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.”

 

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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: 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?