This summer, while attending a Library of Congress program, I met Rachel Goldberg, a middle school librarian about to begin her second year in the profession. I was impressed by her passion and enthusiasm and I asked her to share in a post something I can no longer myself share–the TL experience from the lens of a young practitioner.
Rachel describes the powerful learning that can happen when you accept what I’ve always called, imposter syndrome:
Last week, I had approximately thirty sixth graders in the library for their first orientation. After I finished the tour portion, I let them explore on their own. I was standing in the nonfiction section with several students and one asked for a book on bearded dragons.
“Sure,” I quickly replied and walked toward the frequently-requested creepy crawly animal books. I’m a second-year middle school librarian, after all, you’d better believe I know where to find books about snakes! I handed him an Eyewitness Reptiles book and moved on the the next request. A few moments later, the same young reader came up and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Um, Mrs. Goldberg, I don’t want to be rude, but I asked you for a book about bearded dragons and you gave me a book on reptiles. Bearded dragons are, like, definitely amphibians.”
If this had happened during the second week of school last year, I probably would have claimed to have known that of course, bearded dragons were amphibians, I am so sorry! I thought the book I gave you was about reptiles and amphibians! Here, try this one instead. Or these three. Watch me as I inundate you with the entire 590 section in an effort to cover up my lack of knowledge… of amphibians. Or reptiles. Whatever.
The point is that I would have been mortified to have been proven incorrect by a student.
That evening, while I ate dinner in front of the computer as I caught up on edublogs and journals and book reviews (as is my nightly routine), I would have also been worrying about the student who undoubtedly left the library to tell his friends about their useless librarian who couldn’t even find the right book about bearded dragons.
Last year, I spent an embarrassing amount of time worrying about my lack of expertise in any number of subjects. When a colleague asked me about a website that her friend mentioned, I got anxious because I thought that if I wasn’t the building website expert who knew about absolutely every single potentially useful website, then teachers might not continue to come to me with questions. If a language arts teacher knew about a new Rick Riordan book before I did, I pretended to know until I could get to a computer–in private, of course–and Google it.
This might sound silly to you (although if you’re anything like the other perfection-oriented school librarians I know, it doesn’t sound silly at all), but I genuinely spent most of last year trying to be an expert in everything.
Part of me always knew that while it’s good to know a lot (and as far as potentially useful websites for teachers, for example, I’d like to think that I do), it’s not possible to be The Expert.
But the other part of me, the librarians-need-to-prove-themselves-indispensable and know everything and do everything and make sure everyone knows how much you know and how much you do… well, that part wanted me to be an expert in everything all the time.
Not only is it not physically or intellectually possible for me to know everything there is to know about print and electronic resources for my entire, 800+ member school community, but I’m starting to understand that knowing everything is not a desirable quality in an educator, either.
Over the course of this past year, I have become significantly more comfortable as a learner. I know that each day, I learn exponentially more about hundreds of topics, from bearded dragons to understanding by design, and not only is it okay if my peers and my students know that I am still learning, but I’m modeling the exact skill I want to teach them!
In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I am lucky enough to work in a school where the teachers genuinely value both the resources provided by the physical library and the resources provided by me. I collaborate with dozens of them on a regular basis and I am a highly visible, take-the-library-to-the-people kind of teacher.
In other words, I know that I am fortunate to work in a place where I don’t have to prove how fundamental the library is or what a good resource the librarian can be.
Now, to be fair, it was not always library utopia and it is definitely still a work in progress. But I learned how to be a school librarian from forward-thinking teacher librarians who understood the necessity of advocacy and school leadership. I am an extremely vocal, extremely visible library advocate and leader in my building. I also happen to work with great people. That helps, too.
This being said, while I’m learning that I do not (and should not) be an expert in everything, I do need to be an expert in several arenas.
I need to be an expert in flexibility, creativity, and open-mindedness. I will be an expert learner. I will model inquiry-based learning for both the teachers and the students in my community. I will to show them that while it is unreasonable to try to know everything, we should all be expert question-askers and information-seekers.
I will probably never know as much about amphibians as some of my sixth grade students and now, as a wise, old, second-year school librarian, I can admit that I’m just fine with that.
Let’s keep an eye on and out for Rachel.