This week, School Library Month (#SLM18) activities focus on outreach with the community. To my way of thinking, there are two communities to which effective school librarians are accountable – the community of the school and the community outside the walls of the school. The imperative to make connections in both can be the same.
When I think of the word “community,” I immediately think of the teaching of a thoughtful, influential library leader, R. David Lankes. Currently, the Director of the School of Library and Information Science, and Associate Dean, College of Information and Communications, two of his books are my go-to sources for inspiration and guidance in all things “community.”
Like Lankes, I believe “the greatest asset any library has is a librarian” (2011, 29). But librarians isolated in a library with the “stuff” and siloed away from the needs of the community cannot reach their capacity to lead. For school librarians, Lankes argues that “it is time for a new librarianship, one centered on learning and knowledge, not on books and materials, where the community is the collection, and we spend much more time in connection development instead of collection development” (2011, 9). Connection development requires leadership.
What does it mean to lead? Leadership is about influencing others. It’s about making changes in the world – small and larger – that help other people better their lives. In order to lead, school librarians must be “embedded” in the community. They must serve on essential school-based committees and in community-based organizations. When we serve, we build relationships, the essential foundation for making change—together.
According to Lankes, knowledge is created through conversations, which involve both listening and speaking. When we listen to the dreams and goals of our school-based colleagues and people in the wider community, we learn how we can help them achieve their potential. When we help others, they will reciprocate.
Through this daily practice of service, school librarians develop advocates for their programs and for their positions, which are actually one and the same. “Librarians do their job not because they are servants or because they are building a product to be consumed by the community, but ultimately to make the community better. Community members don’t support the library because they are satisfied customers, but because the library is part of who they are” (2012, 37). When the community advocates for the library, they do so because they have experienced the benefits for themselves. It’s in their self-interest.
“The difference between a good and great comes down to this: a library that seeks to serve the community is good, and a library that seeks to inspire your community to be better every day is great. You can love a good library, but you need a great library” (Lankes 2012, 111).
“…To facilitate is not to sit back and wait to be asked… no one ever changed the world waiting to be asked. No, you (the community members) should expect the facilitation of librarians and libraries to be proactive, collaborative, and transformational (bold added). Libraries and librarians facilitate knowledge creation, working to make you and your community smarter” (2012, 42-43).
For me, Lankes’ work is a call to action. Rather than simply serving our communities in a passive way, effective school librarians spread their influence into every nook and cranny of the school. They use their knowledge, expertise, and access to information resources to be proactive in helping every student, classroom teacher, specialist, administrator, and parent achieve their goals.
They form partnerships and collaborate with others in the school and in the larger community to improve the lives of everyone. Through the lens of “community as collection,” school librarians are positioned to act with purpose and passion to transform their communities.
During SLM, school librarians showcase the learning activities that can happen because of the work of an effective school librarian and a collaborative library program. Can we do more? I think so. Let #SLM18 be a call to action. Our communities should expect more from us and we should step up our literacy leadership and go forward within our school communities and with our larger communities to create futures that benefit all.
Lankes, R. David. 2011. The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.
_____. 2012. Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Collage created with PowerPoint.
Image Remix: Thurston, Baratunde. 2008. “I Am A Community Organizer.” Flickr.com. https://www.flickr.com/photos/baratunde/2837373493/