The 7 Habits of Highly Impactful Librarians

During my 15-year tenure at both Library Journal and School Library Journal, I had the good fortune to meet the most dynamic and successful librarians in every possible domain, ranging from academe to the corporate world, from municipal government to K–12. During this time, a compelling pattern came to me in sharp relief: All of the most creative and effective librarians that I had ever come across shared the same qualities. When I examined their respective “road maps” to success, they deployed all of the same core principles. 

The masterful use of these key principles yielded a singular and extraordinarily salient outcome: impact. These leaders produced demonstrable impact that they could clearly and compellingly articulate to decision-makers. 

In celebration of National Library Week (April 10–16), below is a round-up of these key principals—the “7 Habits of Highly Impactful Librarians”—with resources and recommendations for librarians to implement these habits themselves.

These seven habits represent effective and proven strategies that are rooted in research and evidence-based practice. They are designed to help librarians revise and improve how they impact learners, and they ensure that school libraries are woven into the instructional fabric of schools. 

Habit #1: Build strong and trusting relationships

Highly impactful librarians know that relationships are critical to secure buy-in from their school administrators. They understand what keeps district administrators up at night, learn the district’s specific strategic goals, and know how their work fits into those goals.

How you can do this:

  • Consistently present district administrators with the variety of ways you and your library can integrate college and career readiness skills, integrate information technology skills into curriculum, and plan and deliver PD, especially technology-based.
  • Collaborate in planning and developing curriculum and assessment

Habit #2: Speak the language of school leadership

Highly impactful librarians know that they must be great at clearly communicating their vision for the library in the context of the district’s learning objectives and strategic plan. District leaders need to understand how their goals for the library support the larger goals of the district.

How you can do this:

  • Know that the majority of school leadership administrators are focused on five key areas. These include: Equitable access for all students, creating a culture of reading, ensuring students are college and career ready, etc.
  • Be aware of what is happening at the district level and be actively involved in the formation and communication of the district’s strategic plan and mission. Try to regularly visit the school’s website, attend BOE meetings, or collaborate with principals on specific goals.

Habit #3: Be the gatekeeper and curator of all digital content

Highly impactful librarians know that they are distinctly qualified to evaluate, curate and distribute digital content that best supports instruction. They must remain at the nexus of digital content, programs and technology and use their media literacy skills to best determine what type of content is most appropriate for students and teachers.

How you can do this:

  • Compose, create and distribute high-quality digital content clusters called Text Sets.
  • Strengthen digital reading stamina by driving students to more Volume Reading versus only Close Reading in order to build knowledge via Text Sets.
  • Establish an awareness of and protocol for determining accuracy and validity of online content.

Habit #4: Be the champion and CEO of independent reading

Highly impactful librarians understand the power of choice in driving reading motivation and ultimately improvement and growth. Research shows that avid readers demonstrate both superior literacy development and wide-ranging knowledge across subjects (Allington, 2012; Hiebert & Reutzel, 2010; Sullivan & Brown, 2013).

How you can do this:

  • Establish a school- or district-wide plan to create and grow an “avid reading culture” in your district.
  • Launch a summer reading initiative that emphasizes choice as well as incentives to drive increased enthusiasm and excitement around reading.
  • Create literacy events that encourage family participation, reinforcing to parents the importance of reading and having books in the home. 

Habit #5: Adopt an evidence-based practice in everything you do

Highly impactful librarians know that data and analysis are indispensable tools that substantiate their work and help obtain buy-in from school- or district-level leadership. By implementing an evidence-based practice, they can evaluate and demonstrate student progress and make a case for allocating necessary funds and resources.

How you can do this:

  • Leverage prevailing research (such as School Libraries Work!) that correlates strong and effective school library programs to an improvement in reading scores among students.
  • Analyze your program and determine what it needs, as well as the desired objective.
  • Determine the evidence that will resonate with your desired audience, and connect to your objective.
  • Collect, analyze and synthesize data to act as evidence.
  • Package and deliver the data as the core of your message.

(Reference: Say It with Data: A Concise Guide to Making Your Case and Getting Results by Priscille Dando, ALA Editions 2014)

Habit #6: Be a teacher-librarian with a constructivist approach based on inquiry

Highly impactful librarians tie reading to research to strengthen achievement.Research is the search for answers, and this inquiry-based approach allows students to test and re-test their hypotheses. By infusing inquiry into daily practice and instruction, students can hone their ability to respond to questions with evidence.

How you can do this:

  • Model and teach good research skills, which support the inquiry process.
  • Use reading, read-alouds, and primary sources as a “springboard to research.”
  • Curiosity, wonder, questioning and the goal to “dig deeper” all play a vital role in fostering inquiry.

Habit #7: Be the orchestrator of your school or district’s makerspace initiative

Highly impactful librarians know that the growing trend of makerspaces perfectly blends a constructivist approach to inquiry with problem-based learning and literacy—all core competencies for the dynamic school librarian. Librarians have an unprecedented opportunity to tie together literacy, inquiry and STEM by housing their makerspaces in the school library. Data shows that makerspaces have a positive impact on student engagement through hands-on learning.

How you can do this:

  • Find a program from which you can glean ideas for your makerspace.
  • Check out The Disruption Department to learn more about how one district is evolving its makerspace initiative through the Design Thinking Process, which helps educators and students assess their “maker activity.” 


Are you a librarian? In the comments, share some of your best strategies for success!