How many times a day do we say this to our students? Numerous times as we encourage and cajole them to have a go and do their best. But how many times do we say this to ourselves? Probably never! Instead we battle on feeling undervalued, misunderstood, put upon, weary, despondent, isolated and for some, invisible.
As school librarians, it can often seem that we are pre-conditioned to think that we can’t do it, particularly as repeated requests for support, resources and funding can seem to fall on deaf ears as more urgent needs are addressed. Our brilliant ideas and inspirational new initiatives sometimes fail to get off the ground, lacking crucial support whether from students, staff or even SLT. I could go on but that only serves to compound the negativity already being felt. Instead let’s focus on the unique role and position that you have in your school that can really benefit all. Rise above the niggles, the perceived lack of support, the negativity and make sure you use your skills. YOU can do it.
So how, I hear you ask, when you’re so weary and fed-up with the continual struggle to be heard and to be noticed?
- SEEK HELP – it’s not a sign of failure; it’s a sign that you want the situation to change; that you’re prepared to do something about it. You’re going to be pro-active. So where can you get this help? From a colleague, a member of staff – who can emphathise with your situation. If there’s no-one within school, then seek help from your nearest School Library Service. They’re there to help so use them. They offer advice, training and support and will often act as a ‘critical friend’ so you can talk in confidence, vent your frustrations with someone who will understand what you are experiencing. They’ll put you in touch with librarians in other schools – so get talking, get networking, share issues and concerns – a problem shared is a problem halved. Even better, start sharing ideas – there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. It will enable you to begin to see things in a different light, even from a different perspective. Make use of your professional memberships, e.g. the CILIP School Libraries Group – Committee members can help here. We’re all seasoned and experienced practitioners who are more than happy to help – so make that first step and ask.
- IDENTIFY key staff who would/could be supportive. They may not be who you think at first! In one of my schools it was the Site Manager who was my main ally. You’ll need to emphathise and understand what other staff are up against too. Many spend more than enough hours already trying to keep their heads above water, never mind taking time to get involved in another event in the Library. So what can you do?
- WORK COLLABORATIVELY – work together on a project that is mutually beneficial. Talk, exchange ideas, inspire, get involved and work as equal partners. Yet that little voice will be saying ‘I can’t do that! I’m not up to it; I’m not a teacher so I can’t possibly teach!’ But yes YOU can. Work together, be prepared to learn, be guided, bring your unique skills and insights into play and have a go. You’ll need to practise but you’ll soon start to feel more confident, start to enjoy working with others and learn from your mistakes. So prepare to change and accept the challenge. Be prepared to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. It may be you have identified some gaps in your skill set so start to explore what training is available and be pro-active in learning new skills.
- KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS AND YOUR WEAKNESSES – don’t set yourself up for failure. Know your skills and use them. We can’t all be good at everything so don’t try to be. Identify and recognise your strengths, build and capitalise on them. Put them to good use. Don’t waste time and precious energy on something that you know will be a struggle. Team up with a colleague who has complimentary skills and work on the project together.
- BE REALISTIC – this is something that all of us can forget to do. Start small, walk before you run and enjoy every little success, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. Go for quick wins, things that can make an instant difference. Build on them and gain confidence, gain new skills. But don’t expect to change everything overnight as it won’t. Be prepared to put in the effort; chip away at it as it will take time but your endeavours will be rewarded. You’re in for the long haul but be clear, from the start, about the outcomes and the benefits that will result from your work and commitment.
- LEARN TO SAY NO – it’s hard but you’ll be thankful that you’ve learned this particular skill. Don’t be everyone’s doormat! Is your job description up-to-date and does it actually reflect the job you are doing? It may sound silly but you’d be surprised at how many don’t. Does it set clear boundaries for your role or do you need to set them? If you’re not sure, then note down all that you do each day for one week – every task, no matter how small or mundane, some of which you won’t even be aware that you are doing! From this you will be able to identify what you’re spending your time on, whether intentionally or by default and it will highlight where your energy is being used well or unnecessarily. Use it to set priorities and focus on the key areas outlined in your Library Development Plan which in turn should echo the School Improvement Plan. (More of this in a future blog.) There will be tasks that you are doing simply because they’ve always been done but are they actually needed? So learn to say no. Accept that you can’t be all things to all people – so stop trying and stop being hard on yourself.
- CHALLENGE the perceived norm of the ‘librarian’ in your school. Stand up and make YOUR voice heard but try not to complain to anyone that will listen – hard I know at times –as this only helps to exacerbate the negativity that you are feeling and confirm people’s perceptions. Instead push the positive, display, model the benefits of working collaboratively with colleagues – that’s what they will remember next time you ask them to get involved. This doesn’t mean that you are a push-over and will help with every little request; no, you need to be ensuring that before accepting the task, you are checking if it is one of your priorities, one of your developmental areas and will it benefit your role and that of the Library.
So are you prepared to smile, rise above, and tackle the task ahead? Are you going to be realistic and learn to say NO? Do you know your skill set; know where you can make a difference and above all, be open to a new challenge? So have a go, take the risk, learn from your mistakes, think what you would do differently next time and try again. The biggest risk, by far, is not to take the risk and do nothing at all.
So remember the difference we, as school librarians, can make. YOU can and DO make a difference. Apply these words to yourself, not just to your students. YOU can do it, yes YOU can!