Improving the Reader’s Experience, One Step at a Time

“Mrs. Bullington, what’s a good book to read?”

More often than not these days, my answer to this question is one of several book series that have been popular in our library:  the Mortal Instruments series, the Hunger Games series, the Immortals series, the Wake trilogy…the list goes on and on.

Helping Students Help Themselves

Once students have read the first book in the series, they often want to check out the second title.  If I am not working with a teacher, student, or class, I love to help inquiring readers locate the right book.  But what about those times when I’m not available?  How can I still assist readers?

Last year, I created a Recommended Reads notebook that is displayed on one of the counters at the Circulation Desk.  It has been one of the best reader’s advisory tools in our library.

This year, I decided to tackle the series in our collection and “Operation: Save Our Series” was launched.  Each title in a series is identified with a label located under the call number.  The label simply states “Series” and the number of the title in the series.  We began pulling books and applying the labels three weeks ago.

To ensure accuracy in labeling, I checked those titles with which I was unfamiliar using the Mid Continent Public Library’s Juvenile Series and Sequels site. After an intensive first week, my service learners had identified and pulled myriads of series from the shelves.

They Just Keep Coming!

Who knew we had so many series?  It seems each time I walk through the fiction area, I notice another series that has escaped our labeling efforts.  Slowly, but surely, we are creating order out of series chaos.

The next step in the process is checking the catalog records for each series.  Unfortunately, many records do not indicate that a title is part of a series, so in spare pockets of time (we all know how rare those are!) I am updating catalog records to reflect this.

Efforts are Rewarded

At our book club meeting this week, I shared the new series labels with the students.  While many members are daily library users and had seen “Operation:  Save the Series” in action, others were pleasantly surprised by the news. All twenty-four students burst into applause at the announcement, though, making our efforts all worthwhile!

“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?