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Wednesday
May092018

10 traits of successful school librarians

I've been a school librarian or school library supervisor since 1979. In the nearly 40 years since I've had the pleasure of working with many outstanding individuals. Librarians who make a huge difference in the lives of both the kids and adults with whom they work. Librarians who have a passion for books, for technology, and for ideas and, by sharing those passions, imbue other with them. Librarians whose jobs never seem to be on the cutting block. 

The librarians I most respect for their success share many of these traits:
  1. They value people more than stuff. It's funny how the best librarians don't seem to worry much about lost, broken, or overdue materials. They worry about the people they serve and in caring for patrons, those lost, broken, and overdue things seem to simply not be a problem. Good relationships, not lots of rules, are effective for these individuals.
  2. They own the responsibility for the effectiveness of the library program, but not the library itself. The librarians I respect most understand that the whole school "owns" the library, not them. They are the custodians of this jointly-owned resource. All advocacy efforts have at their core WIIFMS (What's In IT For My Students/Staff) They will never refer to where they work as "my library."
  3. They over communicate. Respected librarians understand that those in schools with discretionary time and discretionary budgets need to be very transparent about how their time and budgets are spent. They understand that others cannot advocate for a program if they don't know what that program does. Administrators, teachers, and parents all know the exciting things happening in the libraries of the best librarians.
  4. They understand the long view and are critical to the over arching mission of their parent organizations. Collaboration is not just between themselves and classroom teachers. They are also collaborative leaders, serving on building committees - curriculum, building, planning, etc. The role of the library becomes deeply embedded in making other individuals, programs and the school itself successful.
  5. They don't evaluate their programs based on arbitrary standards. Effective librarians know and understand state and national library standards, but they tailor them - selecting some, rejecting others - to meet the specific needs of their buildings, staff, and students. They take on jobs and acquire resources that may not have been covered in library school but are mission critical in their work environment. They are flexible about everything but their values.
  6. They create safe and welcoming environments. For students, the libraries created by these librarians  become Oldenburg's "third place" - a space of comfort, welcome, and safety. Great librarians take pride not in collections, technology, or furniture within the library walls, but in the groups of students, especially those who may not "fit" in the regular school societies, working and playing in the space. It seems these folks libraries are rarely empty.
  7. They know that empowering others is the source of their own power and security. Too often people believe job security comes for having knowledge that no one else has. But as my dad liked to say, "The graveyard is filled with indispensable people." The librarians I know who are critical to their organizations are not knowledge and skill hoarders, but natural teachers who help others develop life-long skills in technology use, information evaluation, communication, problem-solving. 
  8. They swing both ways: lit and tech. The bifurcation of the profession started just as I entered it in the early 1980s. Yet the best school librarians retained interest, knowledge, and skills in both children's and YA literature as they learned how to use technology to find and communicate information. Most of us in the profession have a preference - lit or tech - but the best support both and find powerful ways to combine them.
  9. They put the needs of kids before the wants of adults. "nuf said.
  10. They are mission driven.  Angela Falkenberg writes"...my mission is to guide students’ development towards a love of reading and passion to use their knowledge to achieve their dreams as they learn to navigate the world. ...  I simply want students to believe in their possibility." It was Angela's words that were the impetus for this post. She reminded me that truly great librarians let a greater purpose drive them, give them courage, blunt criticism, let them sleep well at night. For many years, one of my keynote talks addressed courage as a vital technology skill. But I have since come to realize that courage is a necessity for all successful individuals.

I suspect there is little in this list you've not heard or read before. I am sure I have missed some attributes of the best librarians I've known. Pat yourself on the back a bit for the qualities from this list that you display. Work on those you don't. I am sure as heck working on a lot of them myself.

Saturday
Apr282018

It's about time to give up some of these "skills"

By the time students reach secondary school it is assumed that they will be able to read a clock face, although in reality this is often not the case ... Earlier this year, a senior paediatric doctor warned that children are increasingly finding it hard to hold pens and pencils because of an excessive use of technology. Schools are removing analogue clocks from exam halls as teenagers "cannot tell the time' The Telegraph, April 24, 2018

On reading this, my first reaction was 'I suspect few children today can use an hourglass, sharpen a quill pen, or add with an abacus either. What is the world coming to?"

It's easy to identify skills that technology is asking all of us, especially kids, to master. Keyboarding, critical searching, digital safety, video and photo editing, graphic design, ... the list goes on. Advocating for "21st century skills" has become an industry in the education world.

What is rarely discussed is what can and should be let go. Why are we even discussing penmanship, reading analog clocks, or driving a car with a manual transmission? How essential are map reading skills when a good GPS gets you there? Land-line telephones, fax machines, and even music and video stored on physical media are disappearing. As technology changes, so do the skills needed to use it.

IXL Math apparently still "teaches" analog clock interpretation. OK, I will admit that there may be rare occasions when this ability might come in handy. I can't really think of one right now, but I am sure they exist. The question is, however, how might instructional time be better used in teaching or reinforcing a math skill that gets used on a far more regular basis.

A few years ago, one of our state's standardized tests asked questions related to "guide words" on the pages of a dictionary. You remember dictionaries ... those books full of words from before we could simply click on a strange combination of letters and get a definition? 

Old people, get over it. There are hard learned skills that you indeed to master as a student. But a lot of them kids just don't need anymore.

Happy Monday.

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Saturday
Apr282018

BFTP: The Grandpa Assignment

Can it really be 10 year ago that I published this? Paul is finishing his junior year of high school!

Last weekend I received this from my grandson Paul who is in first grade:

Here is the response I would like to write, but the LWW doesn't think it is such a hot idea:

Dear Grandson Paul,

When I was your age, I was a pioneer child on the prairie in the wilds of northwest Iowa. All 13 of my brothers, all 12 of my sisters, my mom and dad, two second cousins and I lived in the little log cabin that is still in the city park. There are now only me, your great-aunt Becky and great-uncle Jeff left of all my brothers and sisters. Two were carried away in a flood, four were adopted by wolves, a tornado carried away three, a band of robbers captured four, giant rattlesnakes scared away five, one went missing in a blizzard, a great golden eagle swooped down and flew off with one, and we think one just got left someplace and nobody remembers where. We are looking for some of my brothers and sisters to this day. It was a hard life when I was a little boy growing up on the prairie. Most parents always had a few extra children - just to have some spares. 

We were very, very poor when I was your age. Instead of toys, we only had sticks and dirt clods to play with. The rich kids in the neighborhood had rocks too, but we didn't. Grandma made all our clothes out of tree bark and animal skins - and not very fresh ones, either. We mostly ate mush, field corn and bullheads for supper. For Christmas, sometimes we got a raisin in our stocking. And were we excited! Breakfast and lunch usually were just the berries we could find in the woods. We had to fight over them with the bears. Our TV set only had 13 channels and color was not yet invented. In fact, the entire world was in black and white except for part of the movie The Wizard of Oz

Most of the time we just worked. It was my job to gather eggs from the pigs. Pig eggs are very hard to find and sometimes the pigs got grumpy when they were nesting. You had to be careful or you might get bitten. My sister Lefty, had that happen to her. We tied a rope from the cabin to the barn door so we could follow it during dust storms. Once we had a dust storm that lasted so long we planted potatoes in the air around the cabin. When we harvested the spuds, they were already mashed. Yummmm!

I did get to go to school every other year from ages 5 to 27. Like most children, I had to walk to school, five miles each way and both directions were uphill. My teacher was very nice, but very busy with the 837 children in our one room school. Each of us had a laptop computer, however, and when the teacher was busy with other children, we surfed the Internet. I actually got to talk to Miss Snippet (my teacher) twice while I was in school. Both times she told me I was doing a good job. Our library only had seven books and it took a long time to get one to read at home. It was harder to learn to read when I was a little boy since the letters m and r had not yet been invented. They had just discovered the number 7 when I was in 3rd grade so I had to learn my number facts twice.

But I was happy growing up since I knew one day I would be a grandpa and have a wonderful grandson like you. And that's a fact.

Love,

The Grandpa who lives on the lake 

Original post 3/25/2008