Building Belief in Libraries | Pivot Points

Librarians can’t assume that district leaders are believers, writes Mark Ray. Some get it; others don’t. Those who don’t may be listening for different information. If librarians align their words and work with top educational issues, miracles might just happen.

For as long as I can recall, I have been an advocate for school libraries and librarians. In the last several years, opportunities have emerged to extend that advocacy to state, regional, and national levels. To date, much of it has targeted fellow librarians. I have been largely preaching to the converted—those who believe in the value of school libraries and librarians.

Recently, however, I have had some unique opportunities to connect with a very different audience, most recently through coverage of Vancouver in articles in Education Week and School Administrator. Like the Digital Promise Case Study about teacher librarians in Vancouver, these publications are read by superintendents, school board members, CIOs, directors, and policy makers. The messages are similar to what I’ve shared with fellow librarians, but the context is very different. What resonates with district leaders may be significantly different than what plays well at library conferences.

At the risk of extending the evangelical metaphor too far, librarians can’t assume that district leaders are believers. Some get it; others don’t. Those who don’t may be listening for different information. My experience shows me that if librarians align their words and work with several of the following educational issues, a few miracles might just happen.

♦DIGITAL UNCERTAINTY: Based on my reading of online district leadership feeds, I would surmise that almost every superintendent in America wants more digital content and services for their schools. Given the prevalence of webinars and advertorials I receive, they are also unsure which, why, when, how, and where digital content and services will best serve the needs of their students.

Librarians should be digital mavens. Teachers, principals, and district leaders are all groping in a digital wilderness. Teach yourself this new terrain. Leverage your experience as an information professional and be their guide. Ignore this new landscape at your own peril.

♦Future Readiness: This year, several thousand superintendents signed a Future Ready Pledge in a program cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. A smaller number of districts participated in regional Future Ready workshops that included a self-evaluation of various readiness indicators including infrastructure, leadership, professional learning, and use of time. The goal of this survey was not to grade or compare districts but to provide district leaders with clear targets and resources for growth and improvement.

Whether your district took the pledge or has assessed its capacity in some other way, “future readiness” is the new “21st century.” Many districts have already adopted this phrase as their aspirational growth target. How can library programs ensure that students are future ready? How can librarians help schools and districts be prepared? In the same way that each district must assess itself, librarians would be wise to examine their own future readiness and their ability to help students, teachers, and district leaders to not only define but deliver what is needed for students to be successful in this (wait for it) 21st century.

♦UBIQUITOUS LEADERSHIP: This term is used by our superintendent, Dr. Steve Webb, to describe the distributed second-order leadership necessary to effect systemic change. Significantly, he is often first to mention teacher librarians as examples of ubiquitous leadership in support of district initiatives in Vancouver. “Teacher librarians are an essential part of our digital transformation leadership and professional development ecosystem,” he recently wrote in School Administrator. “In a variety of ways, they are helping Vancouver to be future ready.”

District leaders know that that their districts cannot thrive, let alone survive, without shared leadership. In his recent book, Thank You for Your Leadership: The Power of Distributed Leadership in a Digital Conversion Model (Pearson, 2015), Superintendent Dr. Mark Edwards of Mooresville (NC) Graded School District echoes Webb’s notion of ubiquitous leadership and details the ways in which shared leadership has been central to the success of his award-winning district. “[Librarians] have expanded their capacity as second-order leaders, embracing our digital conversion…,” he writes.

Whether librarians step forward as technology leaders, digital citizenship advocates, or content curators, virtually every principal and district leader should welcome the help. If they don’t, it may be that they don’t fully recognize what the future holds.

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