Chapter 6 Principal-School Librarian Partnerships by Kelly Gustafson and M. E. Shenefiel
Blog post by M. E. Shenefiel
Tempus Fugit (Time Flies)
We’ve just returned from the 2021 AASL National Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, where we had the honor of learning from our co-authors as they presented an overview of the core values embodied in our book. (Thanks to Suzanne Sannwald, Judi Moreillon, Erika Long, Julie Stivers, and Meg Boisseau Allison for sharing your ideas and passion. You are each inspirational role models for those who choose to embrace this work.) It’s been just about a year since we completed the final draft of Chapter 6 of Core Values in School Librarianship and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to participate. When we began the project, we couldn’t have imagined how pertinent this work would become.
At the AASL conference, the Friday general session was a conversation with administrators (including the co-author of chapter 6, Kelly Gustafson.) The conversation focused on “what administrators need and expect from their school librarians and school libraries, and how administrators can empower a school librarian’s leadership role to impact all learners” (ALA, 2021.) Several times during the conversation the panel of exemplary administrators referred to the “mental model” of the school librarian, and how it does not match the actual role of the school librarian. The “mental model” refers to the antiquated role of the school librarian whose seemingly sole purpose was to protect the paper and shush the student. (The pivotal word being, “was.”) These administrators expressed high expectations for what a leader-librarian can and should be.
(Gustafson and Shenefiel, 94)
Question: What does a school leader-librarian look like?
Answer: Whatever your administrator needs it to be. It could be something as small as having a few moments during each staff meeting to highlight new resources. It could mean collaborating with another department to help curate resources for a grade-level curricular project. It could mean organizing literacy events for the school community. It could be presenting professional development within the district or at the local, state, or national level.
Leader-librarians observe and listen, attuned to the needs of the students, staff, and school community. When resources and opportunities to address these needs come to light, leader-librarians share proactively. Committed to finding opportunities to serve, they are curious about school-wide and district-wide initiatives and seek out information to understand these initiatives. They ask for a seat at the table, whether it be a small focus group to provide input for a prospective grant, a standing social studies department meeting, or an expanded advisory committee focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Leader-librarians are confident in their ability to advocate for all students and will take risks to challenge the status quo if that challenge is in the best interest of the students.
Building the Partnership
“Trust is built on very small moments.” – Brené Brown
Librarians tend to have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in a school or a school district. Principals are responsible for guiding the programs and making decisions in the best interest of the school community. Each time the librarian can be proactive and offer solutions to building-level concerns, the principal can breathe a little sigh of relief. These small moments and actions build trust, and strong partnerships are the result.
As a leader-librarian you need to be alert and take advantage of opportunities to show that you are connected to the goals of the school and district. These opportunities don’t require grand gestures or complicated plans.
For example, my building principal is facilitating a year-long book study of When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids by Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski. A few weeks ago, the authors were speaking at a local independent bookstore, and I was able to share this event with my principal, so he could, in turn, share it with others. This tiny action is just one of many small moments where I’m proactive and step up to support the goals of my principal.
As a result, the principal will always listen when I have a question or suggestion, and when possible, will defer to my judgment when it comes to decisions about the library.
Collaborative Leadership in Our District
The partnership that Kelly and I have has evolved into an interesting collaborative leadership opportunity. Kelly has used her voice to elevate the role of the school librarians across the district. She has been strategic about finding opportunities to advocate and as such, the other principals and administrators are recognizing the value of a leader-librarians. As a result of this work, for the first time, the library department is working in tandem with the ELA department to update our core novel list with a focus on including diverse texts.
“What opportunities exist for you to be a leader in your school or district?” (Gustafson and Shenefiel, 105).
American Library Association (ALA). 2021. “Friday General Session.” AASL Salt Lake City. Available at https://national.aasl.org/general/. Accessed October 27, 2021.
Behr, Gregg and Ryan Rydzewski. 2021. When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group.
Brown, Brené. 2019. “The Anatomy of Trust,” recorded April 15, 2019 for Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, podcast, 24:28, Available at https://super-soul.simplecast.com/episodes/dr-brene-brown-the-anatomy-of-trust-FfsQ0Y_C. Accessed October 27, 2021.
Gustafson, Kelly, and M. E. Shenefiel. 2021. “Principal-School Librarian Partnerships” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 91-106. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Kelly Gustafson, MEd, serves as the Wexford Elementary School principal in the Pine-Richland School District in Pennsylvania. Kelly’s passion for school library partnerships fueled her active role in AASL’s School Leader Collaborative. She champions the value of librarians as a member of AASL and Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Connect with her on Twitter @GustafsonkKelly.
M. E. Shenefiel, MLIS, (she/her) is the librarian at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in the Pine-Richland School District (Gibsonia, Pennsylvania), where she also serves as the library department chairperson and a Building Level Technology Coach. She was a contributor to both the Guidelines for Pennsylvania School Library Programs (2019) and The Model Curriculum for Learners in Pennsylvania School Libraries (2019). Connect with her on Twitter @bookbird.