A new librarian’s collaborative dilemma

I’ve learned that it’s usually much easier to walk into a mess than to be the next act following a rockstar. (Sometimes, this also applies to dating.) Any improvements you make will typically be well-received. However, sometimes people lower their expectations and get used to your role as a non-effective one.

This week in my information literacy course, we were faced with cases of hypothetical librarians, struggling to create collaborative relationships in their libraries. The hypothetical middle school librarian approached a seemingly friendly colleague and offered to work with him on a research project to integrate some information literacy skills. He shot her down and questioned her ability to help him with social studies. The librarian’s predecessor probably never worked like this with teachers and they probably were pretty used to taking care of themselves. I would also suspect that the former librarian didn’t play well with others in general. When faced with a disheartening rejection like this one, it is pretty tempting to back off. She could try and re-phrase her offer, possibly starting small by offering a simple mini-lesson with his class about using a database in the computer lab that he feels more comfortable in. He may not bite though, since he has already blown her off.

Another thing to try is to simply offer her services to another teacher (and if she stuck with the Social Studies department, the endorsement would be more likely to sell her first rejector on it later.) Sometimes, teachers are grumpy or have a hidden grudge that you might not be able to predict. A silly example, but last year, I tried to organize a moral-boosting lunch treat in my building, hosted by teachers with March birthdays. I didn’t get a lot of response after my email, so I decided to check in personally with the silent parties before ditching the idea. I checked in with Mrs. B and she shot me down so cruelly that I walked out of there with a trembling lip. (I mean, really, asking her to bring in a bag of shredded cheese apparently was out-of-line. But she didn’t have time to have lunch, she said.) I almost gave up, but checked in with another science teacher next door to her whose response was, “Yes! What do you want me to bring? How can I help?”

My point is, you just never know “who’s in” or “who’s out.” Baby steps. Building a culture isn’t always easy.

My suggestion for the school librarian’s plan of action:

  1. Make a menu of quick mini-lesson or push-in instructional ideas that teachers could use her for… email it out and make some small cardstock/ laminated bookmarks/magnets that she could stuff in teacher mailboxes so they’ll have it around and think of her sometime. She’ll have to start small to build a culture.
  2. Try again with the nay-saying social studies teacher, but don’t expect him to bite until she has a track record. Approach other teachers in the social studies department personally with the above mentioned menu of services.
  3. Try attending a middle school team meeting a few times and just listen. She might get some ideas on what teachers are struggling with and find ways to help. Showing up regularly would build trust and credibility.

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