In Part I of this series, I reflected on the journey that led Follett Learning to Future Ready Librarians® and why the time has never been better for librarians to transform their programs using Future Ready tools.
Now, let’s explore the most important question: Where do you start?
I used to advise librarians to pick a wedge of the Future Ready Librarians framework that aligned with their school’s or district’s strategic objectives. Today, aspiring Future Ready Librarians have a new Self-Assessment Tool designed to assess their strengths and areas of growth related to the Future Ready Librarians framework. Where are you on your Future Ready journey?
In a perfect world, your strengths will align to your district’s needs, which means it’s time to have a conversation with your district leadership. Sound scary? Follett and the Alliance for Excellent Education partnered with librarian leaders Mark Ray and Shannon McClintock Miller to develop a guide to help you start that conversation. Let’s Talk: A Conversation Starter for Future Ready Librarians is designed to remove any anxiety about sharing the ways in which you and your library can support schools in this new world.
The guide poses big reflection questions like:
- As you look at the main areas of focus for your school and district as they existed before the pandemic, what are some of the challenges you see as educators seek to implement these goals?
- What changes have occurred that create new opportunities for more collaboration?
- What are some of the outstanding challenges faced by classroom educators that didn’t exist before the pandemic?
- What will educators need to be successful in the future?
Ray explains that suggestions and answers to those questions will help district leaders better understand that they already have a leader in their buildings whose expertise has never been timelier. “As someone who has written, spoken, and testified to this for years, librarians are leadership solutions hiding in plain sight,” Ray said. “Their systems knowledge, technology expertise, responsibility for all students and educators, and service ethos are unique in schools. Both within and beyond the pandemic era, these are skills that few other educators can offer.”
Miller challenges librarians who feel they don’t have a seat at the table to pull up a chair. “Don’t even be afraid to shout from the rooftop how awesome you are and your program is because that is what it takes to get a seat at the table sometimes,” Miller said. “And at times, don’t ask for a seat at the table…just show up, make yourself available, show all that you have to give, and be YOU. YOU, as a Future Ready Librarian, are what all school communities need to make a difference within decision making.”
Dave Schuler of Illinois, 2018 Superintendent of the Year, reinforces why it’s up to librarians to bring solutions to district leaders: “When I think of a future ready librarian, I think of someone who exhausts all opportunities to provide resources for every student and every teacher in a school to enhance learning and student growth. A future ready librarian is not waiting for teachers and students to come to them. Rather they are actively engaged in meeting the learning needs and expectations of every student and teacher in their building.”
For those of you who are reading this and feeling a bit insecure about your “future readiness,” you’re not alone. Mastering all of the Future Ready wedges doesn’t happen overnight. Which is why we created the free Future Ready Librarian Summits, the Exploring Future Ready Librarianship online course, and Professional Learning Groups like the wildly popular Future Ready Librarians Facebook page where 26,500 of your colleagues are helping and supporting each other on their journeys.
Miller is one of a number of library leaders who moderates and relies on the Facebook group. “Also, being a Future Ready Librarian means that we are part of a larger community, one that supports, lifts, inspires, and pushes us to be the best we can be,” Miller shared. “One of my favorite parts of Future Ready Librarians is this global group of colleagues and friends we have grown over the last 5 years, and one that I count on every single day.”
While the journey ahead contains many uncertainties, as we emerge from the pandemic, Ray encourages librarians to seize the opportunity posed by the immediate need for extensive and immersive digital resources, a likely reversion to a blend of print and digital content, and a windfall of funding for K-12 schools. “To quote Robert Frost, ‘two paths diverged in a yellow wood,’” Ray said.
“The pandemic was an opportunity for school librarians to demonstrate value in an exceptional time. Those who rose to the occasion to lead, teach, and support schools in new ways will likely be part of the transition of schools which is still too early to perceive. Others will be asked ‘what did you do to make a difference when it mattered?’”
For those district leaders facing difficult budget decisions, the Future Ready Librarian framework is a way for you to examine what role you see your library playing in a post-pandemic world. Every Library Executive Director John Chraska says the data is clear that students in schools without a library program will suffer. “It is always hard to ‘prove the negative’ when advocating to restore a school library program or school librarian position. But the school librarian is the only expert librarianship in the school.”
Chrastka said: “What’s lost when a librarian role is cut is both quantitative – if the studies about student achievement are true – and qualitative – if what we know about how reading and discovery are core parts of personal growth and development are also true. It’s important to first educate and orient your stakeholders to what your unique and powerful role is, and then to find the allies and partners who also care about both types of outcomes. It takes real courage to fight against a bad decision by the administration. But you can forestall the fight with information, data, and power-building in advance.”
Schuler says the librarians in his district are already well on their way to being Future Ready and encourages other district leaders to spend some time examining their library programs to understand the deep ways in which librarians can help solve big problems for districts. “It is imperative that our school librarians are active partners in ensuring our quest for equitable opportunities, access, and success for every student in our school buildings. Our incredible librarians take their role incredibly seriously, and I have been thrilled to see the innovative and collaborative approach they have taken to their work to provide resources to meet the learning needs of every student in our district.”
The time is now. The need is here. The funding is following. The Conversation Starter guide may say it best: “The future may have changed, but the need to be future ready is still there.”