and to everyone who had a part in nominating me for this incredible honor. To say I was absolutely dumbfounded when I got the news is a giant understatement of how I felt. I have long admired so many of the past winners whom I know personally, and can think of so many others who deserve this award as much as I do.  A good number of them are in the room right now.

Although it is called the “Distinguished Service Award,” it is truly one that recognizes leadership in the profession and leadership has been a soap box I have been on for decades. Most of you here right now are leaders.  Some farther along than others, but all of you have begun that journey.Leadership wordle

Unfortunately there are too many librarians who have yet to step out of the comfort zone of their libraries and accept the fact that leadership is no longer an option.  It is a job requirement. Our students and teachers need us to be leaders.  And our profession needs librarians who know how to make their presence known and their program be viewed as vital and indispensable.

AASL can provide resources.  All of you can be mentors.  But we must recognize that it is not enough for us to lead and be successful. If we all aren’t successful, too many people will not realize the unique roles we play and how these affect our students, teachers, and often the administration as well.

I honestly think we have turned a corner on the depletion of librarians and libraries, but it will be a slow climb back and the direction will not always go forward.  We must be there to support our colleagues who find leadership a scary thought and have told themselves many stories as to why they can’t be leaders.

I will address only one here, but I have heard it often. “Leaders are born, and I wasn’t born a leader.”  Guess what?  Neither was I.  If you met me in high school and college you would know I was not and would never be a leader.  If you saw me on my first two jobs, you would be convinced I had no idea how to lead.

IMG_3565I don’t think anyone would say that of me today.  What happened?  I joined my state association and was on a committee.  (Note, I didn’t chair it.) I joined ALA/AASL and went to conferences and programs.  There I learned the “language” of our profession, meaning I could speak with authority and conviction about topics relating to school libraries and education.

I moved out of my comfort zone.  I started saying “yes” when my brain was screaming, “are you crazy?  You can’t do that.”  But I was smart.  I got help.  I didn’t do it alone.  We think we are alone because we usually are the only librarian in our building.  But we belong to the most generously supportive profession in the world.

When I had a question, I could get an answer from around my state – and then the country.  And at first I needed a telephone for that. Fortunately, we now have many more ways to connect.

So please, be the help that your librarian colleagues need.  Make it known you are there for advice and help.  We belong to a very old profession that has been important to the progress of civilization for thousands of years.  We can all take it to the next level and insure that we continue to make our invaluable contributions, for we truly transform our communities and our society.


challenge acceptedFINAL NOTE: The challenge remains.  We  need to commit ourselves to ensuring all our librarians are leaders. What are you doing personally to become a leader or to expand your leadership?  How are you helping the librarians in your state and your district to become leaders?

ON LIBRARIES: Mastering Managing

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You are well aware of the many roles you have as a school librarian, but whether you are at an elementary, middle, or high school the one you will be evaluated on and judged by is your teaching.  To a great extent this translates into how well you manage your classes.  Do students follow instructions or do they get out of hand? Can you deal with disruptive students? How often do you send students to the office?

Classroom management is not a usual topic in library school which makes it particularly challenging for those who have never taught.  But even seasoned teachers who move to the library are not as skilled as they thought they would be.  The library environment is very different from the classroom and while some procedures work the same, it is not always the cases.classroom management

Managing When You Are on a Fixed Schedule

Most elementary and some middle school librarians operate on a fixed schedule. Teachers happily drop off their students and go off to their duty-free period.  When it’s over they are waiting at the door to pick them up.  The teacher is well aware of how “her” students are as they head into the library and how they are when leaving – and they judge your abilities to manage the class.

Note they think of it as leaving their students with you, and that’s part of the challenge.  The students are not truly yours.  You get them at best once a week.  Even learning their names is a challenge.  You don’t have regular assigned seats.  The environment is open.  There are bookcases where students can get conveniently “lost” and anyone can drop in, interrupting whatever flow you may have gotten going.

Rules and Guidelines

You undoubtedly have rules for the library, but they can work against you.  Negatives bring forth negative responses.  Any rule that begins with the word “no” can spark resistance. Focus on the positives and encourage students to be their best.

You can keep it simple with these three basics:  Respect yourself, Respect others, and Respect the library.  Have students explain what these mean.  If you introduce these at the start of the school year, engage students in a discussion with them supplying examples for each of the three.

If someone acts out later in the year, remind the student of the rules.  Ask what would be a better way to behave.  Having them tell you is much better than you lecturing them.


Classrooms have routines and the library needs them as well.  Always greet students at the door as they entering.  Make comments, such as, “That’s a nice t-shirt,” or “I missed you last week.” Use their names as soon as you learn them.

Book return is customarily first. Have two students handling that, arranging the returns on a cart.  Keep alternating who has the job and don’t limit it to the “good kids.”  You want all students to develop a sense of ownership of the library.

Have one students direct the class to where you want them next – by the computers, at tables, or your story corner.  You should be there as soon as possible.  Praise positive behavior and ignore as much as possible those who are not settling in immediately.  If necessary, ask that student about the “rule.”

Whether it’s a lesson or story time, always have a focusing question to get them thinking and talking about the topic you will be presenting. Encourage them to ask deep questions.  As the lesson or story draws to a close, have a wrap-up question that guides them into summarizing and synthesizing the lesson.

Direct students in an orderly way to the next phase which is usually book selection and checkout. Be sure they know where to go while waiting for the whole class to complete this portion. As they line up to leave, keep fidgeting to a minimum by having them share what they most remember about that day’s library period.  Greet the teacher as you turn the students back to their classroom teacher.


You are bound to have at least one class that always seems to be difficult.  Without realizing it, you often exacerbate the problem.  If all you can think of when they enter is, “I can’t wait until this class is over,” or “I wonder how much trouble they will cause today,” you are setting yourself and them up.

Your body language is signaling your thoughts and kids pick that up. You wouldn’t like it if someone dreaded seeing you, and your reaction to that person would be very negative.  Students are no different.

To reduce the potential for confrontations, change your attitude.  Think, “I wonder if I can find Bill the perfect book today,” or “I am going to get a smile from Diane, she seems so lonely.”  Look for positives.

But what about a student who walks in the door in a hostile manner?  First of all, recognize it has nothing to do with you. Something set him or her off before coming to the library. Try saying something like, “You look as though you are having a tough day.  Is there anything I can do to help?flex

Managing on a Flex Schedule

In most middle and all high schools, librarians have flex schedules.  There are much fewer challenges when teachers are with their class, but you do need to deal with drop-ins. Because of the numbers, the noise level can get quickly out of hand.  Teachers in the library will take note of how well you handle this.  And the last thing you want is for an administrator to show up because they have been alerted to the situation.

In brief, positive rules work here as well.  So does smiling and keeping a positive attitude. A sense of humor helps most of all.  Keep it light.

Go over to a noisy table and quietly ask them to lower their voices. Be friendly as you say it. If they argue that another table is noisier, let them know you will be dealing with them, but for now this is the group you are addressing.

Only in the direst situations should you raise your voice to quiet the whole library.  As soon as you do you have announced you have lost control of the library.  You can get away with it perhaps twice in a school year.

When you have an orderly (not silent, not even mostly quiet – just orderly) library, you will be respected as a teacher.  It may seem odd, since this is not specifically about your teaching, but it is how you will be judged.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is on my mind a lot as I discuss Classroom Management in greater detail in an upcoming book I am writing for ALA Editions.



ON LIBRARIES: Mixed Messages

mixed messages2We are not always aware of the unintended messages we send.  Students in particular pick up on these, but others do as well.

I remember a fourth grade teacher who was who wanted her students to be good at writing and to love it. She worked hard on her writing lesson plans so that her students would enjoy the process.  One day I stopped by her class to tell her something important.  She met me at her door, and we talked while she kept an eye on her students.  The conversation ran a little longer than I had anticipated.  The kids got antsy and began talking with each other. The teacher turned to the class and said, “Is this how you behave when I am speaking with a guest?  Settle down right now or you will be writing two paragraphs on how we act when I have a visitor.”  With that one comment she told students writing is not fun; it is a punishment.

The teacher unthinkingly reverted to a “teacher default” response.  It is sometimes said that teachers teach as they were taught, not as they were taught to teach. I don’t believe that’s true most of the time, but when stressed or upset they say and do things the way teachers used to do.  It’s like the jokes about women becoming their mothers and using the same phrases as the previous generation.unclear

With Students

The first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st– Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.” Many of you include “developing lifelong readers” or some variant of that in your Mission Statement.  Even without it in the statement, it’s a goal we hold very strongly.  How do you send that message?

You probably put new books out on display.  You talk to students about what they are reading. You recommend titles to students based on what you know of their likes and interests. And you share your own enthusiasm for books. All are wonderful way to send your message.

But do you then do something that sends a very different message?  I know countless elementary librarians who won’t let kids borrow a book if they have one (or more) overdues.  The message becomes: getting books back on the shelf is more important than having the student read.

The argument offered in most cases is you are teaching the child to be responsible. And besides, you can’t afford to lose books. What is more important, responsibility or developing their reading habit?  Of even greater concern to me is imposing a flat rule without taking into consideration different circumstances kids have.  For example children of divorce may their divide time between two houses. It’s easy to leave a book at one parent’s home and not be able to get it back in time for their “library day.” Give kids some leeway. Ask them when they plan to bring it back.  Have a reminder card you can give them to help.  Instead of requiring responsibility, help them learn it.

rulesIf you are helping a student and a teacher comes in wanting to talk with you do you end your conversation with the kid quickly so you can respond to the teacher?  This lets the student know that he/she is not as important to you as adults are.

Do you want your library to be a safe, welcoming environment?  The phrase shows up often in Vision Statements, but posted library rules – a list of “no’s” usually – sends a message that behavior is what really counts. Do students have to speak softly while teachers can speak loudly?  Watch for your double standards.

With Teachers

Librarians often resent they are not regarded as teachers.  You teach every day and with all types of students.  Sometimes it’s a whole class.  Other times it’s one-on-one. Are you sending the message that you are a teacher or are you sending another message?

I witnessed the worst example of this a number of years ago.  Teachers have always dropped into the libraries where I worked.  Sometimes to plan a lesson, but often to gripe about something.  While I never joined the complaints, I was a listening ear letting them know I recognized how upset they were.  One time, my co-librarian was listening with me to a teacher’s mini-rant.  Her response was, “You teachers….”  And I knew she had created a gulf between her and the teacher.  It always needs to be “We teachers,” in what you say and how you behave.frustrated

Unless we start noticing on some of our instinctive responses we are likely to send mixed messages to students, teachers, parents, and administrators.  Think about how you want to be perceived by these members of the educational community.  Then work to be sure your interactions promote it.

ON LIBRARIES: It Begins With Relationships

build bridgesWhy is one librarian successful and another isn’t?  They can both work in the same district.  Their training and years on the job can be about the same.  The successful librarian might even be a newbie with lots to learn and the other with many years of experience.  Somehow the library program of one continues to grow and flourish while the other languishes.  Teachers resist using it, and when they do prefer to handle their students without any help from the librarian.  At the elementary level, the closest they come to the library is when they drop their students off and pick them up.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I have seen this favorite quote of mine attributed to a number of different sources, but the oldest citing I have gives Theodore Roosevelt the credit. What is important is that it is true.

I have said it many times, in the books I have written and the presentations I have given, “We are in the relationship business.” What I haven’t said is that if you don’t know how to build relationships you will be out business.

Librarians don’t have the luxury of not liking someone on the staff.  The job responsibility requires you to get along with everyone.  Not an always simple task when there are people who grate on your nerves and never have a nice word to say.  Yet it can and must be done. Let’s begin with some easy relationship building.

Relationships with Studentsworking with kids

You don’t grade them. They are not “yours.”  If they don’t like you, they will not only make it obvious, they will make your life miserable. Discipline problems grow and from your principal’s perspective you cannot manage your “classroom.”

While any kid can act out on a bad day, that should not be the norm.   Start by giving respect and you will get it back. Many librarians don’t realize how often they disrespect a student.  An adult comes in, and they break off any conversation, making it obvious to the student that you consider adults more important and worthy of your time. You help teachers find information, but you direct students where to go or give them a mini-lesson. Yes, you are there to teach them, but are you following up to see if they found what they needed?  Wouldn’t the lesson work just as well if you gave it and modeled the steps with them?

Do you make an effort to get to know students, particularly those who come to the library frequently? Do you know their interests? The books, authors, and activities they like?  Have you ever said to one of them, “I’m so glad you came in. We just got some new books, and I have one I am sure you will like. Do you want to see it?”  Students, like everyone else, appreciate when you show you know who they really are.

Parents-orientationRelationship with Teachers

The first rule in building relationships with teachers is to respect their confidences.  The grapevine and gossip is alive and well in every school. You cannot be a contributor. Relationships are based on trust and repeating what you are told is the quickest way to destroy any trust you built up.

A core of teachers everywhere are chronic complainers.  They complain about the administration, their fellow teachers, and their students. Don’t get sucked in.  You can say, “I understand how you feel,” or “I get how angry you are.” But never agree with those sentiments.  You can be sure it will be broadcast throughout the school. With PARCC testing more teachers than ever are complaining, and you undoubtedly have the same sentiments.  Saying, “I know hard everyone has been working. It’s been stressful,” is perfectly OK. Notice, you don’t add, how difficult it has been for you.  That comes off as whining, and it never works.

Slowly get to know teachers’ personal interests, hobbies, and whatever they care about.  If you find a website or a Pinterest board you think they would like, share it with them. The more communications and connections you have, the more likely they will be open to collaborating with you.

Administrators and Board Membersbuild-realtionships

This group is probably the most challenging for you to develop relationships, and yet as power stakeholders, they are the most important.  Begin with your principal.  Listen to what he/she says at faculty meetings and in other communications.  What seems to be of most importance to him/her?  High stakes test? Integrating technology?  Community outreach? How can the library program help attain it?  Figure out how to present that information in under five minutes (they are always heavily pressed for time), and show what a team player you are and how vital the library program is.  You can also find out about personal interests, just as you did with teachers.

Unless you know them personally, the best way to get to know Board members is to go to Board meetings.  See if you can get the other librarians in your district to take turns attending meetings.  Which Board member seems to be most likely to support libraries?  Perhaps you can send that person, with your principal’s approval, a quarterly or annual report.  Be sure it is visual and shows students at work.  Keep the information channel open.  Issue invitations, and learn more about their interests.

Remember, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Build relationships first, and everything else will follow.

ON LIBRARIES: From Library to Learning Commons

learning commonsYou have heard the term Learning Commons.  You may have read an article or two about it and thought it sounded wonderful—in a distant way.  Your library can’t become a Learning Commons. Because:

  • It takes too much time.
  • It costs too much money.
  • The administration won’t go for it.

For the most part, all three reasons (and any more you can come up with) are true—and false. If you decide it can’t happen in your library, it won’t. But what if you could transform your library into a Learning Commons?  Would it be worth the time and the risk?  How would having a Learning Commons change the perception of your program in the eyes of students? Teachers? Administrators? Parents and the larger community?  It’s one more step, a big one but a step, in demonstrating your leadership.transformation2

Some Reasons to Consider

Let’s start with why you should want to make the transformation.  Years ago, school librarians added the word “media” to their title. The reason was to focus attention on how libraries had moved from just having print to incorporating technology into learning and research.  It was important to change perceptions to prevent libraries being regarded as dusty warehouses.

Once again it is time to change perceptions first and then change reality.  As with many businesses, the 21st century demands we reinvent ourselves.  Does your library look like one from the 1990’s?  Earlier?  The world has changed radically in the past quarter of a century, and it’s not just the technology.  It’s how our relationships, learning, and communications have been transformed by technology.

We are living in a participatory culture.  We rely on crowd-sourcing, curating, and 24/7 access to information—much of it from our smart phones.  Does your library reflect those changes?  If you were a students would you see the library as a place to learn, create, share, and grow? (Those are the shortcut phrases describing the four standards of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.)

planCreating a Plan

As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Fortunately, you don’t need to do this on your own.  In a Knowledge Quest article Carole Koechlin and David V. Loerstcher explain the elements needed in a Learning Commons and how to plan for them.

While the article is an excellent start, you also need an incentive to keep you going. You are all highly capable researchers. Look for images of Learning Commons and more articles detailing how others have made the transformation.  Not only will this inspire you, it will be useful later when you present your plan. Limit your search by grade level.  While the concept stays the same, you may want to know what an elementary Learning Commons looks like.

Don’t be intimidated by the pictures.  Just look at the message the different spaces convey.  It’s all about participating, sharing, creating, doing. Where in the Learning Commons do these different activities happen?  You want to demonstrate the library is not just a place for finding things.  It’s a place for making things – and more.  It promotes inquiry learning just by the environment it creates.

The conversion to a Learning Commons does not have to be done in one year.  In fact, it might be better if it were stretched out to at least three years.  This way you can see what is working, what needs tweaking, and where you need to add or delete ideas you had for the next stage.

Finding the Moneyfind the money

Your space will need to change.  Fresh paint on walls, green screens, signs, and new furniture cost money. Most of you have been struggling with small or no budgets.  How can you pay for this?  Time to get creative.

What parts of the transformation are DIY – or DIY with volunteer help? What can be done cheaply? For example tables and chairs need to be moveable to allow maximum flexibility.  How much would it cost to put what you have on casters?  What outside sources of funds are available?  Most districts have a local education foundation that gives grants.  Are there other grants you could apply for?  Could the parent teacher organization help in any way?

talkConvincing the Administrators

Nothing is going to happen without the support of the administration.  Once you have you plan put together and have collected a file of pictures, prepare a pitch for your principal. Be sure to include pictures of libraries from the 1950s, the 1990 and your current library.

What is the key message you want to deliver?  If possible, tie it to your Vision and the Mission of the school. Keep it brief.  Show the work you have done and your cost analysis.

You may get shot down, but listen carefully to what you’re told.  I had a superintendent who told me she saved a lot of time by responding with a “no” to almost every suggestion.  Most people would just go away disappointed.  I would come back with an alternative.  And then another alternative.  By this time she knew I was serious and that I would work hard to see the project accomplished.

Are you up for the challenge?  Isn’t it worth it to try?


reading is a windowThe very first “Common Belief” in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world” noting that it’s a “foundational skill in learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”  I want to focus primarily on the last word—enjoyment. As school librarians we are committed to guiding our students to become lifelong readers. We recognize the habit only develops when they find reading is a pleasurable experience.

Over the past years a few developments in education are making it difficult for us to carry out this critical role. Most recently, Lexiles and leveling have invaded the library and students are being steered away from what they want to read and are being directed toward what they “ought” to read. Elementary librarians are being told to “level” their libraries in the misguided belief it will improve student scores on tests and make them more college ready.

What many don’t realize, is this is a giant step backwards. In the mid-20th century, library shelves were labeled by grade level and students were required to only select books from the appropriate shelf. It didn’t work. Some students read above or below their grade level and others wanted different books.  And libraries changed.window to the world

Now we are heading back to those times. Granted teachers determine individual levels for students so students are expected to read at their current Lexile level, but tit overlooks the core reason the old system didn’t work.  Restrictions on reading, interferes with enjoyment.

I have no problem with teachers using Lexiles for instructional purposes in the classroom.  I recognize the underlying reason Common Core assigned Lexile ranges for each grade level.  Students do need to be challenged and encouraged to stretch. That is what learning is about.

What is being overlooked is enjoyment.  Reading for pleasure should not be work.  It’s about relaxing, choosing what is of interest to you, and learning without being aware it is happening.  I have never liked the “5 finger rule” for choosing a book.  If I had difficulty reading five words on every page, I would read the book.  Reading should be fun (an alien concept in schools today).

When having freedom to choose, students for the most part select a book below their instructional level. This makes perfect sense.  There are students who also want a book far above their instructional level. If they love a sport, for example, they don’t care how hard the book is. They will struggle through it to get what they want.  They may not finish it.  There is no requirement to finish something chosen for fun.  How many young people read Harry Potter books even when it was “too hard” for them?

are you there gdice magicForcing students to always be “stretching” when reading for pleasure, is a sure way to turn them off reading.  It is especially true for those who aren’t fond of reading in the first place.  I can remember the books that enticed my own children to become readers.  Both of them developed the reading habit because they read the one book that “spoke” to them.  For my daughter it was Judy Blume.  For my son, it was Ice Magic by Matt Christopher, which was at least one year below his instructional level.

Accelerated Reader and similar programs, while not as damaging to developing lifelong readers, also interfere with pleasurable reading. Students seeking to earn as many points as they can, will pass over a book that interests them if its point value isn’t high enough.  They will ignore books they might like if it doesn’t have an assigned point value.  Reading for points is not the way to make reading a habit. The purpose from the student’s perspective is not pleasure it is competition.

When parents read to their children, the association of reading and good times is built.  When librarians make story time a pleasurable experience the connection is reinforced.  When a librarian helps a student find the perfect book, the habit of a lifetime begins.

What can you as a librarian do if you are told to level your library?  Be the leader you need to be. Don’t accept the directive without explaining why it isn’t in the best interest of students.  Show administrators Keith Curry Lance’s studies on reading.  Share this blog also. If they still insist, see if you can get them to agree to leveling shelves for teachers who can direct students to them and keeping other shelves open.  This way students can take one leveled book and at least one of their own choosing.

We are all about creating lifelong readers.  Is your library leveled?

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part Three

collaboration 2For the past two weeks I have been blogging about meeting the challenge of collaboration.  So many librarians are unable to make the connections which combine the expertise of all participants and create a larger result than if the librarian worked alone.  On a more subtle, but no less vital, level these collaborations build a deeper understanding of the library program and develop the advocates who fight to retain librarians and their programs.

You must find and use the assets that are within your reach.

Once again here is the first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners which focuses on collaboration:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

The one most librarians feel is beyond their reach is the second bullet point. As with the others, the best way to incorporate this is by starting small and building on it. The Makerspace movement is an excellent way to begin collaborating with parents and community members. start small

Once you have launched your Makerspace, use your website, Twitter account, or however you reach parents and invite them to share their expertise with students.  Whether it’s building an app or knitting, you will find volunteers who will be glad to teach and help students.  You provide the materials along with print and online resources.  Take pictures and do a video of your “expert” and students at work and their final products.

If the students are willing, see if the public librarian will let you set up a display to showcase what occurred. Add an “advertisement” for community members to lead a Makerspace. Find out in advance from your administrator what needs to be done to permit this.

High school librarians can contact academic librarians if there is a community or four-year college in the area.  With some planning, set up a field trip for a class beginning a research project. The college librarian can teach students how to access and choose the extensive databases available, letting them see and experience what research will be like once they graduate. The local media outlet can be invited to cover the event and record student reactions.

at the libraryMost towns have some sort of historical society or other museum area.  Find out what they are, what they have on exhibit, and any special ones that are upcoming.  Look to see if this matches with curricular units.  Either arrange for a field visit or have the curator bring the items to your library to share with students, giving them a deeper understanding of what they will be exploring.  Again invite the media – and your administrator.

Educators have been stressing authentic learning, and our national standards enjoin us to develop inquiry-base units. The two combine when you develop a large network of people with whom you collaborate. Each project spreads the word on what a 21st century library program is. The groups you collaborate with, the more people are invested in continuing the success of your program.

Advocacy is an on-going, never stopping campaign.  It’s not about begging people for our jobs. It’s about everyone recognizing that what we do is invaluable for our school community and the success now and in the future of our students.

How are you reaching out and building collaborative partnerships?