Sunday, September 15, 2013

How to Survive the Zombie Librarian Apocalypse: Begin With The End In Mind

cc img by @jenniferlagarde
Zombie Librarians do the same old thing - year after year after year after year (after year).  Their motto is "hey, even if it IS broken, don't fix it."  Times change.  But they don't.  Every school year, for them (and for their students) is the instructional equivalent of Ground Hog's Day - and they like it that way! Because who needs an easy button when you've got one that says repeat!

And this is bad.  Really Bad.  

It's bad because it highlights the fact that zombie librarians care only about what's good for librarians.  Not about what's good for kids.  So they ignore input, disregard data and could care less about whether or not their programs or instruction impacts learning.  And as a result, kids miss out.

What's more, it's bad because zombie librarianship is contagious.  Every student, parent, teacher, administrator, or community member who walks into the library and sees substandard practice that puts students last and everything else first, carries that bad mojo with them - like a regressive gene determining whether or not they grow into a library supporter or something entirely different.   And this is a BIG DEAL, y'all.  Because libraries and their communities share a vital, interdependent relationship.  One cannot survive without the other.  Our communities need libraries.  And libraries NEED their communities.  Every time a zombie librarian plants the seed that libraries are outdated, irrelevant or worse, it's another nail in our collective coffin.

Zombie fighters, on the other hand, NEVER repeat: they reboot!

cc img by @jenniferlagarde
First a quick aside.   As much fun as I've been having drawing zombie librarians, I've recently thought that I need a cadre of zombie fighter images - cartoon librarian super heroes who beat back the zombies by bringing the awesome.  For awhile, I've been stuck on what "weapons" a zombie librarian fighter would carry.  An iPad?  A book?  A roll of laminating film?  All the options left me unsatisfied and then it hit me. WE are the weapon. We don't need props because our stellar instruction and top notch practice are the keys to our success.  In short, we bring the awesome.

And one way that zombie fighters bring the awesome is by beginning with the end in mind.  Before we plan for our year, we think about our students, what they need and what outcomes we'll be looking for in order to know our work made a difference.

Zombie fighters know that the beginning of the year is the time to start thinking about that annual report or data wall that we'll want to curate at the end of the year.

So... as you begin your school year, consider the following ideas for making sure you're collecting the data NOW that you'll need to measure your impact later.

Tips for Zombie Fighters:

1.  Prioritize Data Points.  You know all those groovy annual reports that librarians use at the end of the year to connect the dots between what happened in the library and student learning??  Well, guess what... that work begins NOW.  Now is the time to think about what you want that annual report to prove or disprove about your work.  My suggestion?  Think about your administrator's goals.   If he/she is worried about raising the reading scores of a specific population at your school, let's say Hispanic males, then your annual report needs to focus on how your work was the answer to that problem.  If you know that your 7th grade social studies teachers are facing a tough year ahead because of a new schedule that limits their class time, your annual report needs to focus on how your work was the answer to that problem.  Now is the time to think about what you want that annual report to show... so spend some time now looking around your school, identifying needs and make those areas of data collection a priority.

cc img by Heidi Neltner @heidnelt
2.  Create Procedures for Collecting Data.  Once you know what kind of data you need to collect, make collecting it easier.  First decide on some formats.  From Google forms, to padlet walls, to good old fashioned paper (and in the case of this photo, dots made with multicolored markers), consider ways that you're going to establish some baseline data for comparison later.   You want data that either quantitatively or qualitatively reflects the impact of your work. And trust me, you cannot have too much of it.  Then schedule time to collect it throughout the year.  I cannot stress this enough.  If it's important enough to do, it is important enough to put on your calendar.  Make Tuesday from 12:50 - 1:15pm (or whatever time works for you) the time in which you work on your data in some way.  You might not always be able to devote a full 25 minutes every Tuesday, but you're more likely to do it if you've scheduled time for it.

3.  Rally The Troops:  If the data you are collecting is not confidential, coordinate assistance when it comes to collecting and organizing it.  I used to have a sign in sheet at the front door to my library - through which I asked all students, who were not there with a class (but who came during flex time), to sign in.  I asked for their name, the time they came, the teacher who sent them and then there were several check boxes they could check indicating how they were using the library during this time.  All of that is really cool data, but in a library like mine (and yours too, I imagine) with HUNDREDS of kids circulating in and out every day, all of that data can be pretty overwhelming too.  So... I had a student volunteer who came in before school, spend about 20 minutes each morning entering that data into a google form which contained the same questions.   Then, when I was ready to look at the trends, I could export the spreadsheet created by the form and work some excel magic.  There's no way I could have done all of that on my own.  I needed help.  And I scheduled that help on a daily basis.  If you know you're going to need assistance making your data dreams come true, now is the time to put those procedures in place. It will pay off later.  I promise.

4. Catalog with Purpose:  I know we're all pretty much living in a world where library budgets are skeletal to non-existent.  However, if you are lucky enough to have some monies to purchase new materials this year, it is more important than ever that you set yourself (and your students!) up for success when cataloging those new acquisitions.  Assuming that whatever purchases you make will be related to the data points you prioritized in step one (and they really, really should be) establish some special cataloging procedures to make certain you can track how these materials were used and whether or not they made an impact.  Thinking back to the example I used above.  If you think you might be able to help change the reading lives of Hispanic males in your school by purchasing paired sets of graphic novels and traditional (high interest) print novels (I'm thinking of the Alex Rider or Maximum Ride series which are available in both graphic and traditional print form), then you'd better dream of a way to catalog those materials so that you can pull reports at the end of the year that illustrate their use by the target audience. Remember, local tags (like 599) are your friends!  Forget what you learned in library school and create code words for those tags that you can really use later.  It will be up to you to make sure those books get into the right students' hands.  It will be up to you to connect with and encourage your kids along the way.  It will be up to you to collect other kinds of data (student reflections, etc) to add meaning to the circulation stats and it will be up to you to draw a line between this work and whatever measures of success you and your administrators are looking for.  But you won't be able to do any of it without planning for it now.

5.  Prepare. Compare.  Share.   Sharing your data is important, throughout the year.    Data walls are a great way to do that.   But I suggest you take this one step forward and use a data wall as not just a way to share information but for your community to interact with the data you share.

cc img by @jenniferlagarde

My data wall was just that: a WALL of data.  I used the bulletin board on the left to share a specific month's data (like total circulation as illustrated in the chart in the middle).  Then, although you can't see, it (I wish I still had a photo of it!), I took all of the charts from each month and displayed them down the wall in a time line that read "a year in the library."  At the end of the timeline was the gator (our mascot) that you see on the left.  He was holding a "weekly math puzzler."  That is to say a math question that could only be answered by using the library's data.  The key to this is that the questions were developed, each week, by math teachers at my school.  Sometimes they were uber easy questions, so easy that even *I* (or any kid at our school, no matter their grade or ability level) could answer.  Sometimes they were much, much tougher and/or targeted to a specific group or learning objective.  Either way, kids spent time looking at the data and calculating an answer - which they submitted as a guess in the library by writing their name, math teacher and answer on a slip of paper.  At the end of the week, I went through all of those slips and recorded them in a google spreasheet that I then SENT TO ALL THE MATH TEACHERS.  With a quick sort, every math teacher could see which of their participating students got the answer wrong.  What's more, whether they ever used that information or not, every time I sent that spreadsheet out or asked them to help me create a question they knew that I was just as invested in our students' success in math as they were.  And frankly, that's a message that cannot be sent too many times.  All of this took a lot of work.  AND it's work I could not have accomplished had I not planned for it at the beginning of the year.  From creating the space, to enlisting help to keep the bulletin board up to date (I had a faithful parent volunteer who loved doing this) to scheduling time to work with the data, I set myself (and my kids!) up for success for preparing, comparing and sharing.

The bottom line?

The start of a new school year is one of the busiest and most exciting times of our annual journey.  But it's also one of the most crucial.  We will, without a doubt, be feeling the effects of the work we do (or don't do!) NOW for the remainder of the year.  Zombie librarians coast through this time of year because apart from having to untangle the laminating film a little more frequently, their beginning of the year prep consists only of dusting off the same old lesson plans, the same old policies and the same old procedures.  Zombie librarians don't begin with the end in mind because they don't care what the end looks like.

I've often heard it said that each new school year provides us with the opportunity to reboot, that life in academia has built in do-overs.  And there's some truth to that.  But I believe zombie fighters see this more as an obligation than an opportunity.  They recognize the one universal truth that applies to both instruction and bathing suits:  one size does NOT fit all! And as such, they begin each year setting goals for the unique needs, expectations and perspectives of their ever changing communities.  Zombie fighters begin with the end in mind.  Zombie fighers make a difference.

Fight on! 

PS:  All the images that I create and share here are licensed under creative commons and can be found by clicking on the "my photos" link at the top of this blog.


  1. Thanks for timely insight. I am currently working on a data committee and your article has provided some great ideas.

  2. Wow! Great suggestions. Thank you so much for another great post!

  3. What exactly do you put on your Data Wall? I went through your photos and was able to see some of it but I would love to know exactly what stats you post.

    1. Hi Amanda,

      I included 4 charts per month. The 25 fiction titles with the most checkouts for the month, the 25 non-fiction titles with the most checkouts for the month, a categorized graph of all checkouts (pictured) and a chart of the 25 students with the most checkouts for the month. I hope that helps!

  4. This is a great post! I am starting my first year as a elem. lib. specialist and I want to be able to show data about what I am doing but I am still unsure of how and what to collect. Any more pointers you can share?

  5. Hi there. Thanks for your thoughts. I am a librarian in one of the public institutions in Asia. Right now, in my library there is an issue regarding the access gate. For me, in the era of googlism, the library need to be change and more friendly to attract more users, however, there are too much zombie librarians here. I keep against the access gate (FYI, the users need to scan their matrix card and the the access gate will be open for them to enter the library) and the worst thing is only me stand alone against this thing, others still keep playing the 'old record', 'old script' and until one time, I think to just giveup and just follow THEIR rules, and slowly turn myself as a new zombie librarian. Hahaha...

  6. Great stuff Jennifer! Your ISTE 2014 presentation was terrific, even in the little rebroadcast window thanks to Mathew Winner. The focus on student growth is right, though the war will be won in how well we are able to weave authentic assessment into the data we use to show how libraries change lives.