Nearly a month ago, I stumbled across a blog post on Kelly Jensen’s Stacked about a library program promotion entitled “Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion.” The premise is great. Give librarians from every venue an opportunity to blog about program advocacy, library promotion, and the wonderful things they do in their libraries. In fact, this blog post was the reason I began my blog, as I explained in my first post. Now, on the eve of my blog post date, I’m a little nervous. I’ve read other posts for “Show Me the Awesome,” which are all handily curated by Liz Burns and Sophie Brookover. I’ve commiserated with some of the bloggers, been jealous of a few others, and wondered about exactly what I was thinking when I signed on for this assignment.
School librarians, or teacher librarians, or whatever the name du jour happens to be are not by nature “horn tooters.” We do our jobs quietly and just are. We do our best to make sure that our school looks good, our students are happy, and our teachers have what they need at zero-hundred hours on the clock of doom. If we receive thanks or our efforts are publicly lauded, we hang our heads and whisper a quiet “Oh, it was nothing.” Well, guess what? Our “Oh, it was nothings” are giving legislators and administrators around the country reasons each and every day to eliminate our positions. Because we have shied away from talking about our programs, our value to the schools we serve, and the many duties we juggle on a daily basis, we are viewed as expendable.
In 2010, a Google Map was created entitled ”A Nation Without Schools” to highlight all the schools and districts that have lost school librarians. It gets updated regularly. Just this month, School Library Journal reported that schools in Philadelphia might lose librarians due to budget cuts. Now Orange County, Florida is facing budget cuts and looking to move certified library media specialists to the classroom, leaving their positions vacant. All of this is happening despite the mountain of research that shows a certified school librarian improves student achievement. There seems to be a communication breakdown. Are the school librarians the only ones who are reading the research? Why don’t the people making the decisions about budgeting and funding know how much value we add to our schools’ academic programs? I think this phenomena may be traced right back to the hesitancy of school librarians to make a big noise about what they are doing, who they are serving, and how it is effecting the overall school program. We have to learn to advocate for ourselves or we need to go ahead and pack up our offices and vacate the premises. While funding decisions are not in our hands, if we can make our administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community understand what we do and why we do it, we can make ourselves more than an afterthought or a “bonus” program.
We have to overcome our sense of un-awesomeness. We really shortchange ourselves and our programs. We may not all be doing some of the incredible, innovative, and wickedly cool things our colleagues are doing, but we make a difference in the lives of our students. That’s the point, right? That’s why we have TEACHING degrees first, and then actually went back to school to get a Master’s in Library Science. We knew what and who mattered most from the very beginning. Our students are what make us count. Sadly, our students are also the ones who just assume we will always be there, doing what we do, letting them know when that Diary of a Wimpy Kid book they put on hold finally comes in, remembering that Janie Shumaker in Mrs. River’s homeroom will absolutely die for the latest paranormal romance that just arrived, showing Ramon how to download and edit a film he made using a flip camera, and figuring out how to deactivate the not-so-accessible accessibility function on Damon’s iPad before he has to be in science class. Teachers, too, take us for granted because that’s the way we have always wanted it. We know which teachers can’t figure out how to use a mouse, let alone download a video clip, so we do it for them. We remember where to find juried articles for those certification renewal classes the social studies teacher need and how to submit data for National Board renewals. We know who always asks to use the computers on the 23rd of May when she just cannot teach another student another algebraic equation and makes them research mathematicians instead. We also — hold on to your hat — teach. We teach digital citizenship, we teach web site evaluation, we teach document formatting, we teach book selection and reading strategies. We do what needs to be done to ensure the success of our patrons, all of them. And when another program comes down the pipe and “someone” needs to oversee it, be in charge of it, organize it, who is that person on most occasions? The librarian. Why? Because no one knows what we do, so they assume we have time to do whatever the new flavor of the day is. And you know what else? We do it TOO. Not in place of, in spite of, or rather than, but in ADDITION TO what we already do.
So, what do we do?
We continue doing what we do, but we learn to take a minute to let everyone else know we are doing it! We have to not only give ourselves that little smile (okay, sometimes I actually smirk) of satisfaction when that kid runs down the hall waving that book or that teacher collapses at our feet out of gratitude because we saved him from another boring poster board project by showing him Prezi, and he figured out he could grade everyone’s project in his bathrobe on his sofa. We ask those kids and teachers to tell someone else about our service or let the principal know how happy they are. We let people know that we wrote grants to buy new books, start e-book collections, and purchase e-readers because our budget hasn’t increased in six years or we didn’t even get a budget this year. We talk to our colleagues about what we are doing, ask for their help and suggestions, we tweet about our successes and make sure we include the board members and school superintendent. We become active members of our school library associations and actually participate instead of tuck the membership card in our wallet or use the membership number to get discounts in the product store. We volunteer to write blog posts even though we are absolutely terrified even if we wonder who on Earth wants to read about us because we can send the link to our administrators. We begin providing ourselves with the same level of support we give every other person in our school.
I have served four schools, at all levels, in my 18 years as a school librarian. I have been in really big schools and really small schools. I have only been in my current school two years, and am just getting my feet wet with a new staff and new demographic of students. School librarians are, after all, nothing if not adaptable. We know how to study our surroundings and learn to fit in. That’s often why we are forgotten or just assumed to be around somewhere. In fact, I have been out of my school on several occasions this year for professional development or fulfilling my duties as Legislative Chair for the South Carolina Association of School Librarians [SCASL] and my faculty barely realized because I continued to answer their questions and provide them with resources remotely through e-mail. They are used to asking me questions and getting answers. They are used to me giving them what they need on the spot, and I do. But this year, thanks to encouragement from my colleagues, advocacy tips from SCASL and ALA, my principal’s passion for social media, my deep curiosity, and simply being in a climate where all of the staff is encouraged to share and grow together, I have made a real effort not to promote myself, but to let people know that I am promoting them and our school through my programming.
Showing My Awesome
I have a Twitter account, a school library Facebook page, a Goodreads account where I review books my students are reading, and now I blog. I use these methods of communication to build my professional learning community, share what works and what doesn’t for me, learn new things, and glean fresh ideas to keep my program relevant and useful in an increasing digital landscape. I am learning to use Edmodo since my district is embracing it as a communication and instructional tool. I volunteered to serve on my districts Library Advisory Committee and I served as a member of one of several forums as my district planned a move to 1:1 iPad implementation, which begins next year (blog material!). I served on SCASL’s Junior Book Award committee while also learning what a Legislative Chair does. I ran small, easy programs throughout the year based on national library events like Banned Books Week, National Library Week, and National Poetry Month while orchestrating a surprise renovation of my traditional library space into more of a learning commons. I had lots of contests, most of which I borrowed from colleagues’ blog posts since I am not particularly creative in such areas. I began searching Pinterest for more ideas. I have received four grants in two years to expand my program, and have written a couple more I am waiting to hear about. I communicated monthly usage statistics which my principal shared on the school website and I created bulletin boards sharing this information with students and anyone else walking our halls. I took a small group of students to our state Read-In and participated in ALA’s Library Legislative Days in Washington, DC. I have had more requests for my services as word of mouth and my mountain of e-mails, surveys, and direct inquiries have shown my new faculty that I am approachable and want to help. I requested and received permission to offer teacher recertification workshops on technology, which I will begin this summer and continue into next year. I have cheered my colleagues along, applauded and bragged about their efforts, discussed my plans and asked for assistance, and in return they have shown their support of me and talked about my library program.
This summer, I will also work on creating some form of student-accessible blog or website or something to curate all the great things I have collected and make them useable to students who will have access to an iPad each day on campus. These students may not need to access my physical space in the building in the same ways they have in the past, but they will need my knowledge and the information I can provide them. I’ll plan programs, figure out how to navigate a new learning environment, and try to implement changes that will keep my library program fresh and interesting when students have the distraction of iPads as not only learning tools but entertainment. I want to work on a marketing plan based on Jennifer LaGarde’s blog post School Marketing 101. Her blog post gave me new ideas and a better perspective on what I want to achieve.
Your Turn to Be Awesome!
We matter. We know we do. We see it on a small scale every day. There is even hard data to prove it. Let’s just let our awesomeness shine and light our successes and the successes of our colleagues, let’s give our students and teachers something to be excited about. Now, go ahead, you can do it. Show us YOUR awesome!
- 25 Vintage Photos of Librarians Being Awesome (flavorwire.com)
- Bring Back the Funny: Humor in the Library (slideshare.net)
- Librarians Help! – Library Snapshot Day (sonderbooks.com)
- So Sue Me! Librarians Have Power (libraryjoy.com)
- The future of libraries is in the hands of librarians (extracurly.wordpress.com)
- SLJ’s 2013 Job Satisfaction Survey | What’s Not to Love? (slj.com)
- What I Wish I’d Known About Building Teen Services From Scratch (inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org)