In conversation with another MS/HS library teacher, I realized this situation was more common than I anticipated. As a follow-up to our dilemma, I initiated a discussion meeting to address these needs via the MSLA listserv.
Over a dozen school librarians throughout the state responded and wanted to be included. The discussion group was small, and yet we covered a broad section of issues are similar and real: space; connection with faculty and staff; time; collection; budget; and collaboration.
Our group included librarians from the MetroWest/North/Central/Western areas: Allison Connelly (Ipswich), Pamela Vallee and Victoria Whipple (Lunenburg), Jenna Morin (Winchendon) and Patsy Divver (Millis).
Space issues are common: accommodating all students in varying grades with sufficient materials, equipment, and staff. (This situation is similar in K-8 libraries as well as those schools with very large student population.) The addition of new technology (iPads, online classes, Google learning) also expands the demands and needs from classes. Study halls, especially in the high school, impact space as well as library management.
Pamela has teachers sign up for library use with Google forms, but the library issues passes. Allison has one directed study for all classes and needed to establish limits for the overcrowding. Teachers also sign up with her for research or library use. Jenna’s school does not have study halls, but she is the only certified librarian, without an aide, and responsible for the students as well as all media (projectors, computers, cameras, etc.). She is also the Google Admin for the district, as well. She is revising the collection, adding online courses and will be running a Tech Help Desk. The district’s spending freeze has made the upgrade of technology a slower process.
It was agreed that one of the major challenges in a combined library situation is feeling integrated into the faculty and with the curricula needs for both schools. The result is a ‘disconnect’ with teachers and often leads to frustration for students, teachers, and the librarian. A number of librarians offer pathfinders to assist with projects, as well as introductory research classes or reviews. Common planning times, for most schools, are either when the librarian is teaching or is unable to attend. Plus, when both staff meetings occur at the same time, it presents the question of which to attend.
As in all schools, budgets are also a concern. Not only are they varied for the amounts, but the responsibilities include both schools, and often technology and/or online resources. Once again, it’s a division in appropriating the funds among the grades and schools. Many of the schools supplement through book fairs, grants, fundraisers, etc. This is similar to other libraries, except that special funds are directed to a limited grade audience. (For example, with Scholastic, most monies earned are limited in scope of interest and reading abilities to Elementary/Middle School. The Young Adult/High School audience is more interested in the graphics or adult best-seller fiction choices.
A final concern, although not yet addressed, is how NEASC enters into the picture. NEASC recommends having a certified school librarian for each 400 students for high schools. The question is how this affects the multi-purpose librarian in a Middle/High School. NEASC accreditation usually affects high schools, as middle and elementary schools do not often apply for the process. Thus, in the Middle/High School library, it will depend on the population, the needs, and the assistance available to fully assess the needs for library staffing. With a number of schools facing the NEASC process soon, this question will receive further attention.
Our unique combination of the middle/high school is one that presents a number of questions without any real solutions. Where we see so many library positions eliminated in the schools, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, it’s almost a benefit that we can keep positions valid for the different school levels. Yet, in our multi-school situations, we are often faced with adding classes or responsibilities that require more than one staff person, but are added into the librarian’s list of to-do’s.
This began as a conversation and became a discussion group. We’d like to continue with group discussions, not only for mutual support, but for plans that might be feasible. For example, where many agreed that high schools are always working around the study hall situation, it’s not a simple solution to “get rid” of study halls. Also, for those who are short-staffed, having volunteers help is often a compromise, but if you are hoping to emphasize the importance of having a library aide, this can become the administration’s answer: use volunteers.
If you are interested in discussing the “unique” issues faced in the combined library, please join our discussion email list. We’d like to suggest it as a topic for Twitter Night, as well as for Area meeting conversations.
Perhaps we can only offer some realistic solution or only temporary fixes. Yet, like every other part of the MSLA, the conversation, the support, and the professional recognition of an issue that concerns the library makes the connection truly beneficial for the participants.
Patsy Divver is the librarian at the Millis Middle/High School