Turning Obstacles into Action (After Pausing to Acknowledge Things Suck)

No, this will not be a post where I offer only tips and strategies for having a positive outlook and taking action. I think the issue with too many advice videos, articles, books, talks, etc., is they jump over difficult things as if they are merely a tiny puddle on the path to productivity and progress. Not always. Sometimes, those puddles are lakes or oceans that seem impossible. Sometimes they seem so vast it’s hard to move past them or see through to the other side. Sometimes, we get stuck.

And the last thing you want to see is the smiling enthusiast in the corner. You want to vent, complain, be snarky and cynical, joke and wallow in how bad things are, how much they suck!

Please, go ahead.

Pausing to Acknowledge Challenges

Or maybe you are that smiling educator in a sea of frowns and skeptical glances. Take a deep breath and give your colleagues space to sit with negative feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Or better yet, create opportunities for everyone to share what is bothering them and how they wish things to be. Please take note of those aspirations because it gives vital information for how to plan forward.

And most critically, give people time to be in the frame of mind to think about the next steps.

Maybe they won’t be ready to think about setting goals or learning new things until the spring or the edge of summer. So, use that time to plan out workshops, resources to share, and activities.


When all of us are in a better place – instead of diving into the next tech tool or initiative – let’s have conversations about how to reframe our approach to planning library programs and goals. We need to tamp down the negative thoughts about what we want to change to have the motivation and solutions-oriented system to make that happen.

How do we do this?

Step One: Change the speaker in your head.

Warning: this takes consistent effort but is well worth the work. For example, if someone thinks my students don’t like to read, they will perceive student encounters through this filtered lens to confirm the bias. So, why put any energy into ordering new books if it is wasted?

Reframe this thought to I will develop a collection of titles and series students want to read. This thought puts the onus and control back where it belongs: on us. We can’t snap our fingers to change students’ opinions about reading, but we can help create an environment that celebrates and promotes reading.

Step Two: Take action by changing habits

Revolutionizing a library collection does not happen overnight. Instead of setting big, overwhelming goals, set one (order popular titles and series) and create small habits to make it happen. If you check your e-mail as you get into work every day, add 2-4 new titles to a list before checking e-mail. Remove 5-7 titles from your shelves to discard.

At a certain point, you will need to take more extensive actions (updating cataloging specs, doing a collection analysis, doing an inventory), so seek out support. See if the school is open on the weekend to allow for an uninterrupted time.

Creating an Action Plan

So, take the time needed to identify problems and deal with the day-to-day aspects of your job. When you have a moment to stop and pause, reframe the problem into a solution you can take on by identifying actions you can do. Start small by changing or adding everyday habits. Schedule larger tasks when the time and motivation are there. And do celebrate and share your success!

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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.

Categories: Blog Topics, Professional Development

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3 replies

  1. Great article. However, I don’t appreciate the use of the word “suck.” Not very professional. You could have used a better term.

  2. Great piece. So many parts of this pandemic suck and as librarians I am glad we can acknowledge that truth and forge ahead anyway.

    I really like the part about reframing a problem into a solution you can take on. There’s a blessing in the bad stuff sometimes you just have to be willing to look.

  3. What a practical article for this particular moment. I respect your opinion, Ms. Looney. I also appreciate the author and editor’s decision to use that particular vernacular because it signals that the article is not going to speak on the “above board / everything is great!” public-facing level, but rather the “keeping it real, / this is hard” peer-leader level. The content of the text itself is quite professional, running the risk of being overlooked by practicing school librarians.

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