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?

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part One

NOTE: This is the first of a several week series on collaboration

collaboration 2“School librarians transform student learning.”  Easy to say.  Important to do.  Accomplishing it… is more complicated.  While we can do much when dealing with students one-to-one, and certainly work toward that end when we have a scheduled class, the transformation is best achieved when working in collaboration with teachers. Some of you are doing so on a regular basis, but from my contacts with school librarians coping with day-to-day pressures, fixed schedules, and unwilling teachers, collaboration is at best a distant goal.

The first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners states:

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.”

That’s a tall order and very few are doing all of this. The Guidelines offer no direction on how you are to develop this level of collaboration and instructional partnership.  Where do you start?Hello

You can’t focus on all four actions at once.  The last is the easiest to accomplish by way of formative assessments during a class and regular brief surveys or exit tickets at the end of a unit. The first action is your main target to implement the Guideline into your program.

At the middle and high school levels, you normally have a flex schedule which means some teachers bring their classes frequently, some do it rarely, and others you never see.  Work initially with those accustomed to using their library as part of their instruction.  At what point do you enter the process right now?  Is the teacher using only your facility but not your expertise or does h/she expect you to do an introduction to the resources to be used? You want to reach the stage where you are develop the unit together, each making a design contribution.

If the teacher is only using your facility, observe what students are working on.  Come up with one or two resources that would improve their results and share with the teacher.  If you are thanked, suggest the teacher give you a heads-up in the future so you can provide relevant sources.  If your recommendatiknockingon is ignored, repeat the process the next time.

In the case where you informed in advance what students will be doing and can offer recommended direction, add possibilities for making the project inquiry-based, one where the end product has meaning beyond the due date.  You want to create learning opportunities for students to be producers of information and not just regurgitating existing facts they collect and turn into a pretty presentation.

In all cases, follow up with a brief assessment with the teacher.  Did this help?  What would work better next time?  Frame your questions so teachers are willing to make negative comments. If you only hear positives you can’t improve what you are doing.

Elementary librarians who mostly have fixed schedules have a greater challenge. If you are in that situation, your first aim is to cooperate with teachers. To do that you need to find out what they are working on in class to give students a deeper connection with the topic by working with you when they come in at their scheduled time.collaborative learning

Start with the teachers with whom you have a good relationship.  When they give tell you what they are doing (or you have a curriculum map to guide you), let them know what you are doing with their students.  As with flex time librarians, follow up when the unit is complete to find out what the teacher thought. What if anything did he/she not like?  What worked? Was there anything you can do differently next time?

Next week, meeting the challenges of other Actions in the Guidline.





ON LIBRARIES: We Make Connections

Two weeks ago I blogged on how we transform our facility.  Last week I discussed the first impression people get when they enter our facility and meet us.  Then they get to discover what we do, and in the process we transform learning and our school community.

connectionsWe make connections.  We connect people to ideas, ideas to ideas, and we connect people to people.  You may not have focused on this core behavior, but it’s there in every librarian.

People to ideas – This form of connection is obvious.  Our patrons come to the library, physically or virtually, and are connected to the information they seek. When we are doing our job well, they find more than facts. It’s usable information.

I had the opportunity to have a very long discussion with several bright high school students the other day. We weren’t in a library, but as a librarian, no matter my location I am still functioning as one.  The first thing I did was challenge them to begin thinking by asking their views on Apple defying a warrant and refusing to create a program to get past the encryption on iPhones in order for the government to access information on the cell phone of one of the accused terrorists in the San Bernardino massacre.

As I expected, among the five there were instantaneous opinions, with the students taking different sides.  I didn’t support either side but pointed out this was an emotional response either to their feelings about dealing with terrorists or how strongly they felt about their right to privacy. The common element was their emotion.  While this was a natural response and would always be present, once they recognized its existence, they needed to move on to finding evidence to either refute or support their gut reaction.  This would not eliminate their emotions but would allow them to see, that just as with websites and other information sources, bias is almost always present.  It’s not wrong. It’s just there and needs to be recognized in order for it to be factored into decision making.  This is teaching critical thinking on a visceral level.idea to idea

Ideas to ideas – One of the best parts of our job is helping students make the leap from an initial idea to another, making a new connection.  The original idea is a single piece of information. Seeing how another idea is related and may further illuminate the first is how new understandings and knowledge are created.  For me, making those connections are the “highs” one experiences in research.

It helps if teachers are open to allowing students to take those side trips off an assigned research project into an area of personal interest, sparked by making an idea-to-idea connection. The project takes on deeper meaning.  It becomes something that lasts long after the assignment is completed. This is when Enduring Understandings are made and students get the purpose of learning.

Librarians know that research is a messy process.  Students and far too many teachers think of it as a linear progression. This is far from the truth, but often it’s the way research projects are done. Even the best students grab for an argument, line up the sources they will use, determine an outline to present their information, check that they have completed all the steps, and heave a sigh of relief.  But when you can lead them to the connection that excites their mind, the back-tracking and shifts of directions make sense as they seek to put together something they can proudly share with others. Something that matters to them –personally.

people to peoplePeople to people – Making these connections is not as widely recognized an aspect of what we do, but it’s becoming an increasingly important part of our job.  In creating digital citizens, a number of librarians are connecting students beyond the walls of the library.  I know one librarian who worked with a science teacher and had students discovering how to deal with epidemics and pandemics (and why they show up regularly in the headlines).  In creating the best way to alert a population and cope with the crisis, students worked with scientists at the CDC.

On a very different level, we use our extensive networks to bring people together who otherwise might never know each other. Through my daughter, I learned her childhood friend is living in an inner city and knits and donates numerous scarfs to the homeless by “scarf bombing” different areas and facilities in the city. A librarian friend of mine works in a school in that city.  She was fascinated by the project and thought it was one many of her students would want to do.  The connection was made and her students are eagerly involved in a community service project.collaborative learning

Don’t overlook the people-to-people connection you need to have with other librarians.  It’s one my grad students are discovering.  Librarians are inclined to think of themselves as being isolated in their building. Some are the only librarian in their district. Who can answer their questions?  Where can they go for help?  The answer is other librarians.  I have blogged about PLNs and you need to be continually expanding yours.  Belonging to your state library association (and hopefully participating) and joining and being a part of AASL and/or other national library associations connects you to a wealth of knowledge with a few strokes on your keyboard or a text on your phone.  LM_NET is a long-standing resource many use.  The School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group is another one that’s growing.

Are you making these connections for your students and teachers?  Are you making connections for yourself?  Welcome to the connected 21st century –and we are the expert connectors.

ON LIBRARIES: Quality Questions

essential questionI have blogged on the many aspects of this topic several times, but the subject is worth repeating. The questioning is only important when what is asked is worth answering.   Both your questions and students’ questions need to be significant.

Your questions should begin with the Essential Questions you focus on in framing a project.  My post on the topic in November 2014 noted that EQs can deal with concepts which are core to the discipline but not necessarily obvious to those not in it or look at broader ideas designed to open minds to the real-world implications of what they are studying.  Even understanding what they are, doesn’t make them easy to construct.

When I first wrote about EQs I suggested if you were faced with teaching the Dewey Decimal System (which you really shouldn’t ever do) an EQ might be, “How do libraries arrange material to help users find what they need?” After doing many of these, I don’t like that question because it only has one answer – by subject. Instead I would put piles of books on a table and ask them how they would group them so that others could quickly find what they are looking for? They might arrange alphabetically or color of covers. When they were finished, they would have to explain their thinking. Encourage the class to discuss how well that would work.  You could then guide them to recognize librarians had to deal with that problem and also came up with different solutions (Dewey, LOC, and now genre-based), but all these work because they have one thing in common – subject arrangement.  By having them work on developing an answer to the EQ they understand the how and why of classification rather than the specific answer.question sign

In an article in the September 2015 issue of Educational Leadership, Grant Wiggins suggests in studying the Vietnam War, a rather than, “Why did we fight the Vietnam War and was it worth it?, the EQs should be “Why have we gone to war? When was it wise, and when was it foolish?’ There are no right answers to those two questions, and answers will change over time and experience.  Of course, students would have to explain/justify their answers, and the second question cannot be Googled.

Beyond EQs are the questions you ask students.  They, too, need to be open-ended.  When I was an elementary librarian a long time ago, I foolishly asked such questions as “What do we call the person who writes a book?”  Not only was there only one right answer, but students were aware I knew that answer and their job was to find it.  This is not deep, critical thinking.

Ask a good question and then wait.  It’s really hard to do this but you want to encourage thinking time.  When you get a response wait again.  This lets the rest of the class reflect on what was said. For a follow up ask, “Why do you think that?” “Does anyone have any other ideas?”  Make sure your tone is one of interest nq marksot judgement. It must feel safe. The answers aren’t wrong, they represent one way of looking at the question.

Encourage students to question what you say. It’s all about not accepting facts being given to you, but about exploring deeper to find out what’s underneath.  With you as a model, students can learn to create their own Essential Questions and to learn to ask quality questions rather than focus on being able to provide the right answer.

Your guidance will re-connect with the curiosity that is innate in humans and the quality and depth of what they research will improve.  Thinking about a topic and developing questions about it is intrinsic to Inquiry-based learning and lifelong learning.  Creating a safe environment for questions provide the foundation that will help students in everything they do.edutopia

I once again recommend you check out Edutopia on 5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners.




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.