In my recent TEDx talk, I explored the shifts between the past and the future of school librarians and libraries. Since then, I have begun working with Alliance for Excellent Education as Future Ready Librarians Lead to define and cultivate the win-win opportunities that can exist when librarians and educational leaders work together. Here’s the first in a series that explores ways in which the conversation is changing about libraries, leadership and innovation.

I have recently been musing on the adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

One of the historical roles of librarians has been collection development — the curation of books, videos, materials, etc. as part of a library collection. Before the Google and the Interweb, librarians had a critical role in finding, evaluating, classifying, organizing and making available information, ideas and resources. Libraries had a near-monopoly on access to information. For many decades, research at school necessitated a trip to the library. While public and school libraries remain culturally and educationally essential, the library collection now competes with mobile devices, powerful search algorithms and increasingly ubiquitous access to wireless and broadband. In many settings, the library collection is no longer king (or queen). So what’s a librarian to do?

A: Be a connector, not a collector.

What do I mean? If we consider the abstract idea of ‘connecting the dots,’ a Future Ready Librarian focuses less on the dots and more on the links between them.

  • Instead of buying and collecting information and assets, the librarian facilitates and mediates access to those resources, including those which are not owned or part of the library collection.
  • Rather than working independently in the library, the librarian collaborates among educators, building relationships and networks that are mutually beneficial.
  • Seeing themselves as integral and essential to the educational organization, the librarian links to strategic initiatives beyond the library and builds partnerships with educational leaders and teams.

Connecting to strategic work

The Future Ready Librarians initiative at the Alliance for Excellent Education is all about bringing librarians and district leaders together around a shared strategic vision. Whether in support of a school improvement or district strategic plan, a Future Ready Librarian aligns their professional and program goals to something larger than the library. In Vancouver Public Schools, we have been recognized for these strategic alignments. There are many other districts in which librarians and district leaders work alongside each other to improve, innovate and iterate. How can you help your school or district in new ways to support student learning outcomes?

Connecting to the classroom

Many librarians in my district teach outside of the library. They seek connections beyond the familiar R and R — Research and Reading. Whether it’s teaching digital citizenship or helping a class understand how to use the latest and greatest app, these librarians are not waiting for someone to come to the library for help. They are finding the connections themselves. What new instructional partnerships can you develop?

Connecting students to the world

Thanks to George Couros and others, there is an emerging and more expansive view of digital citizenship that seeks to enable and empower students online. Beyond digital safety, etiquette and responsibility, future ready students will need to craft and cultivate their online identities. As savvy social media mavens, how can librarians translate that into powerful learning for students? And how can social networks support professional learning by teachers and district leaders?

Connecting content

As systems managers, librarians have long been in the business of connecting diverse data and information services. Tasked with managing library and textbooks, technology, online digital content, etc., this is a unique and persistently necessary skill set. While there may be a diminishing need for mastery of Dewey or Sears Subject Headings, the rise of learning management systems, learning object repositories and the wild west of open educational resources poses wicked challenges of organization, integration and interoperability. How can librarians help?

Connecting the departments

Like principals, librarians are necessarily generalists. Working with all staff and across subject areas, the librarian ideally plays no favorites in a building. And ideally, they have expertise and leadership that transcends their college major. Additionally, librarians are often the link between buildings and the central office. Managing instructional materials, training teachers, and distributing technology, librarians exist at the intersection of the classroom and many district policies and practices. How can you make connections among content areas and grade levels? And what role can you play in better connecting building and district teams?

Connecting to new ideas

In my district, librarians will be helping to inform next steps in coding and making. Thanks to their own interest and initiative, librarians created a community of practice to support their shared interest in developing makerspaces and teaching coding in the library. Librarian Traci Chun is leading fellow librarians to not only create new opportunities in the library, but provide guidance to schools and the district about how to proceed with these exciting instructional innovations.

I invite your own wondering about #connectiondevelopment. How can #futureready librarians develop their collection of connections? Please post your ideas to Twitter with the #connectiondevelopment hashtag.