ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Distrupter?

distruption-aheadOf course you aren’t.  You are a team player.  You don’t rock the boat.  But maybe…you should rethink the question. Leaders are disrupters, and it’s time for more librarians to envision themselves this way.

The business world, which I turn to regularly, recognizes the importance of disrupters.  A Forbes article points out the difference between disrupters and innovators saying while all disrupters are innovators not all innovators are disrupters in the way that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. Disrupters change how we think and behave.

The article links to a list of leading disrupters in business. Of course Bill Gates made the list as did the three founders of Kickstarter and the man who started Buzzfeed. You won’t recognize most of the names but they upended how we think of retail, get our television programs, and use social networking.

Okay, great for them.  But you can’t see how to “disrupt” your school – even if you wanted to take such a huge risk.  Let’s try a less scary term.  How about taking on the role of Change Agent?distrupt

Another Forbes article has the compelling title, “Every Leader Must be a Change Agent or Face Extinction.”  We have all seen how school librarians and libraries have been eliminated across the country.  Granted the economic crisis of 2008 caused much of the loss, but part of the reason was the perception that we didn’t make a sufficiently worthwhile contribution to be a good economic decision.

When confronted with widespread slashing of programs, what did many librarians do? They whined they weren’t appreciated.  They crossed their fingers and hoped their jobs wouldn’t be next on the chopping block.  What was and is necessary was to change the way we do business. There are numerous librarians who are doing that, but it’s incumbent on everyone to accept the challenge.

The second article has two quotes that stick with me. “Change is the new normal for leadership success, and all leaders must accept this fact,” and “Change is difficult; Not changing is fatal.” I have repeatedly said all librarians must become leaders or risk disappearing.  If you agree that is true, you need to accept the risk of becoming a change agent.change-is-difficult-not-changing-is-fatal-1

I had a Superintendent in the late 1990’s who alarmed everyone by saying, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  This was when technology was rapidly expanding.  I am sure he got the quote from the title of a book by Robert J. Kriegel. It is a more confrontational statement but is aligned with the premise of another book, Good to Great by James C. Collins, which states as a premise, “Good is the enemy of great.”

Ranganathan, the father of modern library science, said “Library is a growing organism.”  But any organism either grows or it dies.  Now more than ever, the status quo is not sustainable. If you think your current situation is “good,” it’s time to make it great – even if you have to break it to do it.

What can you do to ensure you are growing?  Or what should you do as a Change Agent?  Librarians who are change agents are the ones who introduced Makerspaces and/or transformed their libraries into Learning Commons. If Makerspaces haven’t come to your district yet, that is one way to begin the change process. Makerspaces have had a dramatic impact on schools.

Creating a Learning Commons is more daunting, particularly in districts with small or nonexistent budgets, but you can move in that direction.  After researching various examples, consider what is possible through contributions.  You need a vision of course, and then, with the approval of your principal, consider developing a GoFundMe campaign.

A relatively simple change is to cover tables with whiteboard paper. This allows students working in groups to visually record their ideas as their project evolves. Anyone coming into the library will notice this dramatic difference instantly.  It alters how they see the library, which is what you need to have happen as a Change Agent—or a Disrupter.

Integrate the community into the library.  Just about every place has a local history and horticultural societies.  What else is available in your town or neighborhood?  Contact these groups and ask if they would like to set up an exhibit of interest to your students in the library. When they do, display resources you have on the topic.  Post everything to your website (or on a LibGuide on your website) and add online information.

Video and photograph students viewing the exhibit. Give them comment cards or record what they think.  Turn it into a presentation with Animoto or other similar resource and share it along with a thank-you note (from you and some of the students) to the society.  They may even display it in their location.  Suddenly their members are recognizing the library is not anything like the one they remembered.

agent-of-changeWith administration approval, reach out to the business community through Kiwanis and/or Rotary.  Ask for local business to share their “communications” with your library.  You can feature what they do and again create a supporting display.  Make a visual record and see if you can speak before the group and share what you did and how the kids reacted.

If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. Ignored – for the most part.  Disrupt thinking.  Become a Change Agent.

Have you “disrupted” your school?  What have you done? What’s the craziest idea you’ve ever had for your library program?  Could it actually work?

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?