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Transparency and trust for librarians


You are soooo transparent.

Don't take it personally, but librarians are often regarded with distrust by teachers. Why?

Unlike classroom teachers, we have both discretionary time and funds to allocate. Have you ever heard questions like "Just where does all the money in the library budget go?" or "What does the librarian do all day anyway?"

I've visited the need for transparency in technology funding in this blog before (here and here), but I had not  realized Michael Fullan made transparency one of his six "secrets of change" until the book became required reading for our administrative team this summer. Here, in brief, is what Fullan says: 

5. Secret Five: Transparency Rules
The first reason that transparency rules is that it’s going to, whether we like it or not. Easy access to information means that the public’s appetite for accountability cannot be thwarted.

The second reason it rules is that transparency is a good thing; in fact, it is essential to success. Yes, we all know that data can be misused. Public reporting of student results can lead to unfair or destructive actions. However, the alternatives—to keep information private or to refuse even to collect it—are neither acceptable nor useful.

Effective organizations embrace transparency. We know that people will cover up problems if the culture punishes them. So one thing we must do is develop cultures in which it is normal to experience problems and solve them as they occur. When data are precise, presented in a nonjudgmental way, considered by peers, and used for improvement as well as for external accountability, they serve to balance pressure and support.

Knowing that transparency is both inevitable and desirable for successful organizations makes it far less threatening. Michael Fullan

How can librarians develop a culture of transparency and build trust?

Open budgets: Put your budget in an online spreadsheet available for ANYONE to read - teachers, administrators, parents the community. List Vendor, PO number, amount of purchase and a short description of what was purchased. Invite everyone to the budget making process. 

Open calendars: Put any library calendar you can online and share it. This is your personal calendar, your library calendar, your collaborative teaching calendar, your computer lab calendars. The question might change from "What does she do with her time?" to "How does she manage to get it all done?"

Open goals: You long-term goals and annual short term objectives should be available on-line with a means for your stakeholders to comment and discuss them. Again, transparency means letting others have a role in creating your vision, plan and goals as well. Does your principal get a chance to tell you what she thinks is important for the librarian to be doing?

Open statistics: Don't wait until the end of the year to file an "annual report." Keep a running list of total numbers of items circulated, students using the library, classes you've taught, etc. Make it public. If the statistics raise questions, ask them. "Our fiction circulation is down this year. What might be the reason?" Open the online conversation to such questions.

Open doors: Take every opportunity to have parents, administrators and teachers come into your media center both during school hours and outside school hours. Let people watch you work; watch you teach; watch you assist students and teachers. Think of making your library walls transparent.

Open opinions: People ought to know where you stand. If you think both kids and adults should have access to a divergent set of opinions about issues, say so. If you see that fair use guidelines are not being taken advantage of, say so. If you believe student reading test scores will improve if kids are given more opportunities to read voluntarily materials of their own choice, say so. If you think the principal has made a choice that will harm students, tell him (privately). Trust is built when a person acts in a consistent, open manner. Our stakeholders may agree or disagree with us, but they should certainly know our fundamental beliefs. 

I've always thought that if somebody is not going to like me, I'd like it to be for something I've actually done, not just something I've been suspected of doing.

Make increased transparency a goal for this year in your library program.

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Reader Comments (10)

Doug - Here's another take on transparency that I like as well. I'm going to add your article on this topic to the class bibliography as well. I absolutely believe that some of our advocacy issues stem from the fact that we aren't transparent enough in our administration.

Richardson, Will. "Transparency=Leadership." Weblogg-ed.6 Apr. 2009. Web. 11 Aug. 2011. <>

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin

Hi Floyd,

Thanks to the link to Will's page. I miss his regular blogging!

I'm thinking a post on transparency for teachers is in order as well.

Good luck with your classes. Will you be coming to AASL in MSP this fall? Hope to see you there.


August 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Great ideas! Thanks for sharing.. especially at the start of the year. See you at AASL in October! :)

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Dahl

Hi Heather,

Thanks for the comment. Looking forward to AASL myself!


August 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Just curious as to what were the other titles on your administrative / staff reading list?

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie Kaddatz

Hi Katie,

That was the only title for admins. I am personally reading Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki and Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins by Annette Simmons. Both pretty good.


August 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I am just now reading this post after seeing Jennifer LaGarde link to it on her blog. This is very inspiring. I have been thinking of posting data reports and calendars to my school library blog for a while but had someone tell me that it was dangerous and that scared me. Now I am thinking that fear is generally a bad base for decision making. Hmm. Thanks for the inspiration. Do you have any examples of school librarians posting this stuff online? I think I have seen Cathy Nelson's calendar online.

February 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Tazerouti

Hi Jennifer,

I definitely think we should be concerned about posting materials that may compromise student privacy, but general library information seems pretty safe to me. The worst that might happen is that you would get questions. If you use GoogleApps for Education, you could start by just sharing this info within your domain.

I don't know of any libraries off the top of my head that share this stuff, but I am sure many do.


February 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

EGADS!! Isn't it scary? Yes, our library schedule is publicly online. (I even made a to share widely.)

But I have never shared this--here goes (eyes closed tight!!)
That is the link to our budgets. We have three--books/periodicals & supplies/local
Folks need to know we serve roughly 2600+ students and teachers.
I dont publicize our budget link so much, but it is available to view.

I have posted monthly stats on the library blog, but I just dont think that many view the info.
We have our library blog set up so a few d.o people and our principal get email alerts when new stuff as its posted. That is one reason we were called during baned books week and asked to scale down references to "Banned Books Week" an scale up references to "Intellectual Freedom" and "Right to Read." LOL that was a fun week of school!! MY district office was okay with our recognizing it, just didn't like the phrase baned books. I share this to say that is how I know these people are reading our material.

I've not included the whole monthly report on the blog though. Maybe I will fix that today.

February 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Jo Nelson

Great example, Cathy Jo. My only suggestion would be to add a short description of the item(s) purchased to each PO.

Since you showed me yours, I'll show you mine:


February 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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