ON LIBRARIES: Lemonade and Lateral Thinking

Here’s to all you are doing to support your teachers and students during this crazy time.  It’s clear from the School Librarians Workshop Facebook page you are all researching, curating and sharing resources. And you’re doing this while under your own set of non-work stresses. Clearly you’re making lemonade out of lemons – but at some point, you just don’t want anymore lemonade.

Most of the time this blog is about ways to help you go further and do more, but at this point I’m concerned that most of you are doing too much as is.  So, while I was on one of my daily walks, I challenged myself to think of something I could suggest that might help you. The phrase “lateral thinking” came to mind.

Lateral thinking is about approaching a problem from a different direction.  It’s not just out of the box thinking; it’s beyond that.  In the words of Joyce Valenza, “What makes you think there is a box?”

A recent article from Repost Leadership Don’t Make Lemonade: A Better Approach for When Life Gives Us Lemons was particularly timely. The author told the story of Marshall Pickney Wilder, who passed away in 1915.  He was 3 ½ feet tall.  Wilder didn’t take the obvious path in his day for someone who was extremely short (lemons) and join a circus or something similar (lemonade). Instead, he to become a noted actor and wrote three books.   Rather than making lemonade, he built his own lemonade stand.

The story is an excellent example of lateral thinking. For the moment, forget that your home base is in a library within a school.  Think of your Mission or purpose as a librarian. An example I often use is:

  • The Blank School Library mission is to empower and inspire all students to apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become creative thinkers and problem solvers, to experience individual and team success, and to become responsible, contributing members of our community.

Nowhere in that Mission Statement does it refer to the physical space of the library.  Even if you add, “creates a safe, welcoming environment for all,” it doesn’t require a physical library.  Only the feeling.

If you were to design your program from that Mission in a world where all your students, teachers, and administrators were not in physical contact, what would it look like? How would you connect and collaborate with teachers?  How would you work with students? Keep your administrator informed?

For the past several years I’ve been an online instructor, and I love the fact it’s asynchronous. My students respond when they are available, and I do the same. They have an email to reach me with questions.  I can set office hours if I want. How much of that could you do with your students?

Think of whom you could collaborate with now that you are not impeded by the schedule and the bell.  Could you do a joint lesson with the nurse – especially given the current crisis?  How could you work with Art, Music, and even Physical Education teachers?  There’s a unique opportunity to go beyond collaborating to co-teaching.

Looking further outside the school, think how much easier it may be to call in outside experts.  Many of them are working from home as well.  They might appreciate the break or change and the chance to contribute.

As you work with teachers in new ways, you will build new and/or deeper relationships. The relationships you build now will endure when we eventually come out of the pandemic.  Life will return to a new normal, and you will have changed the normal in a positive way.

Doing things differently gives you a new perspective.  Hopefully, it will get you energized while so may other things seem to sap our energy and outlook. Be inspired your Mission (and if you haven’t written it – this is a terrific time to do that!).  Consider the ways you can create your virtual library program and have fun while you build your lemonade stand.