I'm not sure when it was decided that school libraries no longer needed library assistants. I think in some areas, it's a budget issue. In others, money got reallocated to other programs (probably more directly related to testing). Some people might even say that librarians are lucky to have jobs at all with all the budget cuts around the nation, so we shouldn't complain about a lack of library assistants. I agree with that to a point, but if you've been on my site long, you know I feel that school libraries are critical for 21st Century learning. With that in mind, I can tell you that it's very difficult to do my job the way it should be done without an assistant.
If you have a library assistant, be thankful. A few of the larger schools in my district have them, and I have to say I'm just a little jealous. Just having someone available to correctly shelve my unending supply of returned books would make my life a lot easier. If I had a library assistant, I would be able to spend more time planning and implementing reading incentive programs and less time updating bulletin boards, changing letters on the outdoor sign, and many of the other labor intensive tasks that take up most of the rare moments when I don't have classes. I might actually have time to plan activities for my classes during the school day instead of at home. Not that I'm bitter or anything... 🙂
Since I don't have an assistant, I am always trying to come up with creative ways to get things done in a very limited amount of time. I thought I would share some of them with you today.
Suggestions for Solo School Librarians
1. Enlist the help of parent volunteers. This one can be very tough, but can really pay off if you can find a couple of good ones. I've had the most luck getting volunteers when I only ask for about an hour of their time and tell them exactly what they'll be doing. For instance, I normally say something like, "Could you help me shelve books from 2:00-3:00 on Monday?" Take the time to show them how to properly shelve the books. What seems obvious to you can be confusing to someone who doesn't work with books all day long. If the same person sticks with you for a while, it would be nice to give them a small gift to say thank you. I think a book fair gift certificate or coffee shop gift card would be a great way to show your appreciation.
2. Find student volunteers for small jobs. I'm really torn on this one because I have not been able to find great student volunteers yet, and I've been doing this several years. The good news is that the students LOVE to help. The bad news is that they just don't do a great job most of the time. I like things to be done a certain way (a.k.a. I'm a control freak... yes, I admitted it), and they just don't do things to suit me most of the time. However, there are many times that I'm in a time crunch and I have to have something done right away. I choose a few of our very best students and let them help me out. Students are great for delivering Accelerated Reader reports to classrooms, changing names on my bulletin board, and doing other odd jobs on occasion. I've found that a lot of times, the younger students work more carefully than the older students, so I'll often choose 3rd or 4th graders to help out. For students who help out a lot, you could thank them by buying them a little something from the book fair or giving a special library helper certificate at the end of the year.
3. Sort your books during check in. I started doing this a couple of years ago and it really makes makes the shelving process go a lot faster. As your students check in, sort your books into logical piles based on the way your library is organized. In my library, I sort them into three piles: easy books, chapter books, and nonfiction. Next, place all the easy books on the cart together, all the chapter books on the cart together (or another cart), and all the nonfiction books on the cart together (or another cart). This way they're presorted and you don't have to dig through every book to find what you're looking for. If you're really ambitious, you could also alphabetize the easy and fiction and put the nonfiction books in number order on the cart, but I don't have time for that. When I'm putting my books away, I just grab a few that go on the same shelf and put them away at the same time.
4. Make lists. I know it sounds simple, but it works. Make a list of all the things that need to be done and cross things off as you go. I find that if I don't make lists, I get extremely overwhelmed by all the tasks of the day. I also have a tendency to forget things (probably because I'm trying to cram way too much information in my overloaded brain). Making lists helps me prioritize what I need to do and lets me see where I may be able to enlist the help of others.
5. Learn to say no. This one is a tough sell, especially for new librarians. We all want to do the very best job we can do for our schools. Making yourself indispensable to your principal goes a long way toward making sure you'll have a job for the upcoming school year. However, there's a fine line between lending a helping hand from time to time and being taken advantage of (because for some strange reason people get the impression that we have tons of time on our hands - ha!). Take on extra duties when you can, but make sure it's not at the expense of the school library program. If you're not able to properly do your job because you're working on an unrelated project, it probably isn't worth it. If you find yourself in that situation, you could say something like, "I would love to help with that project, but I really feel like it would take away from (insert student-centered task) because I wouldn't have time to do both." Make sure your library program is always at the top of your priority list.
Do you have a library assistant? How does he/she make your life easier? If you don't have an assistant, what would you add to my survival guide?
P.S. Lesson plans for March and April are available on the Library Lesson Plans page! May's lesson plans should be completed soon as well!