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On Librarians and Point Guards

2010 All-Army women win Armed Forces Basketball Championships - FMWRCphoto © 2010 U.S. Army | more info (via: WylioIt’s still March (barely), so I suppose it makes sense to talk basketball.

I confess that my knowledge of the game is limited to my experience watching my son Matt from the bleachers.

Here’s what I do understand. Matty has always played point guard.  He’s fast, but he was never the fastest kid on the court. He didn’t always score the most points.  Sometimes, he didn’t score points he could have scored because he was busy doing other things to make points happen.

One of my student teachers and I recently had a conversation about floor awareness.

How do you manage the space of the largest classroom in the school?

On a busy day, how do you encourage/nurture/control/coach the classes;  the study halls; the individual students who come in for help or to research, read, or produce media; the individual students who come in for study hall or lunch; the teachers who pop in spontaneously to plan (or chat or rant), the volunteers, the crises–technical, educational, and personal; the PDAs in the stacks that get a little too public or a little too affectionate; technologies that go up and down; and whatever else is going on.

It occurred to me that those busy days reminded me of the way Matt approached his game.

I found a definition and two lists relating to the duties and qualities of a point guard. According to Wikipedia,

a Point guard (PG), also called the play maker or “the ball-handler”, is one of the standard positions in a regulation basketball game . . .

. . .A true point guard’s job is to create scoring opportunities for his team. The role includes passing and running the offense: setting up plays on the court, getting the ball to the teammate that he feels is in the best position to score, and dictating the tempo of the game. This also means knowing when and how to instigate a fast break and when and how to initiate the more deliberate sets.

. . . passing skills, ball handling, and court vision are pivotal. Point guards are often evaluated more on their assist totals than on their scoring.

Randy Brown of the site, lists eight skills as necessary for great point guards in a post on the SearchWarp writers’ community:

  • Study and understand your teammates-The point guard more than anyone of the floor knows each of his teammates inside and out. He knows all roles on the team and makes it a priority to enhance each of their strengths. He knows how to put them into situations where each player can be successful. For example, a post player is instructed to post up on the blocks and not float out to the perimeter. His skills and ability will impact the team most by playing around the basket. Roles are crucial to good teams and the point guard can solidify the team unit with good leadership skills.
  • Be the coach on the floor and in the locker room-A good point guard embraces his coach’s philosophy of the game and instills it on the floor. Knowing what the coach wants and does not want is a rare trait among players. For example, it a team’s philosophy is to shoot as many three point shots as possible, the point guard needs to get the ball in the shooter’s hands in scoring areas often. If the style of play is to push the ball up the floor, then the point guard needs to organize the break, push it hard, and attack the defense. The term “coach on the floor” belongs to great point guards.
  • Earn the players trust– For a team to follow a leader, they must believe that he would do anything for them. Not only must he play extremely hard, but he can motivate teammates to do the same. Without confidence in your floor general, a team is left vulnerable.
  • Set the tone in practice-Your point guard must understand how a successful practice is run and what the goal of practice is. By serving as a model, he can set the pace for a good practice. Conversely, when a leader is not willing to give it his all, the team will suffer by having a bad practice.
  • Knowledge of each possible situation-Understanding what to do in every situations is the duty of a great point guard. He must know who is in the game and how he can set up teammates to be successful. Offensively, the game plan must be played out to perfection. Good shots, smart passes, and good screening are a must and can be dictated by the point guard. Point guards are responsible for knowing the time and score at all times, the importance of each possession, and control the tempo. He need to be aware of what is taking place and what needs to be accomplished on both ends of the floor. A good test is to watch a leader take over a game at winning time. When his team is out of time outs, the great players take over the does what it takes to win.
  • Unselfishness-Many coaches interpret this to mean the point guard should not look to score. This is not the case, especially if scoring is a strength of your point guard. Unselfishness means that he will sacrifice his game at times to find better opportunities for teammates. Great point guards always make others on the floor better because of his presence.
  • Defensive leadership-A great assist to a teammate for a layup is great, but can’t match the impact of solid defensive play. Defense wins games and by taking a charge or forcing a turnover, any player helps his team win. It is more difficult to inspire teams to play defense at times. Players love offense and tolerate defense. A great point guard can lead a team to take ownership of the defensive end of the floor.
  • Handle success and defeat in perspective-Athletic competition is a constant flow of highs and lows. Young players are often greatly affected by the outcome of games. By developing a solid point guard, you will provide your team with a peer who can keep them grounded. Winning often breeds complacency in a team and a good point guard can keep success in perspective. Conversely, a loss can be tough on a team. Good point guards are able to pick up the team with his toughness and work ethic. This characteristic is the foundation of all great point guards.

Sportswriter and coach, Kurt Johnson, lists the Characteristics of a Point Guard in Women’s Basketball in an eHow post last year:

  • Leadership: The point guard is an extension of the coach and must be the leader between the lines on the court. The ability to get teammates to follow her is key to the team’s success. A coach cannot come onto the floor to ensure that plays are executed properly, but he can rely on the point guard to lead in seeing that things flow as planned. Communication is the most critical aspect of leadership, and the point guard must be able to get messages to her teammates both verbally and non-verbally.
  • Speed and Quickness: The point guard is typically the smallest and fastest player on the floor. Because of her need to get past opposing defenders and to guard the quickest player on the other team, it is necessary that she will have good lateral quickness at minimum in addition to straight forward foot speed.
  • Good Court Vision: The point guard has to be able to see the big picture as it develops on the basketball floor. She has to have the vision and perception to see openings as they develop so that she can attack them before they disappear. Being a good point guard involves knowing where each of the other players (for both teams) are on the floor at all times, even if they are not in the direct line of sight.
  • Calmness: One of the most critical characteristics of a point guard is a sense of calm as things are flying around her. A person who is prone to panic is likely not a good candidate to play the position. As teams pressure the ball handler, she must be control her dribble and keep her wits as she looks for the right pass to keep her team headed in the right direction.
  • Unselfishness: The point guard distributes the ball first. Her responsibility is to create a good shot each time down the floor, for herself or more likely for a teammate. A good point guard knows when to dribble the ball, when to shoot, and more importantly when and where to pass the ball.
  • Good Shooter: The best point guards are able to shoot the ball with good proficiency. Since she will have the ball in her hands a lot, she will be more effective if the defense is forced to respect her ability to shoot the ball. The ability to put the ball on the floor, drive to the basket and score, or the skill to drain a jump shot makes a point guard very difficult to defend.

The point guard in basketball is like an assistant coach, but even better because she gets to go out onto the floor to play the game. As the one who has the ball in her hands more than anyone else, she is the person most capable of setting the tone for the game. The point guard is not usually the team’s leading scorer, but if she were not there, that leading scorer would have a much more difficult time getting her points.

The more I read about point guards, the more I thought the comparison makes sense.  So here’s a little remix of those lists with the focus on our own courts.
Teacher Librarian (TL) as point guard:
A  Teacher Librarian’s  job is to create learning opportunities for his or her school.  Each quarter (or block or period), and during breaks in the game, the role includes carefully watching the floor, making sure that students and teachers are in the best position to score with their instruction and learning, and dictating the tempo of the activities.
The Teacher Librarian is a coach, of both adult and students as they learn and teach.  As one who has the big-picture curricular and pedagogical ball in his/her hands, he/she is a person capable of setting the tone for the whole learning game. The Teacher Librarian may not be the team’s most noticed player, but if he/she were not there, the most visible outstanding teachers would have a much more difficult time getting their points.
How do the lists change when we move the game to the library floor?
  • Study and understand your teacher teammates-The Teacher Librarian, more than anyone of the floor, knows each of his/her teacher teammates inside and out. He/she knows their teaching styles and partners with them to design and assess instruction that will enhance each of their strengths.
  • Coach and a leader on the library floor and in the faculty room and online. A good Teacher Librarian represents the school’s learning culture (and our ISTE and AASL standards) in and outside the library facility and in all of his or her connections.  The Teacher Librarian gets all the tools for instruction and learning into the teacher or shooter’s hands.
  • Earn the teachers trust– For teachers to follow a TL, they must believe that he/she would do anything for them, especially in areas relating to intellectual freedom, new understandings relating to intellectual property, reading, research, and information and communication technologies. Not only must he/she work hard to keep up with new strategies for effective teaching and learning, he/she must also scout shifting information and communication landscapes for new effective practice in integrating technology into learning activities.  He/she can motivate teacher teammates to do the same. Without confidence in your Teacher Librarian, a faculty is left vulnerable and in danger of not moving forward.
  • Unselfishness-This does not mean that the Teacher Librarian should not him/herself look to score with his/her own instruction. Unselfishness means that he/she will work to ensure that his/her teacher and administrator teammates score. Great Teacher Librarians always make others on the floor better because of his/her presence.
  • Handle success and defeat in perspective-Learning is messy and it often is best when it involves a few risky plays. Young (as well as seasoned) teachers are often greatly affected by the positive and negative outcomes of their lessons. A solid Teacher Librarian is a peer and a partner who can help new teachers reflect on, learn from, and improve their game.
  • Speed and Quickness: The Teacher Librarian may not be the most athletic player on the teaching team, but he/she must be fast, because of the continual and varied action on the floor. The Teacher Librarian must quickly shift attention and position to move to wherever the play is happening. (Pointers do not usually make good TLs. Good TLs get up and move!)
  • Good Court Vision: The effective TL has to be able to see the big picture as it develops on the library floor. He/she has to have the vision and perception to see learning opportunities as they develop and encourage and coach them.  He/she also needs to perceive issues before they become learning disruptions.  Being a good teacher librarian involves knowing where each of the students and teachers are on the floor at all times, even if they are not in the direct line of sight. This court vision extends to awareness of equipment, furniture, cables, media, and anything that falls under the big notion of collection. He/she can make a impressive difference even when he/she is behind the three-point line.
  • Calmness: One of the most critical characteristics of a Teacher Librarian is a sense of calm as things are flying around him/her.  The position requires a player who does not panic under pressure.  When teachers and students and equipment all require crisis-type attention at the same time, the TL must be able to control his/her dribble and keep her wits as she initiates triage and ensures that learning activities head a positive direction.
  • Good Teacher: The best TLs are able to shoot the ball with proficiency, that is, they are players/teacher themselves.  He/she sets the instructional tone and controls its energy.  He/she must be able to effectively deliver on the floor, to score with meaningful and sticky instruction.
Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. What a fantastic comparison! It is all so true. It would be great to share with administrators who understand sports.

  2. Anna Watkins says

    Good analogy, plus great info for budding point guards!

    I once compared the school librarian position to that of an air traffic controller, with similar points. I don’t drive the plane, I just help it get where it’s going. Individual clients are going in their own individual ways, and need help with direction, destination, focus and getting off the ground. Often they need to check in to make sure they’re on the right track. Many times, I don’t know if the client got to the destination, but sometimes they do come back around and land with me too.

  3. Awesome post! Great analogy even for non sports aficionados (me) and so much quality info/advice. Thanks!

  4. Debra Gottsleben says

    Joyce this was a great comparison especially as we are in the midst of March Madness! Great points (no pun intended) that I’m sure all of us can put into play! Just can’t stop with the basketball analogies.

  5. Rebecca Bennett says

    Score! Perfect analagy with a great tie in to March Madness. In the world of school library media, we have our own sort of March Madness, don’t we? Your analagy is one that will definately stick with me!

  6. Growing up in Cincinnati I got to watch Oscar Robertson in his prime and Bob Cousy when he came out of retirement to serve as a player-coach…and nowadays I get Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm. Your basketball analogy rings true in the ears of this librarian. Let’s cheer for the assists and the team players who make everyone play better.

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