Chapter 5: Relationships by Jennifer Sturge with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker|
Blog post by Stacy Allen, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy Walker
Building Relationships Through the Environment|
As part of the chapter on relationships, we focused on relationships between librarians and students, librarians and teachers, librarians and the broader community. As we set out to write this blog post, we wanted to focus on how we can build relationships by creating spaces that are welcoming, spaces where our students want to spend time and feel empowered to be themselves. We can build positive relationships in our virtual school libraries and in our physical libraries through many of the same steps.
Create a Welcoming Environment
This might seem like something you already do, but take a close look around you. Go ahead, scan your library. Let’s consider deeply – what is on the walls, in the displays, and how is furniture arranged?
Do you see:
- Representation from diverse groups of people?
- Do posters of books and authors include BIOPIC representation?
- Do your walls welcome those who are differently abled?
- Persons or books representing the LGBTQ+ community?
- Do your displays include a wide variety of books and materials that represent your school community, the outside world, and multiple views?
- Do you have areas where students can work as a group, solo, or relax?
- Can students who use mobility aids access all areas?
It may feel like a small step to take, but when your library decorations and displays include everyone, students are more likely to want to spend time in the library and thus, you are more likely to be able to build that connection with your students. Every student needs to feel both welcomed and seen.
Focus on Accessibility
As we talk more about the library environment, we wanted to go a little deeper into building relationships through accessibility. When we think about accessibility and relationships,it is essential that we provide an environment where everyone belongs.
Here are a few steps you can take quickly.
- Be sure your tables and areas of instruction include tables at which a student with a wheelchair can sit without having to wait for someone to move a chair out of the way. Provide a self-checkout station that is low enough that someone in a wheelchair can access it, and that has enough space around it that a person who has limited mobility can maneuver. If possible, provide the option of a touch screen for someone who may have difficulty using a mouse.
- Add core language communication boards to your school libraries. Core language communication boards allow a person to communicate with you and those around them in a non-verbal way. There are many school library core boards available to print and provide in your library. Susan Berkowitz provides a free one here. However, many are available with a quick web search, or work with your assistive technology team to create a custom one.
- Purchase the audio version of your books. One thing that we have started doing as we purchase new titles for the library is adding the audio book on our Sora platform. This allows students who may need access to the audio version to be able to check it out without having to put in a special request for the book to be in an audio version and makes it accessible to all. Your students with vision or reading disabilities may also have access to Bookshare.org, a free online resource with 500,000+ books readily accessible through text-to speech.
Look Up, Smile, and Respond
As we were thinking about this blog post, we started sharing stories of how we feel like we have formed relationships with others that are not the traditional relationship, but ones we enjoy the interaction with just the same.
Jen shared about her favorite cashiers at the local Safeway. Typically, when Jen did her grocery shopping it was around the same time and she enjoyed getting into Jeri’s line. Jeri would chat during the checkout process and share stories about funny things that had happened or about their kids or pets. Even though Jen never saw her outside of the grocery store, she always made it a point to say hello if she was going through the express line, or to get in her line. Just two weeks ago, Jeri retired. Without that interaction, Jen’s going to need to find a new favorite cashier at her local grocery store — a small relationship, but a relationship nonetheless.
The point of the previous paragraph is not that Jen is missing her cashier, but rather that, as librarians, we serve in a role where we often see hundreds of students in a day, week, or month. It’s difficult to really dig down and know every single one of the people in our amazing school community. We can be like the Jeri’s of this world – we can converse, give a smile, and make the student or faculty member feel special while they are in our library.
You can also build relationships by displaying your interests. Have an About Me poster that kids can see, display a picture of you in your softball uniform or dance costume, or wear a button showing the instrument you play. Stacy shared that she recently built a new friendship with a teacher who wore a shirt with an ukulele on it. She never would have guessed they had that interest in common!
There is power in the smaller relationships. How you make someone feel sticks with them for a long time. Sharing a small interaction, a smile, and a kind word goes a long way. Kindness can build trust, and trust is the foundation for a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship.
Relationships with your Professional Learning Network
As some of you reading this blog post will have just returned home after attending the #AASL21 conference in Salt Lake City, we wanted to remind you to nourish the relationships you invested in as you met new people and engaged with those you see only periodically. The school library community is a vibrant community and by continuing to connect with those you spent your time with in Salt Lake City, you will continue to grow and nourish your school librarian toolbox. Reach out to the person on Twitter that you sat next to in a session on Friday morning. Share an idea with the group of people you exchanged emails with at the Rock Out Celebration on Saturday night.
Above all, revisit your relationship with the notes you took, the pamphlets you picked up, and the boxes of books you shipped home! Share what you learned with students, other educators, and administrators. Share important information, effective strategies, and exciting resources that can improve teaching and learning in your school community.
You’ll be glad you did.
“In your role as a school librarian, what are some of the greatest responsibilities you have in terms of relationships with library stakeholders?” (89).
Sturge, Jennifer with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker. 2021. “Relationships.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 75-90. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
About the Bloggers
Stacy Allen, MA, serves as Assistive Technology Specialist for Calvert County Public Schools in Maryland. She has worked in Special Education for 25 years. Her current position allows her to focus on equity and access for students with disabilities through work with teachers, students, and families. Connect with her on Twitter @artisfood
Jennifer Sturge, EdD, (she/hers) is the specialist for the library media programs coordinating the professional development and library media programs for Calvert’s schools. She is a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow, the Maryland Technology Leader of the Year for 2019, and was the 2020-2021 Maryland Association of School Librarians President. Connect with her on Twitter @sturgej
Sandy Walker, MA, serves as the Supervisor of Equity and School Improvement for Calvert County Public Schools. He works with school administration, staff, and students to establish an identity-safe learning and working environment where success is not predetermined by income, zip code, or race. Connect with him on Twitter @Real_EquityCCPS