“How You Doin’?” or “How You Doing It All?”

Matt LeBlanc
Photo by Alan Light, used with permission under a Creative Commons license

Joey Tribianni from the sitcom Friends is known for his line, “How you doin’?”  But if he were to seriously address today’s  school librarians, Joey would ask,  “How you doing it all?”

Where Does the Time Go?

At times, I wish there were a camera on me during the school day to record the life of a school librarian.  As a classroom teacher, I had a better grasp on what I did with my time:  for ninety minutes at a time, I was in a classroom being guided by my written lesson plans.  I would pencil in notes on my lesson plan book to help me remember where I left off, what worked well and what didn’t, and thoughts for improving the lesson the next time around.

But as a a school librarian on a flexible schedule, my work day doesn’t follow a written plan.  Yes, you can look at our library’s scheduling calendar to see what classes I worked with and look at the Class Visit Request forms to determine what information literacy skills I taught those classes.  But those capture just a short time in my day.

The First Wave

The busiest parts of my day are usually those that don’t involve teaching classes.  When the library opens at 7:30, the whirlwind of activity begins.  Students and teachers must get ready for the day by working on projects, checking out equipment or materials, and scheduling classes to use the library teaching areas or computer rooms. When the bell rings for first block to begin, I have a moment or two before a class arrives to try to read email, sort through the stacks of paper that have accumulated on my desk(s), and tackle one of the items on my ever-growing “to do” list.


The Tide Rolls In

Before I know it, scheduled classes arrive and other students begin to trickle in from classes to return, renew, or check out books or to use a computer to work on an assignment.  Teachers stop by to look at the scheduling calendar during their planning periods and discuss how they will be using the library facilities.  Other teachers call to request help troubleshooting  misbehaving  equipment.  Students often approach me  to say they enjoyed the last book I recommended and would like help in finding another one like it.

Multitasking to the Max

So, on any normal day, a school librarian is often pulled in multiple directions during a given moment:

  • A class to teach
  • An individual student’s needs to be addressed (checking out books, requesting computer use, requesting help with an assignment or locating  a book) – multiply this need by five or six (an average number of students who visit the library on their own)
  • A teacher who needs to discuss scheduling a class to use the library’s facilities
  • A teacher who needs help to get equipment running smoothly

Notice that the list does NOT include any of the librarian’s work that must be accomplished:

  • reading reviews and creating a materials order (or a collection wish list)
  • working with student staff to insure tasks are accomplished (shelving, processing magazines)
  • updating web site
  • processing materials
  • inventory
  • weeding
  • repairing books
  • creating/editing catalog records
  • reading professional journals/blogs
  • recommending new resources to teachers
  • working with vendors
  • running reading promotion programs
  • preparing and presenting staff development
  • creating, assembling, and putting up new bulletin boards
  • creating displays
  • reading children’s/YA lit to recommend to students
  • creating advocacy opportunities/reports
  • planning and creating information literacy lessons
  • compiling statistics
  • planning and holding book club meetings

Words of Wisdom

During my school library internship, I was able to visit several high school libraries in the upstate of South Carolina.  One of the questions I asked each librarian was, “How do you do it all?”  Their answers varied, but they all were proceeded by a knowing smile –  implying that we must accept that it can’t all be done as we would like.

I was told to prioritize.  I was told to focus on the program component that was nearest and dearest to my heart.  I was told to learn to accept that it wouldn’t all get done.

As an idealist, I want to believe that I can do it all – and do it all effectively.  As a realist, I know that it is impossible to do without the help of others.

What words of wisdom do you have?  How do you do it all?

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2 Responses to ““How You Doin’?” or “How You Doing It All?””

  1. Heather Loy Says:

    As you said, you can’t do it all. You do what has to be done, then what YOU want most to do, and try to get the rest in as you can. Delegating is good. If the task isn’t one that I absolutely have to be the one to do, I’ll get my student library helpers or my one parent volunteer to do it. My parent volunteer is the librarian at the public library in town. She processes my donated books and creates bulletin boards for me. My students do the shelving and periodical processing. They all can man the circulation desk, too!

    But the real answer is – you do most of it on your own time and on your own dime. I update the web page, plan the programs, create promotional materials, etc. in the evenings and on weekends. How often are we working from home and tossing ideas between us!? That is usually when I plan my training workshops, lesson plans, and weekly to do lists.

    Also, you’ve seen my To Do Basket. I go through it once a month to see what I can feasibly work on and what will just have to wait. It’s also my idea pile. As I find things others are doing that I’d like to try, that’s where I put them. I tried keeping an electronic list, but never really visited it often – I like the feel of paper and the illusion I’m accomplishing something when the pile decreases!

  2. Currie Renwick Says:

    I love your lists, Fran! You can see how behind how I am since I am just now trying to catch up with my blog reading. Moreover, I have a stack on journals, books, articles, and to-do lists both here at school and at home that I hope to get to this summer. In the meantime, I just keep plugging our summer reading to our students and the feeder school students—and hunting down those over due books. Sometimes, we really just succumb to the tyranny of the urgent!


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