Forward, for glory! Writing a library mission statement

If you ask the average person on the street what the first thing is that you need to make a library, four out of five will say, “books.” (The fifth will be watching Vines of cats trying to land on slippery surfaces and will be too distracted to answer.) (This person needs to work on their information literacy—which we will cover in a later entry—and also their social skills, which their mother should have covered for them before they got out of diapers.) But lo, my would-be librarian chums! “Books” makes a very fine bookshelf. A library has a mission.

As you develop your collection, consider: what are your goals? To what silent drumbeat does your program march? You’ve decided you want to get kids books. But why? What greater cause?

This is the number one thing that I love about the librarian profession: there is a greater cause. It’s easy for the Muggles to simplify the role of the librarian to “the lady who checks out books and says ‘shh.’”* Dear public, I will let you in on a secret: if your librarian is worth her salt, she is a crusader. She is not getting you books. She is promoting your informational literacy and sallying forth in defense of your intellectual freedom. She is defending your right to know anything that you want to know and to be able to do anything that you want to do.** Beneath that cardigan sweater beats a heart that is fiercely, relentlessly dedicated to the service of making mankind as great and smart and able as it possibly can be. (And we don’t say shh anymore, either.)

Obviously a stunt double; real librarians scorn such impractical footwear. (image credit: librarian.net)
Obviously a stunt double; real librarians scorn such impractical footwear. (image credit: librarian.net)

And so! Your library has a mission. Of course it does. You are creating an institution of education, or entertainment, or empowerment, or some combination of the three simply by being in a position of giving information to other humans. This is all about determining how you will shape it.

prometheus

When Prometheus brought fire to humanity, his intention could have been for people to cook, or to create elaborate circus arts, or to set each other on fire. Did he have a mission statement? No, and he was chained to a rock with vultures shredding his intestines for all eternity. Don’t be like Prometheus. (image credit: ancient.eu)

Your mission statement can be as humble or glorious as you choose. But if you’re bringing information to young people, do us all a favor and shoot for glory.

In creating my mission statement for the Skybrary, I focused on a few of the school’s founding principles: literacy, education, and love of learning. It’s a school library, so I want its collection and activities to work powerfully in conjunction with the courses offered—to use that (exhausted, but true) 2000s-era buzzword, to promote synergy with the school curriculum. So, education had to be first and foremost in the mission.

I also want the library to help students be better at navigating the sea of information in which they are, increasingly, wading all of the time. It’s not productive to wring our hands about “kids these days and the internet”—as providers of information, it’s our duty to help them powerfully and effectively sort the good information from the misleading. So “information literacy” went into the mission-mix.

Finally—and I understand that different institutions have different goals here—I want to create a culture in which reading is fun, vibrant and gorgeous. This betrays my inner-child librarian more than any other topic discussed here today: I’ve always loved reading; I think it makes people smarter and more articulate, allows them to explore their real world and their emotional landscape in a safe space, and gives them the language to connect with others over what they encounter there. So a rich reading culture was an integral part of the mission statement as well. (And this, as you’ll see in the collection development policy, means a library containing lots of fun and entertaining books—if a child learns to love reading by reading graphic novels, they may be, someday, intrinsically motivated to pick up those celebrated classics that you once couldn’t have paid them to read.)

Finally, who is your library supporting? Is it just the students? If not, who else? The faculty? The parents? The broader community? Consider what this looks like for you. Because of our space (limited) and our location (pretty rural, with no real walk-up community access), the Skybrary supports primarily the students, but also, where it can, the teachers (including resources on teaching and professional development).

And so, after all of that hand-waving and general high-falutin’, I bring you, dear ones, the mission of the Skybrary:

The mission of the Skybridge Academy Library is to support the education, build information literacy, and promote a vibrant reading culture for the students and staff of Skybridge Academy.

Simple, right? Short, sweet, says everything I want to say in a sentence. Some mission statements run longer (there are great examples compiled here), but that’s not necessary, especially if you’ve got other supporting documentation (library philosophy, collection development policy, etc).

Coming up with your own mission? Consider the mission and goals of your school or institution. Let me know what you include, and be glorious.

*If we are lucky, perhaps also “sexy librarian.” Not because objectification is particularly lucky, but because whew, at least we get the multidimensionality of more than one stereotype. What do dentists ever get? I ask you.

** Don’t even get me started on how archivists make history

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Meet the School: Skybridge Academy

Skybridge Academy is a small, liberal arts private school nestled in the hill country outside of Austin, Texas. The student body is composed of roughly 50 students from grades 6-12, with a staff of eleven. Meant to serve as a respite from public education, the school day is filled with beauty, creativity, intellectual engagement and play. The class sizes are small. There are no grades.

stop motion student

Full disclosure: I worked as an English teacher and the codirector of the language arts department at Skybridge for two years before stepping down to pursue my MLIS full-time.* In that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes and developments in the school, pushing it in really exciting directions. We added a school farm, a theater program, a Maker class. Like in many start-ups, the last few years (the school has been open for four) have been a steady learning process—what the school needs, what it doesn’t need, what can make it great. And now, at the beginning of year five, one of those somethings is a library.

The full—quite long–vision statement of the school can be found here. It espouses “taking initiative,” “high levels of literacy” and “student-centered learning.” Obviously, fertile ground for a library program. Obviously, also, traits to consider in crafting the Skybrary’s mission statement, a task easier said than done, and which I’ll tackle (in surely the least enthralling cliffhanger ever) in tomorrow’s post.

skybridge logo

*I feel obliged to add here that I received no payment for this project, working purely for course credit from the university. Additionally, I still teach a handful of creative writing electives at the school. Having a shared professional history with the staff and administration granted us a wonderful working relationship this summer, but having been an English teach in a school is definitely not a requisite for starting a library. You can build these relationships through your work and passion as you plan and create your library.