Culture is an aged word, but one with staying power. And culture describes just about everything: work, school, family, ethnicity, country, fandom, and on and on. People want to know what defines a culture, how to create and promote it, and how to keep it going. Why? Because culture defines and influences our social behavior. It explains us to ourselves and one another. We perceive culture to be malleable, to be under our control. And having something within the control of our ideas, projects, and fingertips is attractive in a world of relentless change and high expectations.
Organizations love culture. Especially companies. An Economist article about the right company culture noted, “the underlying principle is that culture cannot just be a pious-sounding mission statement in the annual report. It has to be expressed in the form of actions on a daily basis.” The article went on to state, “the goal is to embed the culture so deeply that employees will behave the right way when no one is looking.”
Substitute employees with students, teachers, and parents for school libraries. So what is our culture? How do we want our students and teachers to act and think when in our wondrous spaces? Better yet, how do we want our students to be in their lives? To me, school library culture should support students to:
- explore their passions and interests;
- build understanding and knowledge about themselves and the world;
- learn to collaborate and communicate effectively with others;
- discover their voice to advocate for positive change;
- think critically about information and evidence;
- confront misinformation and propaganda;
- and, of course, become lifelong readers and creators.
We do many actions to foster library culture through our programs and partnerships with nonprofits, our literacy and digital clubs and activities, our collaborations with teachers to impact instruction, and our diverse and culturally responsive collections. But we fail to promote our culture and own it. So that may be part of the reason why school libraries are closing around the country, why people question why you need an advanced degree to be a librarian (or worse yet, why we need a library at all), or believe other educators can do our work (“We teach research in ELA or digital citizenship in tech”).
So how do we claim our culture when others appropriate it all the time? We need a catchphrase and a brand. We need library culture to become part of the American vernacular and lexicon. Any marketers out there with ideas? Social media influencers? Savvy and shameless promoters? One thing I can think of as a starting place to define library culture is to celebrate it. So, the next time you see someone reading, or leading a social media campaign, posting thoughtful and reflective responses online, eloquently debating, or working with others, tell them they are demonstrating library culture! Start a hashtag #libraryculture or Instagram page with pics!
And remind your teachers when they collaborate with us on research instruction and other lessions to celebrate library culture!
 “Khan-do attitude; Bartleby.” The Economist, 26 Oct. 2019, p. 58(US). Gale Academic Onefile, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A603668408/AONE?u=nysl_me_nycitysl&sid=AONE&xid=d376d1e9. Accessed 29 Oct. 2019.
Author: Leanne Ellis
I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.