It’s the beginning of the school year and we are all jazzed up, ready to try new things and dig into our reserves of fresh energy! We scroll through Twitter. Read journal articles. Skim Pinterest. Look back to conference keynotes. There are rockstar librarians everywhere sharing amazing things about collaborating, writing curriculum, reorganizing collections, and building makerspaces. They are blogging, integrating literacy, and renovating spaces. It’s so exciting!
But it is also overwhelming.
All of this wonderfulness can come at a price, and when we fall into our routines and have those days where the printer is jammed, the Internet failed, and a kid returned a book that was dropped in a sink, we often find ourselves comparing ourselves and coming up short. Have you ever spent a morning putting stickers on books and an afternoon when we didn’t get to have lunch, and ask, Where do they find the time? How do they get it all done? And why can’t I do that? You’re not alone.
We’ve all experienced that doubt that creeps in when we measure the mundanity of our days with the highlight reels of of others’ lives. Nobody tweets or writes about the moments that take up an embarrassingly large part of our time, and some days this leaves us wondering if we are effective and essential, let alone a leader.
As we find our legs in the upcoming year, let’s close the newsreels every now and then and focus on realistic goals for ourselves. Pick one area of your library program that you want to improve or extend, and make a plan. Write it down on a sticky note and put it in your plan book or on your desk. Share it with your community so you have a support system. Let yourself have bad days--they always come with change and challenge--and let yourself shine on other days. Really shine. Celebrate! Share!
And when you get up tomorrow morning, look at yourself in the mirror. Look at the sticky note you wrote your goal on, and remind yourself that through the mundane, you will still shine.
Over this school year, our blog posts will focus on ways we can continue to elevate our roles as leaders. Please share out with us: What do you want to know more about? What are your goals? Drop us a line via email letthelibrarianslead.com or on Twitter @letthelibrarianslead.com and we will use your ideas as jumpstarts!
We hear that your school is cutting the librarian position--oh no! We understand that budgets are tight and librarians may seem “unessential” because they don’t have “class assignments.” But we wanted to reach out to you and explain the dangers of these cuts and the benefits of keeping a librarian on staff.
We think we can all agree that the point of school is to raise educated and informed thinking citizens. Did you know that great schools with certified full-time school librarians boost student achievement? A school library inspires students to create new knowledge, pursue their interests, access resources in many formats, become critical evaluators of information, and use information technology effectively and ethically. A certified full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement.
We know that you, as an administrator, want staff who are current in best practices and work to inspire students to be critical thinkers. Did you know that great schools with librarians who collaborate with teachers on curriculum and 21st century skill instruction see an increase in reading and writing test scores, school-wide? Certified school librarians are experts in best instructional practices, literacy integration, Common Core implementation, analyzing and making meaning of data, as well as professional development. Collaborative leadership from the library impacts teachers and students alike.
We understand that all schools want to ensure equity in achievement and provide a quality education to every student, no matter background, ability, or socioeconomic status. Did you know that groups that experience the most significant achievement gaps--the economically disadvantaged and those with IEPs--perform markedly better on reading and writing tests when they have a certified full-time school librarian? The librarians is the only academic staff member who sees every student every year in every discipline, and this provides students who struggle the most continuity in their literacy instruction. Libraries have always been about equity, and students who have access to a well-constructed library program have access to an equitable learning experience.
Before you commit to cutting the school librarian position, remember that all of our children need and deserve quality school library programs with full-time certified staff. Students are more likely to succeed when they have library programs that are well staffed, technologically well-equipped, and have librarians collaborating with faculty. We hope you will do what is best for your students.
Pam & Angie
Asking the Right Questions to Get the Right Librarian: An Open Letter to Administrators Hiring New Librarians This Year
We heard you were looking for a new librarian--how exciting! Having a full-time, certified school librarian raises literacy scores for all students, but finding the right questions to ask candidates can be difficult. We want to help you hire a collaborative instructional leader that best fits in your school, so we have put together some interview questions to help guide you through the process.
Ask your interviewees...
By engaging your candidates in conversations about collaboration, materials, standards, and curriculum, you can ensure that you are bringing a dynamic team member to your school. You can find a copy of our library job description here to further assist you in your search. Good luck in the hiring process!
Pam & Angie
Let the Librarians Lead
Do you ever hear from teachers, administrators, parents, students, or library workers who lament the changes in the library? Do they long for the day when the library was filled with old, dusty books and silent students? If so, here is the story of why the traditional school library of the past is dead. More important, however, is the story of why the new school library will be around for a long time - and is more vital than ever to the success of our students.
In the 1900’s, basic literacy skills included reading, writing, and calculating. Knowing meant memorizing by rote, which was appropriate to the industrial age. Education was generic and based on a factory-like, "one size fits all" model. Research equated to looking something up in a reference book or occasionally the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, finding a fact or a quote, and incorporating it into a written report. Research writing meant knowing how to parrot facts and quotes appropriately and formatting the dreaded bibliography on your typewriter.
Librarians during the past century were all about collecting, organizing, and preserving materials for research. We also provided access to those resources for our researchers, but our big job was basic curation, control, and oversight of these collections. This was a largely unchanging process for nearly 3,000 years. We taught students how to find where information resided in these books, but not about what to do with it once they found it. We instructed students on understanding the difference between fact and opinion - but to always rely on the credibility of the print resources in our libraries as the de facto standard.
And then…. the Internet happened! Around twenty years ago, we began adding computers with Internet connections into our library spaces. We taught our students and teachers how to use email to send messages and HotBot to find facts. We learned how to cite something on the Internet alongside our students. Research writing meant typing facts and quotes now using Microsoft Word instead of a typewriter. Access tools started to change, but the methodologies were largely intact.
And then in the last decade, as the Internet has grown exponentially with user generated content, more profound changes have manifested. Wifi has become ubiquitous and we have devices available in our pockets, in our classrooms, at Starbucks, and on the playground. Somehow, the information we can find on the Internet is sometimes better than what we have in our library. It is certainly more current (or on par with) the most updated print resources available to us. Today, the library and the web intersect - and provide multiple ways to get the same information. Research includes not just simple book quotes, but integrating complex multi-media rich sources. Sources that can change reading levels with a simple click are used daily in research. Research now is finding, evaluating, and then listening, viewing, reading and analyzing information. Researchers can use their mobile device to not only read books and search the Internet, but now they can chat with friends, interview experts, and automatically generate citations all while listening to music. Research writing is about preparing students for college and career. Basic literacy skills now include critical thinking and the ability to solve complex problems. Knowing today means taking information and using it to answer questions or solve problems.
Let’s face the truth : students do not need a school library to do research anymore.
One: Researching Across the Curriculum
Research is everywhere for our students. In our device-laden culture, our students have been raised with fingertip-accessible information. That doesn’t mean that they are good at research--it simply means they live immersed-in-information lives. The Common Core literacy standards have recognized the significance of this cultural shift by embedding research standards throughout every discipline. Because of this, in schools where the Common Core is being successfully implemented, the library is now the hub of multi-disciplinary curricula. Research projects that utilize the library help students practice and master research skills like assessing resources, using multiple kinds of media and text, paraphrasing, citing, and avoiding plagiarism. When teachers and librarians collaborate and co-teach research units together, our students are better prepared for responsible citizenship (being able to support what they claim) and for college (where studies have shown the library to be their greatest academic resource).
Be sure to understand what curricula is taught in your school and how it addresses Common Core Standards. Approach teachers with ideas of how your resources could improve their classrooms and curate materials for your students to be successful.
Two: Fostering a Reading Culture Through Self-Selected Texts
There is no greater and astoundingly consistent academic correlation than the one between achievement and independent reading. When students read independently, they perform better in all classes (for a wonderful read on this, check out Kelly Gallagher’s Readacide). The Common Core literacy standards support this research by outlining the importance of our students reading a wide-range of text, in class, but also independently. The library should offer multiple routes for our students to become passionate about reading. Visiting authors, a rich nonfiction collection, eBooks, book clubs, and integrated literacy in the classroom are some ways for libraries to promote independent literacy skills. And promote we must! It’s not enough to wait for readers to come to us--we have to be public about what we read and love. Ask your most unsuspecting visitors what they are currently reading. And if they say nothing, hand them a book you just KNOW they will love! Visit classrooms and give book talks. Put up quotes from new books. Post new titles on your website. Unpack new book deliveries in the library when there are kids around--there will usually be a line to sign them out while you quickly import the titles! Sell sell sell. Be a loud advocate for reading, and your students will fall into your enthusiasm.
Three: Providing Resources for Staff
With the shift to reading across the curriculum_, our science, history, and math teachers are in need of guidance when finding informational literacy resources. Know their curriculum and then find pieces to supplement their work. Curate picture books, news articles, magazine entries, podcasts, websites, primary documents, etc. that give relevancy to what they are studying and help your teachers plan how those materials can be integrated into their classroom to improve student learning. The Common Core asks teachers to have students read different sources and viewpoints and draw conclusions, but finding high quality nonfiction texts that addresses the different reading levels within the classroom can be time consuming. Stay abreast with journals from different professional organizations for ideas and use social media to collect ideas!
How Can I Help?
Simply offering to help teachers is the right attitude but the wrong execution. When we offer to help but do not provide specific solutions, our teachers hear, “I need you to do something extra: I need you to figure out how I can help you.” Yes, we want to go to the department meeting. Yes, we want to help the teachers. But if we ask our teachers how we can help, we are asking the wrong person. We need to be asking ourselves: how can I help this teacher?
Don’t Send the Invitation--Bring the Party to Them!
We know our teachers are busy and librarians have so much to offer. We can excite students about reading, offer useful information technology tools, and instruct classes on vital research skills. Be sure you reach out to your teachers at their point of need, and with specific solutions, suggestions, and resources that will make their jobs easier.
Think about the vision of your school library program. We all hope our libraries are welcoming, comfortable, and accessible - but how about rigorous and challenging? Is your library the academic center of the school? Are you familiar with the standards across the curriculum and ready to collaborate with teachers at the drop of a hat? We hope you answered “yes” to all of these questions!
If we all slow down and focus on how to provide leadership in our school libraries, we position ourselves and our libraries to be more about collaboration and instruction than sending out monthly overdue notices and performing collection inventory. The next time you start a new project, consider the different ways it will contribute to the big picture and your role as an instructional leader. Does this project get you and your library program closer to those goals?
To begin creating your own vision, do a quick SWOT analysis of your school library program. Do an honest assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Take your analysis and read articles like Susan Ballard’s “Developing the Vision” Knowledge Quest, 38 (3) 76-77 to prepare a long range strategic plan. Think about your space, your instructional practices, how you collaborate with the faculty, and your plans for advocacy.
Once you have a SWOT analysis, plan to to write a vision statement for your school library program. It’s best to not work on a task like this alone. See if you can find some other stakeholders to help you out in this process. Together you will project into the future. What does your dream library look like five years from now? Why is your school better off with a library than without one? How will you impact student learning in the future? Include five bullets in the present tense. Tweet us your results! @librarianslead
The American Association of School Librarians’ mission is to empower leaders to transform teaching and learning. This statement resonates loudly with us—because it doesn’t say that its mission is to empower librarians, it indicates the position of leader. And it doesn’t focus on books and literacy; it instead names the acts of teaching and learning. This deliberate language of our professional organization points to our very philosophy: librarianship is leadership.
The nature of the school librarian’s position poises us for endless possibilities in school leadership.
We know every student
The school librarian is the only academic teacher who sees every student every year in every subject. We have the potential to know where each child struggles and where they are successful. When a classroom teacher shows us a new class list, we can give the teacher background information on how a particular student learns and what strategies have worked for him or her. As students move from grade level to grade level, we are able to communicate information to teachers about the progress of each child.
We know skills
Because of our cross-curricular vantage point, we have the ability to help implement literacy and research skills across the curriculum. When we communicate which skills have been covered and what language was used to subject-specific teachers, continuity and consistency benefits our students as they attempt mastery. When the librarian works with all teachers in all disciplines, skills become embedded in explicit instruction rather than one-shot deals.
We know curriculum and standards
Librarians need to be as comfortable with the Common Core Standards, the Next Gen Science Standards, and the C3 Social Studies Standards as their teaching counterparts. When we are familiar with the standards (& all modern standards have strong roots in inquiry and research), we can sit in department meetings and take part in faculty conversations that are about building curriculum. A strong standards-based curriculum will utilize a standards-based library.
Literacy Best Practices
Of course, librarians know books. Developing a love for reading is an integral part of our job and is essential for student learning. But librarians can also work to help teachers determine which texts will work best in their classrooms as they strive to align their curriculum to meet Common Core literacy across the curriculum standards. Guiding students through research, assisting with reading and writing strategies, and taking part in literacy committees ensure that the librarian is knee deep as an important teacher-leader.
Hub of learning
As many schools shift to personalized learning models, we are reminded time and again that student choice is an important piece to intrinsic motivation. Best practices show that when students are given choice in inquiry-based learning, they are more likely to become heavily invested in their academics. But as students are given authentic choices, it means they are not so reliant on classroom-provided materials. The library is poised to become the hub of the educational environment. Every student should be engaged with library-centered learning as they investigate their world, and librarians need to be ready to assist in all academics. We may not be experts at everything, but we are an expert at finding everything!
When we examine the potential of the school librarian as a leader, a certain urgency emerges. We need to do our job well in order for students to achieve full potential. When we know students, skills, curriculum, standards, and best learning practices, we become critical instructional leaders, unifying our schools to better serve our students, proving that indeed, librarianship is leadership.
Join our #ileadfromthelibrary campaign and share with us what you are doing to re-envision leadership in the library! Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Tweet (@librarianslead) us your leadership quote and we will beautify it and share it out with the world!