So you’ve been hired as a school librarian? Congratulations! What an exciting moment!
I was hired for my first school librarian position in 2015, and I vividly remember how excited I was. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably already dreaming about all of the things you’ll do, ways you’ll decorate, books you’ll purchase, etc. You also may be feeling a smidge anxious or nervous. You might be feeling more than a smidge. And that is okay!
We’ve all been there. The position of school librarian is, in my unbiased opinion, the absolute best job in the world. One of the best things about it, for me anyway, is that the job duties are so diverse and varied, I knew I’d never be bored. Of course, that also means there are a lot of moving parts and different hats. That can be intimidating, especially when you are just starting out.
Below are some things I would recommend to a brand new school librarian for their first year!
#1 – Get a Support Network….Pronto!
Although this job is THE BEST job, it can also be profoundly isolating. Unless you are uncommonly lucky, you are almost certain to be the only librarian in your school. Sometimes you’ll be the only librarian in your district! No one else working with you is likely to have any idea of what you do, and they may not understand the value you bring, how hard you work, or even that you are a teacher too.
If you don’t cultivate a support network, you are likely to burn out. Building relationships with students, teachers, and admin is, of course, a necessary goal, but you’re going to need other librarians as well. You’ll need to connect with people who do the same job as you, since they are the only ones who will truly be able to understand many of the issues you’ll face, and even the things you’ll want to celebrate!
- How do I find other librarians to connect with?
- Contact other librarians in your district to seek mentors
- Reach out to librarians in local districts
- Join professional associations, especially local ones
- Use social media to join Professional Learning Communities (such as the Future Ready Librarians Facebook group, Twitter Hashtags #tlchat, #futurereadylibs, #istelib, Instagram hashtags #teacherlibrarian, #schoollibrarian, #schoollibraries)
#2 People First, Books Second
As a brand new librarian, you are probably very excited about all of the “stuff.” Decorations, book displays, book programming, events, comfy furniture, rearranging the space, reorganizing the books, and all the other physical aspects of the job. That’s completely natural! We all felt the same way.
However, the best thing you can do your first year is to consider all of that very exciting stuff to be secondary, and to focus primarily on the people and on relationship building. As stated above, the job can be very isolating, so the main focus (to start) should be on getting to know students & staff, and on finding ways of letting THEM get to know YOU. This is critical because, as the librarian, you yourself are the best resource the library has. But if students and staff don’t find you to be accessible and approachable, if they don’t view you as a valuable expert and resource, they won’t come to you for help.
For the first few months, you’ll need to make yourself front and center in the library, highly accessible and visible. So, as hard as it is, try not to get distracted by the books and all the physical stuff at first. Since you probably won’t know anyone at the school, and may feel like an outsider or a bit awkward, maybe even like an imposter (I definitely did!!) you may feel tempted to allow yourself to become distracted and preoccupied by the physical things (weeding, genrefying, reorganizing, decorating, ordering, etc) that don’t require you to interact with staff & students much.
I would encourage you to resist these temptations and to doggedly keep yourself visible, vocal, and accessible for the first few months. The quicker you start working on carving a niche for yourself in the school community, the quicker the awkward, “I’m a newbie” feeling will pass. 🙂
- How do I position myself as accessible & helpful?
- Be the first face they see when they enter the library
- For the first year, I switched seats with my assistant so that I was sitting right next to the door & I was the one checking books out to students. This allowed me to be the one to greet students as they came and went, me to be the one to write passes, and me to be the one to check books out and answer questions. This allowed students to start getting to know me right away.
- Don’t use your office too much
- If you are lucky enough to have an office, don’t be in the office 99% of the time. Stay visible and accessible to students.
- Stay on the move
- Don’t spend all your time behind the circ desk. Get out and walk around the library often. Interact with students as you walk around.
- If you have an assistant – don’t spend all your time in the library. Get out and walk around the school occasionally. Pop-in at the office, stop and say high to staff (office, custodial, nurse, counseling, admin, etc). Let them see you and get to know you!
- Smile & greet
- It sounds trite, but honestly just be sure you have a pleasant or smiling look on your face. Try to genuinely greet everyone who walks through the door. Look as if you couldn’t be happier to have them walk through the door and let them know you can’t wait to help them.
- Welcome interruptions
- Let students and staff know you welcome interruptions and are there to help them. People are often wary of “bothering” us, so always let them know their needs come first. For example: If you are in the middle of writing an email, and someone looks like they need help, stop writing the email and help the person. People first!
- Be the first face they see when they enter the library
#3 Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
This one sort of speaks to #2, but I cannot stress enough how important it is that you start seeking classroom collaborations immediately. ESPECIALLY if you are on a flex schedule. I always view myself as a teacher first, librarian second. When you have a flex schedule, it can be very difficult to convince teachers to collaborate with you. Sometimes it’s due to the school culture, sometimes the teachers have not had experience working with a librarian who collaborates, some teachers may not realize you are a teacher, and sometimes teachers are just so busy and overwhelmed. But in order for you to teach your students the extremely important Information Literacy skills they need to succeed in life, you need to have collaborative opportunities. So it’s best to start seeking them as soon as you start. Because the process of being embraced fully within the department’s various curriculums will likely be slow.
- How Do I Seek Collaborative Opportunities?
- Let staff know you are willing
- Introduce yourself at the first faculty meeting and include a sentence saying that you can’t wait to collaborate and an invite for staff to reach out to you with their projects and needs.
- Send newsletters stating you can’t wait to collaborate and invite staff to reach out to you.
- Sneak it into as many conversations as you can with as many teachers as you can….. just all the time.
- Let staff know what kinds of things you can do/teach
- Creating a “library services” menu can be a great way to communicate what you can and are willing to do.
- Remind staff often (be visible and vocal)
- Stay visible and vocal so staff don’t forget about you. Send newsletters regularly, speak at faculty meetings regularly, etc. Walk the halls, eat lunch in the faculty room, go to department meetings, etc. Most of my collaboration requests come either right after I’ve sent out a newsletter, or when teachers just see me in the hall. Seeing you or your emails jogs their memory that “oh yeah I’ve been meaning to ask you…..”
- Share successful collaboration stories widely
- Once you have a successful collaboration, share the story via newsletters, social media, etc. Share it with your admin. And ask the teacher to share it with their departments. Usually once one teacher finds value in you, other teachers jump on board more quickly!
- Let staff know you are willing
#4 Take Care of Yourself
One of my librarian mentors once told me:
“There is no life or death in the library.”
This has stuck with me, and I remind myself of this anytime I start to feel stressed or overwhelmed. Yes there will be a million things that seem to “need” to be done, pretty much all the time. You will never, ever “finish.” Once you accept that fact, its easier to relax and continue breathing. Since you will never finish everything, there is no sense worrying about it. Focus on developing ruthless prioritization. You will simply need to decide on which things are most important and which things can wait. You cannot help your students or staff if you do not take care of yourself. Don’t overdo it. Don’t take tons of work home all the time. Set limits. Stick to the limits. Say “no” when you need to.
- How Do I Take Care of Myself & Avoid Burnout?
- I don’t stay at work late more than once or twice a month, and not every month.
- If I bring work home, I cap it at 1-2 hours.
- I don’t work on Sundays.
- I check my email one time per night at 7:30p. I tell my students that this is when I check my email so if they are asking questions they need answered that night, they need to send it before 7:30.
- I ALWAYS ALWAYS take my lunch break. I close the library for my lunch break if my assistant is out sick and the school cannot provide a substitute to cover for me.
- I don’t officially work over the summer. But I do allot myself 5 days over the summer for which to work on things that will make Back to School easier on myself (lesson planning, book cataloging, going in early to decorate, etc). I limit it to no more than 5 days, and to use the summer for recovering and recuperating.
#5 The Support Staff are Your New Best Friends
The most helpful people in the whole school are the secretaries and the custodians. I recommend you work to befriend them immediately, as they are the gatekeepers of the school. They are the ones who will know the answers to all of your questions, and they are the ones who can make things happen for you. I literally don’t know how I would have survived my first year (or any other year) without their help.
#6 Get Students in the Door
One of the most important things librarians need to do is to get students in the doors. We need to get our students into the library, using library resources! So you’ll want to figure out just what it is your students need from their library and then do your best to provide for those needs!
If you inherit a library that is already a popular spot for students, congratulations! Figure out why they like being there, and continue giving them that, but with your own spin of course. If you inherit a library that students and staff do not like to be in, congratulations! You now have the chance to profoundly change the space and therefore the impact the library has on your learning community. Do some needs assessments, formal and informal, and find out why they don’t like to be there. What things has the library done/not done, offered/not offered, that has led to ambivalence, discomfort, or dislike. Figure out how you can change those things!
- How Did I Get Students in the Door?
- For me, I was told immediately and by several teachers, literally on the very first day of teacher in-service, exactly what they were hoping for from the library going forward. I knew, then, from the first day exactly what these teachers were hoping from me and I was able to tailor my approach accordingly. I marketed myself as very receptive and eager to collaborate, and as an approachable and positive person because that we what I saw was needed.
- I learned that in our high achieving and high academically pressured learning community, the students had a hunger for a non-stressful, and not necessarily academic space. They had a need for a community space where they could connect with each other, de-stress, breathe, and regroup themselves for the rest of the day.
- This informed me that my students did not need a silent study space from their library, but rather a dynamic, simultaneously engaging and relaxing community space.
- I began to add community building activities like games, cards, community puzzle, community coloring sheets, mini-maker activities, origami, blackout poetry, etc. Things that facilitated social connectivity, academic and technological “unplugged-ness,” and relaxation.
- We added comfortable seating, charging stations, we relaxed “loudness” rules and made access much easier (changing the pass system and who could or could not visit the library.)
- It didn’t take long for students to start to identify the library as a comfortable and welcoming space that belonged to students. They come in droves now, and definitely don’t feel dislike, discomfort, or ambivalence towards their library now.
The thing students told me first helped them identify that the library had changed was the adding of community coloring sheets and then using them (after students colored them in) as decorations on the walls. Simple, no cost, big immediate impact. You can learn how to make these coloring sheets here.
#8 Make the Big Changes, If You Want!
Make big changes if you want, just as long as they are informed by actual school needs.
This one goes a bit against the general advice given to first year school librarians. Usually these types of posts advise new librarians to take things slow, to avoid big changes until you’ve been at the school for a year or two so you don’t upset the status quo or make mistakes. That is one perfectly fine approach.
I took a different approach, however, and it worked out extremely well for me so I’m going to advise that you DO make big changes, if you want to, during the first year. Particularly if the school admin have indicated that they WANT the library program to be updated or changed, as was the case for me. In my interview, the admin were clear that they were looking to revamp and modernize the library program. The school was also going through the 1:1 launch program the year I started so it was a time of big culture change and the things I wanted to change about the library fit well within those larger district goals.
In my first year, I did not shy away from making big changes and it was the right choice. If you have inherited a library that is beloved and well used by your school, you probably will not want to make as many big changes right away. But if you’ve inherited a library that has not functioned as well as it could, big changes might be just what the doctor ordered.
Based on the things admin said in my interview and on the feedback I received from teachers, I knew that my school wanted the library to be modernized, updated, and made to be more welcoming, representative, comfortable, and enjoyable. Therefore I knew that the changes I wanted to make (adding high interest and representative books, facilitating social and collaborative connection between students, offering brain break activities, etc) should not wait even 1 year. I knew those big changes were needed right away. So I made the changes. I received some pushback and criticism from certain teachers. I received positive feedback and excitement from other teachers. But the only thing that really matters is that these changes caused students to start coming to the library, using the library, asking me for help, and providing positive feedback.
- How Do I Make Big Changes the First year (If I want to)?
- Make sure any changes are informed by actual school needs & requests
- Be transparent about the changes (let staff and students know about them via newsletters, faculty meetings, social media, etc)
- Be open to accepting advice and even criticism from the learning community
- Seek advice, ideas, suggestions from your learning community
- Get admin support and approval first
#9 Get to Know Your Collection & Community
Before you can make a ton of changes, you’ll need to know what your community values and needs. Start doing needs assessments immediately. Learning the district’s goals, the curriculums, and the community will help you decide what resources you need to add, change, or remove.
- How do I get to know my learning community’s needs?
- Do needs assessments via formal and informal means (surveys, informal discussion, observation, etc)
- Seek invitations to as many dept and admin meetings as you can, as often as you can.
- Attend board meetings
- Attend union meetings
- Speak with students and teachers frankly about their own needs
Get to know your collection so that you can make recommendations to students. Getting to know your collection is a process that will not occur immediately, but which you do need to actively work towards. Once you know your collection (and your learning community) you will be able to know what needs to be added, changed, and removed from it.
- How do I get to know my collection?
- Start bringing books home and reading them!
- Run collection reports and analysis. Get a feel for which books are checked out the most and which ones are not.
- Talk with students about what they’ve been reading and which ones they’ve enjoyed or have not enjoyed.
- Talk with teachers about reading trends they’ve noticed in their students, and collection strengths & weaknesses the teachers perceive in the library.
#10 Have Fun
Most importantly: Have Fun
If you’re not having fun, make the changes necessary so that you are having fun. Because if you’re stressed and put out, that will impact the library atmosphere which will impact the students and staff. But if you are having fun, your joy and passion will translate into the library atmosphere, and therefore spread to the students and staff. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and miserable, stop and take a breath. You are probably trying to accomplish too many things at once, and too quickly. Think about what your 1-2 goals are for the year. Which things on your “to-do” list need to happen to progress those goals. Do those things. Anything on the list that doesn’t progress your 1 or 2 goals can be put on the back-burner. My first year goals were to change the perception of the library as a quiet, outdated place and to establish myself as an information resource to staff and students. Those two goals helped keep me on track during the year. Once you have your goal or goals (no more than 1-2), keep your eye on them and remind yourself that the first year is not about perfection. It’s about getting started.
- Things I did my first year:
- News letters to provide transparency and communication to staff and admin
- speaking at faculty meetings so staff could get to know me
- Addition of brain break activities to library
- Addition of graphic novel, books in Spanish, and lgbtqia+ book collections
- Newsletters I sent to staff during my first year: (you can view my newsletters below)
- Copy of NovemberNewslette
- Copy of JanuaryNewsletter
- Copy of FebraryNewsletter
- Copy of MarchNewsletter
- Copy of EOYNewsleter
Enjoy your first year!
Thank you for this. I’m not a new librarian but I made the major mistake of not focusing on the people aspect of the library last year (my first year in a new school) and have paid for it. I want to do things differently this year and appreciate your recommendations. I would also reiterate that “people first” is the best policy. Two thumbs up! 🙂
I’m so glad you’ve found it helpful! It’s never too late to change things up 😊
Really great suggestions. I am very happy to know that how I can use the library from different ways. Thanks a lot for encouragement and for moral support.
I love this post! I’m starting a new job in a high school, but I’m not a teacher, although I’ve been a librarian for many years. Your library services menu is really impressive, and I’m wondering how you learned to teach all of this. I wouldn’t know how to begin teaching a fraction of what you offer! I certainly wasn’t taught all this in library school.
Hmm, I learned a lot of it in library school and more from my librarian mentors. Mostly I self teach by watching webinars, attending conferences, reading blogs, and immersing myself in as much professional development as I can! The best thing to do is to analyze your schools needs and focus on brushing up your skills in those needed areas first. For instance I realized no one at my school was teaching students media literacy and source evaluation skills so I set out to become the expert in those topics.
This is an excellent list of advice about how to prioritize your first year in the school library. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by all the tasks that lay before you, and you can find yourself getting confused about where you want to be several years down the road rather than starting with building relationships at the very beginning. You will not get anywhere unless you begin to build those relationships with students, your colleagues, and the administration team. You want people to know that you are an approachable person and enjoyable and friendly to work with (on top of all the great skills you bring to the table).
As a teacher who has just taken over a very out-dated high school library, I am so appreciative of your blog. I was wondering if you had any editable copies of your library menu either on TeachersPayTeachers or another source. I would love to use something similar right at the beginning of the year:) Thank you for all your advice and information!
I’m so glad you find the blog helpful! Thanks for reading. 😊 unfortunately I do not have an editable version of my Menu. But I made it in canva using on of their templates.
Good to know. I love Canva:) Thanks for your response!
This is seriously very awesome! I am a school librarian for two years now and still not known by students and some of the teachers. I focused first on organizing the library and set aside collaborating with students and teachers. Then, the pandemic came and I felt totally useless. These suggestions are totally wonderful but we are already in the last four months in our school calendar. I know I am too late but can you suggest some things I should do this late in the school year so I can be known by students and teachers alike? Thank you in advance!
Its really tough this year, I’m not going to lie. I had an excellent foundation built before the pandemic hit but I’m really struggling with this too. If I’m being completely honest I will admit that this year has become strictly a “survive it” year. I’m having very little success at connecting with students right now, and I’m not sure I have any successful strategies to share. Everything I’ve tried has been pretty much a failure. Back in March of last year I was successful at connecting students, especially with our social media accounts. But as time has streteched on my students have become increasingly less motivated and less interested in those kind of extras. The best thing I can recommend is to just try to get as many co-teaching opportunities as you possibly can, so that at least you are getting out in front of students somewhat. So I suggest putting significant energy into advertising your co-teaching services to your teaching staff and trying to book as many of those as you can.
I so appreciate this article as a newly hired media assistant. I know that I will learn by doing, but it is nice to have a bit of a map for considering my (similar) priorities and establishing my boundaries before I even begin.
I love your blog. I think we may have had some classes together at Drexel. I was an online student from 2011 to 2015 for my MS in learning technologies and 2 specialist certificates. I took several library classes.
We probably did! I was at Drexel from 2012-2015 I believe!
Thank you for this post Kelsey! I am currently taking a Teacher Librarianship course and this post gave me so much food for thought, while also validating why I want to eventually move from the classroom and into the library.
I appreciate that most of the suggestions are people focused over the physical space. I feel the like the connections are the best part of being a librarian. I think it takes a little bit of courage to put yourself out there to collaborate with the other teachers. I really liked your infographic of all the different ways you can support the classroom teachers, as most may not have had the chance to collaborate before and may not know what it can look like (myself included). Getting to know students is my favourite aspect of Teacher Librarian. I am very social by nature and love taking the time to connect with students; learning their interests, and ensuring they feel safe and valued within the space.
I can see why being a teacher librarian would feel isolating, as you are the only one in this role. I agree that it would be important to connect with other teacher librarians in the district so you have other people who understand your day to day, and you can ask them questions, share ideas or just vent. 😉 I also agree that you need to take care of yourself too. While I love being social, I also recognize it’s important to find some quiet in my day to recenter and I try to prioritize my family and home life by not staying late or taking too much work home.
Hi Nicole, I’m so glad the post has helped! I hope you enjoy your coursework and your journey towards librarianship! It has its challenges (especially at the current moment in history) but it has a lot of joyful moments too, its a privilege to be able to be an adult in our students lives who is there solely to be a resource for them but who never has to grade or “ground” them. It lets us occupy a pretty unique position in their lives and that’s a pretty cool way to spend our work hours!