(In)visible Libraries?

A recent conversation about work with a family member prompted her to ask about the “essential duties” in my role. I paused. Most of what came to my mind was fuzzy. Saying yes to people. Answering questions. Searching. More searching. Searching again. Commiserating. Ideally making people’s days better. But not the technical services of library management. (Want to weed my collection or figure out some integration questions with our school’s LMS?)

An administrator recommended NAIS’s New View Edu podcast on school innovation, and as a bit of a podcast fiend, I’ve been catching up quickly. As our school grows its library department this year and I step into a newly-created role, this idea from Sanyin Siang in Schools for Developing Superpowers jumped out to me. I hit rewind when I heard her say that as roles change, “you have to let go of some of the things that you used to do, that you are really great at, and instead develop others.” This was the podcast equivalent of the librarian’s right book at the right time. I tend to add and add until I’m overwhelmed. If you’re like me and you needed to hear those words from a management professor, what’s one thing you can let go of this year? One.

But for now, her next lines are where I want to turn my attention. When librarians talk, a common conversation is about the invisibility of libraries. Whether in larger educational organizations or our own schools, operating efficiently sometimes feels like it’s supposed to seem seamless. And that can too quickly drift towards…

Yes, schools can function without libraries. But well-utilized libraries add so much value to schools. Returning to Siang, the next few minutes of the podcast spoke to me even more as she shared her theories about the roles of leadership, both the functional roles and the invisible roles that lead to organizational success. To a bit of the podcast transcript!

Sanyin Siang: Let’s play with that a little bit, because I think, you know, there’s functional roles, but then there’s also hidden roles that different people assume, right? … this has not been in an article yet, but an idea I’ve been playing with, is this idea of the four invisible roles that led to organizational continuity.

… One is the MENTOR or the coach, right? Because that’s a, you know, mentors are not just only imparting knowledge … they just can’t help but share out knowledge and the norms … basically they create that continuity.

The second type of person is the EMOTIONAL GLUE. We all know these people, this can be the executive assistant, or it can be the principal, you know, but this type of person, the emotional glue, the team is better when they’re on the court, but they’re, they’re great at assists, right? We don’t record assists. Uh, why not? You know, when assists are just as important …

And then a third type is the CATALYST … where they either are great at asking those questions that make us take a step wise leap in imagining, or they could be skeptics … But they pose something on the table that made us rethink.

Right. And then the last type I think about is the INTEGRATORS. So we know the importance of diversity on our teams, but given how busy everyone is, we also need that person who loves going around learning what everyone is working on. You know, and then they just, they just pollinate. They’re integrators. Great. Now intellectual cross pollinators. And these, I call them invisible roles because these roles exist sort of, we don’t intentionally create them in our organizations, but when they exist, at least they better chances of organizational continuity, but they’re not often that recognized.

Mentors. Emotional glue. Catalysts. Integrators. At first, I thought this would be like the Harry Potter houses where we can’t help but self identify. (Shout out to my fellow Ravenclaws!) But then I realized these four roles might be the most essential pieces of a librarian job description that I’ve never seen articulated. Who supports the community, asks meaningful questions, and “cross pollinates?” Your librarian. Thank you, Sanyin Siang for thinking about those intangibles and communicating to administration about why it might be worth building more intention into supporting these roles that make our schools better.

4 thoughts on “(In)visible Libraries?

  1. I think “hidden roles” gets at the most unrecognized aspect of being a school librarian. There is so much that we do that goes way beyond handing out books or teaching infolit skills: connecting teachers in different departments who are doing similar projects, introducing a teacher to a new piece of technology at the point of need, Sending an article to an administrator because you think they will be interested. We are the connectors – an often-invisible role but essential in a school. Thanks for the podcast recommendation!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Christina. I especially like the “integrators” lens, as it is so important. In the corporate world, it’s called ‘knowledge management’, but it perfectly reflects the school librarian who cross pollinates and integrates. Who in my school will benefit from this article, book, database, information—whether student, staff or faculty member? The librarian has a whole-school perspective unlike most other admin or teachers which is often unrecognized but worth noting!

  3. I love this recognition that invisible roles can add much value to organizational success. This speaks to me. Thank you for sharing this!

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