How Principals can Support Libraries

This entry was written by Lucy Podmore, High School librarian in Northside ISD, San Antonio and TxASLTalks co-editor.

Outstanding NISD principals and library supporters,
Eric Tobias, Tracy Wernli, and Dr. Jerry Woods.
Ask any school principal in Texas if they support school libraries and I’d be willing to bet they would all say, “YES, 100%!”.  I believe it’s the follow up question, “ what does that support look like?” that may trip up some principals.  I have been fortunate in my career as a librarian to be in schools where that support is not only verbalized, but demonstrated.  As I reflect on my time in three school libraries, I noticed the strength of the library program was directly impacted by the kind of support I had with each of the principals.  The most successful programs enjoyed principal support in the following ways:

Inclusion on campus leadership team: The principals I’ve worked with have shown their support of the library program by welcoming me onto their campus leadership teams.  This is not only an invitation, but an expectation that I would actively participate in the discussions these campus leaders were having.  The opportunity allows me to hear the campus issues and department objectives of campus leaders so that I may then offer library resources or guidance to help them achieve their goals. Oftentimes it opens the eyes of many campus leaders to the notion that the library’s reach extends far beyond the physical space of the library.  Without a doubt, these meetings help me define my own goals for the library program throughout the year.  

Staffing support: In 2010 the State of Texas drastically reduced school funding and as a result, numerous positions across my school district were eliminated including library assistants.  At that time I was serving in a very active library with close to 1,400 students and I was devastated to know my ability to properly serve the students and staff would be significantly affected by this move.  My principal at that time helped me launch an active volunteer base who assisted with the numerous clerical duties of running a library, while I continued to focus on the instructional side.  A few weeks into the school year at my high school library, the principal  recognized the number of students visiting the library before school was consistently well over 200.  In recognition of the need for assistance, he reorganized the morning duty schedule to include a library station.  Both of these examples of staffing support not only helped me with additional hands and eyes in the library, it also provided more advocates for both of those library programs.  I now had parents and teachers talking about the popularity of the library and the numerous resources and programs available. It is important to note that these changes and actions came about because these principals were frequent visitors to the library. They personally saw that assistance was needed and did what they could to provide it.  Administrators view things through their own special lens and consider solutions based on resources of which librarians may not be aware. An open invitation for administrators to spend time in the library is always a good practice.

Open Communication: Librarians and administrators share a common goal of helping students and staff succeed. When ideas are created on how to achieve those goals, it’s impossible for one person to understand various perspectives to attain that goal without communication. The most successful principals I have worked with have been great at giving me time to share ideas and plans with them. This time and open dialogue provides an opportunity to strengthen ideas by looking at multiple viewpoints.  I believe these principals understand the campus wide impact the library can have and saw the benefits of taking the time to ensure the success of various programs by looking at them with critical, yet supportive, eyes.  To be able to have those frank conversations is something that needs time to develop.  I am so thankful the principals with whom I have worked have allowed me the freedom to try new ideas with the knowledge that they supported my efforts and would be there to provide valuable insight to improve upon those ideas.

Staff Development Support: Being a school librarian can sometimes be a lonely position. There is no one else on campus who can truly understand and relate to the various issues we tackle daily.  Attending district, regional, state, or national/international conferences designed specifically for librarians is an opportunity to hear and learn from librarians outside the school district about their successful campus strategies and also helps us build our own PLCs.   I have enjoyed the support of principals who have generously paid for registration fees, assisted with accommodations during out of town events, and/or treated the absence as a "excused school business" absence.  In return for that support, I have always made it a personal expectation to share with staff and students the new information I learned while attending these events.  My principals have provided opportunities for me to develop and present staff development for staff showcasing library resources, technology instruction, and teaching ideas which helps me gain additional access to teachers. There are some teachers who may see the library and librarians as resources specific to certain content areas. Being in front of the entire faculty helps me demonstrate tools, ideas, and resources that are useful for all educators and helps build more relationships with my campus colleagues. By broadening my target audience beyond students and specific content areas, I am able to help even more students and educators.

I know being a principal is an exhausting job with multiple focal points. To run a successful school and library program, you need to create a team of hard-working people committed to your vision. I've been fortunate these principals have recognized me and the library program as valuable members of their team. The librarian can be a powerful partner in building a successful school, but we need principals who are willing to allow that partnership to blossom as well as librarians who are eager to accept the demands of such a partnership.

What does support look like on your campus? Are there areas in which you could develop a stronger partnership? What has been an effective way for you to gain additional support from your principal?

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