Librarians are positive people. I’ve met so many over the years and realized: we’re a positive bunch. Even so and even with the best intentions, our day-to-day actions, the minute details, the small interactions that don’t go as planned, and the sheer enormity of being a librarian can sometimes bring even the most happy-go-lucky person to the brink of feeling overwhelmed. After all, every single one of us is striving to be our very best every day.
We’re representing our profession to the best of our ability. I’d wager to guess that there is not a single school librarian out there who doesn’t care passionately about their students, teachers, school, and profession as a whole. I’ll admit, there have been times where things felt too overwhelming, too challenging, and too big to tackle. That’s when I started reading and thinking about the power of positivity and looking for ways to apply it to everyday school library life and ways to apply it to our current situation.
This is especially important today as we are all living, working, and trying to be positive in our new normal of how we “do school” and “do library.” Amid the stay-at-home orders, ensuring the safety of our families, teaching our children while teaching all children, life can be a bit frazzled!
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” (unknown)
My grandmother used to say that a lot. Essentially, she would be telling me that just because something went wrong, it doesn’t have to sour your whole outlook. Make something wonderful out of it. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a glass of lemonade?
As the district specialist, I was visiting a school library one day earlier this fall. A high school student was having difficulty using the self-checkout machine. The librarian was working with a small group of students across the library so I stepped in. After offering assistance and getting the self-checkout working, I asked her if she frequently checked out books in the school library. The student looked at me with complete honesty on her face and said, “Nope, this is the first one.” She told me how her librarian had done a book tasting and she was excited about checking out a book for the first time ever. After the 10th-grade student was out of earshot, happily carrying her copy of Becoming by Michelle Obama down the hall, an administrator, who had witnessed the exchange, expressed dismay that the student admitted to me that it was her first book checkout in her high school career.
That’s one way to look at it. If you make lemonade: The student checked out her first book from the school library. Happily. And she excitedly carried it down the hall to show her friends. The student will come back when we reopen schools and get another book. That’s positivity.
“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.” —Roy T. Bennett
There are so many things in this world that we cannot control. Many things come to mind, including Mother Nature and time. And as part of a school there are always events that are out of our control: interrupted schedules for assemblies, coverage for testing, slashed budgets, and more. Right now, we cannot control a virus, but what we can control is our reaction to our current situation.
To create positivity, focus on what you can create. We have the power to create a virtual environment that explores creativity and encourages students to own their learning. We can create that atmosphere by creating and maintaining an inviting environment where every student and faculty member feels welcome. Offering office hours or hopping into virtual meetings with a smile go a long way. Try sending an e-mail to some of your frequent library patrons. They miss you as much as you miss them.
And when we are back face to face, simply smiling at students and greeting them as they enter the library or walk past you in the hall can bring a positive shift to their day and create a welcoming environment. As I walked into one of our district’s elementary school libraries a few months ago, I witnessed the best exchange. A kindergarten student barreling headlong at the librarian with a huge grin on his face. He thrust the book at the librarian and excitedly said, “I loved this book so much that I read it to my baby sister with my mom last night.” The librarian smiled and hugged him and said, “Well, if your baby sister liked that book, what do you say we pick out another one to take home to share tonight?” There was such a positive force behind that simple exchange. The librarian is creating a family that reads together by sharing the perfect book to go home with that student.
As we shelter in our homes amid the COVID-19 outbreak, stories like these remind us that we will see our students again and these exchanges can take place once more! Right now, they are happening over Zoom, and Teams, and conferences, and that’s okay. The video interaction with your students is a bright spot in their day.
“If we can change the lens….. we change your happiness…” –Shawn Achor
Shawn Achor provides some amazing insight into how we can change our outlook on happiness and how it relates to work. In his TED Talk, “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” he talks about how our success can be impacted by our outlook and about how random acts of kindness are “conscious acts of kindness.” Think about this from our school library lens. Librarians are at the helm of the largest classroom in the building. Our attitudes can positively or negatively impact every single student, educator, or community member that passes through our doors.
Making a conscious effort to remember to perform small acts of kindness can build positivity throughout the entire building. Here’s an example. One librarian in my district creates paper hearts each year on the copy machine and distributes a stack to the teachers in their mail boxes. She also keeps a huge stack by her desk. She calls them her “love notes.” The teachers all know that if the librarian is busy and can’t assist at that very second, they can leave a “love note” and she’ll assist as soon as she can.
It’s a positive way to show teachers that they are appreciated and valued. It sounds so much nicer than saying “scribble me a note.” Positivity. That small act of having teachers leave a love note reminds me of another one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” I know we can’t leave physical notes right now, but you can respond to e-mails with a positive greeting and a warm closing. In our librarian video conference meetings, we all wave and laugh and smile at each other–those times of togetherness are wonderful!
I realize that these are all tiny examples of positivity. When you take many small acts and combine them it makes lasting impacts and lasting change. A simple shift in our outlook can take us from feeling frazzled to feeling positive about what the day will bring.
As we work from our home offices, attend virtual meetings, offer office hours to our students and staff, I encourage you and your teams to read more about positivity and to think deeply about the positive impact your library can make each and every day. I leave you with this quote from Rose Namajunas, “All I can control is myself and just keep having a positive attitude.”
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 26 years and is always looking forward. She is a member of ALA and AASL and is President for the Maryland Association of School Librarians for 2020-2021. She is a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow. Most recently she is the chair elect for the Supervisor’s Section of AASL. She is diligently working on her doctoral studies in leadership.