Unleashing Your Inner Rock Star: Advice and Tips from Award-Winning Librarians


Whether you are a new school librarian or a veteran, chances are you have admired the success of library superstars like Andy Plemmons, Gwyneth Jones, and Jennifer LaGarde. These three school librarians are awesome in their own right. They are leaders, authors, consultants, and keynote speakers many times over. Andy (@plemmonsa) is the 2017 AASL Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice award winner, a Library Journal Mover and Shaker award recipient for community building, and was named a Library Journal Librarian of the Year finalist. Gwyneth (@GwynethJones) is one of Library Journal’s Top 50 Movers and Shakers, was named a Teacher Librarian Magazine Visionary Leader and is on the ISTE Board of Directors. Jennifer (@jenniferlagarde) is a winner of Library Journal’s Mover and Shaker award for advocacy and she is also a recipient of the “I Love My Librarian” award sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, the New York Public Library, The New York Times, and the American Library Association.

Growing and Leading

Andy attributes a good part of his success to being a lifelong learner. Early in Andy’s career, Professor Mary Ann Fitzgerald encouraged him to develop an action plan for continuous learning and staying current once graduate school ended. Through professional conferences, blog and podcast subscriptions, and following various peers on social media, Andy quickly understood the power of a solid, professional learning network. His peers pushed him to try new things; and although moving outside your comfort zone can be a little unnerving, ultimately it will take you to new heights.

Gwyneth is a big believer in working smart, being reliable and reflective, and never making a promise she can’t keep. She takes great pride in her work and is not afraid to reevaluate failures, while graciously accepting and finding ways to work around them. Gwyneth attributes her success to having been mentored by the likes of Doug Johnson, Dr. Joyce Valenza, and Julie Wray, and she continues to lead by paying it forward and mentoring others like Tiffany Whitehead and Jennifer LaGarde. As you learn and grow, you bring others along and build your tribe. A professional learning network is only as good as what people put into it. As you contribute more, you also get more out of it.

Crafting Your Brand

Jennifer LaGarde, AKA Library Girl, has always been a comic and superhero fan, thus “library girl” became her pen name. Freshly out of graduate school, Jennifer reacted to a social media post about libraries being outdated. She became obsessed and made it her mission to actively “save libraries” by sharing her voice, consistently blogging and posting her thoughts and work. Through such advocacy, Jennifer has not only helped to make school libraries vibrant and relevant, but she has crafted her brand. Her brand came about more as a project of modeling her “why,” regardless of any income or marketing potential. Jennifer believes in authenticity and does not allow “library girl” to be associated with anything she doesn’t believe in. When you know your “why” and what your library programming stands for, you are able to build collaborative partnerships that advocate for the school library and create stakeholders who are more thoroughly invested.

Similarly, Andy never really set out to brand his work. He unintentionally developed his brand when he empowered students by always listening and giving them choices and a voice to explore their interests. He believes in letting your work come about naturally and sticking to what you believe in. Andy is a big advocate for providing scholars a platform to display their work beyond the school’s walls, which ultimately amplifies student voice. Additionally, readers truly identify with him since he not only blogs about the good things happening in his library but also details when things go horribly wrong. He takes that as a learning experience. By understanding the importance of failure, you can grow further and faster than from success. Failure gives you the opportunities to problem solve and think more critically.

Interestingly, Andy readily admits, “I always wanted a catchy name for my library or a creative blog title, but I just didn’t have it at first and I didn’t want to force it. One day, I was reading Flora & Ulysses and I came across a quote about expecting the miraculous even when it’s not there.  It really resonated with me and became a phrase that reminds me to always look for the miraculous things happening around me even when it seems like things are going wrong.”

The Daring Librarian believes “branding” is an over-rated word. She suggests determining your professional mission and what your library represents. Her advice is to “craft your message” in a 30-second elevator speech. When you consider what is important to you, what your library stands for and the focus of its programming, then your work will speak for itself. Gwyneth’s reply when asked what makes her so daring? Well, she is “a daring defender of life-long reading, technology, transliteracy, innovative learning, and goofballs and geeks everywhere!” Gwyneth recommends sharing all the innovative practices and learning transpiring in the library on social media so that the profession, as a whole, can benefit. While it is fine to take pride in your work and to want to be successful, she suggests you stay 90% student focused. Always make it about the kids and the learning community.

Advice to Others

“Remember you can’t do everything all the time,” Andy advises. He often wrestles with different projects and ideas and is not afraid to drop things along the way if it becomes too overwhelming. Andy strongly suggests going easy by selecting a few things to experiment with at a time. Develop a professional network and use social media to share your success and learning, as well as your trials and tribulations.

Gwyneth tells new librarians that if someone stops you in the hall, tell them to shoot you an email or write down their request on the clipboard at her desk so nothing is forgotten. She also recommends trying one thing at a time and mastering it, so you don’t feel overwhelmed and burn out. Gwyneth states, “Once you master the foundation of the job, then you can add the sizzle.”

In every opportunity presented to Jennifer, in every choice she makes, Jennifer always asks herself if it connects to her “why.” She constantly advises others to remember why you got into the profession to begin with. Jennifer states, “If you stay true to your why, not only will you not lose your way, but chances are, lots of other people will find their way to you as well.” Focusing on what matters to the bigger picture and the learning community will not only help you make great strides, but will also build up your PLN along the way. When one shines, we all shine.

In conclusion, while it is helpful and encouraging to look toward others for guidance and ideas, be your own inspiration and motivation. Don’t get intimidated or overwhelmed by what others are doing. Start small and build a strong foundation. Use social media to share what your scholars are learning, implementing, and innovating in the school library. Develop your professional learning network so you can share your best practices as you start to give back to the profession and mentor others. You’ve got this. Unleash the inner rock star within!

About the Author

Tracey Wong is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Regional Lead and a Transliteracy Specialist with the Blind Brook School District in Rye Brook, NY. For more information on her library and programming, please visit traceywong.weebly.com.

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