My last principal used to call May "the month of mayhem." And for good reason. In the northern hemisphere anyway, May means warmer weather, antsy students (and teachers), testing, testing (and more testing), and a rapidly approaching end to yet another school year.
For me, however, May also meant the creation of my annual report. Annual reports were never required in my district or by my principal, but after seeing the work of other librarians whose districts did require these types of reflections, I knew I wanted to make completing one for my library a part of my year end routine.
Why in the world would I want to add this to my already full end of year plate? Several reasons:
Assuming others know what you do is stupid silly. As librarians we constantly lament that we are the only ones who understand our jobs. But, if we don't share the scope of that work and how it results in student outcomes, if other people don't get it, we kind of have no one to blame but ourselves. An annual report represents an effective way to share what we do.
Our work doesn't matter if it doesn't impact students. The annual report is a great way to draw a line between what happens in the library and student outcomes. Once students have worn their number 2 pencils down to their nubs, comparing testing data to library data is the only way for us to know if our work made a measurable difference.
"We're in this together" is a message we cannot send too many time. Using the annual report to reflect on student and library data shows teachers and administrators that we are just as invested in student growth as they are. Instead of running around fretting about our inventories, the annual report gives us the opportunity to show that we are fretting about the same thing every other adult in the building is fretting about at the end of the year: student achievement.
Reflection makes us better. Period. Think of it this way: would you rather your own child be taught by a teacher who reflects on his/her work and strives to make instruction better as a result of that reflection OR would you hope your child's teacher simply pulls out the same lessons year after year, regardless of their succes? Exactly.
Needless to say, this year, I won't be able to complete an annual report for my own library. However, I have been able to work with other librarians as they tackle this type of reflective practice for the first time.
As part of this process, I shared several examples of school library annual reports in multiple formats - some are documents, some are webpages and some are videos. An aside: I'm finding Edcanvas to be a fun and effective tool for sharing multiple web resources like this.
After reviewing each of the reports, I asked the librarians to give each a grade (A-F) based on the following question: how effective is the report in conveying the scope of work being done in the library AND how that work impacts students?
As you might expect, there were a wide variety of grades along with lots and lots of dialogue. It was really gratifying to hear the librarians talk about what they liked about the examples and what they thought could be improved upon. Full disclosure, two of the reports in the examples are mine AND trust when I say neither received an A+. That's okay, though, I can take it!
Finally, given their response to the example reports, I asked the librarians to contribute to a collaborative Google doc, listing what they thought were the essential components of any school library annual report. I asked them to imagine an annual report that would earn an A+ and then list the components that perfect report would contain.
When they were finished, I plugged their thoughts into a word cloud generator with the following results:
I gotta say, I'm a fan of what they came up with.
As we chatted about their thoughts, two themes rose to the top:
Make it about students not stuff.
Create it with the audience in mind.
I couldn't have said it better myself. The only thing I would add is that it must be shared. It's not enough to just do this work, you've got to share it with your community. Give it your principal. Put it on your webpage. Send a link to the PTSA Prez for inclusion in their newsletter, tape a copy to each stall door in the faculty restroom. Whatever you gotta do, get it out there.
And, perhaps it goes without saying, but I find myself wanting to add that any annual report is only as good as the work it reflects. No report, regardless of how flashy, fun and full of data it is, can hide a library that has yet to reach kids. The report reflects the work, so the work has got to be great. But if it's not, the report will help you identify weaknesses and adjust accordingly.
So while I'm not creating a report of my own this year, helping other librarians with theirs has been a gratifying process. I know that no matter what format these folks choose in creating their first annual reports, they'll be better for having gone through the process. I can say, without a doubt, that I became a better librarian as a result.
Finally, since I get lots of questions about what I used to create my annual reports, here's the skinny.
For my 2010-11 report, I used good old fashioned Microsoft Word. No kidding. Some of the images within it were edited with Big Huge Labs. But that's it. Promise. For my 2011-12 report, I used easel.ly - a tool for creating infographics that I still use all of the time to share data. It's easy AND fun.