Today's post features a few things I wish I knew when I was a new elementary librarian. I still learn new things about my job every day, but I hope that my experiences so far will make the transition a little easier for new librarians.
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There's Power in Numbers
1. Find a district mentor. This should be your first priority if you're brand new, or even if you're just changing districts. The other librarians in your school district know the rules, norms, and expectations you will be expected to follow. These people can answer questions about equipment, software, accounting practices, book fairs, and other issues that will arise from time to time. I have been so fortunate to have wonderful colleagues in every district I've worked in. If your district does not have a meeting where you can meet your fellow librarians in person, send them an email to introduce yourself. I'll be willing to bet that more than one of them will reply and offer their support. Take them up on it. You'll need it. Then return the favor by offering your support to other new librarians in the years to come.
2. Join your state email listserv and the national library listserv. Listservs are amazingly powerful. Just sign up using your email address, and you can send and receive correspondence to and from other list members. We have a wonderful listserv in Kentucky called KYLMS, where school librarians post about topics relevant to them. Know a few details about a book, but have no idea what the title is? How about specific book recommendations for those hard-to-please patrons? Need some ideas for Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts rewards? Listserv members to the rescue! Listservs make it possible to share ideas with hundreds or even thousands of school librarians just by sending an email message. People often use listservs to post local library related event information as well. Not sure how to join a listserv? I've compiled this list of school library listservs to help you get connected. A word of warning, though. Some listservs are busier than others. If you're joining one with thousands of members like LM_NET, you may want to subscribe to the digest format (where messages come packaged instead of individually) so your inbox isn't completely filled with listserv mail every day.
3. Use social media to connect with even more people. As I mentioned in this post, social media sites like Twitter can be powerful tools for education. Love Pinterest for personal ideas? Did you know that you can find tons of ideas to use in your library on Pinterest, too? Can't log onto Pinterest at school? Save the educational links in a LiveBinder! Don't forget about Facebook! There are many pages (including mine, Elementary Librarian) that focus on school libraries. Join them, and you'll have instant access to school library experts across the country (and the world)!
Be a Good Teacher
4. Set library rules at the beginning of the year and be consistent. I always spend the first few weeks of the school year going over my rules. I think this will eventually get easier and take less time, but if your rules are much different than the previous librarian's (or if they didn't have rules like some situations I've been in...), it will take the students a while to get used to your system. You can find my library rules here. When I talk about my rules, I'm always sure to give clear examples and non-examples of the desired behaviors. In fact, this year I'm going to let the students create their own videos demonstrating our library's rules. Throughout the year, enforce your rules fairly and consistently. I like to make a statement early in the year by calling a parent when someone pushes me a little too far. Luckily that does not happen often, because the students know I'm serious when I say I'll call their parents to inform them of their choices. Try to handle all problems in the library. I only involve the classroom teacher if the student refuses to cooperate after several warnings. I only involve the principal when the behavior is severe, and I always document these occurrences by filling out an office referral form.
5. Use a seating chart. One way I keep chaos to a minimum in my library is by assigning seats to every class. You can view my seating chart template here. I have several square tables in my library and each table has 4 seats. I type each student's name in the spreadsheet, then I display the spreadsheet on the whiteboard when they come in for library class. I'm very rigid when it comes to my seating chart because it helps keep order, gives students a specific place to go, and keeps mischief makers separated. A good way to keep troublesome students away from their friends when you are new to a school and don't really know them yet is to tell students they can sit anywhere they want to... then make the seating chart. They always laugh when I tell them that's a teacher trick.
6. Consistency is key, but don't be boring. Let's face it. Children need consistency. It makes them feel comfortable because they know what to expect. You can put routines in place without being too predictable, however. One way I do this is by using stations in the library. At the beginning of the school year, I assign each student a group. I use color words - red, green, and blue. You could rename them, or even let students come up with their own group names. I also create a spreadsheet with team names and members and display it when students enter the library. Each week, students rotate to a different activity station. The process and people are the same, but the activities are different. You can find a more detailed explanation of how my stations work here. My library lesson plans are set up for using stations, but you can also use them as standalone lessons.
7. You don't always have to be front and center. One of the benefits of being in the library is the flexibility - even if you're on a fixed schedule, like me. Allow the students to teach each other with your guidance. Let them create things like posters, videos, and tests for other students using the skills they've learned. They will learn much more this way, because we all know teaching someone else is the ultimate display of mastery; and you won't feel like you always have to put on a show! This is one area where I struggle because I like to control things. Let go a little bit and you will be pleasantly surprised at what your students can do.
Collaborate and Advocate
8. Get to know classroom teachers and offer your assistance. This one is tough when you're new, but collaboration is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Find a way to get to know other teachers in the building. Instead of working on your supply order or checking email during lunch, eat with other teachers in the lounge. Getting to know teachers personally will help them feel more comfortable when asking for your help. For those teachers you never see, catch them when you have their class (but don't make them late for planning.) Ask, "How can I help you this week?" instead of, "Do you need my help with anything?" Admittedly, this can be difficult with a fixed schedule, but one simple thing I do for almost everyone in the building is fill a basket of books for students to use in their classrooms each week. If you overhear someone in the hallway talking about working on fractions that week, check some relevant books out in their name and drop them off with a note that says, "Thought these books might be helpful." Order books, videos, and other resources when teachers ask for something the library doesn't have.
9. Keep negativity to a minimum. This is something I really have to work on sometimes. My husband (who's also a teacher) and I have a theory that many educators look for something to complain about. There are challenges in every library, especially if you have a fixed schedule. This year I've decided that instead of wasting energy complaining about things that aren't likely to change, I'm going to embrace the challenges ahead of me with a smile. I've noticed that when my attitude is cheerful, the attitudes of those around me are also cheerful! One teacher even commented that it's obvious that I really enjoy my job. Enthusiasm is contagious!
10. Advocate with actions, not words. It's no secret that school libraries as we once knew them are in trouble. With budget cuts happening all around us, it's always a good idea to watch your back. Before I started my current position, one principal told me in an interview, "I thought about getting rid of the librarian and just having an assistant handle Accelerated Reader and checkout, but I can't because the law doesn't allow it." Needless to say, I was no longer interested. I don't say this to scare you, but instead to remind you that your actions will always speak louder than your words. It's one thing to hand my principal a list of all my duties to assure her that my position is a necessary one. Instead, my goal is to make myself so indispensable that my principal wouldn't dream of cutting my position. The way I do this is by finding out what my principal really wants me to focus on and doing it to the best of my ability. I also take on extra responsibilities from time to time because it makes her life easier. I worry less about me and more about my school, our students, and what their library means to them.
I hope you made it through this post - it was a long one, but I know I have a lot of new librarian readers. If you would like more tips for new librarians, check out the book New on the Job: A School Library Media Specialist's Guide to Success. It has a great overview of what to expect the first year.
Finally, if you are a new librarian, what other questions do you have? If you've been at this a while, what would you add to my advice? Share your thoughts in the comments!