Sending Sacred Cows to Pasture

As part of the fabulous School Library Journal Summit, I presented a “speed talk” on collaboration and librarians(see presentation below).

Personally I find collaboration one of the most challenging aspects of our role as librarians–because collaboration is all about people, change, learning styles and growth.  But as librarians, inviting collaboration and working closely is integral to what we do–improving experiences for students.

As my wise colleague Will Richardson, author of Why School, reminds us–“We need to be connectors first, and content experts second.”   As librarians, our content cannot just be “the library”–our content needs to be the connections we help people make, whether it’s with information, with the world,  with their own power and knowledge, or with one another.

flickr: Rick Harrison
flickr: Rick Harrison

But sometimes, for librarians, that means giving up our sacred cows about the library and about collaboration.   What are our sacred cows about working with others?  Some phrases come to mind–“They should just want to work with us.”  “Libraries should be a quiet place.”  “I am the research expert.”  “They should know what we have to offer.”    We need to reflect on what WE need to rethink in order to be better partners in collaborative relationships.

David Lankes (in his book Atlas of New Librarianship) reminds us that ‘no man is an island.’  No librarian can know everything–we have to be part of a collaborative network of educational professionals.  We have to see the expertise of others, he says, as a resource pool to draw from.

Gary Stager, co-author of Invent to Learn, often reminds audiences “Less Us, More Them,”  or as Mark Ray said at the SLJ Summit, “Librarian less, teach more.”  When we approach problems or challenges, are we thinking of the library first, students first, or teachers first?  Part of being collaborative is realizing we are all in this together.

Our focus has to be on building the “us” around a collaborative community.  David Lankes tells us that our community IS our collection.  Consequently it is incumbent on us to build an invitational environment in the library.

Everything from policies to hosting informal events to creating a welcome physical space for teachers to work in helps create that sense of invitation.  We can reach out to staff, we can collaborate with librarians within our district or beyond our district, and we can reach out beyond traditional library concerns–because first and foremost, we are teachers.  We may find ourselves collaborating with unlikely partners–where some of the richest collaborations happen.

Another part of  building collaborative partnerships is seeking both formal and informal leaders in the building.   And for anyone we want to collaborate with, there has to be a real payoff for them.  What is their intrinsic motivation to collaborate with us?   In his book, Drive, Dan Pink shares a research project with MIT professor Lakhani  in which he discovered that “enjoyment based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on a project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver.”   Are we creating collaborative moments where teachers (and we) feel creative and effective?

Knowing what our intent IS is an important rudder.  Recently, our  librarians gathered together as a district and created a list of words to describe our mission with students and  then turned it into a wordle.  Our values shine out from this document reminding us of what is important as we develop our policies and processes.

We have to reflect on how we respond to change, Mark Ray’s Vancouver administrative team asked.  Do we complain or do we collaborate together to help the district or campus turn a challenge into a “chopportunity”? (their lovely coined term).

flickr: Hans Splinter

As David Lankes brilliantly points out, building a partnership is a social compact–and social compacts are living, breathing entities.  We have to remember that collaborative partnerships are something we are always building with our teachers and students.

Collaboration is one of the hardest things about our jobs as librarians (or technologists).  It is a source of constant reflection.   But isn’t it time we start putting our “sacred cows” out to pasture, and develop, as Antero Garcia said in his SLJ Summit keynote, a “new model of distribution and relationships”?  I think it is time to try.

Below is the SLJ Summit presentation with more food for thought:

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