This is my first year in the role of library media specialist at my school. During this semester, not only have I been wearing the many hats of my full-time library position (book expert, collaborator extraordinaire, technology facilitator, and all-around professional education supporter), but I have also been coaching basketball as well as completing practicum hours and projects to officially earn my school library endorsement. To say it has been a busy semester is an understatement.
With a family at home that includes five littles of my own on top of it all, it would have been easy to fall victim to the ever-present monster of burnout that we all know wreaks havoc in schools across the nation. However, I have not left the library once this year feeling like I should be anywhere else. I love what I do.
I can’t claim to have done this alone, so thank you to all of those that have helped me so far this year. With that, I’d love to take a minute to share some of the routines and resources that have allowed me to succeed and feel excited about my job day after day.
1. Amazing colleagues.
I am blessed to work and be connected with an amazing group of educators. They love sharing materials and discussing ideas. When I wasn’t sure what to do, it was easy to turn to them for support. Much of the time, I reached out to the other librarians on my district PLC and they pointed me in the right direction. From technology to library systems and everything in between, I have yet to be let down by their advice. I’ve also had plenty of help from the classroom teachers in my building as well. I attribute a lot of this to the fact that I’ve been teaching in the same building for five years as a Reading and Language Arts teacher and have built some good relationships with a number of the staff. I realize this would likely be a lot tougher (but not impossible) if I’d been hired on as a completely new member of the building.
Which brings me to my next resource…
2. Professional Communities
The NSLA has been a great place to find support and resources. Even simply reading the blog posts and email updates is such a great way to remain current on some of the major happenings with Nebraska.
I have also found some terrific resources from the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA). A fellow librarian in my district let me know of the opportunity to become a free member of this association earlier this year. It has been a terrific resource for technology-related material and topics. Most recently, they shared a holiday digital escape room that I plan to use with my students the final two days of the fall semester.
The TCEA is similar to our very own NETA (Nebraska Educational Technology Association). Membership to NETA is also free!
While I appreciate some great blogs and email updates, I do have a 30-minute commute one way to work. This leaves a good chunk of time for me that has the potential to be utilized in ways other than simply listening to music for an hour a day.
I decided to fill a good chunk of my drives with podcasts to help me stay current on different educational topics and get me in the mindset to best serve the learning community at my school. Here are a few of my favorites:
The best thing I’ve done so far this semester is to not remain isolated in what could easily be the island that is the library. While it’s kept me extra busy, I’ve tried to prioritize collaboration. From full projects to mini-lessons and everything in between. I’ve had even more of my staff reach out about collaboration opportunities for the spring semester. This helps me build relationships with teachers and students and it helps fuel my passion and excitement for learning and teaching.
To help stimulate these inquiries for collaboration, I try to make a point to make contact with my staff on a weekly basis. Sometimes this consists of formal collaboration. Sometimes it’s an email with a short video I create discussing topics like troubleshooting a technology issue that has arisen recently or simply updating staff on the happenings and opportunities in the library. Sometimes it’s helping with a technology challenge in a classroom. Most times, I just stop in to say, “Hi,” and ask how things are going. It’s simple but seems to be effective.
On one of these drop-ins, I was able to assist a couple of science teachers working on a mini-research project over monuments. A fiber line had been cut in the area. With the internet being out for the day, rendering our 1-to-1 Chromebooks useless for this project, I was able to locate print sources from our library for the students to use in their research. It was a great impromptu opportunity to help ease the stress of my teachers and provide our students with the resources necessary to continue learning.
One of my biggest priorities this year was to do what I could to let my staff know they are supported. I want them to know my door is open and that I’m eager to help. The above are a few simple strategies that have allowed me to do just that.
5. Student Helpers (Library Pages)
The final system that has been a true gamechanger this semester is one that a fellow librarian in the district suggested - a big shoutout the Amy Williams from Elkhorn Valley View Middle School for the idea!
In her library, she loves getting the students involved. They help check in and out books, shelve books, keep the library tidy, set up displays, process new books, and do any number of jobs the help the library run smoothly. They are Library Pages - student library assistants.
At first, I was nervous to employ student helpers. My type-A personality cringed at the idea. However, I decided to give it a try. Halfway through the semester, I posted an application for students to apply to be a Library Page. With the help of teacher input, I then hired twenty students to come to the library during their study halls or before or after school throughout the week to assist in the day-to-day library operations. There was some upfront work, but since initially training these student workers, it has freed up much of my valuable time to do more collaboration with teachers, troubleshoot technology issues, and interact with students especially around finding their next great read. Sure, I have a few misshelved books, but I’ve also noticed the buzz around reading increase as students embrace pride and ownership of our library.
Being in education and in the business of helping students learn and grow, there are challenges for all staff within a school. To say my first semester has been perfect would be a flat-out lie. My hope is that some of the successes I’ve shared from my experience as a first-year school librarian can provide a few ideas to help others implement systems to grow their library and rekindle the joy that can be found as a school librarian.
Jacob M. Barry
Middle School Library Media Specialist
Elkhorn Ridge Middle School
This blog is a joint effort by members of the NSLA Executive Board. We hope to provide relevant information, tips and tools to help you in your journey.