In this month's One-Question Survey, we asked: "In what areas, aside from research and literature, are you considered to be an expert?" Our 139 respondents selected a variety of expertises (those answering the question were allowed to choose more than one):
- Collaboration: 77 (55%)
- Technology integration: 74 (53%)
- Program/school advocacy: 53 (38%)
- Copyright: 49 (35%)
- Professional development: 42 (30%)
- Social media: 40 (28%)
- Intellectual freedom and privacy: 35 (25%)
- State/national standards: 22 (15%)
- Assessment of student learning: 9 (6%)
Only 2 (1%) chose none. About 20 respondents also included their own areas.
While the question asked for areas aside from literature and research, several people added those anyway, as they must have felt strongly about them. But, this survey result begs the question: With the evolving role of school librarians encompassing so much more than reading and research, why are more of us not pursuing expertise in the other areas listed on this survey question? The items on the survey are in fact areas that will empower us to "lead larger" in our school community. What do we need to do in order to become leaders and be seen as essential partners for our schools?
I did not consider this idea when Jen Gilbert and I worked on writing this question, but after reading some of the "other" comments, I find it interesting that most of those comments referred to our fellow teachers' view of us as experts. We did not specify a teacher-only perspective in the question, but most of the comments referred to teachers. I suppose the options we gave did lean towards things we do for teachers, but what about our students, our administrators, and others on our campus that we support, or who may come to us as the expert? If we look at the question from the perspective of our principal, district technology administrator, students, or even parents, we may reevaluate those areas of expertise.
In order for all stakeholders to see us as leaders, we have to make sure we are seeking every opportunity to gain expertise in a multitude of areas. Gone are the days when reading and knowledge of books and authors are the linchpins of our duties. We are expected now to be fully engaged with technology integration, maintain a social media presence, be a professional technology cultivator, engage in advocacy, and be champions for fair use of media, and intellectual freedom, and privacy. No one is denying that is a lot to heap on one person's plate, but we don't have to be experts in everything, every day.
What we have to do is take on the mantle of responsibility for knowing how to approach and deliver in each of these areas. When we attend conferences, we need to responsibly divide our time between sessions and programs that will engage and educate us in a variety of skills. We need to be active members of our professional organizations and participate in professional development opportunities like webinars and listservs. We need to seek out local and regional experiences like EdCamps and meetings of our local professional groups that can help keep us on the forefront of new and emerging technologies. We need to be using our time wisely to be the experts that our stakeholders need us to be.
One of the places we can be every day to learn and grow and stay abreast of educational trends and technology is the land of social media. There are countless Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, and educational thought leaders on Twitter to interact with. However, those people and groups are not going to come to us. We have to go to them and actively and intentionally insert ourselves there. It is only through active engagement, sharing, and community building that we can grow. If you look at the AASL National School Library Standards, you'll find in Curate and Share "school librarians contribute to and guide information resource exchange within and beyond the school learning community" and in Collaborate and Create "school librarians demonstrate the importance of personal, social, and intellectual networks" (AASL 2018). It is a constant process that requires consistency and purposeful action.
If teachers, students, and administrators don't see us as experts, it may be due to how we portray ourselves and our library programs. Jennifer LaGarde once said in a session I attended, "The status of my 300s doesn't keep my principal up at night." There is so much wisdom in this statement. Most of our students don't care that much about our most recent book display and our teachers don't care about the hours we spend on carefully compiled book orders. We need to focus on the things our campus is focused on and work to be a driving force in student achievement. Our campus should come to us at every turn because they clearly see us as the expert in the building in every single one of the listed items on this month's survey.
I'm not perfect. None of us are. I am trying my best every day to be all the things my campus needs me to be. This is the reality of our profession and best practice. At an ISTE session last summer, I sat in on a panel that talked about Future Ready librarianship. They had a slide that said, "Brave before perfect." That statement is powerful. We have to be brave and put ourselves out there, try new things, and identify areas where we can help and explore them regardless of our comfort level. Expertise does not equal perfection. The needs of our stakeholders can change quickly, but that is one of the reasons why I love being a librarian. There are new challenges to tackle on nearly a daily basis.
We are not leaders just because we claim to be or want to be. We emerge as leaders through our actions, service, knowledge, and expertise that we share with those we serve. Leadership is about service. The more we serve and activate the knowledge we are acquiring, showcase and model that with teachers, students, administrators, and parents, the more people will depend on us as true school leaders.
AASL. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. American Library Association, 2018.