Saturday, April 30, 2016

Four Ways To Lead From The School Library

Updated February 18, 2017

Recently, I have heard from many teacher librarian friends around the country (and world) that are encountering the effects of personnel and/ or budget cuts. This deeply saddens me when I learn of library services being cut back in any way. We should explore ways to be proactive to hopefully minimize these effects. Sometimes, no amount of promoting the library seems to make a difference when money is tight, but we should still make the effort to show the value of the library.

It is crucial that we show the school, community, and world that libraries are an essential part of learning. We should strive to lead from the library and work to do this even from areas in which we are not comfortable because this is how growth takes place. I'd like to share what has worked for me in the 9 years I have served as a school librarian. This isn't a perfect method of leadership, but I have seen it work year after year.

1. Build Relationships

I used to think that libraries were only about books and technology. I have adjusted that idea over the past few years and now firmly believe that libraries are about people first. The way I have discovered to get students and teachers to visit the library consistently is through relationship building. In the mornings, our staff circulates among the students in the library before school. We exchange brief conversations with students and have found that many times we might be the only adult to personally visit with the students. They feel safe in the library; and when we talk to them and show an interest on a personal level, this changes everything over time. In almost every instance, these students come back and become regular visitors.

The same is true with teachers. It is necessary to make time to visit with the educators we serve. I have built many strong professional relationships with my colleagues through the years and have learned so much from them. They will never fully know the impact they have made on me personally and professionally. Through our daily exchanges, I can only hope I have been able to teach them a few small things about literature, technology, or information.

For our library team, relationships are everything in the school library. It is a time consuming task that is a priceless investment. I wish I had realized this when I entered education so many years ago. Through relationships, people can be linked to books, technology, and information much more effectively. It is a customer service approach that has worked time and again!

2. Listen to the Needs of the Learning Community

When relationships grow stronger, people will typically begin to communicate more. This is where listening becomes a powerful tool for library leaders. Teachers and students will share their concerns and challenges. They will feel more comfortable asking for books, resources, and assistance with technology. They will also ask for assistance teaching and collaborating. Listening is a skill I always need to improve. When I do listen to requests and concerns, relationships grow stronger and so does the value of the library.

3. Serve Others and Take Action

Listening is not enough. To lead others, I have found that we must serve those that come to us with needs and questions. It is a good thing when students and teachers see that we are listening to them. When they observe that we truly take action and serve them, it is amazing! Think about it; we are all drawn to people that are genuinely interested in us. When you go above and beyond for students and teachers, it will be noticed. Word will travel like wildfire when this is done consistently because good service gets talked about!

4. Look for Opportunities to Collaborate

Great things can happen when we build relationships, listen, and serve. Powerful collaboration will begin to take place within the learning community. Students and teachers will begin sharing ideas and you will have chances to collaborate. This is exactly how some of our first collaborations began to take place in 2012 and 2013. When you team teach and collaborate with students and teachers, they will tell others about their experiences. These successes build a great momentum that can literally transform a learning community! When teachers see their colleagues taking part in library collaborations that include cutting edge technology and powerful team teaching, they will want to join in!

Final Thoughts

What I'm sharing with you has been life changing for me personally and professionally. When I look at the 125 articles published in this blog, these four points are what led to these successes. Is this time consuming? Yes. Is it physically and mentally draining? Yes. Does it make a difference for students and teachers? Yes! I truly believe a library program that shows extreme value will be less likely to experience major cuts. Lets all work to build relationships, listen, and serve our learning communities so well that no one can ignore us as we lead from the school library.

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  1. Stony, our jobs are too important to lose -not necessarily for us, but for the students we serve and those who would come after them. Unless we tell people what they don't know - and don't know to ask- we will be relegated to obscurity by the academic coaches and the technology integration specialists who may not have been as necessary had we (as a profession) been willing to leave the circ desk and blow our own horns. (Not toot our own horns - a full on blast).
    If you are interested I wrote a blog post with a similar perspective. You can find it at

    1. I agree with you! It matters for the students! What is the name of your blog post/ article? I'll subscribe to your blog, Suzie. Thank you for sharing this with me!

  2. As a former teacher, literacy coach and teacher I can tell you that a librarian who is passionate about student learning can be a game changer for a campus. All of our jobs evolve and change, not just with the times but in response to our students' unique needs. Evolving doesn't equate no longer needed, actually it becomes a greater need. Thanks for what you do to spark the love of reading in children.