ON LIBRARIES: The Opportunities of Interesting Times

The quote “May you live in interesting times”, which supposedly has a Chinese origin, can be taken two ways. Is it a blessing or a curse? It all depends on how you see interesting times. For some the constant uncertainty is debilitating. Others see new possibilities. The difference is in how you respond, and your reaction is a choice even if you don’t notice making a conscious one.

Either you need to find a way to be proactive and choose to steer in a positive direction, or you’ll end up being reactive and allow the situation to steer you. Both can be exhausting, but with one you’ll likely be more energized and positive.

To actively steer your ship (read: be a leader), you need to be willing to carve out time to analyze your situation and develop a strategy which involves evaluating your assets, strengths and weaknesses, and learning from past behaviors and choices. Once you do this, you must commit to taking action.

In How to Turn Disaster Into Discovery — A Key to ResiliencyEileen McDargh proposes theses six questions to guide you into “intelligent optimism” which in turn will let you find the opportunities in these interesting times:

  1. What has become clear to you in the last few months? You should be able to come up with a number of items. What have you learned about relationships (professional and personal)?  What was true before the pandemic that is still true now?  How has your Mission Statement held up in the face of COVID-19?  How well do you handle ambiguity and uncertainty? Is this something you’d like to improve?  What’s making you feel successful?  Don’t forget to notice these.
  2. Where are you spending energy without getting the desired results? This is an important question. Are you still locked in tasks that belong to the past and don’t further your aims? The opposite question is equally important. Which use of your energy has been producing positive results? Your plate is very full. It is time to eliminate or minimize time spent on things that don’t move you forward. As we learn from the Pareto Principle or the Law of 80/20, 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. But sometimes 80% of the work only brings 20% of the results. It’s time to take a closer look at efforts and results.
  3. If you could start from scratch, how would you redesign your job, this business? This isn’t a question we normally think about, but since normal has taken a vacation, it’s worth considering. You have the opportunity to rethink how the library can function better, reach more students, and be a greater partner to teachers and administrators. Look for how the library can lead the way now and in whatever future is coming. The physical space is part of this envisioning, but so is the digital — and emotional—one. What can be done to make the library a safe, welcoming environment for all?  What is your role in this new ecosystem?
  4. What have you uncovered about your personal life that needs to be encouraged? Have you, like many, made more time for friends and relatives. Are you Zooming and calling them on a regular schedule?  How have your interactions at home changed? For the better?  What are you doing for yourself? It’s become very apparent in the last six months how important supportive relationships are. Continue to seek out and nourish these.
  5. How can we grow together as a supportive unit and what do you need from me? I love this question. It is essential that we build relationships and community. This question should be uppermost in your mind as you speak and deal with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. As the ALA initiative says, “Libraries transform communities.” How are you building and transforming yours? And as a bonus, this question may also work well at the dinner table or with your online/virtual social groups.
  6. What are the small steps you can create to work in a more collaborative way? This is where the other questions have been leading us. Here is where you create a plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs regular steps – of any size – to take you where you want to go.

Get started now to chart your future. Every few months stop and review these questions to see what new information you can use. Leaders need to know themselves and use that knowledge to plan for the future. When you do that, you can make these interesting times a growth opportunity.

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ON LIBRARIES: Plan Your PD

Summer vacation is either imminent or has already begun. The last thing you may want to think about at the beginning of your time off is work, but after you give yourself a little time off to relax and regroup, this is the perfect opportunity do just that – think. Most of our time is spent doing and reacting to all that is going on around us. For the next few months, take time to reflect on what you might need and where you want to go next.

Have you been (or feel) too busy to “grow? Biology tells us organisms are either growing or they are dying.  It’s true for your professional growth, and true for the growth of your program.

Professional Development (PD), being a lifelong learner, is imperative for school librarians. Sure, your district probably offers PD workshops at least once a year. But the reality for librarians is that what is offered at best only touches on our practice.  If you want to grow, you have to take responsibility for your own PD.

My favorite PD are the national and state conferences.  They offer a wealth of opportunities for learning, networking, and leadership. And with a few exceptions state conferences are nothing like the national ones so both are worthwhile.

ALA Annual is coming up in Washington, D.C. from Thursday, June 20th until Tuesday, June 25th, and the professional development you get (not to mention the swag!) is superb. You don’t need to be there the entire time.  If you are still in school, get there by Friday evening and leave Sunday night, and you will learn plenty.  Plus DC is a great place to visit if you’ve never had the chance.

Do your best not to make cost an excuse. I have attended every ALA Annual since 1979.  Most of the time the money came out of my pocket.  I listed it as a professional expense on my taxes.  I regard my memberships and conference attendance as a cost of doing business, no different from what it cost to drive my car to work or have suitable work clothes.  PD is invaluable.

Everything you need for registering and housing is online and you can check the Schedule for AASL programming in advance. Don’t forget to see what ALSC is doing if you are at the elementary level and what YALSA is offering if you are at a middle or high school.  Look for amazing speakers who will be there and plan your time.

Every other year, I strongly recommend you plan to go to the AASL Conference which is being held this year in Louisville, Kentucky from November 14-16. The AASL Conference is my favorite because it’s all about us.  Every program, every speaker, and every vendor is focused on school librarians. That’s what is special about AASL.  It’s the only national organization who speaks solely for school librarians.

The best reason for attending an AASL Conference is the people.  This is your opportunity to expand your PLN nationally (and in some cases, internationally). When eating at the restaurants either at the hotel or the conference floor, don’t sit alone.  Join others and engage in conversation.  And, of course, exchange business cards to be sure you connect afterward. After so many years of conference attendance, I look forward to seeing the many friends I have as well as meeting new ones.  With some, I schedule dinners or lunches in advance, and this will happen to you as well.

Great as they are, conferences aren’t your only PD option. Summer is a terrific time to catch up on your professional reading. If you are a member of AASL you receive Knowledge Quest bimonthly, and probably haven’t time to read it. (The current issue is all about the different ways the National School Library Standards can impact your teaching and learning.).  Then there are all those issues of School Library Journal or Teacher Librarian you haven’t read… yet. Take time to intersperse these with your ever-growing pleasure reading list.

Group of Business People in a Meeting About Planning

Another great source of PD is the archived webinars on AASL’s eCOLLAB. While you have to be a member – or pay for some, many are free.  Here is a sample of what’s available:

·       Comics Librarianship: Essential Tools for the School Librarian

·       Don’t #%?$ My Graphic Novels: Conquering Challenges and Protecting the Right to Read

Your state association might also offer free webinars and some vendors do as well. A quick online search should yield some helpful results.

For professional reading options, start at the ALA Store under AASL. Libraries Unlimited is another source of professional development titles as is Rowman & Littlefield. Explore new resources when you aren’t harried and have time to play with them.  See what’s new at AASL’s Best Apps for Teaching & Learning and Best Websites for Teaching & Learning.

Summer is a time for relaxing and rejuvenating.  You do need that time off.  Hopefully, you can balance it with taking the time your career needs and deserves to keep learning and growing. It’s what leaders do.