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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Principal - Librarian Relationship

There was a time when the library was the true center of the school. Of course, it needed to be...after all, if you wanted to learn something new, read a great book, or find research to back-up your personal stance, where else were you going to turn? The library was THE room full of knowledge, stories, and ideas. It was a magical place, and its gatekeeper? The librarian. When you think about it, she had a lot of power...to single handedly hold the keys to the place where knowledge was stored.

I am not sure when it happened...maybe when the internet no longer took a dial tone to connect, or when one Kindle could hold an entire library worth of literature in the palm of your hands...but for many schools, the library is no longer the sole keeper of knowledge. No longer the center of the school building. No longer the magical place it once was.

Today, many schools are working hard to bring the library back to the center of learning. Makerspaces and Learning Commons are beginning to change the look and feel of the once silent center of learning. At Christie, we have moved from a library to a Learning Commons - it is now a place where hands-on learning, collaboration, and creativity are king. Yet, as I detailed this transformation in my blog post “The Journey from Library to Learning Commons” (http://risktolearn.blogspot.com) it became painfully clear...I created this environment with some amazing teachers and staff, but my librarian was not the driving force. How could I have let this happen? I changed a space that was once filled with rows of shelves and whispers, to a colorfully loud space full of books and collaboration without my librarian leading the way. I didn’t just move her cheese, I blew it up! So while we are both excited and encouraged by the authentic student-driven learning taking place...the truth of the matter is we didn’t get here together.

As I have talked to other librarians and principals something interesting has come to light. Somehow, for many, the relationship between the principal and librarian, while professional, is better described as a mutual respect/appreciation, rather than a true partnership. Why is this? How did many of us get here? More importantly, why does this need to change?

I can’t recall a single class I took during my undergraduate or graduate degrees that centered around the library. Not one. I can’t think of one class called, “Libraries and You” or “Why the Library is Important” … I would have even settles for a “Libraries 101” … but sadly, never happened. I used the library to study and learn, but I never studied or learned about the library itself.

As a principal, the success of my students is the single most important thing to me. It’s the reason I come to work, take risks, put in countless hours and do all I can to serve and support my teachers and community. In all honesty, before creating our Learning Commons, when making a list of the people I worked with each day to ensure the success of each child, it looked something like this: Teachers, Students, Instructional Specialists/Coaches, ESL Specialists, Gifted and Talented Teachers, Paraprofessionals, Office Staff, Parents, and Community Members...notice something? No librarian...Why was this? The answer: My mindset.

Here is what I have learned, and I don’t think I was alone in my thinking...I viewed my librarian as the person in charge of the space where books were stored, NOT as a key player in the student learning experience. Such a misguided mindset...Luckily, it took only a few short weeks of being a principal for me to figure out I was underutilizing and undervaluing my librarian.

Truthfully, I don’t know why I didn’t strive to build a partnership with my librarian right away. Maybe because “Libraries 101” was never offered, or because I viewed the library as an outdated environment that no longer supported our technology-filled lives. No matter the reason, it was foolish.

I believe the library, or in our case the Learning Commons, needs to be the center of our school buildings once again. A place where creativity is fostered, mistakes are made, problems are solved, and literacy is just as important as active engagement through authentic higher-level questioning.

So, why should there be a strong principal - librarian relationship? Simply put...if the library is going to once again be the center of learning, the librarian needs to be leading the way. Librarians are no longer the people who tell kids to be quiet then re-shelve books...they are teachers, leaders, learners, risk-takers, and knowledge seekers. As such, it’s time for our librarians to once again be our strongest guides to learning...and as principals, we need to help them get there. After all, we are in this together.

4 comments:

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    1. Just out of curiosity, where was the librarian? Why did she/he not engage with you in this process? What hindered his/her leadership participation, especially because this is his/her area of expertise?

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  2. Great questions - So much of this reflection was based on the actions I took. When making this transformation I worked primarily with our Science/STEAM specialist. At the time, because I wanted to create a Makerspace/Learning Commons environment, I worked primarily with her as she had the background to build from. Explained here: http://risktolearn.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-journey-from-library-to-learning.html - Our librarian, at the time, didn't have the background knowledge about the direction I wanted to go, so instead of working together and learning together with my librarian, I pushed forward with an amazing teacher who did. As I mentioned above, while we are both excited and encouraged by what we are seeing each day, in hindsight, I would have approached the transition by working with my librarian much more closely. I shared this as an honest reflection of the importance of our librarians today. Please know, this was not a reflection on our librarian, but on my approach to the shift. We are working together to continue to make our Learning Commons a place where student learning and engagement happens each day. I hope this reflection will open up some honest dialogue between other administrators and librarians, because when we work together, and the librarian becomes the expert, great things will happen.

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  3. Love your comments and honesty. I also admire how you own your choices and mistakes. That is what makes you a great leader and a true growth mindset guy!

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