Sunday, February 5, 2012

What Do You Stand For? Creating a Library Brand That Matters.

When I started this blog, I picked the moniker of "Library Girl" on a whim.  All around me, it seemed like libraries were under attack and although I didn’t know how to stave off the assault, I knew I didn’t want to go down without a fight.   And while adding my voice to those who were already talking about what was happening to libraries seemed like a good place to start, I also knew that I didn’t want to just whine about unfair treatment and lament the loss of jobs, budgets and other resources.  In short, I didn’t want to bellyache.  I wanted to be a part of proving our worth.  And thus,  Library Girl was born.

Truth be told, in the beginning, I had absolutely no intention of being Library Girl anywhere other than this blog.  I didn’t run into school the next day wearing a cape and armed with the promise of fixing all overhead projectors in a single bound!  However, it wasn’t long before I realized that writing about what was happening TO libraries was less interesting and far less important than exploring what was happening IN libraries.  Therefore, as this space became more and more about sharing and growing my practice than about whooping and fist pumping, it wasn't long before the two worlds began to collide.

The first time someone “in the real world” called me Library Girl, I went red in the face.  Although I doubt “introvert” is a word that most folks would use to describe me, at my core, I’m a fairly shy person.  So,  when such references continued, I was tempted to shrug it off as something I didn’t really care that much about.   But I do care about it.  A lot.  Plus, Library Girl is more than just a poorly made avatar standing on a stack of clipart books or the name at the top of this blog.  It's what I stand for.  And I want people to know what I stand for.   What’s more, you should too.

I am fortunate that I often have the chance to connect with librarians from across my state, region and even the country.  One of the common threads in these discussions is the nagging worry about how librarians are perceived by administrators, teachers and even students.  They grumble about being underutilized and about being viewed more as a stereotype than as a contributing member of the instructional team.  These are legitimate concerns. 

But… here’s the thing: 

I’ve yet to meet an administrator (or teacher, or student) whose view is one of “I feel so strongly about school librarians that I will never, ever, under any circumstances change my view of them!  Never.  I mean it.  Never.  It doesn’t matter what you say.  I’m not listening.  La la la la la la la la la.”   

The hard truth is that whatever our school partners think of us, it’s based on their experience.   If they think we are irrelevant, it’s because in their experience, we are.  And, more importantly, they've yet to experience something compelling enough to prove that perception wrong.  Maybe they were shushed one too many times when they were a student.   Maybe they’re still bitter about not earning enough points to make it to the last AR party.  Perhaps your predecessor wore a name badge that said “Hello My Name is Book Shelver.”  Or maybe it’s the list of students who currently can’t check out books in your library because they’ve lost a book or incurred a fine.  Or what about that sign of "DON'Ts" you have posted at the front door?  Whatever the reason, it’s up to you to provide an experience that changes what they currently know to be true of school libraries.

In short, it's up to you to make make sure that everyone in your school knows what YOU stand for.   

I choose to believe that everyone reading this blog knows this fundamental truth:  Our job is not about books.  It’s about kids.   But ask yourself this:

  • Does your principal know you believe that? 
  • If asked, would your principal say you care more about curriculum or cataloging?  
  • Do your teachers know that you care and worry about the same things they do? 
  • Do they see student test scores as reflecting on your work in the same way they do on theirs?
  • Do the people you work with see you crafting lessons and programming that impact learning and then assessing the quality of those lessons?  
  • If asked, would the teachers at your school list you as a member of the faculty or of the staff? 
  • Do your students feel you are as invested in their futures as their other teachers?
  • Do they see you as someone they can go to when they have a question about something OTHER than a book?  
  • Do your parents see you as a partner in their child’s learning?  
  • Does anyone at your school see YOU as the "go to" person when it comes to developing curriculum, implementing instruction or innovating new practice?

If the answer is no, then they don’t know what you stand for.    

But here’s the good news.  You don’t need a cape, a blog or even red glasses to show them what you’re made of.  All you need is the desire to impact students, a willingness to let go of some of the library barriers that keep us from making kids the priority and an eagerness to do the serious work of embedding yourself in student learning and then assessing the quality of your work.  You don’t have to be superhero – you just have to be you.  


All of that said, recently, Library Girl has become a more visible presence at my school.  First, someone in our district’s tech department made me a necklace with Library Girl stamped into the metal pendant.  When I was away at a conference, she stopped by my school and slipped it in the top drawer of my desk.  Needless to say, I love it.  And, of course, I started wearing it everywhere and showing it to anyone who would hold still long enough to listen to my blathering.  Although I'm not much for library themed t-shirts or the dreaded book adorned sweaters, I'm happy to sport this particular piece of library bling. 

Then, our school resource officer made me a candy dish for my desk with none other than Library Girl etched into the glass.  Again, I am in love.  Plus, now... every time I dish out a chocolaty treat, I'm inviting someone (usually a kid) to ask me about it.  Sometimes I make a joke. ("Um.  Everybody knows librarians are superheroes.  Duh.") But other times we get to talk about some of the ways coming the library is a lot more effective than throwing up the bat signal in times of trouble.  (Note:  he also made me a cool mug with the same design on it, but I keep that at home lest my husband forget that he's married to a superhero).

THEN, my friend and teaching partner in crime, made me a (nearly) life-size Library Girl!  She currently hangs in the window right beside the main entrance to the library.  Next to her is a sign advertising what I am currently reading and leading students to my book reviews**.  (I have plans for, but have yet to implement, a dry erase board to her right with lots of other info. One step at a time, right?)  Again:  LOVE! LOVE! LOVE!

Whatever trepidation I once felt about donning my super hero persona at school is now gone.  Library Girl is my brand.  This is what I stand for.  And while I may not have chosen this moniker in the hopes that it would become a part of my daily routine in the library, I do want the people I work with and for to know what I believe in, what my priorities are and how the work that I do matters (to them and to kids).  And if, along the way, people start to see me as a full fledged super hero… well, I guess I’ll just have to live with it.

Now.  If I can just get someone to build me a Bat Library-Girl-Mobile and maybe a secret hideout, I'll be all set! :) 

**Note:  this idea is not mine, it is yet another great idea that I shamelessly stole from Tamara Cox.  (Thanks, Tamara!)  


  1. Fabulous post. I love the line "Our job is not about books. It's about kids." At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how many items I have in my collection, or how many circulations I had. What really matters is did I serve my students in the way(s) they needed? Did I give them the information they need in a manner that shows them I care? Am I showing them that I care by challenging them to grow and succeed, or do I show them I really don't care by having an apathetic attitude?

  2. LG,

    This is a great post! I love the list of questions you pose.

    We all complain that people don't understand us, don' "get it." But if they don't, it's due as much to our own communication failures and lack of empathy as any problems in others.

    You are beating on one of my favorite drums. Keep it up!


  3. I love this post!! I kept it unread in my reader so I could read and reread. Definitely sharing this with all the librarians in my district. Keep up the good fight. I know I am :)
    PS Thanks for the shout out. I'm jealous of your bling!

  4. This is great -- you're making the point that our focus should not be on "saving the library" but on the amazing things that librarians do. You may be interested in my Janet Doe Lecture "Breaking the Barriers of Time and Space: The Dawning of the Great Age of Librarians" now available on PubMed Central: While my world is academic biomedical, I think the fundamental challenges that we share are the same. (PS -- I've gotten to know the librarians at my 7-year old granddaughter's school -- you guys are amazing!)

  5. Thanks all. Sometimes I feel like a broken record - as though the same message is at the heart of every single post. Your encouragement means a great deal to me. Thanks for reading, sharing and inspiring me every day!

  6. Loved the post- the questions really make you think. Thank you!

  7. Hi. This afternoon I shared your web address with all of the library media in our district and highlighted this particular post. I have already received a few replies and would like to share one with you.

    "Thank you for sending this. I am having the most ridiculously insane an indicator, here's my most recent exchange with my aide, while staring at my coffee pot:
    "Why won't this darn pot BREW?!?"
    Her reply:
    "It's already in your cup."
    No lie.

    At any rate, I took the second needed to read thru your note, and when I got to the question list, I could feel really good about my answers. Although I am exhausted, I know I am making a real difference here. Two nice compliments this week "if we could just clone you, we would be set" and also from my alternate certification coordinator, who thinks my lesson plans are 'awesome.'

    I try, and on days like today when I can't see a solid surface in my office, I often feel like I'm failing. Your email came at just the right time to remind me that I AM NOT."