What is it that makes one school library the heart of its learning community and another merely peripheral to the workings of the building? Care. What distinguishes a truly vibrant school library program from one that is mediocre at best? Care. What is the magic ingredient that can turn a library from a room where books are housed to the destination of choice in the school? Care.
Without care a school library and its program cannot thrive. We know this intuitively. We also know that care can be demonstrated only by action. The more consistently we show care, the stronger our school library programs are. In point of fact, this may seem like a statement of the plainly obvious--but it is not always easy to know precisely what specific action will demonstrate care in a specific situation. Given a daily myriad of instances and circumstances, how do we consistently show that we care? What precisely is care, anyway? And how do we infuse our school libraries and all of our daily interactions with it?
In the interest of achieving some modicum of clarity, it may be helpful to start with a definition of the word "care." Of the eleven definitions in The American Heritage Dictionary, the following stand out: "I. attentiveness to detail; painstaking application 2. heedfulness 3. to have a liking or attachment 4. to be concerned or interested" (1982, 240). While the word itself is defined easily enough, how its definitions translate into the daily workings of our school libraries is another matter entirely.
Suffice it to say that school libraries in which care is consistently demonstrated are places of both great joy and profoundly gratifying productivity integral to their learning communities, inviting to all of the schools' constituents, deeply welcoming, and well run. The rub, of course, is that great joy and great productivity are rarely, if ever, easy to achieve. As the old adage assures us, however, anything worth having is worth working for. As such, assuming our goal is to have strong and vibrant school library programs, a closer examination of care as it applies specifically to our libraries is in order.
Clearly, care is multifaceted (as each of the four American Heritage Dictionary definitions imply). Heedfulness connotes reflection, taking care, and proceeding with mindfulness. Liking, attachment, and concern imply emotional engagement and empathy. Interest implies cognitive engagement. While all these connote action, attentiveness to detail and painstaking application suggest the level of action necessary for true care to be achieved. This is the definition that assumes constant diligence and tirelessness in all our endeavors (be they physical, cognitive, or emotional). Not at all surprisingly, the more we pay attention to detail, the more we demonstrate care. The more painstakingly we work, the more we demonstrate care. Taken together, the definitions provide strong beginning guidance for how to show care at all times. To fill out the framework, however, it is necessary to look at some specific actions.
For each of the different school constituencies, there exist categories of actions through which we demonstrate care. Broadly, these categories include: interactions, instruction/inquiry, reading guidance, collection development, and physical environment. As one would expect, we demonstrate care differently for each of the groups in our schools, and every category does not apply to every constituent. The commonality here is the transformative power of care. Regardless of the constituent or the category of action, care changes the landscape for the better. Examples follow.
Interactions the Caring Way--With Children
Children thrive when they are cared for, and they are keenly aware of who cares about them and who doesn't. Once they know we truly care about them, children are endlessly more forgiving of us and our foibles and moods than any adult will ever be. In our school libraries we demonstrate caring in our interactions with children when we:
* Are human and approachable
* Learn and use our students' names
* Make eye contact and greet students warmly
* Make them feel welcome and encourage them to talk to us about their interests
* Allow them to be children without forfeiting opportunities to guide them gently in the direction of maturity
* Show endless patience and concern for them
* Listen and observe closely
We want to know them--are happy to know them. All of our interactions with children are governed by the fact that we genuinely love working with them. The clearer this is, the more joyous a place the school library will be.
Interactions the Caring Way--With Our School Colleagues
Collaboration with colleagues is essential to our personal professional success. A very large part of our work involves providing teachers with the support they need to achieve their goals. We show our colleagues the best of care when we:
* Recognize the vast curricular ground they are expected to cover, and work with them to find ways to deliver their content in meaningful and professionally gratifying ways
* Employ diplomacy, professionalism, and gentleness when approaching colleagues with proposals
* Provide all the materials necessary for our colleagues to implement a new initiative, and make ourselves available to assist them with its smooth implementation
* Admit our missteps, work to correct them, and learn from them for the future
Our colleagues are more inclined to work with us when we have conveyed genuine concern for them.
Interactions the Caring Way--With Our Administrators
All caring interaction with administrators is governed by the understanding that they are responsible for more than we could ever know. We demonstrate the greatest care when we:
* Assume a leadership role in our buildings, thereby showing concern in the best way possible: by action
* Join committees
* Volunteer to run workshops
* Attend (and then turnkey) professional development sessions
* Help devise school systems
* Act diplomatically
* Seek solutions actively
* Act professional at all times
Occasionally we may even engage in non-library-related tasks--either because we have been asked to or because we suspect our help is greatly needed.
Instruction/Inquiry the Caring Way--With Children
Deep and meaningful learning is tremendously difficult. The landscape of true inquiry is littered with false starts, uncertainty, blind alleys, and cognitive dissonance. We show the very best of care for our students when we openly acknowledge this fact and help them through the uncertainty. In our school libraries we show our caring when we:
* Admit that learning how to learn is difficult, different for each and every one of us, and that we struggle with it at times as well
* Diversify our instruction
* Encourage students' personal contributions to their learning
* Demonstrate that we want our students to own their learning because we understand the power of ownership and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it
* Teach our students to be independent learners by allowing them to explore that which interests them personally
* Give students time to investigate and celebrate questions that don't yet have answers (versus celebrating the "right" answers to questions that have long been addressed)
In short, we love to teach. We exhibit strong habits of mind by constant modeling. We share with students how we learn. We learn together.
Instruction/Inquiry the Caring Way--With Our Colleagues
More than likely, as part of inquiry instruction we will be required to deliver in-service workshops on inquiry. Rather than viewing this responsibility as a burden, we can view it as a solid opportunity to show the overlap between what we are required to teach and the goals of our colleagues. Inquiry is not the "extra library thing." It is the vehicle through which content is meaningfully taught. Treading heedfully in this area will help win teachers over to the idea of inquiry. If we are asking for inquiry to be taught, we show care when we:
* Make ourselves available to teach it and provide all the necessary materials
* Model inquiry learning for our colleagues
* Support them in their learning
* Listen carefully to their concerns about instructional objectives and student achievement levels
* Learn about content from colleagues
* Take their advice about what they know has worked and what they know hasn't
* Share the same with them When we learn together and from one another, we demonstrate care for our colleagues and for our students the ultimate beneficiaries of our efforts.
Reading Guidance the Caring Way--With Children
We are librarians. We understand the power of reading. We want children to read. Our deepest desire for them is that they should want to read without anyone having to ask them to do so. In our school libraries we provide reading guidance in a caring way when we:
* Demonstrate that we care more about children reading than we do about the books and the damage they might incur by being read
* Respect completely the personal reading choices of students who are fortunate enough to already know what they like (even if what they really like is something we despise), and when these students clearly signal to us that they are ready, we help them find their next favorite books
* Work tirelessly with those students who have not yet discovered their passions; in the process, we ask them about their interests and what kinds of stories they like; if they are so inclined, we help them to express and indulge a taste for nonfiction
* Teach all of our students how to talk about books intelligently how to express precisely what they are looking for
* Refrain from imposing reading restrictions--genres, number of pages, "significance" of topic, etc.
* Circulate everything
* Model good reading habits by reading widely ourselves, and by enthusiastically and systematically sharing our reading with students
In short, we feel deeply fortunate that our work allows us to be surrounded by books all day, every day. Our students know this about us because our demeanor speaks it loudly. Our care is rewarded by noticeably increased interest in reading.
Reading Guidance the Caring Way-With Our Colleagues
We are viewed as the reading authorities in our buildings. This is not a responsibility we take lightly. With attentiveness to detail and painstaking application, it is well within our power to change the reading culture of our schools. We show the greatest of care when we:
* Open reading up to as many of our constituents as possible
* Recognize that it is to our students' distinct advantage to have as many adults as possible aware of what reading materials are available for particular age groups; therefore, we show additional care in this category by running workshops designed to expose teachers to ways in which they can supplement their teaching with materials from the school library
* Encourage all of our colleagues to systematically model good reading habits for their students by discussing what the adults have read and by occasionally reading books recommended by students
* Discuss with our colleagues what we have read, and make and take recommendations--thereby further strengthening the reading culture in our buildings
Collection Development the Caring Way--With Children
We know our students. We know what they like to read. We want them to read. Our collections provide books that they will enjoy reading. In our school libraries we demonstrate caring when we:
* Build our collections with direct input from our students
* Read reviews with students' tastes firmly in mind and often share these reviews with them to get their feedback
* Tell them when something they asked for has arrived and set aside books we ordered just for them
* Excitedly deliver book holds to them and arrange for Sneak Peeks and previews of new books Put systems in place for students to systematically make book recommendations (both for collection development and for sharing with us and peers)
When we listen when young people tell us what they want to read and when we share our own excitement about books, we demonstrate caring and encourage lifelong reading.
Collection Development the Caring Way-With Our Colleagues
Just as we do with our students, we can show care for our colleagues in this area. Specifically, we show care when we:
* Build professional collections for their use and take their suggestions throughout the process of doing so
* Read and share reviews
* Read professional materials and deliver workshops on their salient points or bring the salient points to colleagues we think may benefit from them
* Encourage teachers to build strong classroom collections and assist them with the task--because we understand that the more books students have access to, the better. (Besides, what classroom collection could ever rival a strong central collection housed in an inviting school library staffed with a professional librarian?)
Physical Environment the Caring Way--With Children, Our Colleagues, and Our Administrators
The school library's physical environment is a golden opportunity to demonstrate care in the most tangible of ways: visually. In our school libraries we show caring when we:
* Create warm, welcoming, and safe environments that encourage all our constituents to visit and stay awhile
* Build enticing displays of books and other materials we think might pique visitors' curiosity and rotate these materials as regularly as is humanly possible
* Encourage our students to suggest themes for displays and use signage to give them credit
* Make sure the school library is navigable with clearly marked shelves and a sensible layout (to the extent that it is possible)
* Make sure all books are shelved where children can reach them
* Show students that the space is theirs by eliminating barriers
* Encourage young people to "own" the space by engaging them in its upkeep
* View the occasions and special events in the library as opportunities to grab the ears and eyes of those in attendance, and ask for a few minutes to speak to those gathered about the school library and its program, and also to let the space speak for itself
Everything we establish in the school library's physical space reinforces the idea that all of the space belongs to everyone.
Accompanying this article are some charts for your consideration (see page 13). Included in these are an unnegotiable starting place for showing care with children, school colleagues, and administrators, followed by a small sample of behaviors that demonstrate the very best of care and behaviors that demonstrate the opposite. These charts present only the extreme ends of the care spectrum. Between these ends lies a broad continuum of behaviors (some of which have been provided above). Each of these behaviors is dependent on particular situations, individuals, and scenarios entirely too numerous and variable to itemize here. To achieve the positive behaviors, we are heedful, concerned, and interested. Keep the following well in mind: all caring action is about attentiveness to detail and painstaking application.
Care has deeply transformative power. When we are genuinely and consistently attentive, heedful, concerned, engaged, and interested, many of those around us respond in kind, and our gratification comes from the quality of our work and the extent to which we are able to achieve our goals. In all regards, we demonstrate care by working as though our goals are critical and urgent.
Striving to live our professional lives on the positive side of the care continuum guarantees that we will make a difference in the learning environments in our schools and, most importantly, in the lifelong learning and reading lives of our students.
Olga M. Nesi will present a webinar based on this feature, Tuesday, June 12 at 7 p.m. CST! Visit <www.ala.orgiaas1/kqwebinars> to register.
American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd college ed. 1982. "Care." Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
RELATED ARTICLE: HOW WE DEMONSTRATE CARE
WITH CHILDREN The common professed intentions and widely held beliefs: We genuinely like children, and we love working with them. Indeed, we agree that these are unnegotioble requirements of the job. We Demonstrate Care by: We Foil to Demonstrate Care by: consistently displaying the expecting them to be fully understanding that they are mature before it is humanly children and we are adults possible for them to be so admitting that we too are human acting like we have never in our lives returned a book late or lost one tirelessly modeling the behaviors, expecting children to do as we demeanor, and altitudes we want them say, not as we do to emulate really listening to them and being being dismissive of or deeply concerned for them and all indifferent to their concerns their travails-be they genuinely (be this verbally or in immense or seemingly trivial demeanor) creating worm, welcoming, safe not really wanting children in environments for them in our school the school library lest libraries-despite encountered they undo our herd work by being bureaucratic impediments to ... well ... children accomplishing this particular goal easily being patient--even when this being impatient, short requires a herculean struggle with -tempered, and brusque our inner Attila the Hun truly respecting their personal building collections of books reading choices and showing them we we feel they should want do by working to build to read our collections with their input diversifying our instruction not being reflective enough to suit on array of individual about our work learning styles to admit when it has Fallen short of success being honest about how difficult deep being reductive in our thinking and meaningful looming really is; the and thereby perpetuating the landscape of true inquiry is littered falsity that inquiry with false start, uncertainty, blind is linear and lockstep, and alleys, and cognitive dissonance; Easily taught and learned we need to acknowledge this fact and take on the role offacilitators guiding them in the keeping them dependent on us process of becoming by over-managing their independent readers learning and reading and learners understanding that viewing readers advisory readers' advisory as an opportunity to pass is not about judgment on a child's us--it's about them personal reading preferences teaching responsibility with thinking we are leeching kindness and understanding responsibility by being martinets WITH OUR SCHOOL COLLEAGUES The common professed intentions and widely held beliefs: We are eager to collaborate with teachers, and view working with and helping others as imperative to our personal success in the job. We Demonstrate Care by: We Fail to Demonstrate Care by: fully internalizing and actively acting as though it is others' demonstrating a deep understanding work to figure out how we At of the fact that our work is first into their goals and foremost about helping others meet their goals being diplomatic and gentle in our alienating colleagues by acting approach, thereby putting as though we have all the answers, colleagues at ease if only everyone would just listen to us being mindful of the fact that minimizing the extent of their teachers work under immense curricular burdens and, whether pressure to cover vast curricular inadvertently or not, making more ground work for them making well-thought-out proposals "throwing things out there" and and then being willing to go the then expecting others to figure extra mile to see them come to out how to implement them fruition admitting our own concerns, acting as though we never misstep confusion, and drawbacks-a little humility and self-deprecation go a long way WITH OUR ADMINISTRATORS The common professed intentions and widely held beliefs: We are all hard workers and contribute mightily to our schools. Our work greatly enhances the perception outsiders have of our administrators' capabilities and of our respective schools. We Demonstrate Care by: We Fail to Demonstrate Care by: actively assuming a leadership role, avoiding extra work including willingly planning and whenever possible running professional development workshops and joining school committees finding ways to be supportive, being demanding, ultimately including sometimes working on insubordinate, and worse yet, "non-library" tasks just because obtuse we've been asked to by our administrators or because we suspect they might need our help being diplomatic when we do not being churlish and petulant agree with something being committed to finding complaining about problems solutions to problems without ever getting around around to suggesting solutions for them behaving professionally overstepping professional boundaries
Olga M. Nesi firstname.lastname@example.org Olga M. Nesi was the librarian at I. S. 281 Joseph B. Cavallaro in Brooklyn, New York, for eleven years. She is now a library coordinator for the New York City School Library System at the Office of Library Services, NYC Department of Education.