AASL is looking for school administrators to champion the powerful leadership role of school librarians. Contemplating educational leadership and the many faces it can assume in any time of change is complex, daunting and, yes most of all, promising. You as school librarians see every learner, young and old, within the school and the neighboring community. School leadership brings challenging moments in the best of times, especially during a global pandemic, social injustices, and political polarization. School librarians have exhibited their adaptive leadership during this recent complex and rapidly changing environment. As you consider your role, contemplate that of your school administrators in supporting and communicating your work to transform teaching and learning.
Let’s review some of the important messages about your many roles from the first cohort of AASL School Leader Collaborative administrators. Melita Walker, a principal from Missouri and member of the AASL School Leader Collaborative, describes the role of school librarians during this pandemic as “another set of eyes providing academic support to students and assisting teachers and students by supporting small group instruction. Our school librarian has been instrumental in the academic successes of our students and teaching successes of our teachers during the pandemic by prioritizing technology; focusing on how to support literacy and learning in the virtual classroom; and delivering virtual school library services to both students and teachers. Our school librarian has also taken a lead instructional role in supporting the learning of our educators and overall, has redefined the role and responsibilities of the traditional school librarian.” Your broad expertise as a school librarian amplifies deep critical thinking through information literacy skills, innovating a schoolwide culture immersed in the pursuit of new knowledge.
AASL School Leader Collaborative member Sean Doherty, a former superintendent from Missouri, describes the adaptive leadership role of school librarians as ‘quiet influence’: “I think that the thing about the AASL standards (National School Library Standards 2018) is that it really stretches the mental model about what people think a school librarian should be. One of the things that I really appreciate about it is the leadership aspect. A school librarian has so much impact in terms of what they can do within the school and so much influence through collaboration, working with other teachers to help grow their practice, and ultimately, developing that love of reading across the school. They have such influence. Sometimes it is a quiet influence, but they’re leaders and I love that leadership is a through-line in the AASL standards.”
Tennessee principal and AASL Collaborative member Joel Hoag suggests that “school librarians are such powerful “connectors,” both for students and faculty. For students, they have the physical space and access to resources to teach learners not only how to use resources, but also how to interact with each other and the resources in new ways. For faculty, they are able to guide school-wide initiatives in a way that capitalizes on the nuances of all the contents, because they know the major topics of each.” AASL Collaborative member Kelly Gustafson, a principal in Pennsylvania, adds this about school librarians as connectors, “A school librarian bridges the gap between what the learners are currently learning through targeted goals in their content area classrooms and the new information that students want to learn more about. Learners enter the lesson equipped with the prior knowledge of a time period that piques their interests and curiosity to begin their learning aligned to state standards.”
Shawn Arnold, AASL Collaborative member from Alaska describes your recent work, “The transition between in-person to more digital collections has been the most significant shift that has affected our learners’ access to materials. We continue to explore innovative ways in how physical spaces are accessed and students interact with materials. Much like elsewhere, our school librarians stand beside classroom educators, supporting the three new methods for learning with distance delivery, hybrid, or in-person learning. A team approach continues to evolve to determine new ways to connect resources to instruction.” Oklahoma superintendent and AASL Collaborative member April Grace reflects that, “School librarians have been collaborating with classroom educators no matter which of the modalities we are using, virtual, face-to-face, or hybrid. Our school librarians have been part of a collaborative process; redesigning curriculum maps to get, bridge, those gaps from the spring. They have worked alongside our classroom educators to see how they can enhance learning, enrich learning, and just continue to extend those opportunities regardless of the modality. They help us with curriculum technology pieces as well.” These administrators recognize the school librarian’s exceptional ability to pivot, problem solve, and collaborate in ways that leverage opportunities amid change is central to successful adaptive leadership.
The leadership ability of you as school librarians significantly impacts all learners. In changing times, the administrators who were part of the first cohort AASL School Leader Collaborative relied upon the unique leadership and adaptive role of the school librarian to mobilize teaching and learning for all members of the school community. Former superintendent Sean Doherty sums it up by observing that, “School librarians often serve as the heart of the school. I think that they serve as a support system for so many different people in the building beyond just the students. We need to make sure that people have the right mental model about the leadership of a school librarian and what that does for a school. We need to make sure that we are fostering opportunities for school librarian leadership in all schools.”
AASL Collaborative member and California school administrator Kim Patterson eloquently captures your singular leadership role as school librarians, “All schools are a living laboratory and school librarians are kind of the head scientist. They help everyone in that petri dish of learning think more broadly and experiment.”
For the past two years, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) with the support of Overdrive Education has had the privilege of learning from the AASL School Leader Collaborative, the cohort group of administrators who came together with AASL to promote the leadership role of school librarians as outlined in the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (AASL, 2018). These school leaders from across the country were selected from administrators nominated by their school librarians. This group of administrators have been ardent supporters of all of us as school librarians and our role in creating a success driven experience for all learners. Overdrive Education has generously agreed to sponsor a second cohort of the AASL School Leader Collaborative that will be active from Spring 2022 to Spring 2024.
You can submit a nomination form for a principal or superintendent who has shown support for the role of school librarians and school libraries for transforming teaching and learning. The administrator will need to complete a form indicating their willingness to participate and submit a curriculum vitae. More details about the expectations for Collaborative members may be found in the online forms. All forms are due by March 21, 2022.
American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.
Author: Kathryn Roots Lewis & Kathy Carroll
Kathryn Roots Lewis is the retired director of libraries and instructional technology for Norman Public Schools (OK). Kathryn served as the 2018-2019 AASL President. Kathy Carroll was the 2020-2021 AASL President. She is the Lead Teacher Librarian at Westwood High School in Blythewood, SC.