Every librarian has a few things they wish they knew as a new elementary librarian. To help make your transition a little easier, we're sharing some of our best tips.
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. If your district does not have a meeting where you can meet your fellow librarians in person, send them an email to introduce yourself. We're 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. 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? We'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). This way your e-mail won't be completely filled with listserv mail every day.
3. Use social media to connect with even more people. As we 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 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. Many librarians spend the first few weeks of the school year going over the rules. 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), it will take the students a while to get used to your system. You can find our library rules here. When you talk about my rules, be sure to give clear examples and non-examples of the desired behaviors. Throughout the year, enforce your rules fairly and consistently. Try to handle all problems in the library and only involve the classroom teacher or principal if a student has been warned several times. Be sure to document all student issues too.
5. Use a seating chart. One way to keep chaos to a minimum in the library is by assigning seats to every class. You can view a 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. A seating chart 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.
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 to do this is by using stations in the library. At the beginning of the school year, assign each student a group. 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 stations work here. Our 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! 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 you can 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. There are challenges in every library, especially if you have a fixed schedule. However, instead of wasting energy complaining about things that aren't likely to change, embrace the challenges ahead of you with a smile. When your attitude is cheerful, the attitudes of those around you are also likely to be cheerful! 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. Your actions will always speak louder than your words. It's one thing to hand your principal a list of all your duties to assure her that your position is a necessary one. Instead, make yourself so indispensable that yourself principal wouldn't dream of cutting the position. Find out what your principal really wants you to focus on and do it to the best of your ability. You can also take on extra responsibilities from time to time. Worry less about you and more about your school, your students, and what their library means to them.
For 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 our advice? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Would you like a free video training on these tips? Click here to sign up - certificate available after you complete the course!