Lobbying in Library Land

A week ago, I headed to the State Capitol for STEM Day.

I was told that festivities started at 10, but I knew parking would be a beast (I detest parallel parking), so I got there early.  I checked in with the STEM folks, then met up with Craig Patterson, ILA’s lobbyist.  I’m IASL President, and we’re very concerned about a bill in committee.  I’d been trying to keep IASL members up-to-speed on the sausage making that is the State Capitol, so figured I’d take this opportunity to see it for myself.

A little background:  last year, HF472 became law.  It was ostensibly about efficiency, and it gave schools financial incentive to share certain positions, including school counselors, nurses, and teacher librarians.  Crazy, right?

The law was immensely popular.  The state budgeted $15 million and it cost over $60 million.  Go figure!


One of our executive board members, Becky Johnson, let our lobbyists know that we needed to know when bills came up about teacher librarians, because our members will take action.  So on Thursday, after I met with Craig, I met two Senators’ clerks and met with my own Senator, Daryl Beall before I headed down to the STEM meeting.

So the next day, I emailed IASL and ILA members and asked them to contact the Senators on the Education Committee over the weekend, because the subcommittee was meeting on Monday afternoon.  The House Education committee had already passed a bill changing HF472 by taking teacher librarians, guidance counselors, and school nurses out of the list of positions eligible for incentive dollars from the state, but the Senate version kept the list intact.  It fixed the money problems instead by changing the math (in a way I don’t understand so I won’t try to explain).

And email they did!  Monday afternoon, I got a message from Senator Beall:

Good news, Christine! I just attended the subcommittee on SSB3150 and the Mathis amendment was included that strikes school nurses, counselors and librarians from the language. That’s a major victory for you and your colleagues. It now moves to the full Education Committee as amended. Just wanted to let you know, my friend. Your association’s grassroots efforts, contacting individual legislators, were very effective. Thanks, Christine. Please keep in touch. Daryl

And so I tweeted this:

You know, I should have done some clever gif, but I was in too much of a hurry.  How about this?


That’s exactly how I felt.

I’ve gotten a lot of congratulatory emails after I told the librarians the great news, but truly, all I did was send out some emails.  They did the work!

It’s not a done deal, of course – this was just the subcommittee – but now the House and Senate version are much closer and I’m told it’s quite unlikely we will be put back in.  And obviously, schools can still share librarians, but why should the state encourage them to do so?  I’m so happy that guidance counselors and nurses are off the list too, because none of us are operational functions.  We are essential to the mental, physical, and educational well-being of our schools and our students.

So in a couple of weeks, I’ll be headed down to Des Moines again.  Won’t you come, too?


Communicate better!

I’ve had a great morning at the IASL/ABC CLIO Leadership Academy.  And can I just say, those were the BEST potato chips I’ve ever had!

So, I’m doing a group project with Rachel Burrow from Norwalk and Lisa Beal from West Liberty.  We’re discussing dimensions of leadership and our area is leadership.  Lisa had the fantastic idea of doing a video with avatars.  As you saw in the last post, I’ve been using xtranormal, but maybe we’ll have to use Go Animate . . .  (click on the picture – why can’t I get embedding to work in WordPress!)


On elections

It’s been quite a couple of weeks. There was ITEC, then the regional STEM council meeting, then Edcamp Sioux City. I was busy volunteering with the presidential campaign (and sure as heck wasn’t getting paid to do so!) and busy cooking up new projects at school. I was reading more (I’ve discovered Michael Connelly – he’s a can’t-put-down type of writer) and still trying to exercise after my 15 pound weight loss this summer. Then I got an email, asking members of the Iowa Association of School Librarians to consider nominating themselves or someone else to run for office.

I had kept that email around for awhile, mulling it over whenever I cleaned up my email enough to see it again. I think I was approached via email, that someone else had suggested that I run. Really, me?? I decided to run for the secretary/treasurer position, but then in another week, there was another email looking for people to run. I emailed again and said I’d run for either secretary/treasurer or vice president/president-elect. If I won, I would be VP for 2 years, then president, and that would give me enough time to know what I was doing. That worked out well as they already had two others who would run for secretary/treasurer and just one for VP.

Anyway, on the morning of the last day of voting, I wrote a blog post. I told myself I’d be fine no matter the result (in any other year, I would have voted for my competition, as I know and like her), but my mind hearkened back a couple of years when someone else asked me to run for office . . .

A school board election was coming up and the person in my area was stepping down, and no one in my precinct had made it on the ballot in time. So the previous school board president approached me and asked me if I would run. Really, me?? I was honored, but told her I wasn’t going to campaign. I’d put an ad in the paper, but I wasn’t going door-to-door, trolling for votes. She assured me that since no one was on the ballot, putting my name in the paper would be enough – no one else was running a write-in that she knew of, and she’d get the word out too. I did reach out to a few neighbors and ask for their votes – completely out of my comfort zone, but I did it anyway.

I didn’t know the results that night, and the next morning, it wasn’t on the auditor’s website as it was a write-in election. I didn’t know for several DAYS when I finally called the previous school board president who figured I already knew that I’d lost, even though it still wasn’t on the website and no one had called me (by the time I called her, I knew I must have lost). She said, “Well, you can run again next time.” HA! That wasn’t going to happen. (There was another write-in candidate who didn’t put an ad in the paper but who told all his friends and family, and vote they did.) At any rate, I wanted to put the whole embarrassing event behind me and didn’t check the auditor’s website again.

So all of this was on my mind as I was running for IASL office. Again I didn’t actively campaign, but I did talk to a few librarian friends, and honest-to-goodness, when I sat down at lunch at ITEC and the table of ladies happened to be librarians (complete coincidence!), I asked them for their votes. I put something on Twitter. I may love to talk politics, but I’m not going to be a politician. That was enough campaigning for me.

And I won!

And then today, looking something up, I found this.

I know in my heart of hearts, it’s a good thing that I lost that, because I never would have moved and taken the great job that I have now. But I know now it’s a good thing that I never knew the exact vote tally, or I never would have run for IASL, and I’m really excited to serve there.

So why am I so embarrassed three years later? And I’m thinking back – did I ever use “ran for school board” as a bullet point on a résumé or interview? Good Lord, I hope no one else has ever Googled me and found this!

Or, that is, found what I found, and read as quickly and incompletely as I did . . . if you go down some, you see I did get more than 3 votes. That was just someone in the wrong precinct writing me in. I ended up getting 50 write-in votes in my precinct, plus my 18-year-old daughter got one too! (We often are mistaken in looks – until I quit dyeing my hair, anyway – apparently by name, too.) At any rate, it is good I didn’t see this before I ran for IASL – because I would have read this quickly and incompletely and thought all these years I had only gotten three votes.

But still, they don’t know what they missed!

My vision for school libraries

Perhaps you’ve come to my page as you consider your vote in the Iowa Association of School Librarians election.  Great!  Glad to have you.  I hope you will follow my blog and come back routinely.  I try to blog at least a couple of times a week.  If you blog, too, please comment and link back to yours; I’ll reciprocate.

I believe that school libraries should be the center – symbolic, if not physical – of the school.  Schools are places of learning, and libraries are repositories of the learning of all mankind.  Of course, access to that learning has changed tremendously in the decades since I graduated from high school (Dike High School, Class of 1988).  And yet, libraries still serve an important function in our schools.  

One thing that I’ve done in my time at Manson Northwest Webster Schools is to work to create Learning Commons environments at both the elementary and secondary centers.  This week at the Barnum center, third graders came into the library and used the space as an extension of their classroom as they did their Daily Five literacy stations.  Also this week, students brought their parents into the library after their conferences were done, to proudly show them the many changes that we made this summer.  Our guidance counselor, Pam Bleam, said, “The changes to the library make me ask, ‘Why didn’t we do this twenty years ago?’ It’s hard to believe what paint, talent, rearranging, and fresh new energy can do to a familiar space.”  It really is true.  We’re not done yet, either – my associate, Donna, and I are looking at genrefying the fiction, and bookstore-modeling the nonfiction.  Next summer!  (Granted, we are blessed with a generous gift from a benefactor, and a tremendously supportive administration.)

Changes at the high school are no less exciting.  In fact, it was the library in Manson that was first tackled. What has happened since, though, is more exciting – students come in to the library each period to study, to collaborate, to relax, to talk about the latest game or current events.  That reminds me – I need to count students!  I’m sure, though, that we’ve gone from about fifteen students a day at the beginning of last year to over a hundred these days.  Mondays often find students coming in, checking out new books or magazines.  There will be even bigger changes soon as the FCCLA makes the finishing touches on – what used to be my office – a coffee bar, once a week serving not just flavored coffees, but breakfast pizza, cinnamon rolls, smoothies, and more.

Another thing I think we need to do as teacher librarians is to reach out to new teachers.  If elected as IASL vice-president/president-elect, I will reach out to our teacher education programs across the state and seek to put teacher librarians on their radar.  When I was in UNI’s 2+2 program not too long ago (I was a non-traditional student), there were many opportunities for collaboration with teacher librarians, although it seemed I was the one, as a student, who repeatedly mentioned that.  I had several professors who, when pressed, sort of romanticized teacher librarians, as if we belong to some idealized past.  Perhaps we are part of their memories – which is great! – but we must be part of their realities, too.  Teacher education programs have a lot to focus on, yes, but I believe teacher librarians can help.  

At any rate, one thing that I’ve done at MNW is to hold “Lunch ‘n Learns” (last year) and now “Teacher Investigations,” both dedicated time in the library for new and seasoned teachers to learn about new technology, to share what is working in their rooms, and to help each other in educating the children at our school.  This is exactly the vision I have for Iowa’s teacher librarians.  I know I already do this through Twitter, through reading librarians’ blogs, through the IASL convention – learn about new technology and ideas, share what is working at my library, and, with other teacher librarians, work together to educate the children of Iowa’s schools.  

It’s so easy as a teacher librarian to feel isolated, but it doesn’t have to be.  IASL is there to help.  

I humbly ask for your vote as IASL vice president/president-  at large elect (that’s what you get for blogging at 5 a.m).


Gosh! You could have told me that!

At IASL, I gave a presentation highlighting lessons I’ve learned about being a first-year teacher librarian. It was my second IASL meeting, though, so I took it from the angle of these are things that I wish I had learned last year – hence the title. I did all that through the lens of the movie Napoleon Dynamite – a favorite of mine. You can imagine that I was pretty wary of giving such a presentation, using music, images, and video clips from a copyrighted work, in front of a bunch of librarians! So I emailed Rebecca Butler, author of Copyright for Teachers and Librarians. I thought I was fine as far as Fair Use, but I wanted to make sure. I said since it was for education, I was only using clips, it wouldn’t impact the sale value of the movie (and in fact, might increase it), and that the music and videos and images were legally obtained, I figured I was good. She agreed, but added the warning to not get paid for my presentation. Shucks on that! 🙂

But I did promise that I wouldn’t post images or anything online about my presentation. Which is too bad, it was quite good, I think! But I’ll outline it and if you know the movie, you’ll recognize what I’m talking about.

First I introduced myself and how I became a teacher librarian. It’s been a long and winding road – it took me 21 years to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, but only 18 months to get my MLS! It was well worth it, though, and I think that road has helped me be a better librarian. I’m now the K-12 teacher librarian/technology integrationist at Manson Northwest Webster Schools.

Teachings from Napoleon Dynamite:

I. Being a communicator is your #1 job.

A. Give positive feedback.
Isn’t that important, especially when working with our paraprofessionals? I’m the only teacher in my district who has people who report to them. I had to hire one of my paraprofessionals, and she’s at the high school when I’m not. So I’ve only worked with her for two days in training. She’s on her own a lot – my other para, too – and giving positive feedback is really vital.

Of course, that goes to Napoleon watching Pedro do tricks on his “sweet” bike, telling him after Pedro jumps off a very small ramp, “You got like three feet of air that time.” Positive feedback goes a long ways.

B. Be complimentary.
Specials teachers at the elementary school are somewhat like grandparents. You get to enjoy the kids for awhile, and then send them back! So we have a great opportunity to get to know the kids in a different way than their classroom teachers. My elementary para, Donna, is great at this. She asks the kids about their weekends, knowing who would have been riding horses, who would have gone to the lake, etc. Kids can have bad days, too, and doing this little thing can really make a difference for a child.

Napoleon knows all about being complimentary. When he dances with Deb at the school dance, he declares his now famous words: “I like your sleeves.” He also asks her about her photography business, something she cared about. Napoleon’s a great communicator.

C. He brings food!
I do something called, “Lunch and Learn” at each school, where teachers come enjoy their lunch in the library, just getting together to talk about some new tech tool, or to meet a special guest in the school that day. This has been a good way for me to get to know the teachers. Pie is always appreciated.

Napoleon and Pedro bring food to Trisha when Pedro “builds her a cake” in order to ask her to the dance. The answer turns out no – but I’m sure she ate that cake!

II. As a librarian, you must be resourceful.

A. Take note of resources.
Librarians are ever-resourceful, but it’s important to be smart about it. There’s a plethora of resources out there, really a deluge. How do we keep track of it all? I talked about three resources that I depend on to keep my head afloat. I use Twitter, Diigo, and RSS, my favorite really being RSS.

I hadn’t remembered this scene in the movie until I watched it to take notes for this presentation, but there’s a scene where Kip is watching TV and Rex comes in with his Rex Kwan Do commercial. You see Kip get out a notebook and a writing instrument to take down the information. I resemble that remark!

B. Be the first to try new things.
If we’re going to be the leaders in our school, we need to be willing to try things first. As we do send along that resources to teachers, we need to try them first, too. I talked about GIS technology, which I first heard about a tech conference. When a tech grant came available, I told the curriculum coordinator someone should do something with that – not me, I don’t know anything about science! But she talked me into it. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I did it with the biology teacher, and we got a grant for a classroom set of GIS handhelds and other materials to study the Manson Impact Crater using GIS technology. I have to do is lead 7th graders as they research other areas of the world with impact craters. I can do that!

Napoleon isn’t afraid to take the lead, either. When he’s working with some other boys at a chicken farm, the lunch looks less than appetizing. To me, it looks like egg salad sandwiches and egg yolks to drink. (Some people online say it’s orange juice with egg yolks. In some strange way, that makes it much better!) The boys all stand there, until Napoleon goes for it, taking the food. The others follow, just like we knew they would.

C. Need moar skillz (a LOLcats picture shown)
Sure, librarians are well read, tech savvy, and willing to try new things. But the skills we have today simply aren’t enough for tomorrow. We have to keep at it. What are you doing to keep up? Follow some great Twitter feeds, read Wired magazine, take an open courseware class. You have to keep learning.

Napoleon’s lament about all the skills he lacks is pretty famous: “You know, like numchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills . . . Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” What skills do you have?

III. Just do it, gosh! (Okay, he didn’t really say that. But if he did, he’d say it just like that . . . GOSH!)

A. Your to-do list
I’m a first-year teacher librarian and a first-year teacher, so that means I’m going through teacher mentoring. My administrators don’t really know what to do with me, having never assessed a librarian before. As the only teacher librarian in my district, it could be easy to go through the motions and not get anything done. Who’s going to know? (I will, of course!) Having a to-do list (I use Evernote) is essential. Also, I have long-term and short-term goals spelled out. This helps me keep track of where I need to be going, even if no one is looking over my shoulder. (The new BOEE Matrix of Teacher Librarian Roles and Responsibilities helps, too.)

This feeling of being on our own is what makes going to conferences like IASL, AASL, ITEC, TICL, IRA so important. (I’m presenting at the TICL conference in Storm Lake in June – please come!)
Napoleon has a thing to say about what he’s going to do today: “Whatever I feel like doing, gosh!” That scene alone, where he takes an action figure for a ride out the back bus window, makes the entire movie worth it. (Of course, that isn’t how we should deal with our to-do list, though! Guess you just had to be there.)

B. Don’t be afraid to stand out
If the school’s primary goal is to educate students, the library – where we try to capture all of human knowledge – should be the symbolic if not physical center of the school. As such, we as librarians need to stand out. We can’t be our stereotype of the quiet, bespeckled lady behind a book all day, shushing kids. Okay, so there’s some days we want to be that! But we need to be more – we need to stand out. I discussed a program that we’re doing at MNW to bring Chinese students to our school. Guess who is a pilot family to house one of the Chinese students? Mine. My son is concerned that people will think we’re weird. They probably already do! I told him, “Life is full of experiences. This will be quite an experience.”

Napoleon isn’t afraid to stand out, either. I love how he saunters down the road wearing a sweet three piece burgandy suit. For my presentation, I didn’t have on as sweet of an outfit like that, but I did wear a Napoleon Dynamite shirt – “Don’t touch my tots!”

C. Do what has to be done.
Grandma tells Napoleon it’s time to feed Tina, the llama. He doesn’t like it, but he does it. Don’t you sometimes have to do things you just don’t want to do? Whether it’s haranguing kids about their overdue books or shelf reading the nonfiction, someone has to do it. Has Napoleon might say, “Just do it, gosh!”

One thing I’ve struggled with is seeing what fantastic things librarians like you do. It’s intimidating! I told this to a librarian friend, and she told me, “Remember, you are a half-time librarian at two different schools. Don’t be so hard on myself.” I really took that to heart – that’s right! I can’t compare myself to those librarians! They are only at a high school, or a junior high, or a K-2 school. I’m K-12. I can’t expect that I can do all that!

But then I told that to another friend, who is a K-12 librarian at four schools (not my two!), and she said, “That’s true, but those kids and teachers expect you to be their full-time librarian.” Hmmmm. So what I do now is I try to work only on things pertain to the school where I physically am. If I’m at the secondary school, I work on the PLN class I co-teach, or digital textbooks the biology teacher and I are implementing, or I do blogging with the 7th graders. If I’m at the elementary, I pull good-fit books, or write lessons for tech teaching, or do preschool storytime. So now I try not to compare myself to others, but I try to be present in the moment, wherever I am.


The final point I made was that it’s important to think big. I showed pictures of my high school library when I started and it was, to say the least, surprising. The books weren’t in the large library space but a small cave-like room within the library. At my interview, I was asked what I would do to change the library space. That was a really hard question, because I didn’t know what my options were. Did they want me to say it’d take a huge building expansion project, or to just put up some cheery posters? I can’t remember what I said, but even I couldn’t have envisioned then where the library is going to this summer. The high school library is a huge improvement already – really, some comfy furniture and moving the books back to the space did wonders. At the elementary, a retired teacher passed away and gave a gift to the library. We’re building a stage-like area inside the library, and painting, and adding new lighting. It’s going to be a two-year project, and I have tremendous support from the superintendent and principals. It’s a wonder what thinking big can do. When others see and embrace your vision, you can really make a difference.

It’s not just the space of course. It’s teaching at the high school, a career collection, blogging with the 7th graders, bringing Google Docs to the upper elementary, doing a competitive reading contest in the library. There’s so much to do. But if I have the vision, it can be done.

So in short:

  • Your #1 job is as a communicator: give positive feedback, be complimentary, bring food
  • As a librarian, you must be resourceful: take note of resources, be willing to the first to try, need more skills
  • Just do it, gosh!: your to-do list, don’t be afraid to stand out, do what has to be done

If Grandma Dynamite asked me about my day, like she did to Napoleon, I would say, “It’s the best job of my life. Whatdoya think?”