Concurrent Leadership and Advocacy in the School Library

I’ve been reading about leadership and advocacy this week and I got to thinking about how these things in successful school library programs really are concurrent activities. As you behave as a leader in your school library, you become an ambassador for the school community and even the wider local community (or state). When people see enthusiastic programming and a positive welcoming environment, they are more likely to value the work that you do and less likely to offer your position up to the chopping block when budget cuts come around.

For example, I have a colleague who announced that she would be leaving the district at the end of the school year. She has been sharing ideas and resources with the entire district (through the mass email list) all year long. She hasn’t said as much, but I suspect her very visible efforts are a conscious way of demonstrating her and her program’s worth to the district. If the administration values her role, perhaps they won’t decide to have us go down a librarian due to attrition. Nothing is certain, but this kind of program advocacy doesn’t hurt—and the approach is to simply do exemplary work as an instructional leader.

In fact, my principal told me himself that [an instructional leader] was what he needed me to be in his school. I had been cautious in my interactions with staff as the new kid on the block, not wanting to step on toes or make a bad impression, and I told him that I didn’t want to tell anyone how to do their job (at least not while I’m still new). He encouraged me to push the staff to think critically and be someone who sees the big picture. If you are working hard side-by-side with other teachers, the respect and even loyalty is sure to follow.

I’ve actually had the opportunity to see my predecessor in action a few times at conferences. She’s a very dynamic person and dives right into the action. I understand a little better now the kind of leadership that she brings to the table, and to which my principal was alluding. She and I are very different in quite a few ways and I worried a lot at first that I was a disappointment to the staff as her replacement. It’s not that I am not just as dynamic or haven’t already had success in my new role. Some of my hesitation though is due to the humility I have toward the profession—I am not a seasoned veteran in the library and don’t even have my full license yet. It’s hard to proceed with confidence and, yes, leadership when you’re not sure if you’re even “doing it right”!

I have given myself permission to feel out the situation and scramble around in survival mode for now, but it can’t last for too long. Unfortunately, the attitude around the state is that school librarians are optional. A librarian friend of mine works in a district similar to mine that had someone leave and instead of rehiring a librarian, they reassigned a non-librarian teacher to be a tech integrator to fill the role (and my friend has to cover the missing duties). I met some librarians from Milwaukee Public Schools a few months ago—they have something like 12 librarians now for the entire district, covering something like 165 schools. They said that they basically go from school to school and select books. There are similar situations in Sheboygan and Menasha.

This isn’t just happening in Wisconsin—I read a newspaper article earlier this year about Philadelphia Public Schools going from 176 certified librarians in 1990 down to 11. One of the principals there fought back to restore the librarian position at the school saying, “The library was the center of the school program. I just don’t see a library as an extra,” which is amazing—but the advocacy and leadership necessary to preserve school libraries has to also come from the front lines, i.e. the librarians who convince the leaders, community and decision-makers that school libraries are, indeed, not extras.

Comic Sans? Really?

I saw this on Twitter a while back:

Sigh… No. I will not defend a 20 year-old fad. No.

A colleague brought my attention to the movement to ‘weaponize Comic Sans‘… Really, does it make me a web-hipster to hate the font? Come on.

I still say no one takes Comic Sans font-users seriously, except maybe 3rd graders. An elementary teacher friend of mine likes to set it as her default because “it’s the only one that looks like handwriting and it helps the kids with their penmanship.” Oh, lord. There are such better choices.

In case you are unaware of the argument I support, consider the Ban Comic Sans website or Comic Sans Criminal.

Humorous anecdote

My department at my old job knew my distaste for the font and humored me by using other fonts for fliers instead if they knew I had to look at/share/use them. Right before I left, the new supervisor in charge of us made a bunch of yucky changes and followed up with some “rah-rah” leadership emails written in PURPLE Comic Sans.

I guffawed (if that is possible for someone under 60) and thought, “Oh, she has no idea how deep she just dug her own hole with me.” Even if I had wanted to be open-minded, I simply couldn’t at that point. 😉 My colleagues were very amused.

The alternatives

There are other fonts out there. For example, these: http://www.fontscape.com/explore?9BU or these: http://www.blogclarity.com/ditch-that-font-alternatives-to-comic-sans/ or these: http://www.onextrapixel.com/2013/02/15/25-free-comic-fonts-to-use-instead-of-comic-sans/. A quick Google search actually comes up with tons of suggestions!

If your reasons are for dyslexia, no worries there either: http://www.dyslexic.com/fonts. Or this (plus a dictionary!): http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/11/363293514/for-dyslexics-a-font-and-a-dictionary-that-are-meant-to-help?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2036

When should you use Comic Sans?

Jason Brubaker at ReMIND gives us 30 reasons. Consider #1: “When accompanied by Braille.” Also, #20: “You’re writing a letter to your clown friend.” Good reasons.

Much Ado About Me?!

Herb KohlOn a personal note, if you hadn’t heard, I was named one of 100 educators in the state of Wisconsin to be honored as a 2014 Kohl Excellence in Education fellow. (These are the teachers that are then considered for the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year Award… I actually met our winner at a Read On Wisconsin Advisory Committee meeting a few weeks back. She is an 8th grade language arts teacher from Baraboo and is far more worthy than me!)

Kohl FellowThe Kohl Award is a big deal and a big honor. They printed a wonderful article about me in the local newspaper last week. I am so very humbled!

WIABE awardAlso, back in April I was honored at the Wisconsin Association of Bilingual Education as one of 13 “Educators of the Year.” Talk about a humbling experience! I was presented with a beautiful glass award and congratulated by all sorts of bilingual educators and supporters.

Now, I am proud of the work I do, but when in such company, I definitely don’t feel worthy. I am a long ways from being qualified enough to be a licensed bilingual teacher. It was the second time I had attended this conference, and I was reminded of how far I have to go.

The reason I bring it up, though, is because it really made me think. If you have ever seen a bilingual or dual-language classroom, it is remarkable. These are people who are truly bilingual (whereas I am “good enough” with Spanish) working with little kids, teaching them to be fully biliterate. These are the people who NEED quality bilingual books and Spanish-language books to be published, because these children depend on them!

Bilingual Educators of the Year

Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/wisconsinassociationforbilingualeducation

One of my high school students was honored at the same conference yesterday for winning the essay contest at the high school level. I work with a lot of bilingual kids, but the bilterate piece (reading and writing, not just oral/aural proficiency) is much more elusive. His winning essay was about how he doesn’t feel like he is bilingual or biliterate yet but can see the value in it and wants to keep working on it. It’s easy to get swept up in the language of the dominant culture, and let heritage languages go.

Melvin got to read his essay in front of the group gathered at the Wisconsin Association for Bilingual Education on April 12, 2014. He did an amazing job. Here is a video of his “performance”:

It’s kids like him who deserve the recognition… I’m just along for the ride!

(P.S. One of my teacher friends is a big proponent of “Things come in 3s”… and she insists that I’ve got another thing coming. I’m hoping that if she’s right that the hail-damage to my car last week wasn’t it–I’d much prefer an engagement ring or winning the lottery. Heck, I’d even take some free tuition money!)

What do we do with Little House on the Prairie now?

I posit the following: Little House on the Prairie is culturally insensitive.

Do Not Read poster graphicAs a librarian, censorship is not the answer, nor is censorship through selection an answer either. Just as I would want my patrons to have access to Mein Kampf or the Bible, readers should be able to access Little House on the Prairie. We can never know a reader’s intent anyway; perhaps a reader is doing comparative analysis for a dissertation and is looking at portrayals of Native Americans throughout literature…

However, if Little House goes out of print, and it becomes difficult to replace a worn-out copy, then we move on. Likewise, if it stops circulating and the library can use its shelf space more productively, so be it. My hypothetical (albeit, nonexistent) sentimental attachment to the book is irrelevant at that point and we go with the library’s weeding policy. This is why libraries have circulation policies after all. There are archives and special historical collections (there is one at the CCBC, for example) that will preserve access if the book merits preservation.

If I had a teacher colleague looking to do a unit on Little House, I would try to encourage him/her to be careful not to gloss over the cultural insensitivities and pair it with another book like Birchbark House for a more balanced perspective. I was personally very troubled by the portrayal of Native Americans in Little House on the Prairie, so I would have a hard time as a school librarian promoting or recommending it to young readers just looking for a recreational read, because I think it merits a contextualized, critical view.

LHP Indians illustration

image from http://newspaperrock. bluecorncomics.com/2008/02/ stereotypes-on-prairie.html

I do not believe that level of critical thinking is common in the average 3rd grade independent reader. I am not trying to diminish or discredit the abilities of young thinkers, but I believe that teaching critical reading is like teaching information literacy: “If it’s on the internet, it must be true” and “If it’s in my book, it must be true.” I know adults who think like this. Not okay! It takes practice (and obviously, some of us did not get enough…) To me, a book like Little House that inspires strong distaste among the minority group portrayed within deserves to be handled intentionally and critically by the teachers and adults presenting it to our society’s children, so as not further negate this group.

A colleague of mine used to teach on a reservation in North Dakota. She told me a story of a friend she had there who had grown up in one of those Indian Boarding Schools. As a girl, she used to sneak into a “restricted room” to get the “good books” and subsequently read all the Little House books. She said that in light of the “white,” suppressive education she was receiving and the often negative portrayals of Indians she read about in fiction, she could not even see herself. “Indians were fearsome and evil.” Not until she was an adult did she realize what had been taken from her–intentionally or not. Imagine she had read Little House under the tutelage of someone who helped her challenge what was unfair about it. Her identity and self-perception might have developed differently.

Instructional librarians and a culture of professional development

In my course discussion this week about professional development for information and technology literacy, one of my classmates suggested the importance of maintaining the funding for professional development. She spoke of how much she appreciated the opportunity to attend conferences in her current position and how it sounds idealistic, especially in the public sector, but that she felt it was important anyway.

Just because you spend money on something doesn’t mean that you will get results, BUT dedicating money to something (or not) in a budget DOES show your commitment to that thing. I think my classmate’s suggestion about keeping money available for professional development is a wise one.

Let me offer an example of the consequences:

Due to some of the budget side-effects of Act 10, my school district slashed this kind of professional development funding and it seems we are often told, “No, you may not attend X-conference; we don’t have the budget.” Additionally, the Tech Department has been allocated less money and seems to mainly operate as firefighters, trying to put out “fires” with the network and hardware to keep us running, and they too can’t really devote the resources to serve as instructional leaders either. Which leaves the librarians… As far as I can tell, with the upper levels of support stripped back, it is these professionals left at the front lines to help–and they are rockstars! Unfortunately, it’s probably only at the one-on-one, ad-hoc level, instead of systemic, intentional training. Every time I reach out for their assistance though, I’m met with, “What can I help you with?”

While it is possible to be grass-roots and low-budget, money greases the wheels!

From my humble point of view (because I’m not gong to tell anyone how to do their job), to insure that staff participate in long-term, on-going professional development for info/tech literacy, it’s the LEADERSHIP (principals, administrators, directors) who also must believe in the value of developing their staff. The instructional librarian can advocate for this kind of training on their own, but the leadership has to give them the time of day. (The librarian will probably have to sell it to their administration first.)

To be an instructional leader like this, the librarian has be a good communicator, able to read timing, body language and institutional culture. For example, if the librarian’s position has been viewed as lowly, then the librarian will probably be better off treading lightly and not coming in with a tour de force (lest they want to risk their employment status). Instead of shoving change down people’s throats or condescending them by sharing an unsolicited criticism of what’s wrong with the system, working with people to solve their problems will probably earn more respect.

The other thing I would advise would be to ask questions at all levels and try to find the holes in info lit/tech skills and the perceived needs of the building. This way the librarian can find a place to fit their expertise and leadership and potentially come in and save the day. It takes time!

The best advice I was ever given in my career (and I didn’t know it then, I had to learn the hard way), was that “Changing a school (we could say library) is like turning an ocean liner.” There are a lot of moving parts and things are bigger than just you. Plus, we don’t need to capsize the whole ship.

Annotation: EdCamps as a solution for teacher PD

PD (Mostly) Sucks. Is EdCamp The Solution? (n.d.). TeachThought. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from http://www.teachthought.com/learning/pd-mostly-sucks-edcamp-solution/

This article suggests EdCamps as an alternative approach to the professional development that many educators have come to dread. The idea is to provide a blank slate of time slots and locations on a board and then ask the professionals on your staff to organize themselves into sessions based on what they are interested in sharing, presenting, discussing and exploring. It seems to me to be a bit optimistic, logistically, to expect the entire staff of a school, which might number over 100 people, to gather around a whiteboard, and negotiate their interests. However, the author does present several variations on how an EdCamp-style professional development day might work and references a Learni.st board with even more ideas. The important part is that staff are engaged and have ownership over what they are learning—this is the kind of learning that we expect teachers to facilitate for our students, so it makes sense to offer the same opportunity for teachers’ own learning.

An Online Professional Learning Network for School Librarians

Goals Statements

My Online Professional Learning Network will help me to…

  • Connect with other school libraries that have similar needs and populations to serve
  • Pursue grant resources for technology implementation and collection development
  • Use the online LIS Professional Commons as an initiation to the library learning community since I am only a Special Student and am not officially admitted into an MLIS program yet
  • Develop my skills in outreach programming for at-risk learners, especially bilingual and reluctant readers
  • Engage in trend-spotting of up-and-coming digital tools and instructional technology strategies

 

Defined Scope

It is my goal to be a secondary (preferably high school) Library Media Specialist in Southern Wisconsin. I would like to work in a place that honors my technology skills but does not require that the majority of my professional time be spent fixing computer problems. I want to serve students and staff directly by meeting their media needs and increasing their information literacy skills. I also intend to keep my “eye to the sky” because I have a strong interest in working in public libraries if I ever decide to leave K-12 education.

 

Resource Network

 

School Librarianship

The Adventures of Library Girl
http://www.librarygirl.net/

This blog features explorations of a lot of trends in school librarianship. The author, Jennifer LaGarde, has been honored as a Mover and Shaker of 2012 by Library Journal.

 

American Association of School Librarians @aasl
http://www.ala.org/aasl/

This website has information about issues, advocacy and continuing education for school librarians, plus an interesting section for school librarian students.

 

Association for Library Service to Children Listserves
http://lists.ala.org/sympa/lists/subject/school

I can use these listserves as a means to casually tap in to discussions between school librarians around the country.

This is a listserve for discussion of all matters regarding library service to children.

This is a discussion listserve about partnerships between public libraries and schools.

This is a listserve that discusses children’s collection management.

 

Cathy Nelson’s Professional Thoughts
http://blog.cathyjonelson.com/

This blog by a Nationally Board Certified Teacher Librarian features posts about the integration of technology in authentic and ethical ways to increase student engagement.

 

The Daring Librarian
http://www.thedaringlibrarian.com/

This award-winning blog by Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones shares lots of ideas and reflections for school librarians.

 

School Library Journal @sljournal
http://www.slj.com/

This is website by a respected journal provides online content of the print publication plus other news, features, and leadership tools for school librarians

 

Teacher-Librarian Twitter Feeds
http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/neverendingsearch/2010/04/20/lets-start-tlchat-2/

  • #tlchat
  • #teacher-librarian

These are the primary hashtags teacher librarians are using to share interesting insights and links on Twitter.

 

A Media Specialist’s Guide to the Internet
http://mediaspecialistsguide.blogspot.com/

This blog shares digital resources for school librarians and the teachers they serve. Especially unique is a collection of information on book repair, which seems to be vital knowledge for school libraries that coordinate textbook checkouts.

 

Teacher Librarian
http://www.teacherlibrarian.com/

This is the web-presence of a journal for school library professionals. Some parts of the site do not seem to get updated regularly, but the current issue is always available.

 

TL Virtual Café
http://tlvirtualcafe.wikispaces.com/

This wikispace has webinars (upcoming and archived) and conversations about teacher-librarians and educational technology.

 

 

Grant Resources

DonorsChoose.org
http://www.donorschoose.org

This is an online charity specifically that schools and classrooms make requests for materials they need.

 

Grant Wrangler
http://www.grantwrangler.com/librarygrants.html

Among other school subjects, this website lists grants for school libraries, literacy grants for schools, and reading grants for school librarians and media specialists.

 

Indiegogo
http://www.indiegogo.com/

This website is a crowdfunding platform where people who want to raise money can create online fundraisers to get the money that they need.

 

The Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries
http://www.laurabushfoundation.org/

This foundation offers grants for school libraries to update, extend and diversify their collections.

 

Library Grants
http://librarygrants.blogspot.com/

Authors of the book, Winning Grants: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians with Multimedia Tutorials and Grant Development Tools, Stephanie Gerding and Pam MacKellar offer a blog for librarians interested in grant opportunities.

 

Scholastic Library Grants
http://www.scholastic.com/librarians/programs/grants.htm

Scholastic keeps an online list of current and ongoing grant opportunities for school libraries, complete with links and deadlines.

 

Tech and Learning Grant Guru
http://www.techlearning.com/section/grant-guru/55/page/1

Gary Carnow offers grant-writing advice and tips for people seeking grants in educational technology. They also link to a calendar for 2012-2013 of grants for education compiled by Dell and Intel. http://www.techlearning.com/portals/0/Dell_Grants_Calendar_2012-13.pdf

 

Wisconsin Humanities Council Grants
http://www.wisconsinhumanities.org/grants.html

The Wisconsin Humanities Council offers grants and mini-grants to public humanities programs that encourage conversations, connections and reflections upon our world.

 

 

Initiation to Library Learning Community

Hack Library School @hacklibschool
http://hacklibschool.wordpress.com/

This is a group blog that tries to redefine library school using the web as a collaborative space outside of any specific university or organization.

 

In the Library with the Lead Pipe @libraryleadpipe
http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/

This “peer-reviewed” blog offers essays from librarians, educators, administrators, library support staff, and community members to help improve our communities, our libraries, and our professional organizations.

 

Librareo
http://blog.gale.com/librareo/

This is an online forum for LIS students that offers discussion opportunities, resources for LIS studies and free subscriptions to Library Journal and School Library Journal upon graduation.

 

Librarian by Day @librarianbyday
http://librarianbyday.net/

This blog by Bobbi Newman has been honored by the Salem Press. She is interested in digital services, the digital divide and innovative new practices.

 

LISNews: That New Librarian Smell
http://lisnews.org/

This is collaborative blog devoted to current events and news in the world of Library and Information Science.

 

LIS Twitter Feeds

  • #LIS
  • #MLIS
  • #library
  • #librarian

These are popular hashtags being used on Twitter by the LIS community.

 

PLN Starter Kit
http://www.livebinders.com/play/play_or_edit?id=441748

This resource guide hosted on LiveBinders is a crowdsourced collection of resources for connected librarians and educators who are looking to begin a Professional Learning Network. It especially highlights popular Twitter feeds and Blogs.

 

ResourceShelf ResourceBlog
http://web.resourceshelf.com/go/resourceblog/

This is a blog where librarians and researchers share the results of specific, sometimes unique, web searches for information and resources.

 

Connecting to At-Risk Readers

American Library Association Listserves
http://lists.ala.org/sympa/lists/divisions/yalsa

These listserves are ways for me to keep up with discussions about at-risk readers around the country.

This is listserve discusses how libraries are addressing the needs of teens who do not or cannot use the library because of socioeconomic, legal, educational, physical or other relevant factors.

This is a listserve is about serving non-English speakers in public libraries.

 

Children’s and YA Lit Twitter Feeds

  • #titletalk
  • #YAlit

There are a few hashtags being used on Twitter to recommend books for children and young adults.

 

Colorín Colorado @colorincolorado
http://www.colorincolorado.org/

This is a bilingual website for educators and families of English Language Learners that promotes reading and academic success. There is a specific section for librarians.

 

Go Big Read @GoBigRead
http://www.gobigread.wisc.edu/

This is a local common reading program that seeks to engage students, faculty, staff and the entire community in an engaging way through online and live outlets.

 

Library of Congress for Parents and Educators
http://www.read.gov/educators/

This website contains resources that help young people unlock the power of reading.

 

Read Wisconsin
http://www.readwisconsin.net/

This website is hosted by the Department of Public Instruction of Wisconsin to provide webinars, videos and other resources about reading for those serving diverse populations.

 

Wisconsin State Reading Association
http://www.wsra.org/

This website offers advocacy ideas, resources and professional development that             addresses issues and trends in reading and language arts.

 

Tech Trendspotting

ChadKafka.com @chadkafka
http://www.chadkafka.com

Chad Kafka is a technology coach who trains educators and shares his ideas and presentations on his website.

 

EdGalaxy @edgalaxy_com
http://www.edgalaxy.com/

This blog compiles the latest technology, tools, toys and news for “teachers who want to work smarter.”

 

The Edublog Awards
http://edublogawards.com/

This website gives annual awards through a pubic nomination and voting process on social media such as blogs, hashtags, wikis, podcasts and their educational applications. This is a great resource to see what has been popular and useful in instructional technology every year.

 

Edudemic
http://edudemic.com/

This is a website with articles featuring technology tools and trends by covering the leading edge of digital learning.

 

Free Technology for Teachers @rmbyrne
http://www.freetech4teachers.com/

This daily blog by Richard Byrne delivers ideas and resources on instructional technology tools and social media applications.

 

iLearn Technology
http://ilearntechnology.com/

This blog is written by a former schoolteacher named Kelly Tenkely who now consults on how technology can  meet students’ needs and engage them.

 

Libraries and Transliteracy
http://librariesandtransliteracy.wordpress.com/ https://www.facebook.com/librariesandtransliteracy

This is a group blog and Facebook group that shares information on all types of literacies relevant to libraries (digital literacy, media literacy, information literacy, visual literacy, 21st century literacies, transliteracies, etc.)

 

Make Use Of
http://www.makeuseof.com/

This is a website that features articles and reviews of websites, technologies and internet tips. It is also a great learning resource for unfamiliar digital tools.

 

Social Media Examiner @smexaminer
http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/

This is an online social media magazine that businesses (err… libraries) can use to guide their development of their social media presence.

 

 

Network Maintenance Plan

In order for my Online Professional Learning Network plan to be meaningful, I will be using tools such as Google Reader, Twitter and possibly Diigo to keep it organized and accessible to me. These tools are ones that are reasonable for me integrate into my daily routine at a minimal level of about five minutes a day. The key will be to make the maintenance of my OPLN to become a habit so that it remains meaningful to me. This way I can make minor additions or adjustments gradually whenever I discover new ideas or resources.

When I am admitted officially into an MLIS program, I will probably find that the goal statements of my OPLN will need to be tweaked once I have received official career and course advising as to what my plan and path through library school will be. This plan will also probably need a complete overhaul of goals and resources when and if I make a career move from ESL Teacher to School Library Media Specialist (and again if I decide to move to public libraries). At that point, my OPLN should reflect my needs in my precise professional role. This is a reasonable expectation at any career change point thereafter.

Sink or swim.

When Brian Matthews of Virginia Tech started talking about vacuums and Roombas in his “Think Like a Startup” article, I felt like giving him a big high-five. Because if businesses (or libraries or schools or lots of other places) that want to be successful, this is exactly how to approach forward motion: it’s not just about building better features; it’s about new processes.

Matthews warns of all of the the ways that the traditional academic library could be dismantled by transferring and outsourcing services to other departments of a university. For example:

  • What if the Office of Research managed campuswide electronic database subscriptions and ondemand access to digital scholarly materials?
  • What if the majority of scholarly information becomes open? Libraries would no longer need to acquire and control access to materials.
  • What if local museums oversaw special collections and preservation? (p. 2)

Maybe I don’t love graduate-level academic research enough, but I didn’t really disagree. [Almost] all of his transfers of domain seemed reasonable to me… Yes, this probably confirms that I’m not really cut out to be an academic librarian in a university at this point (or else I would be more protective of them, maybe?). These are, however, examples of how libraries in general are going to be deemed obsolete and no longer valuable as institutions if the stakeholders don’t step forward to find their new roles.

It starts with attitude. And loving your academic library is not enough. You have to ADVOCATE for it.

Allow me to step up on my soap-box [again].

Last Saturday, I completed my first (and only) triathlon in Pardeeville, Wisconsin. It was a sprint triathlon, so don’t be too impressed: I’m no IronMan. The triathlon was purely a Bucket List thing for me. I HATE SWIMMING. Hate it. I don’t swim well. I would rather pick up dog poop. I hate it that much. Did I mention that I hate swimming? Because I really do hate it.

So in my triathlon, I had to swim a quarter-mile. I was a novice, which meant that I was slow and inexperienced when it comes to triathlons, so they basically give you a head start and don’t mix you in with all the rockstars. I guess, usually, they let the novices have about 10 minutes to get going in the water so they can watch attentively for struggling swimmers (like me) and try to protect them from being trampled (or whatever the word for a water stampede would be). The problem for me was that this time, the head start wasn’t really an actual head start, it was the normal three minute spacing they do between all of the age groups. So soon there were like a hundred strong, fast, young men churning toward me and I was faced with a choice: Panic or not? Sink or swim?

Sink-or-swim is more than just a clever saying, as I can attest. It’s real. And sinking is especially unpleasant in real life because you can die. Or be in agony for a couple minutes until some lifeguard hopefully pulls your panicked self out of the water.

By the way, I swam. It was scary and not pretty, but I made it. In our professional life there are so many strategies to handle a sink-or-swim situation, no matter if you work in a school or a library or a business. The choice is simple–you swim. Hard. You choose to work while you’re at work. You choose to perform your job with an eye for improvement and intentionality. Like Matthews said, you think like a start-up.

You do NOT just show up to collect your paycheck. You do NOT just go through the motions. Yes, I’m talking to you, the one standing by the door with your coat on a minute before closing time. What are we, in middle school, waiting for the bell to ring so that we can rush into the hallway and gossip–you know, where the “important” stuff is? I don’t care if you have a kid to pick up from daycare. Your lack of commitment shows. Yes, family comes first, fine, but other people with families still manage to be professionals and not middle-schoolers.

So contribute. Use your brain. Pay attention. Work together. BE FULLY PRESENT.

Can you tell that I am a Millennial? (I guess I was born on the cusp, but close enough…) I think my rants, which stem from the observation of colleagues early on in my career, are pretty typical of the frustrations that young professionals have been experiencing. Ty Kiisel, in his Forbes article, “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme–Millennials in the Workplace” said:

For the most part, the millennial generation is responding to the workforce in the way we’ve trained them to—they question, they challenge and they want to do it better. Sure, sometimes it makes their older colleagues a little uncomfortable. We probably want the same level of respect we gave our bosses—back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. With that said, the challenge for business leaders today is harnessing the talent and drive of the younger workforce to create the products and technology that will change the world. As the times, and the workforce changes, we need to reconsider how we lead people and get work done along with it.

When it comes to libraries, as Lisa Kurt, William Kurt and Ann Medaille put it, “Those libraries that do not adapt to Millennials’ expectations about work and play may find that they are unable to retain talented young librarians” (p. 11).

There are a lot of people out there trying to encourage a giant wake-up call to libraries. I think it’s that movement called Library 2.0… We don’t really want libraries to fail and close. We do want to retain talented young librarians.

Motivated by their creative fervor, start-up librarians are an exuberant bunch. Nurture that exuberance. They are a pivotal asset to your library. Their ingenuity, resourcefulness, and experimental nature might be the key to unlocking the “next big thing” at your library. (Jones, K.)

Amen, Kyle Jones. I just think it’s sad that we have to say this kind of stuff out loud. Over and over. I guess there will be a certain point that we might look at a sinking library (or school or business or whatever) and we will have to just shrug our shoulders and say, “We tried to warn you. You could have listened. We were trying to help.”

Personally, I plan on swimming. Even if it’s hard sometimes and I hate it. It’s the best thing for me. And when it’s over, you look back and say, “Yeah! I did that! And I’m kind of proud of myself now too!”

Is what you see really what you get? I hope so…

David Weinberger starts out Chapter 5 of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, entitled “The Hyperlinked Organization,” with the words: Business sounds different these days. I thought, “Yeah, it really does!” as he went on to explain how things have evolved from “Fort business” into the hyperlinked organization. I was feeling very positive and upbeat about the potential of the future and how lucky we are to rid ourselves of the old “business pharaohs [who] build their pyramidal organizations out of fear of human fallibility; they’re afraid of being exposed as frightened little boys, fallible and uncertain.”

We are seeing, then, a realignment of loyalties, from resting comfortably in the assumed paternalism of Fort Business to an aggressive devotion to making life better for customers. The business isn’t a machine anymore, it’s a resource I alone and we together can use to make a customer happy.

Yes! It seems we really have wised up. Most quality workers I know would agree, simply because it is the “right” thing to do. You know—work while you’re at work. In other words, take care of business. This makes me happy!

Weinberger also talked about information and understanding:

We don’t need more information. We don’t need better information. We don’t need automatically filtered and summarized information. We need understanding. We desperately want to understand what’s going on in our business, in our markets. And understanding is not more or higher information…

…Here’s another example. I worked at a company that tanked for lots of good reasons. When a bunch of us ex-employees get together, some of us say that it was because the product got too inbred and complex; others say that Marketing failed to predict the platforms the software would have to run on; others say that the management team was too focused on new products and ignored the bread and butter. None of us tell the same story. And that means that we, as a group, don’t understand what happened.

I went through a nasty breakup a few years ago that left me reeling. We ultimately reconciled, but truthfully, I had no idea what happened. I still don’t, actually. I don’t think he does either (even though it was his idea to split.) I mean, we were both there, and obviously contributed to the mess, just like in Weinberger’s failed company, but the connections never got made. While we may have learned from some of our mistakes, the drama of the failure also left some marks.

I think that happens in business too. As workers, when we are burned by a situation, we are automatically just a little gun-shy. I’m not referring to committing the errors that Weinberger applauds as useful and necessary to ferret out the new ideas. I’m talking about getting spanked because you have put yourself out there as counter-cultural in the enthusiastic and optimistic way that has been so encouraged by this incoming era of the hyperlinked organization.

We often use the phrase “knowledge is power” to make it seem that hierarchically granted power is justifiable. In most hierarchies, however, knowledge isn’t power, it’s a weapon. Being right advances you and being wrong is a defeat. That sucks.

You can see the politics of “being right” throughout most organizations. People win arguments — and thus secure their position in the hierarchy — through the cutting remark, through megatonnage of evidence, through agreeing with industry consultants, and through the smug refusal to ever admit being wrong.

Unfortunately, as Weinberger described the politics of “being right,” it made me consider the sad truth that there are still a lot of those “kings of the fort” left out there who would be threatened and hostile toward the idea of relinquishing their power and control. The only thing is, you don’t always know you’ve run into one of these people until you’ve stepped on their toes. It’s gotten better, but it’s left me cautious.

This is where I diverge from Weinberger when he basically says: It’s coming and we’re going to be better off for going down that road. I want to be as positive as he is about it—it would be so cool to always be allowed to use my “real voice” at work.

If the work environment within an organization such as a library is to become more transparent, it only makes sense that, externally, being honest with users and the community is ideal tool. It’s an opportunity to endear yourself as an organization to them: to show that you have their interests and needs at heart and in your mind as you are making decisions or planning new services. Casey and Stephens, in their article, “The transparent library: Living out loud” in Library Journal , say it best: “Your public, your customers, expect it and will hold you to it.”

It’s nice to think that you can control the outflow of information and discussion, but the truth is, you can’t. Those days are gone. Staffers talk to customers, and customers talk to customers. It’s no longer possible to control a solitary message from one central location…

…Remember, if you don’t participate in the story, it will be told without you.

Here, Casey and Stephens (from “The transparent library: Library 2.0.” in Library Journal) remind us, as Weinberger did, that the way we need to approach the organizations we work in is changing. I agree, but I think we all need to tread with care.

PLCs

I have been reflecting on professional development opportunities for collaboration… what’s known in my K-12 world as “professional learning communities,” aka PLCs. It’s funny to me that, unless professionals are given regular opportunities to learn and grow directly with their immediate colleagues, when they are turned loose on something like a convention, they seem to be less likely to cut the proverbial cord and go try something new on their own that they are interested in without a friend. Work friends at a convention together often choose to attend seminars based on each other and only secondarily on their interests. If you never get to see your work friend socially because you are both busting it trying to get the work done, the first chance that you get to take a breath will be to catch up with each other. Might be social, might be work gossip, might be work business. Nonetheless, it’s probably not collaboration time where new ideas can be shared and grown.

Now if there was an incentive to go out there and learn something truly innovative and share it in a creative way, maybe more people wouldn’t fall into the habits I just described. (I recently heard of a TED video about Google, maybe, providing something called a “Fed-Ex day” that inspired just this. I need to find and watch it!)…

Yes, I know that we all as professionals need to be intrinsically motivated to be life-long learners. And for the most part I am. But I’m also a realist who has worked with enough slackers to know that the slackers can stifle the excitement of those who want to learn and share.