Our Story So Far
Back in September, I attended my first library-focused conference, School Library Journal’s Leadership Summit 2019. I had a blast, and learned so much from the amazing speakers and programs. Afterward, as I reflected on the summit, I realized there were some strong connective threads between the many learning moments I had. These suggested some vital topics in school librarianship. This month, I’m discussing the third theme I noticed!
To recap, the first theme was the ongoing importance of advocacy and the importance of being engaged and proactive as defenders of our school libraries and school library positions. The second theme was the importance of telling stories, both our students’ and our own as librarians.
Now it’s time for theme three: Companionship!
Being Alone While Surrounded
Education has the potential to be a lonely profession. Teachers in general spend much of each day in a classroom, removed from their colleagues. But teachers often have colleagues within the same grade level or department who they can easily seek out in their buildings.
But school librarians are potentially much more isolated, as they rarely have another librarian in their building with whom they can discuss library matters. Indeed, many librarians consider themselves fortunate if they have another librarian within the same district!
The Case for Companionship
We all know that there is rarely a moment in the school library that is not spent assisting others. And every school librarian should make strenuous efforts to collaborate with classroom teachers to provide them and their students with assistance and resources. But none of those interactions are the same as collaborating with a librarian colleague to discuss library-focused matters.
And yet, this is exactly what we all need: occasional time to talk with someone with similar training and experiences, but a different perspective. It is through this kind of collaboration that we get new ideas about the specifics of our practice. Having a conversation with someone fluent in your professional language can be an amazing and rewarding experience, both personally and professionally.
Finding “Our People”
Being at the School Library Journal Summit was a thrilling experience because it was the first time I was surrounded by school librarians. Nearly every person I encountered over the course of the weekend was a school librarian. Every speaker and every workshop was specifically related to school library life. I spoke with dozens of people, some selected at random, and every one of them shared with me a level of knowledge that created a particular dialect not spoken by other types of educators.
I had more interactions with school librarians in those two days than some of my multi-decade, and very conference-averse, school librarian colleagues have had in their entire lives. It was amazing! I heard and saw things that will power my school librarian practice for years. I met people I will follow online for the rest of my (or their) professional careers. It was truly an important experience.
The Case for Conferences
I have attended teacher conferences and workshops many times in my two decades in the classroom, and none of them have felt as significant as this particular event did. After reflecting on why that might be for a bit, I concluded that the answer was simple. As an English teacher, I’ve never been more than a two-minute walk from a colleague with whom I could talk about professional ideas, issues, and problems. But it is a rare (and wonderful) thing for school librarians to have a similar bounty of on-hand colleagues.
Yes, technology makes it relatively easy to have a much larger and more diverse professional learning community than in years past. But online and in-person are not equivalent–just look at any of the folks I saw screaming and hugging when they met “IRL” (in real life) for the first time at the SLJ Summit for proof!
Standing Up for Each Other
It is an unfortunate reality that school libraries are under siege. With budgets shrinking and pressure to up test scores, districts are eyeing any area they can legally shortchange. In too many places, that includes school libraries.
School libraries have some of the best return-on-investment of any school programs. And in this digital age, a school librarian’s expertise with information literacy may be more important than any other lessons students might learn. But few people outside the library world understand the importance of school libraries. And it can be hard to stand up by yourself to explain the importance of school libraries.
That’s why having allies and companions is so important. They can provide you with support–information ,ideas, encouragement, and even examples. It is imperative that school librarians work together to preserve the profession. School librarians make schools better–both educationally and personally, for teachers and for students. And we are always more effective when we work together.
So don’t labor in loneliness. Find your people! It’s important for your professional development. It’s important for your future practice. And it’s important for your personal satisfaction!
Author: Steve Tetreault
Steve has been teaching for over 20 years, mostly middle school English Language Arts. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!