Hello all! I am currently in Las Cruces for the New Mexico Library Association’s Mini Conference. As weird as it sounds I am SO excited to be here. What librarian wouldn’t want a chance to meet up with fellow nerds? And my school/district was generous enough to pay for it! I’m looking forward to a few days of learning to be a better librarian and sharing some of my own wisdom from this past year.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on my first year as a librarian and it just continues to amaze me how much you can learn in a year. Each school year brings new challenges and opportunities and this year was definitely no exception. Every May I look back and think, “I should have done that.” Thankfully there are also things I look back on and can say worked well and will be continued into the next year. So this post will hopefully share some wisdom to help you make it through your first (or 25th!) year of being a librarian.
*As a side note, I think some of this is also applicable in the general education classroom. So hopefully some of my teacher friends can get something out of this as well!
1. Do it. Do it now.
You know exactly what I am talking about. The Panda book that you noticed in the Greek mythology section as you were shelving. The fine that a kid turned in this morning that you forgot to process while they were in class. For my teacher friends, the grading that you see sitting on your desk that you could knock out in ten minutes. It’s easy to see things like this and think, “I’ll do it later.” Then later comes and your bookshelves are a mess or there are now 5 assignments to grade or you find that fine under your lesson plan book a few days later. The more proactive you are in dealing with these small items, the easier life will be for you. And the less likely it will be that you stay an hour after school dealing with these “small” tasks!
2. Shelve every day.
This is a lesson I have learned the hard way. If you can get assistance from parents then you are a rock star. If you have an EA or Library Assistant to help you, God bless your administrator. As an elementary librarian I teach five, sometimes six classes a day and only get 50 minutes on normal days for planning and shelving. I have a grandmother of a student that comes in occasionally, and those days I am so relieved! It is incredibly easy for the shelving to become overwhelming when you have over 750 students. Find times where you can do small amounts throughout the day. I try to shelve a bit between classes so that it doesn’t get out of control. Now that I am more familiar with my library I am MUCH faster. Make it a goal to shelve at least 15-20 minutes a day and things should stay manageable.
3. Self check out is a lifesaver!
I was skeptical about having students check out their own books. After only 3 weeks of first graders pulling on my sleeve to get help finding a book or check out the one they found I HAD to find something to help the chaos. I started with my 3rd-5th graders first and taught them all how to check out on their own. (Another post on this process later.) For the first month or so I stood by the computer watching students check out to make sure people knew the process. I noticed by the 3rd or 4th time any students that didn’t know what they were doing were automatically corrected by their peers. At the beginning of our second semester I taught 1st and 2nd grade how to check out their books. Even my first graders caught on quickly! You will lose a few books in the process (this was mentioned by several posts I read) but for me the payoff was worth it. Now I am able to manage student behavior when necessary and help students find materials they want. For next year I would like to teach second grade from the start and teach first grade after the first 12 weeks. I’ll also have an “assistant librarian” each week to watch students and make sure they do it correctly.
4. You can’t please everyone.
This is one I have to learn over and over again. There will always be someone unhappy with a decision you make. I had a teacher in the beginning of the year that was not happy with the number of books I was letting the students check out. When that happens, just remember to pick your battles. Begin by explaining your decision to the teacher (or parent) and why it will benefit the students. If they continue to press the issue you will need to decide if it is worth fighting over. I chose to alter the limit for those students to suit the teacher’s preference. For me it wasn’t worth being at odds with my coworker. The kids were upset at first, but they got over it and haven’t mentioned it since. Just adjust accordingly or stick to your guns if necessary.
5. Routine and procedures are key.
This is a lesson I quickly learned in the general education classroom and my assistant principal mentioned it when she came in to do my observation this year. For library teachers it is extremely important because we only see the kids once a week (at best). If you have routines in your library, this prevents any wasted time. My students file in the library the same way every time, do checkout the same way every time, and do centers after checking out EVERY TIME. It is especially helpful for students at our school in the special education program. We have a program at our school for students with emotional diagnoses and any change can trigger an outburst. My routines help students be set for success and know my expectations. They know what to expect and it helps alleviate any anxiety or behavior issues.
6. Be an advocate for teachers.
When I moved to the library I wanted to make sure to remember the perspective I had as a teacher. Teachers and librarians (or other school support positions) can often bump heads because we don’t know much about each other’s jobs. During parent teacher conferences several teachers mentioned how nice it would be to “have two days off”. Many were surprised to realize that I do a lot of work on those days, including going through my collection of almost 4,000 books to make sure they were in order and find any books that were marked as lost. (This took up an entire day.) I feel like this is a common theme in our world today. We like to think we know what someone’s life or job are like, but often our picture of them is so far from the truth. As a librarian I try to advocate for my teachers and support them as much as possible. I track behavior in case they need information on a child for Student Assistance Team meetings. I supply resources and offered a training this year on our eBooks and database. I even send out occasional newsletters with specific lesson ideas involving skills I know they are working on or books I have just gotten into the library. As a result I have had some teachers become an advocate for me, letting others know what I’ve done to help them. This has really helped me gain trust with teachers so that we can work together.
I will be posting some information on the end of Genius Hour tomorrow after my presentation. Until then, happy reading!