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On Librarians and Point Guards

It’s March, so I suppose it makes sense to talk basketball. And I thought it might be just the right time to reimagine a post I wrote several years back.

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 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. Those things involved scouting for and creating opportunities, getting others involved and setting them up for success. He anticipated possible situations. He earned the trust of his teammates. He studied and understood their strengths and knew how to enhance them. He knew the floor. (He had good court vision.) He communicated. He led.

A little while back I had a conversation with a student teacher about the importance of floor awareness.

How do you manage the space of the largest classroom in the school? In this case, the floor had formerly been a gym.

On a busy day, how do you encourage/control/coach the classes; the individual students who come in for help or to research, read, or to 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; occasional 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.

According to Wikipedia,

A point guard has perhaps the most specialized role of any position. Point guards are expected to run the team’s offense by controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right player at the right time. Above all, the point guard must understand and accept their coach’s game plan . . . They must also be able to adapt to what the defense is allowing and must control the pace of the game . . .

Their primary job is to facilitate scoring opportunities for their team, or sometimes for themselves. Lee Rose has described a point guard as a coach on the floor, who can handle and distribute the ball to teammates. This involves setting up plays on the court, getting the ball to the teammate in the best position to score, and controlling the tempo of the game. . .

Passing skills, ball handling, and court vision are crucial . . . guards are often valued more for their assist totals than for their scoring.

The more I read about point guards, the more I think the comparison makes sense. So here’s a little remix of those lists I discovered with the focus on our own courts.

How do the lists change when we move the game to the library floor?

Create opportunities: A  librarian’s  job is to create learning opportunities. 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.

Study and understand your teacher teammates: More than anyone else on the floor, the librarian knows each of their teacher teammates inside and out. They know their teaching styles and partner with them to design and assess instruction that will enhance each of their strengths.

Earn your teammates’ trust: For teachers to follow a librarian, 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 integrating information and communication technologies. Not only must the librarian work hard to keep up with new strategies for effective teaching and learning, they must also scout shifting information and communication landscapes for new effective practice in integrating technology into learning activities.  They can motivate classroom teacher teammates to do the same. Without confidence in your librarian, a faculty is left vulnerable and in danger of not moving forward on the court to score.

Be unselfish: This does not mean that the librarian should not themselves look to score. They know when to dribble, when to shoot, and importantly, when to pass. They work to ensure that other teachers and administrator teammates score consistently. Great librarians always make others on the floor better because of their presence. (See Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy.)

Handle success and defeat in perspective: Learning is messy and it is often 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 librarian is a partner who helps classroom teachers innovate by sharing the risk always involved in new plays and by collaboratively reflecting on and learning from them to improve their game.

Develop speed and agility: The librarian may not be the most athletic player on the teaching team, but they must be agile, because of the continual and varied action on the floor. The librarian quickly shifts attention and position to move to wherever the play is happening. (Pointers do not usually make good librarians. Good librarians get up and move toward the action!)

Hone good court vision: The effective librarian has to be able to see the big picture as it develops on the library floor as well as on its virtual space. They see a far larger court where other players network to learn. They connect and they have to have the vision and perception to see learning opportunities as they emerge. They also perceive issues before they become learning disruptions. Being a 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. The librarian can make a impressive difference even when they are behind the three-point line.

Keep calm: One of the most critical characteristics of a librarian is a sense of calm as things are flying around them. The position requires a player who does not panic under pressure. When teachers and students and equipment all require crisis-level attention at the same time, the librarian must be able to control their dribble and keep their wits as they initiates triage and ensure that learning activities head a positive direction.

Teach like a pro: The best librarians are able to shoot the ball with proficiency, that is, they are model players/teachers themselves. They must be able to effectively deliver on the floor.  They set the tone for learning, energy and engagement. 

Coach and lead: Whether on the library floor and in the faculty room and online, an effective librarian represents the school’s learning culture, its mission, vision and improvement plan in and outside the library facility. The librarian gets all the tools for instruction and learning into the teacher or the shooter’s hands. By aligning with school and district vision, and as one who has the big-picture curricular and pedagogical ball in their hands, librarians are capable of setting the tone for growth.

The librarian may not be the team’s most noticed player, but if they were not there, the most visible outstanding teachers may be less likely to take the necessary risks and many learners might not have the opportunities to get the ball.

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. How awesome, Joyce. My nephew is about to enter the Big Ten tournament and hopefully the NCAA. I often send him quotes of inspiration, but I just may send him your article, as it’s so relevant to life too. Thanks for always asking us to lead with integrity and purpose. As TLs, we are often one of few people in the building who actually has a barometer on each and every person who walks through our doors. I love my job because I get to see all the great things in all my patrons.

  2. I love this comparison! Librarians definitely need to be able to see the big picture! We try to incorporate all of these principles in our libraries in the AMPHI school district!

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