Of 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?
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.
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.
With 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?