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Situational librarianship

Situational ethics ... takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards. Wikipedia

Situational librarianship takes into account the particular needs and goals and philosophies of the library's parent institution when determining programming, resources, and staffing rather than evaluating by professional association standards. Blue Skunk Blog

Scholastic vice-president (and long-time friend), Evan St Lifer visited with Saint Paul Public Schools' librarians last week. He gave an excellent presentation on "The Habits of Highly IMPACTFUL Librarian." And the first of those habits he detailed was:

Impact Habit #1 - Build Strong and Trusting Relationships

Highly impactful librarians know that relationships are critical in order to obtain belief and buy-in from their school administrators.


  • Understanding what keeps your district administrators up at night allows you to strategically plan ways to support their key objectives and goals, making your role not only relevant, but critical to the success of the school and the district.
  • Learning the district’s specific strategic goals and how your work fits into those goals better positions you to integrate your own objectives, such as building a culture of avid-readers, into the larger district plan.

Like Evan, I have been advocating for helping you boss sleep well at night as a means of securing job security for a long time. In a 2003 column "No Principal Left Behind", I wrote:

4. Know you principal’s goals and interests. Can you rattle off right now the three or four things your boss considers important in your school? Test scores? Climate? Meaningful technology use? Figure out where your goals and your principal’s goals overlap. That’s not sucking up – that’s being politic.

While all principals may have some common goals - All children in my school will be successful - most principals as instructional leaders will also have goals and problems unique to their building.

And this is why every school library program in order to have maximum impact must be uniquely designed to its specific building. Library "standards" - number of square feet, number and kind of resources, types of programming, number of staff - are simply no longer relevant. We must all practice "situational librarianship."

If we don't use our principal's and our building's goals to drive our library program but instead use some external measure of value we run the very real risk of irrelevance. See below.

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