ON LIBRARIES – Sending Mixed Messages

mixed messagesAs librarians we try to create a warm, welcoming safe environment for our libraries. We also want our students to become lifelong readers and learners. But often there is a disconnect between these desires and what our students perceive. Most of us are so busy we end up on auto-pilot, doing things without thinking, not realizing our actions are sending a very different message.

Years ago, I was hired to consult for a district hoping to improve its library program (Unfortunately, we don’t see that anymore).  I walked into one elementary library with the intention of seeing how its arrangement helped or hindered creating an inviting atmosphere.  I didn’t have to look far.  On several walls, there were large posters proclaiming library rules.  No loud voices – speak in whispers.  Wash your hands before reading a book. Sit properly in your chair. Raise your hand before speaking. Only two books may be checked out.

I wanted to leave.  The library was neat and orderly and completely cold. It was about rules, not about reading, not about discovering exciting new things. I am sure the librarian never intended students to feel what I was feeling. She probably had her hands full many days with students who found the environment so repressive they acted out.  I hope she didn’t punish them by not letting them take out a book.Library rules

At a high school I visited, I was also struck by how a beautifully designed facility could be a turn-off. The rules weren’t posted in the same way, but there was no indication that this was a place for kids. The few posters were formal purchased ones.  The walls had no added color. There was no student art. No bulletin board showcased student accomplishment. The message was, “This is a place run by adults and you are not to disrupt it.” Not surprisingly there were almost no students working individually, and I discovered teachers rarely brought their classes in.

Numerous elementary librarians, intending to instill a sense of responsibility in students, have a strict overdue policy.  If they don’t return their books on time, they can’t take out any.  The message being is “returning books on time is more important that having something new to read.”  While overdues can problem since the books can go astray and parents are expected to pay for lost books, there are other ways to handle it. You can have slips ready to insert into a book pocket or even taped to the cover informing parents to please search for books not returned. If it’s the school that has set the rule, make sure students is directed to some books to read while their classmates are selecting theirs and checking them out.  Send home a note about the missing titles and allow the student to borrow books as soon as the overdue ones are returned even if it’s not the class’s day in the library. Make it about getting books to read in the hands of students.

empty libraryCreating lifelong readers is being hampered in many places by the emphasis on Lexile scores. It’s fine for instructional purposes but not for recreational reading.  The idea is to make reading fun not challenging, hard work. Leisure reading levels are usually below instructional levels.  This builds fluency and enjoyment which then allows students to take on more difficult texts in class. I dislike the “five finger” rule.  If I had to look up five words on every page of a book, I wouldn’t want to read it.  I prefer a “no-finger” rule. This would mean there might be a few words in the book which would be new, but mostly the students could zip along and enjoy the story.

Some students want to read a book that’s well above their Lexile level. Frequently it’s on a subject they are interested in, such as a sport.  Or it could be a popular title.  Even now, you might get a third grader who wants to read a Harry Potter story and is really not up to the task. The tendency is to not let the child borrow the book.  I would let it go out, suggest sharing the reading with a parent or older sibling, and recommend another easier book also be borrowed.  The stretch in trying to read the harder text will only improve the student’s reading skills.  This is different from forcing a child to read a harder book to match a Lexile level.  This is personal choice.

Do your policies and practices reinforce or conflict with the message you want to send?  Rethink now and plan to make changes when you get back from the holiday break.



ON LIBRARIES: Advocacy – Results and Next Steps

signingOn December 10, President Obama signed the ESSA (Every Child Succeeds Act) into law. It was an historic moment, years in the making.  We have come close many times, with different variations but at the last moment Congress would keep the bill from coming to the floor.  It has finally happened and it took a lot of work to achieve.

A quick review is needed first so you can appreciate how we reached this stage.  You are probably familiar with previous laws such as ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) the first manifestation of which occurred in the early 1970s. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) which replaced the different version of ESEA soon was called No Child Left Untested, and most of you have been dealing with Common Core and the extreme testing which resulted.  We now move into a new phase.ala - ola

In addition to NEA working for a re-authorization of ESEA (which is what the first target was), ALA’s Washington Office, specifically its Office for Library Advocacy has been lobbying to get a bill through that would recognized the importance of school libraries and librarians, trying more than once to get what was then called the SKILLS Act Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) passed, without much success.

This was partly our own fault.  I kept hearing from people in the Washington Office that Congress pays little attention to our lobbyists unless the message is supported by a strong outpouring of support from voters –like us.  Unfortunately, despite sending delegates to Legislative Day in Washington, D.C. and some attending virtually, there really weren’t rousing responses to calls for action.

This time, working along with NEA, and many, many librarians on social networks exhorting others to make calls, and Tweet or email legislators, the message got heard.  I suspect in part this was due to the widespread frustrations with Common Core.  So, in addition to sending thanks to the Washington Office for a job well-done, and to your legislators if they support the bill, give yourself a pat on the back if you were among those who responded to the call to action.  This took more than a village.  It took a country.

advocacy heartAs with any bill, it isn’t perfect.  Compromise is part of the process so you never get everything you want. But we did get libraries written into it. As Washington Dispatch explains the bill includes the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program allowing the Secretary of Education  “award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements, on a competitive basis” to promote literacy programs in low-income areas, including “developing and enhancing effective school library programs.”  The money can be used both for purchasing library materials and for giving school librarians PD.

Moreover, Title II funds can now be used for “supporting the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.”  The part I really like is that the bill “encourages local education agencies to assist schools in developing effective school library programs, in part to help students gain digital skills.”  In an Education Week article on the bill, AASL President Leslie Preddy noted that school libraries and librarians as “critical educational partners.”

In essence it means the ball is now in your court. It is now up to you do advocacy work on the building and district level to ensure you have an effective library program.  What do you need? Why? What will you be doing?  How can the change be measured?

So take time to celebrate an achievement ten years in the making.  Then get down to work.  If you need it, look to your colleagues in your state association or in your district.  Reach out to your PLM for ideas if you need them.  Don’t waste this great opportunity.  Your students need it.


ON LIBRARIES: It’s The Law(s)

RanganathanMost of you learned Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science when you were in library school.  You discussed them and have probably since forgotten them.  Students in my online graduate course are discovering those laws this week, and as I reviewed them it struck me once again how incredibly relevant they still are and how brilliant and prescient Ranganathan was.

S. R.(Shiyali Ramamrit) Ranganathan and with Melvil Dewey, both born in the 1800’s, can be seen as the creators of librarianship. However, while even non-librarians are familiar with the greatest of Dewey’s contributions (others are the founding of the American Library Association and the originator of Library Journal­ – did you know Dewey did that?), it’s unlikely that many outside the profession have ever heard of him. In this age of always striving to move forward and be modern and/or relevant, there is something comforting about looking at our roots and discovering unchanging truths.

First LawBooks are for use in the stacks

This is a reminder that they are not to be hidden away.  It repudiates the concept of closed stacks, but for me it also is a caution about restricting students from reading books not on their Lexile level and it suggests that requiring a parental note before a student can borrow a book deemed too sophisticated or more specifically having content that might be challenged is not how librarians should be operating. For me, it’s also a message about weeding.  Those dusty titles sitting on your shelves are not being used.  Libraries are neither warehouses nor museums. Why are you keeping them?

Second Law – Every book its reader

Libraries need to have something for every user. It means if you have ELL students you need to be looking into getting books in their language.  Recognize visually challenged students should have access to books in large-type.  As you prepare your orders, do you think about who will be interested in this title?  You don’t purchase something merely because it has a good review. In whose hands do you see it? Does it connect to a curricular area?  Do you know one or more students who like this author or type of book? Ranganathan used “book” generically.  He also meant magazines. Today we should be thinking about e-resources and databases.  Who will be served by adding this to the collection?

every bookThird Law – Every reader his book

This may be my favorite of his laws.  I personally know someone who was a lifelong nonreader. Quite by accident, she decided to try one of those wildly popular titles everyone was reading and talking about and fell in love.  It was the first in a trilogy, so she read all three. And re-read them, and re-read them.  Finally she knew the text virtually by heart, and was ready to take a risk and read another in a similar vein.  Suddenly she is a voracious reader, proudly announcing to me she got a library card and has been shopping at Barnes and Noble. It is a complete reversal.  I travel everywhere with my e-reader and patiently read while waiting my turn to be helped (PERSONAL NOTE OF HORROR: My Nook broke this week – I had to replace it in under 24 hours or risk insanity).  Invariably someone tells me they love to read and often trace it back to the one book that got them started. And that is a special role and gift of our profession.  We know our users and we know our books. It is our delight and our mission to connect our users with the perfect book for them.

Fourth Law – Save the time of the reader

The purpose of library organization is to do just that – and the work of Ranganathan and Dewey made it possible.  However, as we have discussed, there are other thoughts today. The rationale for genre-fying the collection is to save readers’ time.  It also means you need to regularly look at you facility and procedures to see if you have any obstacles keeping readers from easy access to what they need and want.  School librarians need to remember this law when students ask for assistance.  Too many times, we want them to learn to do it for themselves and just give directions to be followed.  Yes, they need to learn, but sometimes the need is to get to the answer. You can impart the lesson by going with the student, explaining the steps as you do them.

Fifth Law – The library is a growing organism

Students work on an in-class assignment in an Electrical and Computer Engineering 230: Circuit Analysis course taught by faculty associate Michael Morrow on the fourth floor of Wendt Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Ranganathan recognized that a static library is a dead one.  Even in today’s heavily technological world, bookshelves do get filled.  In the haste to add more space for computers and other devices, libraries are reducing shelving to a bare minimum.  These are crammed with what is being retained, but where will the new print acquisitions go? Certainly there won’t be as many as the past, but they are still being purchased.  On a larger level, this law speaks to the constant change libraries undergo as they transform themselves to meet the needs of users and reflect the technological and other changes of society.

I suggest it is time to bring Ranganathan and his five laws to the attention of our users. Print them out in a large, easily read format, frame and hang it in your main area. Put his name and 1931, the year they were published, at the bottom.  It is a great explanation of what your program does and why.

As I said, the Third Law is my favorite.  Which is yours? Or which challenges you?

ON LIBRARIES – Standard Approach to Leadership

be calm and leadNo, this is not about a basic way to be a leader. I meet so many school librarians who feel being a leader is too difficult or too time-consuming or too—add you own reason (for more excuses see my blog October 15 Stories We Tell Ourselves).  This is about a very simple way to ease into leadership.  And you do need to find a path to leadership because, as I have been saying for some time – Leading isn’t an option—it’s a job requirement.

Standards have become an educational obsession.  Many librarians have proven their value by showing how they can help teachers in meeting the Common Core Standards, and the research results consistently show a high correlation between an active library program staffed by a certified school librarian and student performance on high stakes test. By doing so, these librarians have shown the value of their program, but you can use standards to do even more to showcase you as a leader.

And good news – there is a shortcut.short cut

AASL has a Crosswalk between the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Reading Standards for Literacy in Science/Technical Subjects, Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science & Technical Subjects, and Mathematics. In other words—the Common Core standards in all subject areas are matched to the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and you can either start with the Common Core standard and find the matching AASL one(s) or start with the AASL standards and get the related Common Core standards.

You can look at your lesson plan and see which AASL standard(s) you are addressing: Standard 1 – Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge: Standard 2 – Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge; Standard 3 – Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society, and/or Standard 4 – Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.  When you click on that Standard you find a two column table.  The first column lists the indicators for each of the four strands. The second column give the applicable Common Core standard that matches.

crosswalkSince I am more familiar the AASL Standards than with the specifics of Common Core, this is the way I would begin.  I know what AASL Standards I want students to get as the result of a learning opportunity, so I check for the Common Core standard that includes the grade level I am dealing with.

However, if you want to really focus on Common Core, go in that direction. Select the appropriate standard area and click on the grade level.  Don’t be alarmed by the many standards for which there is no corresponding AASL Standard.  Just keep scrolling down.  The empty cells reflect areas not part of the library program. You are not reproducing what happens in the classroom.  Your unique role is in providing those components of Common Core which are central to the library program.

Now when you write your lesson plans, do a copy/paste of the matching Common Core and AASL Standards.  Not only does this show how you address the needs of students, it also highlights how our national standards are in alignments with Common Core.  Once you have done this a few times, make an appointment with your supervisor or principal and show how this crosswalk works.

If you have purchased the 12-copy packet of AASL Standards, give one to the administrator, if not, download them and do the same. Point out what is on the first two pages and then discuss the four strands which are explained on the last page.

How does this make you a leader?  It demonstrates you are an instructional partner to teachers. It also highlights your understanding of the importance of standards and how AASL has national presence in developing standards for 21st century learners. (Do stress the word learners as opposed to students – it focuses on the need to realize we are all learners.)

On a final note – Common Core is slowly moving out of the picture and AASL is in the process of revising the standards which are now eight-years old.  This is a fast-moving world and AASL seeks to stay on top of the changes.  As a leader in your building you must do the same.  Be on the lookout for whatever succeeds Common Core.  Something will.  Keep checking the AASL website so you are aware of the new standards when they are published.  Your students, teachers, and administrators need you to be prepared.  That’s how leaders behave.

ON LIBRARIES – You Are Unique

you what you believeRecognizing that you are unique in your building is essential for establishing you and your program as indispensable to the educational community.  No one else in the building has the expertise you bring in working with students, teachers, and administrators. While most of you have heard this before and may even say so to others, far too many of you don’t believe it is true of you personally.

My aim in this blog is to convince you that you are unique because once you believe it you will be communicating your essential contributions in all your interactions.  So here is a list of what is done by no one else but you.

Information Literacy – You do this every day, but in discussing it you should always explain the specifics of what the term encompasses.  The first component of information literacy is to know when information is needed — and of course students and teachers recognize that most of the time.  What they don’t understand is that doing a search — on Google, Wikipedia, or YouTube is far different from doing research. .  Finding is not a problem. Finding quality in the sea of information available requires a more complex set of skills and understandings to accurately evaluate it what has been located for accuracy and relevance. Citing what was selected has become far more complex in the digital age.  Teachers are generally capable of explaining how to cite print sources, but knowing what and how to cite online databases, websites, videos, audio files, and graphics is less understood.  You are the only one teaching students about Creative Commons and how to use it.information literacy

Inquiry-based Learning – Technically this and the following ones are all part of Information Literacy but it’s important to separate them so you and others recognize the scope of what you bring to students and to teachers who collaborate or cooperate with you. In the classroom the stress is laid on answers.  But answers show only that the content has been learned.  Nothing new comes from re-stating what is already known.  What is important is taking learning to the next step, to probe deeper by asking significant questions and then searching for answers to those questions.  Inquiry-based learning, which is central to the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, challenges students to develop questions on a topic, preferably in an area where they have a personal interest, and discover possible solutions.  In the process, they frequently have to refine their search, modify and/or add questions.  Information Literacy skills are employed, and students are asked to assess what they did and how they did it to learn what worked and what they might do differently next time.  While the learning opportunity is usually connected to a classroom unit encompassing state and national standards, it more significantly is building the techniques and skills for lifelong learning in student’s personal lives and future careers.

you show studentsTechnology Integration – You are the one person in the school who keeps current with new technology and the latest resources to be found on websites and apps.  You hear it from your colleagues who share their latest “discoveries,” or see a presentation at a library conference or webinar, or search the AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning and Best Apps for Teaching and Learning. What you learn you share with teachers and students giving them new ways to organize, share, and present information.  When a student does work for one person — the teacher—it means s/he tends to frame it in ways to please that sole reader and lasting learning is lost.  In this world we are expected to reach out to colleagues and others using tech resources suited to the targeted audience.  A paper meant for the teacher alone is therefore as outdated as an audio cassette. You show students how the tech they love can be used to help them grow academically and personally.

Knowledge Creation – The challenge is not to repeat what is already known, but to build knowledge and create new content. Students should not be expected to do “busy work” with culminating projects that take time – such as dioramas and poster boards or even presentations using current technology—but have no ultimate purpose.  Did their research lead them to believe a law should be changed?  How can they work to make that happen?  Should people be informed about an issue?  What tool should they use for it and what information needs to be included?  Students of today must be more than information consumers.  They must become knowledge creators.  The activities occurring in the library are structured so they become true participants in society.

Digital Literacy – A subset of Information Literacy, digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, use, communicate, and create across a variety of platforms and formats.  It expects students to be “transliterate” which also includes using social and mass media.  Digitally literate students understand how to exist safely in cyberspace, are aware of the benefits and how to avoid the dangers.

Global Connections – More and more librarians are connecting their students with others around the country and globe.  It is vital for students to become tolerant and understand different cultures and peoples. Working with them from an early age opens minds and builds the understandings necessary for working and living in a global culture.                                                                             

Literacy Leading to Lifelong Learning – And of course, at the core of what we do is promote reading for pleasure and information. Others teach the skills necessary to read, we provide the environment where students discover the joy in reading unfettered by tests.lifelong learning

Some of you are saying you don’t do all of this. You still do much of it – and no one else does it. Yes, you can possibly do more – but that’s where your work stays exciting and new for you. Keep building your Professional/ Personal Learning Network (see the blog for August 10, How Large Is Your PLN?) and you will find it much easier to add those unique components to your library program.

Don’t sell yourself short.  You are unique.  Recognize it.  Believe it, and be sure to let others know it.

ON LIBRARIES – Reach Out To Collaborate

collaborationCollaboration is an important word in librarianship.  We all accept that it’s vital in giving students the best possible learning opportunities.  Most often, the word is used when we talk about collaborating with teachers. It’s time to think past the school building when developing collaboration.

The easiest bridge to build is with your local public librarians.  Are you aware of what programs they are offering?  Do they know what you are doing?  Is there a way you can work together?  In many places the children’s librarian visits the public school to promote a summer reading program, but you can invite them to come in during September for Library Card Sign-up Month.  It’s sometimes surprising to discover how many students don’t go to the public library. Talk with the librarian about creating a joint program, possibly a Makerspace and alternate venues.  Have the librarian showcase some of your programs and events on their bulletin board and/or website and do the same in return.

If at all possible, try to schedule a field trip to the public library.  Even middle and some high school students might be interested to see the “back rooms” to find out how materials get processed and get a chance to speak with the different levels of librarians as well as the clerks.  Most public libraries now have a teen section and, of course, they circulate DVDs audio books, and video games. Since their collection is larger than yours, it is good for students to know what’s available.  Their online databases also tend to be more extensive and those with library cards can access them from home.  The more students become aware of the existence and value of all types of libraries, the more likely they are to become lifelong learners and library advocates.public library

You can also collaborate with other schools in your district. Some of you run district-wide Battle of the Books contests, but you can also do joint projects with your students working the students from another school using Skype, Google Docs, or other tech to connect.  Perhaps their final product can be displayed one night at the public library.

Visits by older students to lower grades can be beneficial to both groups.  On Read-Across-America Day, some high school students go to elementary schools to read books to younger ones. I once had a U.S. History project where students had to take a topic, such as the Great Depression, and create a picture book.  First we borrowed historical fiction picture books from an elementary school library and discussed how the authors made a complex idea comprehensible to young children.  What background knowledge would they lack and need to be informed about in order for the book to make sense? With that understanding, they went to work. They field tested their results by reading their creations to kids in the elementary school.

Consider collaborating with 2 and 4 year colleges in your area.  The latest issue of Knowledge Quest, the magazine from AASL has numerous articles dealing with different ways to do this.  Field trips, again, acquaint students of the huge jump from a high school to a college library including the size, number of databases, and Library of Congress replacing the familiar Dewey Decimal System.

A visit from a college librarian talking about research projects at the college level is an eye-opener for students.  Years ago, a colleague of mine, arranged with a college professor to grade research papers that had already been graded by their teacher.  They were stunned when the college grade was returned as it was a full grade lower on average. Check Knowledge Quest for more ideas.

build bridgesOnce you start thinking outside the box—and outside your school—look for ways to involve the community.  Is there a Historical Society in your town? Could you come up with a project to collaborate with them?  Check to see what is out there, reach out to their contact person (with the knowledge and approval of your administrator) and see what projects you can create together.

Go worldwide. A number of librarians are connecting their students with students in another country. In the August/ September 2014 issue of School Librarian’s Workshop Shannon McClintock Miller explained how she devised a project that had her students making Rainbow Looms and sharing them first with students in an orphanage in India. She found the location in India by tweeting about her project and posting it on her Facebook page.

She and her students created a Banding Together Facebook and Tumblr on the project called Banding.  You can find out more about it at Banding Together” project on her Smore

Besides your teachers, with whom can you collaborate?  Start thinking.


ON LIBRARIES: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

storytellingAs librarians we love telling stories.  It’s story time at the elementary level, and we delight in entrancing students with tales new and old.  In the upper grades, we work hard connecting students to just the right book, knowing that is how we build lifelong readers.  We believe in the power of story… the power of fiction…. the power of a lie?

Because there’s another type of story – the ones we tell ourselves. The ones about why we do or don’t do certain things, and like the ones we bring to students, these have power.  When our stories are positive, it helps us do great things, but most often we cling to our negative stories.

I am most concerned with the stories you have about being a leader.  I have spoken with many librarians who recognize the value of being a leader but know they can’t be one.  And they all have a story.  Are any of these yours?

I don’t have the time.  I have a full schedule.  I work in two (or more) schools. I barely have time to breathe on the job.  I go home to more work.  It’s hard enough for me to complete all my responsibilities.  When would I find time to be a leader?

Leaders are born, not made, and I wasn’t born to be a leader. I can tell you countless stories of how I have never been a leader.  I was last picked for teams. I was always the nerdy girl (or guy). Whenever I did run for an office, I didn’t get elected.

I can’t talk in front of a large group. Teaching a class of students is not the same as speaking before my colleagues or parent groups. I am really an introvert.  If I have to get up before a group, my palms sweat and my voice gets shaky.  I don’t sound like a leader, I sound nervous and scared.what's your story

Even fairy tales have elements of truth. It’s why we can relate to them, and each of the stories I’ve mentioned above has an element of truth, but like those tales, there is quite a bit of fiction within them.  But let’s look more closely and see if it’s all true.

No time: Most of you are very busy, but the fact is in our world no one can find time.  You have to make time.  Which means look at what you are doing and determine priorities.  Yes, you must get your lessons taught but there is much you do within your school day that does not have as a high a priority.  Getting every book into the catalog as soon as possible.  Checking everything in before the end of the day. You have others depending on your job. Yes, they are important, but making your presence known in the building, leading the way with tech integration, and sending visual quarterly reports to your administrator featuring what students are learning in the library are more important in assuring your program and you are valued.  Pick on and add it to your “to-do” list.

Born Leaders: Sure, some people seem to be natural leaders from childhood, but as Shakespeare said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The bottom line is, the need to be a leader has been thrust upon you.  You can do it.  You have achieved so much in your life by this time, you are more than capable of going those extra steps and taking the risk of stepping out as a leader.  Look for a mentor in the field, someone who you see as a leader and ask for advice and help.

get rid of the storiesPublic Speaking: It’s true that in countless surveys people put the fear of public speaking higher than death, but who said leaders must speak in front of large groups? That’s only one aspect of leadership and not everyone needs to do it.  Quiet leadership can be equally and sometimes more effective.  Be the person who teachers can count on to show them how to use a new tech tool.  Help your principal carry out a new administrative directive.  When rubrics first erupted on the educational scene, I had a few teachers come to me quietly to ask for help.  I had not made one for myself as yet, but they were confident I could help them—and I did.  I also worked with the administration when the decision was made to move to block scheduling, getting material for teachers and giving them advice based on my research.  That, too, is leadership.

What stories are you telling yourself that keep you from being the leader your student need you to be?

When Being Right Is Wrong

two sidesIn the past few days I have gotten e-mails from two librarians from different states with very different responsibilities but a similar challenge. Each is now coping with big challenges with their superiors stemming from the administrators’ strong belief that they are right. What should you do in a situation like this?  Cave in?  Accept an incorrect assessment?  Ignore being disrespected? Definitely not.  But it’s obvious that insisting on being right is not going to lead to the outcome you want.

In the first case, the librarian worked with one department in a large educational consortium. A relatively new administrator instituted procedures that worked against what the librarian was trying to accomplish and seemed unaware of the dynamics in coordinating practices and interests of the different members of this department.  A job performance review highlighted this disparate view and hinted at the administrator’s correct perception that the librarian disliked her. In the other case, an elementary librarian was copied on an email to a teacher (and hadn’t read it), telling her to bring her class to the library as part of schedule changes caused by testing.  The administrator had sent it without checking to see if any classes were already in the library, and the librarian felt disrespected.Relationship over ego

Having heard the details of what occurred, there is no question that both of the librarians are right—and therein lies the problem. We are in a relationship business, and in relationships, unlike with tasks, being committed to being right can create trouble.  When a librarian is critical of a directive or approach taken by an administrator, he or she invariably reacts negatively deciding, correctly, that the librarian is not a team player and is possibly a threat to what the administrator is trying to achieve—rightly or wrongly.

Consider this, “Do you want to right, or do you want to make it work?”  Because, if you focus on being right, it most certainly won’t work.  As I noted earlier, we are in a relationship business and maintaining your position will destroy not build relationships.

Here’s an example of how this works.  You are a middle or high school librarian and a teacher schedules his class for an upcoming research project.  You work on the lesson, find websites and apps, pull relevant print material and are fully prepared but the class doesn’t show.  You are angry with the teacher—and rightly so.  Do you go to the teacher and let him see you are furious? If you do, what will the results be?  Your ultimate goal is to reach the students.  Being right will prevent you from achieving this – and harm your working relationship with this teacher.

right or what worksIf you go to the teacher instead and say “I probably should have sent you a reminder, but your class was scheduled to come to the library.  Do you want to reschedule or should we cancel the project?”  The teacher will likely be contrite and the two of you can come up with a workable revision. You also have not alienated the teacher who will be glad to work with you in the future.

Letting go of being right is not easy.  It’s natural to guard our territory—and our emotions.  However, we are also big picture people.  When dealing with a situation where you know you are right, step back before you speak or email in response.  Consider whether being right will get you where you want to go.  Remember, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work?”



stereotypeThe classic stereotype of a librarian is a plain female with hair in a bun and wearing a dowdy dress who shushes anyone speaking above a whisper.  This dated view of librarians is still very much with us, to a great extent because, sadly, it still occurs in many places.  Should libraries be silent?  Do you like it quiet?  Do your students?  I associate a hushed library environment with those large libraries with vast expanses of books visible on multi-levels with aging researchers buried over huge tomes.  Certainly not the picture of a modern school (or public library).

A 21st century library is a bee-hive of collaborative activity, with students moving seamlessly from electronic to print resources using multiple devices to access them.  True, not every library approaches this level, but it should be what we are aiming to achieve.  Students are comfortable learning from each other and sharing what they know.  In fact – they love it. It’s how they develop skills in video games and discover new tricks and apps on their smartphones.what society thinks

They are accustomed to a world of continuous information feeds whether audio or text. We need to capitalize on that inclination to learn by teaching them how to become global citizens, creating content, and building knowledge which they share in a participatory culture.  And that means, silent libraries are part of the past (or exist only in research libraries).

I am not advocating for a loud, out-of-control environment.  You should be able to be heard if you raise your voice just above normal speaking level. That’s a safety issue.  I am also not talking about a library where kids are horsing around.  On the other hand, all talk does not need to be work-related. Some socialization is acceptable and even important if they are to move from casual conversation to exploring their ideas, interests, and academic pursuits.

My libraries, both elementary and high school, were always a hubbub of activity – and the busy sounds – and energy – it entails.  A visiting superintendent was so impressed to see how engaged students were and how crowded the library was.  This was during lunch period (we were on block scheduling and managed a one-hour lunch for all 1,500 students simultaneously).  It was not a quiet place.  But learning was happening everywhere.

busy library 3Many of you already have this level of activity – and “noise” in your library.  Kids love coming there.  You have made your library the warm, friendly, environment that encourages questions, accepts diverse ideas and opinions, and promotes the desire to learn.

Elementary librarians are more inclined to keep noise levels down.  I suspect it’s caused by the fear that students would quickly become unruly and hard to rein in.  The answer is to change the culture of the library with their cooperation.

Students need to be a part of setting the rules and guidelines.  Talk about the difference between noise in the classroom and noise in the library.  What is good noise?  When does it become too much? What needs to be done if students become too loud?  I have found it best to talk to those students individually or the small group causing the disturbance rather than loudly addressing everyone.

Consider couching these guidelines under the heading of Respect.  Respect for yourself, respect for others, and respect for the library.  If at all possible provide a quiet area (much like trains today with their quiet cars) for those who need more silence to get work done.  Most often it’s the teachers who need it.

What do you think is the optimum level of noise vs. silence?  Is your library too quiet?  Too noisy?  What do your students think?   What do you want to change?  And what help do you need to get to this new level?

Reach Your Prime Audience – Back To School Night Suggestions

back-to-schoolThe parents who show up for Back-To- School Night and Parent Conferences are the ones who tend to be most directly involved in their children’s learning.  They are the ones who will fight for what their kids need. Too many librarians spend these events alone in the library catching up on work. You want them to recognize your contribution to student success in school and for their futures in college and beyond.  Once you do, they will do everything in their power to ensure your program thrives. Don’t miss out on reaching your prime audience.

To bring them in, have a sign or signs where parents check in and/or post them on the walls.  At the elementary level they may have little free time to wander so have a table set up at the main school entry with information for them.  Check with your principal to see if you can be there instead of in your library.  This gives you a chance to meet and greet them.Parents-orientation

In preparing material, consider what parents want most from the school library.  At the lower levels they want their children to learn to love reading.  So have a hand-out with the heading “A Book for Every Child—Every Child a Reader.”  Highlight any reading programs originating from the library.  Have a brief annotated bibliography and give links to your website where they can find more suggested titles.  If you can’t do that, list the URL for ALSCs Notable Books.

Are you looking for volunteers? Have a sign-up sheet, but just don’t have lines for their names and contact information.   What will parents get as a result of volunteering?  Seeing their child while they work in the library?  Learning more about the library program?  Access to borrowing material they can use at home with their children?  Helping the library be a welcoming environment for all students?  Put that first–then the lines for signing up.

At upper levels where parents move from class to class to meet teachers, they may have more room in the schedule to actually drop by the library. Again in preparing, think about what they want for their children.  This the time when they begin worrying about college, so spotlight how the library program prepares students.

A flyer or a running program entitled “What Students Don’t Know about Research” lets you showcase the information literacy skills you incorporate into students’ learning experiences.  Link to articles on the topic, such as this one from Huffington Post and point out why students in your school don’t need to wait until college to learn the skills.  Have your computers open to the databases you available and have a hand-out with the passwords for accessing them at home.  (Your students should have it, but the parents are probably unaware of it.)

library resourcesAt all grade levels, have your Mission Statement prominently displayed and include it on all handouts—and the Volunteer Sign-up Sheet.  Let parents know they can always contact you via school email.  If you have them, inform parents about LibGuides you created just for them and how they can see projects their children have done on your website.

The more parents learn about the value of today’s school library program, the more they will fight to keep it.  Don’t let your best potential advocates walk out the door without discovering what you do for their kids.