ON LIBRARIES: Your Values Define You

What are your core values as a school librarian?  As a person?  Your answers affect the decisions you make and how you interact with others. Living by your values makes you trustworthy, which is essential in building relationships.  It makes you a leader people can count on.

As school librarians, we embrace the six Common Beliefs of the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018 p. 11-16). These are, in essence, core values.  What do they mean to you as you go about your day and build your program?

  1. The school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community – You undoubtedly believe it, but are students, teachers, administrators, and parents aware of how this is true? Be mindful of what makes you unique and look for ways to demonstrate it.  Make certain they see how the library contributes to the learning community? 
  2. Qualified school librarians lead effective school libraries – How effective are you?  What are you doing to increase your effectiveness – and making your stakeholders conscious of it?  One way to assess the effectiveness of your library is to download the School Library Evaluation Checklists. The checklists give the competencies for school librarians for each of the six Shared Foundations (Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, Engage).  Where can you increase the presence of these standards into the learning experiences you bring to learners and in your daily practice?
  3. Learners should be prepared for college, career, and life – How are you improving “all learners opportunities for success?” This means recognizing that learners are different.  They bring different strengths and weaknesses, different backgrounds and perspectives, as well as different goals and challenges. You work to ensure that your collection, digital and print respond to these individual needs. Make certain you also reach out to students to guide them to the resources that meet these needs.
  4. Reading is the core of personal and academic competencies – Libraries are always about reading.  The printed page is still fundamental, but e-books and audio books should not be minimized.  Students learn and experience stories and information differently.  All formats should be included – and in the days of COVID, e-books have become more important.  As librarians we ensure that our collections speak to our diverse student body.  We go beyond the five “F’s” (festivals, food, fashion, folklore, and famous people) to books about life in general written by people who live it.  Students need to see themselves in the collection – and to see normal life of other people.  That builds understanding and tolerance as well as seeing that they are accepted for who they are.
  5. Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right – This is a challenging area.  School librarians must deccide whether this is a truly a core value for them and what it means in practice.  The Top 100 Most Challenged and Banned Books of the Past Decade  show an inordinate number relate to LGBTQ+. We know those students need to see themselves in books but are you prepared to live the consequences if your library is in an area where this is topic is difficult to present? The choice is always yours, but you should be honest with yourself about it.
  6. Information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available – Much of this is out of your control, but it is important to advocate for it. In exposing the enormity of the digital divide, COVID has brought the inequities into the spotlight. Access to computers and internet is not equitable. This is your time to be among the leaders who are changing the environment. How accessible are your resources 24/7?  What is needed to change that? Can you apply for grants or other help to get the support your students need? Don’t forget to work on ensuring that your information technologies are accessible to disabled students.

The above may not be a complete list of the core values you hold as a librarian.  For me, creating a safe, welcoming environment for all is first on my list.  I want students to think the library is the best place in the school no matter what grade they are in, and I want teachers to feel the same. If this is true for you, look for ways to lure teachers in and make them comfortable. 

My personal code of values includes keeping my word, and this influenced me as a librarian.  If I say something, I mean it. I also believe in being helpful to all.  I work at listening carefully and letting people (students, teachers, and administrators) see where they are doing a great job. 

When you live by your values, when they define you, then people know who you are and what they can expect, no matter the context. If you’re not sure what yours are, look at your priorities and commitments – then look at the reason beneath them. That’s where you’ll find what you value. Once you know your code of values, you can use it help you make decisions which support your library.

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 Value of Values

valuesI have often written and spoken about the importance of having a Mission and a Vision Statement.  They keep you grounded and focused when you are being pulled in multiple directions by students, teachers, and administrators. They also guide you in determining where and why you want to take your program next.

What I haven’t really discussed was the even greater importance of Values.  Mission and Vision are powerful and succinct.  They are usually short so you can memorize and display them for others to see. Values speak to the core of who you are and what you believe.  They should be completely internalized.

Consider first how your values affect your life outside the library.  How you honor your marriage, raise your children, treat your friends, and all the interactions of your daily life are rooted in your values.  Without much thought, you make many decisions based on your values.  The same is true for you as a librarian.whats-important

When you write a Philosophy Statement, as I have my students do in my Management of the School Library Program course, I suggest they look at the “Common Beliefs” at the beginning of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner to start their thinking process. They are then to consider what they feel a school library program should embody and communicate.

Philosophy Statements generally run from 2/3 to a full page and are, in essence, a statement of your values.  For me, one of the most important value I hold is that the library must be a safe, welcoming space for all.  This has always been important, but it is clearly needed now more than ever.

safe-place-3It seems like such a simple sentence, but when it’s put into practice, it has many implications for you and your program.  Is your collection diverse?  Does it truly reflect your student body?  Are there books in fiction and nonfiction by and about Latinos, African Americans, Muslims and others who make up your school and community population?  Are there titles about homelessness or a parent in jail?  Your students need to see themselves in your collection.

One of the very difficult questions and decisions facing school libraries is buying and shelving LGBTQ books.  Depending on your community and geography, it can be a hard decision, but if one of your values is that the library is a safe, welcoming environment, your choice is to purchase those books or go against your values.

It’s easier if you haven’t identified your values. Then you can dodge the issue, but is that the person you are or want to be? Is that the program you want to lead?

As a member of ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics, I have been looking at ALA’s Code of Ethics. This represents the Values of our profession.  It’s well worth reading.  This code is one of the things which make me proud to be a librarian even as I sometimes feel challenged to live up to these values. I have been focusing on section VII which reads:code-of-ethics

“We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”

It’s not always easy to set our personal convictions aside, but it’s our responsibility to do so.  Our values should be governing our decisions.

While at ALA Midwinter in Atlanta, I learned that there seems to be “less interest” in our values. Programs at state and national conferences lean heavily to the practical. But the practical need to be rooted in something.  Our values as librarians, give us a uniting bond with each other.  It makes our organization strong and keeps us all on the same page (no pun intended).

intellectual-freedomI urge you to get in touch with our values as librarians.  Bookmark the Intellectual Freedom page and become familiar with the key documents. Start reading the Intellectual Freedom Blog.  You should know what ALA is doing concerning the issue. Most recently OIF condemned government agency censorship.

What are your Values as a librarian? How do they affect the way you do your job?  What are your Values in your personal life?  How have they influenced your choices? (Don’t you love my Essential Questions at the end of each blog?)