The librarian-principal relationship

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Author: Carolyn Foote
Date: Apr. 2015
From: Teacher Librarian(Vol. 42, Issue 4)
Publisher: E L Kurdyla Publishing LLC
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,207 words
Lexile Measure: 1180L

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We have some work to do. Not in just rethinking how our libraries work but also to become campus leaders in the eyes of our principals. We actually have a lot in common with principals--we serve the entire student body, cultivate relationships with teachers, and care about literacy and student learning. I believe that librarians have great capacity to lead our learning spaces into the future--we have the knowledge, the skills, and the enthusiasm. But yet, too often, change is forced upon us rather than us leading the change.

As the mission of libraries changes due to increasing pressures from a wired world, we need to change too. Our first priority has to be to students, not to "the library."

And our students live in a world where texts come in all formats, and interests vary widely from "literature" to science to technology. Students live in a world where the ability to create and publish their own content is a part of their daily lives. We have to design spaces that support their world, not ours--spaces that include technology, making, reading, creating, and exploring.

And we need to design them in concert with the person who could potentially be our biggest ally: the administrator. I have been approached a number of times by principals wanting to make changes but not sure how to get librarians on board. This is really unfortunate because a principal who is interested in the library is a real asset. Yes sometimes maybe they don't understand our perspective or operations-then again, maybe we don't understand theirs either.

The principal's mission isn't about preservation of "the library" but about creating the best spaces for students to learn and to showcase the best of our students. And that principal might very well be pretty enthusiastic about creating a student-friendly, creative, energized learning commons.

So what holds us back from taking on more leadership? What holds us back from making changes to what the library looks like? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves. It's critical that we examine the obstacles that prevent us from moving forward and building crucial partnerships.

Whether it is our preference for print over digital, preservationist tendencies, fear of technology, or discomfort with changing our role, we need to take a patient but strong look at ourselves, because we can prescribe the change that has to happen first, the change in our own thinking. We have to examine our own "sacred cows" about libraries.

So how do we grow the capacity to lead change? First, we can strategically set goals for leadership skills and then find resources to support ourselves. After all, we're librarians! (And, by the way, many of these leadership resources you cultivate for yourself are great ones to share with your principal.)

I find leadership books a very helpful way to jumpstart my own thinking, like thislist I recently shared with principals (http:// For some of us, books like Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg can prove helpful in reflecting on our own complex feelings about leadership ( We can also listen to webinars like School Library Journal's Be the Change series (http://www., attend workshops at library conferences on leadership, or curate inspiring blogs. Twitter is a great resource, but if you aren't there yet, at least pick a couple of leadership blogs to read regularly, like Seth Godin's (http://sethgodin.typepad. com/) or the Heath brothers' (

Sometimes the most significant act we can take is pushing aside our fears and stepping up our own leadership potential.

That means setting aside the underdog mentality and the belief "this isn't what I became a librarian for." If we work with students, then just like them, we have to be willing to grow and evolve. It cannot be about our comfort level. It must be about our students' learning and literacy.

Building a relationship with the principal based on mutual trust is an important element of the change process. It is uncomfortable when someone else wants to change what we consider our "environment," but do we respond with a culture of "yes" or by resisting and feeling defensive?

Think about the way you respond to change. Do you immediately start thinking about or explaining why it won't work? Librarians can be fierce protectors of our "turf." Change doesn't necessarily mean we are doing something poorly. But, like anyone else, we can always take time to reflect on our current practices and see what can be improved. There is not just one "right" way of doing library. Instead, try out some "yes, and" thinking rather than "no, but." Learn to cultivate "yes" statements, like, "That's interesting. I'd like to think about the logistics of that" or "Yes, and it would be interesting to visit some schools that have tried that."

To build that culture of trust, come from a place of communication. Great leaders communicate their vision. We may know what we are all about, but we cannot expect principals, especially those who may have no preservice training on libraries, to know what we are about. Again, set strategic goals or a calendar with tasks that remind you to regularly communicate your mission. It makes it much clearer to the principal what your leadership potential is if you are strategic about sharing your own goals and mission, and it potentially provides opportunities to work collaboratively on change further down the road.

Andy Plemmons, librarian at Barrow Media Center, began his year by establishing four goals-goals that he shared clearly with his administrator, staff, and students, as well as on his blog ( Not only do goals like these help guide your work throughout the year, they also communicate your sense of purpose to your administrator and learning community and clearly establish you as a leader.

We can also lead by staying informed about changing library models. Read about learning commons, makerspaces, research models, etc. Check out information about the Year of the Learning Commons to launch conversations at your campus (http://www. Don't hesitate to go visit another school or two for ideas. Again, curate examples and articles so you have a better understanding and have materials to share with your principal--sharing is the key word here. Collecting things in isolation doesn't help build that partnership. We are the experts on library services. Since your principal probably never took a Library 101 course, you have to be the lead on library-related issues.

That old adage, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way" holds a grain of truth. Like everywhere else in the education and technology world, we don't have the luxury of time anymore. Our students' world (and ours) is changing rapidly, and our institutions are changing with them. If we want to grab hold of the tiger, we can lead mindful, well-executed changes, transforming our libraries to flexible learning commons, makerspaces, think labs, and resource-rich creation spaces on behalf of our students. Ultimately, they are who these changes are all about.

Carolyn Foote is a technolibrarian at a large 1:1 suburban high school in Austin, TX who blogs at

She is an advocate for students' right to libraries, curious about all things mobile, and has spoken and written about 1:1 libraries, learning spaces, and library advocacy.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A414004284