Know Their Name

I know that I am not a disservice to my school, but I can’t help but wonder how I can do more, do better, and fulfill my mission more completely.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I often question whether I am doing a good enough job. In many ways – and for many of the same reasons as you – I am quite sure I’m not! I don’t have enough staff. I don’t have enough hours in the day. Many of my colleagues don’t fully appreciate the resources we offer. Students are more interested in their smartphones than books.The list goes on. I ask myself if I am under serving my school community. I wonder if I’m a fraud. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lie awake in bed at night stressing about if all of our students truly understand the importance of proper citation (because I know they don’t). Part of the awesomeness of being a member of AISL is being exposed to the exceptional work that my librarian colleagues across the country are doing. I am in awe of your energy, enthusiasm, professionalism, and dedication to our mutual passion. The downside of being aware of the your wondrous deeds is being painfully sensitive of exactly how I am falling short. I know that I am not a disservice to my school, but I can’t help but wonder how I can do more, do better, and fulfill my mission more completely.

It was with this feeling that my lone colleague and I traveled last spring to a small but highly selective liberal arts college last spring to spend some time in exactly the kind of college library into which many of our students will transition after they graduate. We went to see if we were adequately preparing our students for the college library experience. In addition to touring the library, we were also lucky to be able to spend an hour with the Director of Research Support and Instruction. Finally, we met in the student center with three students there who were graduates of our school: a freshman, a sophomore and a senior. If we were to boil our visit’s mission to an essential question it was: are we, as a library, aligning our efforts and environment to sufficiently prepare students for college?

Visiting with former students who are now in college to see if we set them up for success

I’ll spare you the dramatic build up. The answer is: yes! But how is that possible? We don’t have nearly the utilization of our databases that we ought to. We don’t have nearly the number of strategic partnerships with classroom teachers that we ought to. There’s too many students who still can’t find a book without our help. We have a collection that desperately needs more weeding. I haven’t done inventory in two years (at least)! So with all our admitted failings, the sorts of things that would cause a less tired person to lay awake in bed at night, how are we meeting the mission? Like a lot of beautiful solutions, the answer is quite simple. The relationship you have with your students is the most important part of your job, the library, and its mission.

Our school is a four year boarding school with about 350 students. The library staff is me and my colleague (who is part time). That’s it. Together we hold every title a library can manufacture. We are the directors, catalogers, liaisons to humanities, technical services, circulation managers and whatever other titles you might conceive – we are librarians. (And at our boarding school, we are also advisors, coaches, and dorm parents.) There’s no realistic way we can do each of these things exceptionally well. We just have to do them well enough. What’s more important is that we have a relationship with all our students. We know their names – each and every student, where they went on spring break, what their favorite sport is; we talk to them about food, pop culture, fashion, and music. In school meetings, when I have an announcement, I make it funny. I walk up the aisles, and project to the back of the room (a background in acting helps!) When they walk through on their way in or out, I say hello and engage them, directly. You’d be hard pressed to walk by me without at least a brief conversation. What’s the result of this engagement, this effort we put into making connections with students, investing in the relationship? Students feel comfortable in the library and comfortable with the librarian. They are less self-conscious about asking for help, admitting they actually don’t know how to use a database or find a resource. They are less bashful about asking for a book they might have interest in. You get to know the student, their interests, their tastes. I can tailor purchases of books to them because I know them.

When we toured the college library, we saw that, though the scale was different, we had nearly all the same elements as they did. We had quiet areas, active areas, books, technical resources, databases, magazines, staff at the ready. The librarians were knowledgeable and dedicated. The librarian told us that they didn’t expect students to arrive as junior MLS candidates. They expected them to arrive as college freshmen who still had much to learn. They expected them to be able to know what a library was and what the librarian might do for them, but not to be expert researchers. Sure, there will always be a few students who are proficient in their library skills, but more important is that they feel comfortable going to the librarian and asking for help.

When a senior graduates from our school they have to get a paper signed by various departments making sure that they are in good standing (athletics, business office, etc.). One of their stops is the library. I’m grateful that we get to see each student before they depart. Without fail, some senior will say, I’m not sure if I even ever checked out a book from the library. I tell them, always in good humor, that that’s nothing to brag about, and we have a laugh. Then I tell them to make sure they make friends with a college librarian. I tell them that they don’t have to go to parties with them, but that they should get to know a librarian by name because when you form a personal relationship with that person, you will be well disposed to get the information, get the best that library and librarian has to offer, and the benefits will be mutual.

I know that there’s much more I can do as a librarian. I won’t likely ever stop feeling that I am falling short in many ways. What I also know is that so long as I never stop making the effort to know each student, to greet them warmly – not just in the library – but wherever I encounter students, that I am the best librarian they’ve ever had!

What Type of Labrador Are You? How Will That Affect Your Collaboration Partners?

Have you been trying to collaborate and it just isn’t working?  Afraid it is too involved? Are you actively collaborating and need a fresh new approach?  If you have had any of these questions, you might want to considering thinking about labradors.

That’s right.  Labrador retrievers.  Collaboration is as easy as thinking about what kind of lab you are yellow, chocolate or black.

Yellow Labs

Now, the legend goes that yellow labs are known for their docility.  Calm strength in the face of adversity, these labs deal with a multitude of strange and bewildering audiences with a straight face and placid demeanor. Never one to let a small child go without a lick, or let a a tail or ear tug happen without turning and giving a kiss in return.  This dog has the patience of Job.

If you were to count yourself a yellow lab type, you would be the one who would ask that grumpy teacher to try a new technology and when they snapped and said, “Are you out of your freaking mind?” You would smile and say, “Think about it. Perhaps we could talk after spring break.  When things calm down for you.  Here’s a cookie.”

Yellow labs are never thwarted.  They preserver. They have alternative plans.  As my mother-in-law used to say, they have something saved away for a rainy day.  In other words, you are very, very sneaky and hide those plans with a very calm exterior.  Good work, yellow lab!

Chocolate Labs

The chocolate lab is known for his craziness.  Rarely slowing down, they go, go, go until they collapse.  These labs will often dress in costume and are famous for crazy antics. They are the ones who concoct grand schemes and run out on the bleeding edge.  Does any of this sound familiar to you?  You might be a chocolate lab.

The danger for chocolate labs is in getting caught up in the toys (technology) and becoming obsessive. Librarians who might be chocolate labs could  lose focus on the collaboration. The joy is working on project with a partner who loves the technology as much as you do, but who wants to create a unit and an assessment that makes sense for the students. The technology is only a tool. Start slow chocolate labs, you may be overwhelming to some shy souls. Let your successes speak for themselves.  Let your partners sing your praises.  Perhaps, take up the suggestion of our blogger Katie Archambault in her post Marketing 101 and create a digital newsletter to announce what is going on in your library.

Black Lab

Now, the black lab is supposedly the most versatile of the labs.  Calm, yet able to mix it up when she wants.  This lab may have it all: the ability to manage technology to run with the tech dogs and still have the calm demeanor to pacify the rough crowd. Black labs are able to see the forest for the trees.  They are both zany and solemn.

And yet, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter the color. If I have discovered anything in my five years as a puppy raiser for Southeastern Guide Dogs, it is that each dog is an individual.  Just like each one of you.  You may think you are shy or no good at playacting, but it simply isn’t true.  You may think that only certain types of people are good at collaboration and you aren’t, and that it isn’t true either.  Everyone CAN be good at collaboration.  Collaboration is like a marriage. It takes work.

And just like that first date, it might be rocky and you might think, “He is not going to work out.” And then suddenly, there you are at a national conference presenting together.  True collaboration in action!

Collaboration Models

How did I get from labs to collaboration models?  That started when I began reading AISL member Joan Lange’s book on collaboration, Collaborative Models for Librarian and Teacher Partnerships, and I learned that collaboration is a more rich process than I ever imagined.  The highest level of collaboration is, in fact, where the librarian works with her colleague to jointly plan, teach and assess the unit (Kymes, Gillean).  I’ve had that experience a couple of times, but it is not the usual one.  And I imagine it is also not your usual experience either.  That’s why I was heartened to find out that collaboration included:

  • Coordination: Minimal involvement, little to no preplanning.  For example, this would be like the blogs I helped the French teachers set up for the classes so that they could have online journals. Very last minute and quick, and I have no further involvement.
  • Cooperation: Teacher requests involvement, but limited; separate and independent objectives/teaching.  For example, this would be similar to having a request in advance from the freshman biology teacher to teach her how to use Libguides.  In addition to teaching her how to use and set up a class site, she also asked for a resource page on wolves in Yellowstone.  I gathered all the online resources and directions to print resources and put the page together for her on her site.
  • Integrated instruction: Teacher and librarian formally plan and integrate lesson together. For example, this would be like the one unit class I developed with the AP Language, AP Government teachers on Media Bias in the 24 News Cycle.  We developed the curriculum, the objectives and the assessments together.  It was lovely.
  • Integrated curriculum: Administration gives time and support to a scaffold that encourages integrated curriculum and lesson planning across all grade levels (Horman, Glampe, Sanken, et al.) I haven’t seen this, but now that our school has an assistant headmaster who will be in charge of curriculum across the divisions, this is the goal.  If you have this currently happening at your school, please comment!

It all counts. Whether you are there in the classroom with the teacher teaching or whether you helped gather the resources, it counts as collaboration.  Think of it as stair steps, without necessarily being hierarcical.  What I mean by that is that providing resource assistance is not demeaning.  It is useful and helpful and you should do it.  Working with faculty on integrated instruction is amazing.  Can you do that for every class?  No.  Pick and choose what you want to do.

If you are interested, I can talk next month about how to choose a collaboration partner.  Let me know!

And by the way, I’m a reformed chocolate lab!