ON LIBRARIES: Good vs. Great

Do you have a good school library program or a great one? Answer honestly. The difference between the two is crucial to how you are perceived and valued.

Years ago, I had a superintendent who allegedly said, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  Many teachers were furious. Unfortunately, they weren’t listening to the underlying message. My superintendent was right. You can’t improve if you think you are doing well. For all its negative impact on our lives, the pandemic has made us see what is important – and broken – and make changes we never thought we would.

James C. Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great.” Every time I see that quote, I pause. It makes me wonder where I am settling. In his book, GOOD TO GREAT: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t, he says,

“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have excellent schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

The resumption of school, with all its uncertainty, is a perfect time to move your program from good to great. Those who have a great program incorporate growth and change as part of their continuing success. Those who have a good program rarely think about how to make it better, but with budgets being slashed, great is necessary.

One important step for a great program is that the administration knows the difference it makes for students. No matter how great your program is, no matter how much your teachers value you, if your administration is not aware of it, it isn’t reaching its full potential. In a post for Glassdoor, Mark Anthony Dyson discusses Good vs. Great! How to Show Employers the Difference. Although he is talking about the business world, his recommendations work for librarians as well.

  1. Show your work is known – As the saying goes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it….” You don’t have to brag to let your work be known. Choose the social media or communication platform most used by your intended audience to spotlight those you have worked with. Praising others will show your contribution – and build a relationship with the ones you showcased.
  2. Quantify your impact (when you can)– Make sure your numbers are meaningful. In the past, librarians would point to circulation statistics. In the eyes of the administration, anyone can check books in and out. What have kids produced? Pre-COVID librarians often struggled to cooperate with teachers let alone collaborate or co-teach. Now many of you have. Share the number and names (teacher and unit) of the ones you worked on.
  3. Show your growth and improvement over time – As part of your communication with your principal, keep track of new tools and resources you have added. Note the webinars you have attended and how you implemented the learning you received. Show the benefit to the students and teachers.
  4. Show your depth with upper management – In education, upper management is the superintendent as well as the Board of Education. What do they know of your work? How has it impacted students? Here you can showcase student work and voices. Be sure your principal knows and approves of your reaching out to upper management. Don’t let him/her be surprised.
  5. Show that your network is a resourceful team – You have two networks. The first is the one you have established in your school. You are showing this in the previous ideas. But you also have a Professional Learning Network – those memberships and social media groups where librarians ask for and share advice and experiences. This keeps you ahead of the curve, and you can bring that knowledge when your principal needs it. Explain what your learned from your PLN and how you used it.
  6. Show a quick response to challenges – You have done this and more during the pandemic. Flexibility and lifelong learning are part of our job requirement. Now more than ever (I am tiring of this phrase, but it’s true) others will value this skill. If you can, show how a challenge became an opportunity.
  7. Show you’re adept at all kinds of new learning – Very similar to #6, but it means you are creating new knowledge. It’s similar to my curating business sites and seeing how they apply to school librarians, which is part of why I always give you the link. Going outside the box, and, better yet, recognizing there is no box, will make you stand out. Libraries and schools can benefit from what non-education platforms have done to succeed.

Your administrators are under extreme pressure. More than you and the teachers. They need help, and you can give them that. By being more proactive in bringing your achievements to your administrators (including upper management) and supporting them as they struggle to find the best way to move the school and district forward, you will move your program from good to great. One of my favorite quotes is “If you are not growing, you are dying.” Remember this and look for ways to grow your program from good to great.

Reach Your Prime Audience – Back To School Night Suggestions

back-to-schoolThe parents who show up for Back-To- School Night and Parent Conferences are the ones who tend to be most directly involved in their children’s learning.  They are the ones who will fight for what their kids need. Too many librarians spend these events alone in the library catching up on work. You want them to recognize your contribution to student success in school and for their futures in college and beyond.  Once you do, they will do everything in their power to ensure your program thrives. Don’t miss out on reaching your prime audience.

To bring them in, have a sign or signs where parents check in and/or post them on the walls.  At the elementary level they may have little free time to wander so have a table set up at the main school entry with information for them.  Check with your principal to see if you can be there instead of in your library.  This gives you a chance to meet and greet them.Parents-orientation

In preparing material, consider what parents want most from the school library.  At the lower levels they want their children to learn to love reading.  So have a hand-out with the heading “A Book for Every Child—Every Child a Reader.”  Highlight any reading programs originating from the library.  Have a brief annotated bibliography and give links to your website where they can find more suggested titles.  If you can’t do that, list the URL for ALSCs Notable Books.

Are you looking for volunteers? Have a sign-up sheet, but just don’t have lines for their names and contact information.   What will parents get as a result of volunteering?  Seeing their child while they work in the library?  Learning more about the library program?  Access to borrowing material they can use at home with their children?  Helping the library be a welcoming environment for all students?  Put that first–then the lines for signing up.

At upper levels where parents move from class to class to meet teachers, they may have more room in the schedule to actually drop by the library. Again in preparing, think about what they want for their children.  This the time when they begin worrying about college, so spotlight how the library program prepares students.

A flyer or a running program entitled “What Students Don’t Know about Research” lets you showcase the information literacy skills you incorporate into students’ learning experiences.  Link to articles on the topic, such as this one from Huffington Post and point out why students in your school don’t need to wait until college to learn the skills.  Have your computers open to the databases you available and have a hand-out with the passwords for accessing them at home.  (Your students should have it, but the parents are probably unaware of it.)

library resourcesAt all grade levels, have your Mission Statement prominently displayed and include it on all handouts—and the Volunteer Sign-up Sheet.  Let parents know they can always contact you via school email.  If you have them, inform parents about LibGuides you created just for them and how they can see projects their children have done on your website.

The more parents learn about the value of today’s school library program, the more they will fight to keep it.  Don’t let your best potential advocates walk out the door without discovering what you do for their kids.