Learning from Rock Star Librarians

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This month’s One-Question Survey asked our readers to name the ‘school library rock stars’ who are the biggest influence on their work and what it is that makes these individuals stand out. The resulting word cloud of school library luminaries is certainly fun to view but really not too surprising—much more intriguing are the explanations of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that set these individuals apart. What can we learn from these rock star librarians? decwordle4_616x
This month we asked the question, “What ‘school library rock stars’ are the biggest influence on your work?” followed by the sub-question, “Why do these individuals stand out for you?” Our underlying purpose in asking these questions was to better understand what sets a school librarian leader apart.

The 347 responses identified 174 leaders with an additional 14 general responses (e.g. the students I work with, teachers, other librarians in my school district, etc.). The list of school library leaders, displayed in the word cloud, is certainly of interest and fun to view but really not too surprising—we all know that Joyce Valenza rocks this profession!!!

Much more intriguing, on the other hand, are the explanations of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that set these individuals apart as leaders in our field. Using an inductive approach to coding, we sorted the responses into 11 themes, displayed below in order of frequency from least to most and described using respondents’ words.

Aspiring school librarian leaders can use the descriptor headings as action statements.

Build Professional Networks

Leaders in school librarianship recognize the power of collaboration and facilitate relationships to ensure other school librarians are well connected. A school library leader “promote[s] collaboration among librarians in every way possible.”

Serve through Professional Associations

School library preparation programs recognized by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) stress the importance of professional association activity (American Library Association & AASL 2010). Thus, it’s not surprising that school librarians recognize as leaders those colleagues who engage in the important work of the “…state library association and AASL.”


In an era of accountability, reduced school budgets, and declining valuation of school librarians, it is natural that an individual who “works hard to make others understand the importance of strong school library programs” is positioned as a leader in this field.


Who can deny the power of a good teacher? School librarians value those who helped prepare them to join this profession. “They ‘rock’ because of the enormous influence they have on future librarians in school libraries. They provide relevant instruction and engage teachers in learning opportunities to impact all students in the school library.”

Place Students at the Center

Students have always been at the heart of school librarians’ efforts, and those in our field who are “tireless in their active support for student learners” are respected for being “vocal supporter[s] of students…[and they] help [us] remember why [we] became librarian[s] in the first place!”

Guide, Support, and Encourage

Everyone can use a helping hand, reassurance, and commendation every once in a while, and school librarians appreciate those who: are “always willing to go the extra mile to help any and every one,” “seek ways to lift [school librarians] up at every opportunity,” “will talk to [school librarians] about anything whenever [they] need a colleague…to bounce ideas, tasks, or problems [off of],” and “inspire [us] to think BEYOND daily library business and connect to [the] BIG Picture world of education, citizenship, and innovation.”

Exhibit Passion, Energy, and Enthusiasm for School Libraries and School Librarians

School librarians have high regard for colleagues who “lead out loud with passion,” are “tireless,” “exude so much enthusiasm,” “are passionate about what they do,” “are enthusiastic and make [us] think [we] can do it too,” possess “incredible work ethic, attitude, and the patience of a saint,” “go above and beyond,” are “optimistic about the future of libraries,” and demonstrate “dedication to the craft of teacher-librarianship.”

Innovate, Create, and Take Chances

The Standards for the 21st Century Learner (AASL, 2007) articulate the importance of skills that enable learners to “create products that express new understandings,” and school librarians take notice of those skills in leaders as well. “They are always either on top of what’s new…or creating new paths that influence library trends.” They also admire colleagues who are “always on the cutting edge,” “extremely creative,” and “not afraid to jump in to try new things.”

Enact Practical Plans and Solutions

School library leaders “create dynamic programs for students, staff, and library peers,” and “solutions to actual problems” that are “practical yet pedagogically sound” and that another librarian could “take back and immediately implement in [their] own library.” In fact, other librarians admit to “stealing their ideas” in order “to improve [their] practice[s].”

Demonstrate Professional Knowledge and Expertise

Other school librarians “trust what [a school librarian leader] believes and says…if something in the library arena is trending, [a leader] knows about it” through “keep[ing] up with current trends, policies, laws and mandates as they pertain to school libraries.” Additionally, school library leaders have developed “expertise in many curriculum areas,” “articulate ideas and synthesize complex information,” “think beyond the superficial,” confer “good consideration to questions,” are “up-to-date on technology and what students like to read,” and don’t “just jump on every bandwagon.”

Share Widely and Frequently

Professional sharing was the most commonly identified quality of school library leaders. As a field committed to collaboration, it stands to reason that school librarians would value this foundational component of partnerships. School library leaders “share what they are doing with everyone” “via Twitter,” “website, blog” “professional networks,” “presenting in person and digitally” through “webinars,” “workshops,” and “professional development” sessions.

School Librarian Connections urges new and veteran school librarians to reflect upon the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of school library leaders and then take the bold step of performing one, multiple, or all of the actions articulated in the leadership themes listed above. Be the leader you wish to see in the school library world!

mcahill_09_2014Maria Cahill, MLIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Education. She received her master’s degree from the University of South Carolina and her doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee. She is author of numerous papers in such journals as Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, and School Library Research and has served in numerous professional leadership positions, including on the Educators of School Librarians Section of the American Association of School Librarians and the American Library Association’s Literacy and Outreach Services Committee.

Our December online update, ENGAGING NEXT GEN LEADERS, just went live with new articles from Gail Dickinson, Elaine Crawford, and Mary Kay Biagini, as well as new pieces from our columnists, including Lori Donovan, Mary Boyd Ratzer, and Stony Evans. Subscribers can see the full online issue here. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for more information.

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3 thoughts on “Learning from Rock Star Librarians”

  1. Yup! Joyce Valenza was and is my main influencer & guru! Since 2005 I’ve followed her lead with all things cutting edge librarianship!

    I’m honored to be on a word cloud with her and so many other thought leaders. But the important question isn’t who are the “rock star librarians” but the fact that we all ARE or can be rock stars in our schools!

    It just takes a mind shift and choosing one thing at a time to try that makes us feel just a little bit petrified. I think never giving up and staying positive is pretty important, too!

    Thanks for this excellent article!

    @GwynethJones – The Daring Librarian
    Murray Hill Middle School

    1. This is a great article! Any way you could post the names (most are unreadable)? I want to see who I follow on Twitter and add those I don’t. Also, I would like for my school library management students to do the same. Thank you!

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