Library Leadership: A Seat at the Table

School Librarians and Leadership: Be a Total Leader

We Are Total Leaders

As part of courses that I have been taking over the past year, I have been immersed in thinking about leadership, types of leaders, leadership styles, and what leadership looks like and entails. One of the books that I have read is Total Leaders: Applying the Best Future-Focused Change Strategies to Education by Charles J. Schwahn and William G. Spady. The book first appeared on the scene in the 1980s and has been revised and rewritten several times. To me, what makes this book so powerful is that throughout the book, the reader is immersed in a variety of leadership styles that ultimately leads to bringing a mix of all the styles together to form a “total leader.” As I read in depth on these different leadership styles, I think about how school librarians are ultimately leaders in their schools, communities, states, and nationally. School librarians are leaders, and we are total leaders. The essence of total leaders is made up of five criteria. School libraries carry the essence of total leaders in all that we do.  

1. Accept Change/Change Happens

As school librarians, our roles are constantly changing. For example, in the spring of 2020, we learned that we could transition our library services to an online format–and do it successfully. Total leaders change what matters. And, what mattered to our students, our teachers, and our communities was the ability of the school librarian to take the lead on instructional technology, curation of resources, collaboration with teachers, and support of students. Attending the AASL town halls and hearing all of the amazing work being done across the country was inspiring.  

2. Improve Results/Results Improve

Schools with a certified school librarian see higher reading and writing scores overall.  Keith Curry Lance and Deb Kachel (2018) pulled together a huge amount of overwhelming evidence that shows that school librarians improve results. When teachers collaborate with school librarians, they are better able to teach inquiry and technology skills. Students have better products and learn real-world inquiry skills. Students and educators are more information literate when there is a certified school librarian who collaborates. As we run up to the 2020 election and the COVID-19 Virus continues to rampage, misinformation is everywhere. A certified school librarian teaches the skills students need to avoid misinformation, learn to search laterally, and make informed conclusions. 

3. Motivation Is Enhanced/Enhanced Motivation

When a school librarian provides services in inquiry, literacy, research, speaking, listening, collaboration, and enables student and staff success in learning, motivation increases. I think about an example from one of our high schools. The school librarian collaborated with the entire English department to create a culture of reading in the school. Everyone participated–students speed dated books, students were paired with books, teachers shared favorite books, students shared favorite books. Books were matched individually with students, and students were motivated to read.  They were so motivated, in fact, that one student crashed right into the principal, nose in book, not watching where he was going. My colleague Donna Mignardi and I wrote about it here

4. Functions Improve/Improved Functions

This one is one that needs a bit of explaining. Essentially, this fourth essence is that in which school librarians can improve on effective ways of operating in a school. This could be the school librarian creating a great pathfinder for a project that improves research. It could be the school librarian sitting on the school improvement team or in collaborative planning times to give input. The school librarian is a powerful voice to add to any leadership team who improves how a school functions and how student success is achieved. Here’s an example from one of our elementary schools. The school librarian put together a powerful end-of-the-year video for the virtual 5th-grade recognition. Prior to that, the students were going to be listed on a website. Because the librarian was involved in the leadership team she was able to give suggestions to make the event meaningful and memory making for the 5th-grade class of 2020 who were physically distancing and heading to 6th grade in such an unusual year. 

5. Lasting Change/Change Lasts

When school librarians are able to build relationships with educators and students that leads to lasting change. Change can look like a new found ability to search, it can be a deeper understanding of information literacy. Change can be a student who never enjoyed reading, finding themselves picking up a book for the first time. In this time of uncertainty, the lasting change that school librarians bring to the table is their unending knowledge of the skills that students and faculty will need moving forward into the fall.  


Total Leaders

 School librarians bring purpose, vision, ownership, capacity and support to what they do on a daily basis. Think about the school librarians that you know. They are authentic, hard working, honest, open, future focused, inclusive, accountable, risk taking, and have a commitment to excellence. As schools look to reopening in the fall, whether face to face, hybrid, or online, the leadership of the school librarian will play an outsized role in contributing to the success of the students and school community.

School librarians lead. And, we lead well. Districts that consider cutting or changing the school librarian position will find themselves without the leadership they need to thrive.  Districts that put more leadership responsibility and ready a seat at the table for school librarians for the fall planning process, will find their leadership and ideas invaluable.  School librarians: Don’t wait to be invited to the conversation. Reach out to your administration, teachers, and school community to show you are a total leader.


Author: Jennifer Sturge

Jennifer Sturge is a Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning for Calvert County Public Schools. She has been an educator and librarian for 28 years and is always looking forward. She is a member of ALA and AASL,was the 2020-2021 President of the Maryland Association of School Librarians for 2020-2021, a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow, and Chair of the AASL Supervisor’s Section of AASL..

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Professional Development

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1 reply

  1. Jennifer, thank you for referencing Deb Kachel’s and my March 2018 Phi Delta Kappan article, Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us. You may also find useful another PDK article from March 2020, which I co-authored with Leslie K. Maniotes. It’s titled Linking Librarians, Inquiry Learning, and Information Literacy. Here’s the link to it:

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