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The Entrepreneurial Librarian

The Entrepreneurial Librarian
Head for the Edge, January/February 2013



Doug Johnson <doug0077@gmail.com>

ENTREPRENEUR: one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise <m-w.com>

When reading the comics, I often wonder how Dagwood, Beetle Bailey, and Dibert’s co-worker Wally stay employed. Aren’t slackers an anachronism in today’s high-productivity and high-unemployment economy? Nor is it just the lazy who risk losing a paycheck; it’s also those whose positions have become irrelevant due to changes in the technologies, in the economies, and in the missions of their organizations. Even people who work very hard, but are doing things deemed unimportant to the success of their employer, are being shown the door.

One of the terms that is getting a lot of play in educational circles is entrepreneurship. When applied to business, as the definition above suggests, the entrepreneur starts a new enterprise, accepting the risk and responsibilities that accompany it. In education, it is used to describe private individuals or groups offering new, often commercial, systems of learning - charter schools, for-profit schools, or online schools.

But increasingly, the concepts of entrepreneurship are being used by individuals within traditional schools trying new educational approaches - ones that will keep them from becoming obsolete.  For librarians, I’d define entrepreneurship as actively searching for unfilled needs in a school and helping meet them, adding value to one’s position in the organization.

My sense is that good librarians have always had an entrepreneurial streak. The librarians in our district have become webmasters, network managers, book fair organizers, online teaching materials selectors, volunteer coordinators, and PTO liaisons - none of which are really traditional “library” jobs, but all which are appreciated - and essential. In July 2012, members of the LM_Net mailing list shared their entrepreneurial tasks. Some of them included

Literature and reading related jobs of

  • Book fair and book swap organizer for their schools, helping students build personal collections
  • Reading tutor for students with special needs
  • Organizer of building-wide reading promotions and contests that build enthusiasm for reading
  • One book/one community organizers, often working in collaboration with public librarians or other community groups
  • Annual literacy night sponsor for those whose districts host such events

Technology related jobs of

  • School webmaster, organizing and troubleshooting the content of other staff members
  • Building based technology contact - answering software and technical questions, organizing, maintaining, creating, and disseminating “how-to” instruction sheets for various programs
  • “Flipped classroom” and online learning support provider for programs like Moodle and Edmodo
  • Distance learning coordinator for students who use instructional television or online courses to supplement their face-to-face classes
  • Videographer of school programs and events: shooting, editing and distributing these films
  • Technology committee member, leading school efforts in making good policies, budgets and plans.
  • Technology fair organizer and host, helping showcase student work

School-community-related jobs of

  • Building parent-teacher association liaison
  • Building public relations director working with local media outlets on school stories
  • School newsletter editor
  • School news video program director, assisting students in producing a regular newscast
  • Organizer of information for parents and community about school’s extracurricular offerings
  • School blogger, school Tweeter, and school Facebook page author

And other important jobs of

  • Career guidance support provider including “career of the month presentation” organizer
  • Ongoing SAT preparation hosted in the library
  • Advisory program homeroom teacher
  • Special events/programs planner including campus-wide celebrations
  • School grant writer
  • Fall school picture day organizer
  • School yearbook sponsor
  • Field trip chaperone
  • Chief information officer (CIO) to principal and staff
  • Professional development coordinator, arranging training for staff by experts
  • Academic teams advisor
  • Skype and virtual field trip facilitator
  • Database expert for needed building record keeping functions
  • Textbook manager
  • Credit recovery teacher

An effective entrepreneur finds ways to learn about building needs by serving on building leadership teams, listening carefully to staff members during lunch, and attending all faculty meetings. An effective entrepreneur recognizes his/her personal talents when selecting project on which to work. An effective entrepreneur accepts and even relishes the risks and unknowns of trying new ways to help staff and students.

College library Andy Burkhardt suggests “human systems grow in the direction of their persistent questions” <http://tinyurl.com/burkhardtrq>.  He warns librarians that by asking “How can libraries avoid obsolescence?”, we are focusing on our fears, rather than providing value. Instead, we should be asking  “How can we create amazing experiences everyday for our users?” and “How can we make our libraries invaluable and irreplaceable in our communities?”

Amazing, invaluable and irreplaceable librarians are those who are entrepreneurial - willing to step outside the roles prescribed to us by professional standards, personal histories, and social norms. Instead of asking “How do I improve my library?”, those librarians are asking “How do I improve my school by employing my skills wherever they are needed.”

Ban the phrase “But that’s not my job,” from your thoughts.





Most of these columns, updated and edited, can be found in my book School Libraries Head for the Edge. Buy it and I might be able to afford a nicer nursing home one day. Thank you.

Posted on Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 10:58AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson | Comments Off

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