ON LIBRARIES: Mission, Vision and a Virus

Mission and Vision work together for your long-term success – even and especially during a pandemic. A Mission is your purpose.  Most of you have written one for your school library. It has guided your decisions on where to put your energy and in assessing how successful you have been.  Your Vision has been your inspiration, opening your mind –and planning—to what might be possible someday.

Your Mission and Vision are core to your school library and they can stay the same for years, even when times and circumstances affect how you do your job.  However, the last few months have you dealing with a major shifts in what and how you work.  For your own guidance and the future of your program, it’s a good time to revisit your statements.

Here are two sample Mission Statements:

  • The Mission of the School Library is to create lifelong learners with critical thinking skills, and an appreciation of literature by providing opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world.
  • The Mission of the School Library is to ensure that students and staff are effective users and producers of ideas and information, promote literacy, and develop students’ competencies to be ethical participants in a global society.

Here are two sample Vision Statements:

  • The School Library is a safe, open, accessible and inviting learning library commons, essential to student achievement, citizenship and support the principles of intellectual freedom. Our students think globally and are capable of creating new knowledge.
  • The School Library is a user-centered environment where up-to-date resources and technology and a responsive staff empower students and teachers to achieve their academic and personal goals.

All four are powerful statements declaring the value of the school library. (NOTE: I have dropped the word “program” because the National School Library Standards states that we should say “school library” not “school library program”.)  As written, they reflect what you have been doing during quarantining event though you have been doing so differently. And it’s that “differently” which is necessary to address.

What else have you been doing as part of distance learning?  From what I have been reading, you have been building and strengthening your educational community.  And that community is larger than it was.  Parents are now an integral part of the community you have created.

You also have drawn on national library association sources, primarily ALA and AASL, to bring the latest information on the virus and how it affects schools. Your PLNs such as the library-based Facebook groups have been a source of creative ideas to further help your students, teachers, parents, and, hopefully, your administrators.

You have shown teachers new digital tools for distance teaching. While you have always been a tech integrator, now more than ever you have become their tech expert, hand-holding many of them through the steps need to get their lessons to students and helping parents get online.

Distance learning has also highlighted the digital divide.  What have you contributed in helping students who have limited or no access to wi-fi? (See ALA’s Equity, Diversity Inclusion: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.)  How will you be able to help the administration deal with the issue?

Reflect on the changes and all you have contributed.  Come up with a list of words that highlight your new role.  If “community” wasn’t in your old statements, it needs to be now.  And be sure that community means the larger community.  If possible. include your role with administrators.  If technology wasn’t mentioned consider phrases like “bridges the divide between…” or “supports the use of … for…”

As discussions begin on what it will be like when we return to school, you need to expand your advocacy work.  Schools are facing budget cuts (yet again), and all to often that has meant eliminating librarians. Don’t wait until cuts are announced. Be proactive. Send out information on your updated Mission to show administrators and parents the key role you and the library play for students’ success. Volunteer to be on any committee working on what it will look like when your district returns so that the library is part of the plan.

Collect evidence that shows how you have been a leader. Show what you have done in making your library a safe, welcoming environment even when you aren’t in your physical space. Check for graphics created by different states to present what librarians have been doing during the pandemic.

And if you do make changes, don’t forget to use your tech expertise to showcase your new Mission. Share it widely – with teachers, parents, and the administration.

ON LIBRARIES: Reversing the Energy Drain

Feeling drained and exhausted?  You are not alone. Even though you’re not commuting or doing as many before and after school activities, the things that energized you – including seeing the teachers and students – are missing. But while you can partially attribute the feeling to cabin fever, the major energy drain is due to fear and there’s no getting away from it.

Acknowledging the fear and knowing it’s going to be a part of our lives even after the virus is contained (and hopefully cured) is a good first step. But what else can we do to minimize the energy drain so we are at the best we can be now and going forward? In Maximizing Your Energy During COVID-19 Nicholas W. Eyrich, David Fessell and Gretchen Spreitzer offer three ways to accomplish it. (NOTE: There’s a survey at the end of this article which requires personal information at the end.) They recommend:

Identifying and using your signature strengths – Consider both your people and professional skills. How good are you at lifting the spirits of others? Often helping someone else feel better gives you an energy boost.

How much of a techie are you?  Working one-on-one with a teacher (online, of course) to demonstrate a resource will help you focus on doing something positive.  When they use it their teaching, they will invariably let you know. Another feel good experience that helps restore energy.

Those of you who are artistic or crafty can create something to share online. The act of creation, particularly when you tune into it is an energy boost. Bringing beauty to others adds to your pleasure and that too adds to your energy.

And since energy carries over, think about your strengths and joys outside of your job. Do you like cooking, baking, knitting, gardening or singing? Spend some time purposely doing those things. It’s okay to enjoy yourself.

Keeping your purpose ever-present – This is probably my theme song.  Your Mission – or purpose – is what keeps you on track.  It’s all about your Why.

Why did you become a librarian? What powers you when you are in your library?  What can you bring from that into your new environment?

What values are important to you?  Note where they are still present. Acknowledge yourself for when and how you further Mission and demonstrate your Why.

Lean into high-quality connections – As always, keep checking in to your PLNs.  You don’t only have to use them for advice on how to do something.  You can also open up and let them know you are feeling.  By sharing your fears and anxieties, not only do you release them (fear hates when you shine a light on it) but you may learn methods others have used for dealing with the same concern or your disclosure could help someone else feel stronger and in good company.

Recognize when you are feeling drained. Identify its cause.  Most of the time fear will be at the root.  Choose one of the three suggestions to help you restore your energy or let me know others that are working for you. Most of all, be kind to yourself no matter where your energy is. Accept that there will be days when you don’t accomplish much, and don’t expect to give maximum effort all the time.

ON LIBRARIES – What’s Your Plan?

Can you believe it’s the new year? Vacation has, once again, flown by, and I almost hate to say it but if you have given no thought about what the rest of the school year will bring, now is the time. Ask yourself where do you want to be at the end of the school year?  I often quote Yogi Berra’s sage advice, “If you don’t know where you are going, you are going to wind up someplace else.”  Nothing will change, certainly not for the better, unless you have a plan.

Whatever job you tackle, it should connect to your Mission Statement, your Vision, and your Philosophy.  No matter what you choose to do, it will take effort so it is a waste of your time unless it takes you where you want to go.

To begin, list your ideas.  Which are the biggest jobs?  Which are relatively easy?  And then ask the big question — Why do I want to do it? How does it connect? Don’t just pick a project you have heard of because it sounded like a good idea.  It might have been great for another school librarian and library, but it may not be the best choice for you. Before plunging in, first ask yourself, “What do I want to do?

Most Mission Statements are broad enough to give you room to go in many directions, but knowing that your plan connects to it will give it a greater focus.  For example, here is one Mission Statement.

  • The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become not only lifelong users of information but also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.

The first sentence of that statement can lead to creating a Makerspace. But if you are thinking of a plan, you want to think bigger.  Perhaps your purpose for the Makerspace is to have students developing products that might help others. If creating information is part of your Mission, then how else can you use this Makerspace?

The second sentence is about developing more collaborative projects with teachers.  Are there teachers you haven’t reached as yet?  Are there subject areas that could benefit from working with you that haven’t come into the library as yet? And if a Makerspace is still what you want – which teachers would be best to contact for collaboration?

The second half of that sentence is about diversity.  Is your collection truly diverse? Does it go beyond race, ethnicity, and gender?  What percentage of the authors of your diverse titles are members of the community they are writing about? Is there a way to blend students acting as users and creators of information with diversity? That links it more tightly to your mission.

So, you know what you want in your plan. Next step—How?

Let’s return to the Makerspace. HOW can you do this? Whether you have one or want to expand an existing one, you’ll want to start by gathering information. Who is already doing this? Who is doing this with resources that match yours? Ask your PLN for help and search on topics such as project-based learning and design thinking. (I’m guessing members of the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group would offer support!).

Next, identify WHAT you will need to accomplish it.  Will it require funding?  If so, where can you get it—grants? GoFundMe?  Will you need volunteers? Can they be students? Alumni? Parents?

Knowing WHO is also an important part of the second plan–collaboration. The Who are the teachers you want to reach.  Why have they not collaborated with you before? What do they need?  How can you help with that?  How can you quickly build a relationship with them? Who will you start with? Then there are two more questions: Why? (Why this teacher?) When? (When will you reach out and share your idea?)

The third project requires a diversity audit to assess your collection. Again – How, What, Who, Why, When. Do you know anyone who has done this?  Can they send you their templates for doing this?  Who can help you in compiling it?  What are sources you use to increase the diversity of your collection.  What resources do ALA and AASL provide? When are you going to seek the initial information?  When will you begin the project?

Put all of your plans in writing.  Name the projects, list your steps, and create manageable deadlines. Whether you use a spreadsheet or a Google doc doesn’t matter.  What matters is having it recorded and making a commitment to it.

The last and a very important part of your planning is knowing what you will do with the results. How will you use it to promote your library program?

You can record the Makerspace project in photos and videos.  Capture students working on their designs, Showcase their final creations. Share with your administrators and contact local news outlets.

You should display projects from collaborations with teachers, possibly on the library’s or school’s website.  Send information to the principal on what the students achieved and commend the teachers involved.  This will eventually lead to further collaboration.

Share the results of your diversity audit with the principal.  Discuss how you plan to build a collection that will promote students’ feelings of safety and belonging in the school and beyond. Perhaps you can get a one-time funding to purchase books you have put on a list to acquire.  Again, consider grants and GoFundMe for help.  Look also into the possibility of getting speakers in for the teachers and/or students. But that’s another plan.

With a well-constructed plan, you will reach the end of the school year with a sense of accomplishment.  The important part is to get started now and let your plan guide your success.

Good luck!

ON LIBRARIES: On Purpose

I have often written and given workshops on writing Mission and Vision statements for school library programs.  I believe it is the bedrock on which all your planning rests.  What I haven’t discussed is your personal mission, which is your purpose in life.

Although identifying your purpose in life sounds a bit grandiose, it’s something all leaders know and have, even if they haven’t formally written it.  It’s your big “Why.”  Just like the Mission Statement for your library program provides your motivation, your life Mission is what gets you up in the morning (other than a paycheck).

I discovered my own purpose years ago thanks to working with a student.  She was a volunteer in my high school library and was extremely intelligent and diligent.  She was also overweight, not well-dressed, and was on the fringe of high school life.  I first thought of giving her some useful tips. Then I realized, she knew all that.  She didn’t need to hear it from me. What she didn’t know, and struggled to see, was how special she was. I concentrated on letting her know how I valued her and recognized her abilities. As she was finishing her senior year, her mother told me how much everything I said had meant to her.  She went on to become a librarian.

From that experience, I realized it was important to me to let people know what I see in them. Too many of us can find loads of reasons to disparage ourselves but rarely recognize how we are contributing to our world. That hampers a growth mindset and certainly stands in the way of an innovative mindset. (See my blog post It’s All in the Mind.)

By thinking about what I had learned about myself thought this experience, I identified my purpose: “To reflect back to others the greatness I see in them and, when appropriate, help them manifest it.”  It’s how I live in my personal life, and it’s how I am in my professional life.  Whether I am writing something or giving a presentation, meeting someone at a conference or teaching a class, I’m invariably trying to show school librarians how special they are and offer tools to showcase (and believe) it.

You may not have experienced an epiphany as I did, but whether you are aware of it or not, you do know your purpose. You just haven’t identified it yet. It doesn’t take long to craft one, and once you do, it will make you a better leader. You will likely discover that it impacts all the areas of your life, in and out of the library.

John Baldoni suggests asking yourself these three questions in his article: Putting My Purpose to Work for Me Now:

What do I most like to do? Make a list. You might start out with hobbies and family connections.  But don’t stop there.  What is it about those things that give you pleasure and make you feel good about yourself? What parts of your job as a librarian brings you joy?  What lights you up? What do you look forward to?

Why do I want to do it? Your purpose, like your library Mission, is your “Why.” In what way do you find it fulfilling. How does it connect to your sense of who you are? Identifying your Why grounds you and helps you get through days that are stressful – whether from the job or your personal life.

What is keeping me from doing it? It’s usually some form of fear from taking risks to feeling vulnerable to fear of failure.  This self-analysis may lead you in a new direction. Perhaps you want to be a bigger influence and need more schooling. Most of us will have have to step out of your comfort zone to live our purpose. In my case, it took a while to be willing to risk telling individuals how I saw them. It sometimes seemed as though I were intruding.  Perhaps they already knew. Now I even do this with the cashiers at my local supermarket and it feels wonderful for us both.

After going through these questions reflect on what you have discovered.  Put it into a few sentences.  As with your library Mission Statement, keep it brief, memorize it, and as often as you can put it into action. If it doesn’t feel quite right, give it a little time and see if that’s about leaving your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to tweak it until you’ve got it. When it’s right – you’ll know.

Being clear on your purpose gives you confidence and direction, both of which are invaluable to you as a leader. You may even be surprised by the ways this tool is useful. My purpose has become helpful in how I organize my life.  I make decisions based on my purpose, passions, and priorities.  If something comes along and doesn’t fit within one of these three, it’s easy for me to say no. Knowing your personal Why will allow you to live your life on purpose.

ON LIBRARIES: The Leader in You

If you saw the title and thought “Hilda’s writing about being a leader again” my response is – absolutely. I will likely never stop. I honestly believe every one of you is a leader.  You just may not be revealing it to yourself and others. It’s time to let your leader out for the sake of our students, teachers, and our profession. And just as you must continue to discover, practice, and improve your leadership skills, I must cheer you on, providing as much assistance as I can. I hope as this school year gets underway you challenge yourself to engage in one demonstration of your leadership.

The Vision of AASL speaks to what I have been saying for many years, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.”  The only way we are going to stop losing school librarians is by being valuable leaders in our school communities.  Those of you who are leaders have two tasks: become even more visible as leaders and help the school librarians in your district and state to become leaders.

A Google search yields scores of definitions of what a leader is, but the one I like best is from Vocabulary.com: “A leader is the one in the charge, the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.”  You are leading when you work with your students and engage them.  You are being a great leader when they feel they can really do what at first seemed like an overwhelming task.

The same skills can apply in your dealings with others.  Joel Garfinkle, writing for the business world, identifies and explains 8 Traits of Great Leaders. Many of these you are using with your students. It’s why your lessons work.  The next step is to think of how you can use these traits in throughout your school and beyond.

  1. Great leaders have integrity – It’s why your students trust you. And your teachers do as well. They know you keep confidences. You also uphold the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights.
  2. Great leaders have intelligence –It’s why you can help others. You know your stuff.  This intelligence is also social and emotional intelligence.  You have empathy. This is what, along with trust, helps you build relationships.  Don’t forget to show how you can help your administrator. What is his/her vision?  What do they want to accomplish? Use what you know to help them achieve it.
  3. Great leaders have high energy – It’s why you keep coming back. You can’t be a school librarian without it. Even on a fixed schedule, you can’t predict what demands will be made of you during the course of the day. Your high energy communicates to others your enthusiasm for what you are doing. Don’t forget to build in “me time” to avoid overwhelm and stress which will sap that energy.
  4. Great leaders bring stability – It’s why you can stay cool in a crisis. (You may choose to fall apart later.) This calm inspires confidence in you and your program. It is a reason for people to look to you for help when things get crazy. It’s why they will follow your lead.
  5. Great leaders have high standards – It’s why you have a Mission Statement. This works in addition to the ALA Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. It represents what you see as your purpose and what your school library program is determined to deliver. Everything you do is related to that statement.
  6. Great leaders have a strong inner voice – It’s why you can stay focused. You trust your intuition and your gut to help direct you in your decisions. This is part of why you are calm in a crisis.  It is powered by your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy.  If you haven’t taken the time to create these, do so.  That inner voice will serve you well.
  7. Great leaders are confident in their decisions – It’s why you can get back on track. You may always feel very strong in this trait but trust your inner voice, standards, intelligence, and integrity. Allow yourself to make mistakes, recognizing you will grow from it. Your confidence, like your calm, contributes to having people follow you.
  8. Great leaders invest in their own growth – It’s why your program keeps getting better. I have always felt strongly about this. You are responsible for your professional development.  There are so many opportunities from webinars, Twitter chats, professional journals, and, of course, conferences.  (I am an unabashed conference junkie.) You must be a member, preferably an active one, in your state library association.  You should also join—and participate- in at least one national association.  Working at that level will bring out your leadership skills.

As the subtitle of my most recent book for ALA Editions, Leading for School Librarians says, — There Is No Other Option.  Take on making the AASL Vision a reality by performing as a leader.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Making the Most Of Your Time

Just about all of us could use a few more hours in the day or days in the week. Unless you develop strategies that support you, you’ll end almost every day and week exhausted. If you don’t do something about it, you will eventually burn out. Much of our exhaustion comes from doing tasks without having them connect with the bigger picture.  When you have a Mission and a Vision for your library program you can better see the ultimate purpose of even small tasks and quickly notice if you are furthering your Mission or being pulled away from it.

To-do lists in whatever format you like are a classic way to manage time, but just noting down tasks is not enough and can be overwhelming to look at. And if it’s overwhelming, you’re likely not to look and end up missing something. Consider putting a star by high-priority tasks, then look at your schedule and decide when during your day the priorities can be done.

You can also identify tasks by how long they are likely to take. Don’t start lengthy tasks if you only have a few minutes. You’ll likely end up having to repeat much of what you have already done. Instead, it can be helpful to keep a list of essential tasks broken down by time. This way, if you have fifteen minutes between classes, look at the list of things that require that time or less. This is not the time to start creating a LibGuide.

Most time management experts suggest scheduling non-urgent tasks for near the end of the day.  These are the tasks which, if you dig into them too early, are likely to take you away from important jobs. Checking email or social media falls into this category.

We all know that part of our challenge is the time that gets “wasted.” It’s important to note that there’s a difference between procrastinating and doing what is helpful to switch gears. The brain requires a pause before shifting from one activity to another. It’s one thing if I play another game (or ten) of Klondike rather than move on to my next task. It’s different when after I finish writing my blog, which is a creative task, I insert something before I work on my lectures for a new course. I can switch more easily to checking on my students’ posts on the online course’s Discussion Board where I am responding rather than initiating.  Once I have done that, my brain is ready to move onto writing my lectures.

No surprise, I found a great article from the business world which is always looking for ways to maximize available time.  Naphtali Hoff offers A List of Suggestions to Become More Productive and all thirteen, in a random order, begin with the letter “S.”

  1. Stop – Before plunging into the next task, Hoff says to reflect on what you want to achieve. As I would say, “What will best further my Mission?” Remember to couple this with the amount of time you honestly have available.
  2. Set Goals – As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Goals, especially ones based on your Mission, remind you of what you want to achieve.
  3. Segment and Celebrate – Small, short term goals are best. Each time you accomplish one, it gives you a boost to the next one. Break down large jobs into small, attainable goals.  Give yourself small rewards when you reach a goal. Knowing your reward in advance can be a fun motivator.
  4. Simplify – What can be done to make the task less complex? Creating short term goals are part of this.
  5. (Get) Serious – Let someone know about your goal. We are more likely to hold ourselves accountable if we have a partner who is aware of what we did or didn’t do. Find someone you can check in with. (Our Facebook group could be a good place for this)
  6. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule – Hoff is not a fan of to-do lists, but he recommends blocking out time for tasks. Time blocking allowed you to look at your schedule and match it appropriately with your goals and to-dos.
  7. Strategize – This is related to #6. What is the best time for each task? And what is the best time for you? If you’re most alert in the mornings, then schedule your priorities then. This will also help you feel accomplished for the rest of the day – always a good motivator.
  8. Snooze (Your Devices) – Hoff wants you to set a time to focus on email, which also means not checking it while you are in the middle of another job that requires your full attention.
  9. Smile – It creates a positive atmosphere, not only with others but also affects your posture and demeanor. We feel better about what we have to do when we’re feeling good overall.
  10. Stretch – As a walker, I know the benefits of stepping away from the computer and doing something physical. It doesn’t need to be long, but it needs doing.  Supposedly the American Heart Association has said that sitting is the new cigarette smoking.
  11. Snack – Eat something healthy like fruit, vegetable sticks, or a small yogurt. It will power you back up.  Do not indulge in junk food or sugars that could lead to an energy crash.
  12. Sleep – Trying to get more done by cutting down on sleep doesn’t work. Your brain fogs and you become less productive.  And you make errors. Turn off the devices, grab your newest favorite read and snuggle in earlier.
  13. Self-care – Hoff and I are in complete agreement, as are other experts. Not taking care of yourself, which includes the above mentioned not getting enough sleep, is debilitating.  You stop giving your best.  Your job is not your first priority (or it shouldn’t be).  Stop behaving as though it is.

There are many ways to get the most out of the time you have. Honoring what works for you, noticing when you’re avoiding something, and allowing your Mission to support and guide your actions will help. And remember, some days none of this works.  Life happens.  Accept it.  Tomorrow is another day.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Leader or a Manager

I apologize.  The title is a trick question.  You must be both, but you need to be aware which hat you have on and why. My guess is you have been too busy to think about the question or notice the distinction, and as a result, you may not be using your time and energy efficiently. To understand the difference between the two, it helps to know the difference between strategy and tactics.

Strategy is a big picture concept. It represents a large goal.  Strategy is tied to your Vision.  Ultimately, it is what you seek to accomplish.

Tactics is how you get to that goal.  It is what you do day in and day out.  While Strategy is tied to your Vision, Tactics are aligned with your Mission.  Focusing only on tactics is like building a house when you have no idea what it should look like when done.

What does this have to do with being a leader or a manager?  Leaders hold the Vision.  Managers carry out the Mission.  If you still don’t have a Mission and Vision you are likely to work very hard and not have a sense of accomplishment.

With your Mission and Vision as a guide, you are both a manager and a leader—but not simultaneously.  When you organize your day, teach your classes, collaborate with teachers, or do your book order, you are being a manager.  When you develop a budget, organize a school-wide project, plan to genre-fy your collection, you are being a leader.

The business world recognizes the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as the leader, and the Chief Operations Officer (COO) is the manager.  But even corporate America is becoming aware that some blending happens and, in some businesses as with school librarians, one person does both.

An often-cited brief distinction between the two roles is that leaders have people follow them and managers have people work for them.  At first glance, it would seem you have neither.  But when you plan a project, you enroll people to join in and follow your vision for it.  Having people “follow’ you is at the heart of advocacy.  If you are fortunate to have clerical help or volunteers, they obviously work for you.  In a more limited way, as you direct/guide students on their tasks they are doing the work you have given them.

ResourcefulManagement.com has an infographic comparing 17 traits distinguishing leaders from managers.  I’ve talked about several of them in earlier blogs but there are others I think it is helpful to consider such as:

Tells vs. Sells The manager says, “This is what I want you to do, and this is how to do it. The leader says, “I have this great idea and I know it will work if I can get you to be part of it.” You are leading when this is how you approach a new project.

Minimizes Risks vs. Takes Risks – Managers follow the status quo.  Leaders take the program in a larger direction.  I remind you frequently that you need to take risks.  Small ones at first and larger ones as you prove your worth.

Sees a Problem vs. Sees an Opportunity – It’s easy to see (and complain) about obstacles and problems.  A leader recognizes problems are an opening into new territory. It’s called a “choppertunity” – a challenge that presents an opportunity.  How creative can you be?  What risk will be needed?

Follows the Map vs. Carves New Roads –This is similar to which one takes risks, but the reminder is you won’t get far if you keep doing only what you have been doing before.  You are either growing or dying. First, understand the map, then look to find the places to create new roads.

Establishes Rules vs. Breaks Rules – Once again, there is an element of risk in the difference between the two roles.  How many of you will allow food in the library?  Allow kids to borrow books even if they have overdues? And those are the most common rules.  Where are rules keeping your program from growing? Where are rules keeping your program running smoothly? Shine a bright light on these rules and see which ones are serving and which are holding you back.

Assigns Duties vs. Fosters Ideas – As a librarian, you strive to foster ideas from students doing assignments, but have you looked at ways you can foster ideas from teachers about improving your program? The end users often have ideas of what they want, what they like, and what they don’t like.  Involve them in taking your program to the next step.

Does Things Right vs. Does the Right Thing – Obviously you need to do both.  Just know when to do what.  Purchasing books you fear might be challenged is doing the right thing.  Showing you are a team player is doing things right. 

For most of your day, you need to be a manager.  But to manage well, you need to know where you, the leader, is going.  And remember this quote by that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

 

ON LIBRARIES: Understanding and Using Culture

What is your school’s culture?  What is your library’s culture? Both affect how you do your job, how you present yourself, and whether you are regarded as a leader. I blogged on this topic back in January, but a recent article made me want to revisit the topic.

Readers may recall I worked in two districts with dramatically different cultures. The first voted down twenty budgets in the twenty-two years I was there. The second district passed every budget in the nine years I was there.  This district prided itself on its history and its ability and willingness to support the school system. They viewed themselves as a lighthouse district.  Indeed, pride along with diversity are still present on the district’s home page, mission, and superintendent’s vision.

Knowing the culture of the two districts affected how I proposed my annual budget requests and projects. At the first school, everything was couched in terms of how my request(s) would be cost-saving. (Every dollar spent in the library affects all students.)  I overheard a business teacher speaking to her department chair saying, “We don’t need new textbooks as long as Hilda’s library is up-to-date.” In the second school, I promoted my requests and ideas as a means of moving the school forward. In preparatory discussions with administrators, I would compare what I was seeking with what was happening in other leading school districts and libraries. I could be asking for the same thing in each school, but I framed it differently to fit the culture.

So if you’re (still) struggling with working within your school’s culture, you may appreciate the idea s from an article in Harvard Business Review where John Coleman discusses the Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture. Although he is addressing the business world much of what he says relates or is adaptable to education and the school library.

Coleman starts with Vision. He states, “A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement.” I have been promoting this for years. Your Vision and/or Mission must guide every decision you make. It sets the tone for everything.  Don’t have one yet?  Get started.  You won’t be able to successfully advocate for your program without it. Also, make sure you know the vision for your school or school district. The more in line you can be, the easier your advocacy.

Next is Values.  According to Coleman, “A company’s values are the core of its culture.” This ties into your Philosophy which probably includes a statement that the library “is a safe, welcoming environment for all.”.  We also have our Common Beliefs as given in the National School Library Standards. As librarians, we have our ALA Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics.  To enhance your understanding, you might also reflect on your school’s and district’s values – both stated and unstated

Third is Practices. “Values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices.” How many times have we heard administrators say, “The library is the heart of the school,” only to see them eliminate the budget, close the library for numerous occasions, and in other ways indicate the statement is a platitude, not a reality. (This speaks to those unstated values). You can support this by truly doing all you can to carry out your Vision/Mission and Values. If this is something you are struggling with, how can you change this or get help?

People is (are?) fourth. As Coleman says, “No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values.” These “people” are your advocates.  Are there teachers who share your values and value the library? What about your administrator? Any outside volunteers? This is why you need to communicate your Vision – and your Values.  And are you showing you value the contributions of those around you? If you need support on this, go to the National School Library Standards portal, clicking on Administrators or Educators to get the appropriate resources.

The fifth contributor to an institution’s culture is Narrative. This is where the power of emotions comes in.  You need to tell your library’s story and embed it in the awareness of your stakeholders. Use emotional content and visuals to reach your audience. Where have you seen your program making a noticeable difference in the lives of students? Why is it not only valuable but indispensable? Have students worked on college applications at the library? Try to get pictures when they’re accepted. Have students put something they’ve learned in the library into action (such as a community garden)? Make sure to show the connection – and the excitement. Do quarterly reports highlighting student learning using various tech resources such as Canva, Piktochart or your favorite site. Get your narrative out into the community with social media.

Finally, there is Place.  The look of your facility is the first thing greeting all who enter.  What message is it sending? Is it aligned with your Vision and Values or is there a disconnect? I’ve written about a list of rules being the first thing people see and how that can be a barrier. Where is the visual excitement of your space?

You create the culture for your library.  By taking stock of how yours measures up to these six components, you can make it a strong statement of who, what, and why you are.  Also, match these six to identify your school culture.  How well is the library culture aligned with the school culture? Again, is there a disconnect?  If so, develop a strategic advocacy plan to make inroads on the school culture so that it will embrace the value of the school library and make certain you are using your awareness of the culture to support your initiatives.  A challenging culture doesn’t mean you won’t get what you need. It means you’ll have to look for or develop new ways to success.

ON LIBRARIES: The Mission of Mission

(WAVING TO ALL OF YOU FROM ALA NATIONAL IN CHICAGO! – If you’re here — post to our Facebook group and let me know if you want to get together!)

I recently got into a discussion with a professor friend of mine for whom I have the greatest respect, and we disagreed on what should be in a Mission Statement.  He held that the library mission should be the same as that of the school.  I argued that it needed to align with the school’s mission, but had to declare the unique role of the school library program. While we will agree to disagree, I wanted to bring the issue to this blog.

I first blogged about writing a Mission Statement June 8, 2015. At that time I wanted to have librarians recognize the value of having a mission.  What is the purpose (or the mission) of a Mission Statement? 

What I said then was:

The mission defines your purpose—what you and your library program do.  It should highlight what makes you unique and vital to the educational community and expressed in words laymen can understand.  You can start with the mission AASL gives in Empower Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (ALA, 2009).

And while we need to use evidenced-based practice to ensure we have the best possible program and use the data produced by it to show our administrators what we contribute, it doesn’t mean we don’t need a Mission Statement.

Everyone needs to see what our purpose is.  I recommend that librarians frame their Mission Statement and hang it where it can be seen by all who come into the library. It is our declaration of why we are vital to the school – the students, teachers, and by extension the administration.  It highlights what we do that’s unique.  Because if we aren’t unique, we are redundant. Someone else is doing we what we’re doing – so they don’t need us.

In addition, the Mission Statement gives us a focus.  A reminder of what we strive for each day, each school year.  In that original blog, I noted that “The school year is over. How do you feel as you look back on it? Do you have a sense of accomplishment over what you have achieved?  Or are you tired and exhausted, able to recall a handful of great moments but no real sense of having gotten anywhere? If this describes you, chances are you are operating without a Mission Statement.”

My point is a mission centers you.  Even if events in the school pull you off it on occasion – or regularly – at least you are aware that it’s happening and can work to get back on track the next day. It also becomes central to all planning.

You want to start a Makerspace?  Fine. How does it fit into your Mission?  That’s what you need to consider every time you plan a project.  It helps propel you forward.

If you don’t have a Mission as yet, here are some samples I have been using in some of my recent presentations:

  • The mission of the ______ School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become not only lifelong users of information but also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.
  • The Mission of the _______ School Media Center Program is to create lifelong learners with critical thinking skills, and an appreciation of literature by providing opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world. It is a place of safety and learning for all.
  • The mission of the School Library Media Program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users and producers of ideas and information, promote literacy, and develop students’ competencies to be ethical participants in a global society.
  • The ______ District Library Media Program cultivates independent, lifelong readers fosters critical thinking skills, teaches the effective and ethical use of information sources, and promotes equitable access to all forms of information media.
  • The ______ School Library Media Program creates a 21stcentury environment that promotes learning for all students by providing equitable access to information, teaching information literacy skills, and encouraging lifelong learning. The library media center strives to be a center of collaborative learning that produces creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self.
  • The ________ 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.

What’s your Mission? Do you think it should be the same as the school’s or do you see the value of having one that shows you are unique?

ON LIBRARIES: What’s Your Philosophy?

philosophersI’ve blogged about writing Mission and Vision Statements because I think they are vital for keeping grounded and focused in the hectic day-to-day life of a school librarian. However, I haven’t discussed the importance of a having a written philosophy.  It’s been included in several of the books I’ve written for ALA Editions, and I have students in my Management of the School Library course do one, so I think it’s time to put the need for one in the spotlight.

A philosophy is a statement of beliefs.  It identifies your core values. The AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner begins with nine “Common Beliefs” which in many ways constitutes the beliefs of the profession. These beliefs are a good place to begin framing your own philosophy.  What is it you hold dear?  What do you feel is essential to your personal definition of what a library is?  What are you willing to fight for?libraries-transform

I embrace all nine Common Beliefs but the one that means the most to me is “Equitable access is a key component for education.”  I couple it with another core value of mine,   “The library is a safe, welcoming place for all its users.”  The two don’t seem to be linked, but in many cases they are and I deeply believe that when the two come together, it can transform the life of a child.

“Equitable access is a key component for education” is a growing concern as the digital divide continues to increase.  Students who don’t have Internet or even a computer at home are at a serious disadvantage. We get stories of students who hang around the school where they can pick up free Wi-Fi for their phones so they can do searches for their classes.  But homework cannot be done on a phone.

As a librarian, I believe you have an obligation to do whatever you can to help those students.  It may mean getting a grant to have the library open after school to accommodate those without home computers.  It means making teachers and administrators aware of the problem.  Too often we take access to the Internet as a given.  The flipped classroom is a great idea.  But it doesn’t work for those who can’t go online.

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A basic truth is that schools and school libraries are not funded equably, sometimes even within the same district.  We always assume this is true in urban areas but rural communities are often in even worse shape. The lack of access to computers is only one aspect of the problem. The ones who need the resources the most are the very students whose schools have libraries with aging collections, if they have a library, and quite possibly no librarian.

ALA has recognized this lack of “equitable access” and is in the process of drafting a resolution on “Equity for All to School Libraries Community.”  It’s still be worked on, but the key points are to have ALA work to get certified librarians in all schools, equitable funding for all school libraries, and work with research committees to document the disproportionate cutting of resources affecting racial and economic populations.

Those are lofty goals. If and when it’s passed it won’t compel districts to hire librarians or fund libraries.  But by putting the weight and lobbying power of ALA behind the resolution, we can raise awareness. And as ESSA is being fleshed out, we have a good chance of making some significant changes. (Be sure you keep aware of what ALA/AASL is doing to keep librarians and libraries positioned to take advantage of all that is in ESSA.)

“Equitable access is a key component for education” is also about intellectual freedom.  I have blogged about Censorship and the lonely courage of a librarian who chooses to purchase a book, recognizing the subject matter is one that may raise challenges. We are all aware that a LGBTQ book will bring out censors in many communities.  But those are the very places where a LGBTQ child feels most vulnerable.

A book, fiction or nonfiction, can help those kids see they are not alone. They can even discover they are “normal.” It can direct them to sources for help and advice.  And this gets back to my other core value of the library being a safe, welcoming environment.

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We have heard from authors and others that the library was a sanctuary for them.  A place where they sometimes could hide and feel safe from whatever and whoever threatened them.  We know schools have anti-bullying codes, but much happens in a school that flies under adult radar.

As a librarian, keep a watchful eye for those who escape to your library.  Sometimes you can have them become “library assistants,” letting them avoid lunch in the cafeteria. You may find you become a confidante and then must travel a careful line between holding their confidentiality and knowing when to contact a guidance counselor or an administrator.  You once again are making lonely decisions.  I have made a few such in my career.  The student never knew how nervous I was, trying to do what was best for the child without violating school policies.

In making these tough decisions it pays to have a written philosophy. It’s longer than a Mission or a Vision, so you have room to include all the beliefs you have about what a library needs to be.  You can mention collaboration, and opening students’ minds to the world around them, helping them become independent learners and critical thinkers.

But you also must include how the library must feel for all its users, whether the child who is keeping his or her homelessness secret, a kid whose parent is  in prison, or one who is abused at home.  The library must be there for them, and so must you be.

As you write your philosophy, you will find out who you are at your core. You may eve revise your Mission or Vision as a result.

Do you have a philosophy?  What is the most important belief in it?