and is a recipient of a 2018 Super Librarian Award
My Fifth grade Library Assistant program began 17 years ago when I first started at Bancroft Elementary School. I wanted a way to get the students more involved, more invested in our school library. Over the years, I have had fabulous groups of students helping me, advising me, entertaining me, and taking ownership of our fantastic school library. They have made it better and me a better librarian.
Fifth grade library assistants are fifth grade students who commit to ½ hour of work per week in the library either before or after school for the entire year.
Actually, the recruiting starts when my students enter Kindergarten. They enter the library and immediately want to go where they are not allowed. “You can’t go behind that desk until you are a Fifth Grade Library Assistant.” “When you are a Fifth Grade Library Assistant, you can go back there into my office.” “Fifth Grade Library Assistants are allowed to use the Circulation desk computer.” And, every year it is the same response, “Oh, I am definitely going to do that when I am in Fifth grade!” Luckily, many of them follow through.
Recruitment for the fifth grade students begins with the sales pitch during the first weeks of school during their scheduled library classes. “ What do Library Assistants do,” they ask.
And I tell them: “Library Assistants:
- Are responsible, caring students who love the library
- Commit to their assigned time every week for the whole year
- Are responsible for maintaining one shelf in the library (of their choice), making sure that the books are in the correct order and are in good repair
- Create and set up seasonal decorations
- Brainstorm book displays and bulletin boards
- Keep the library clean and neat
- Unpack, label and stamp new books (which they can check out first!)
- Help younger students in the library
- Check out books for their class during library time
- Help teachers with book needs by searching, checking out and delivery
- Help the librarian come up with new program ideas
- Write, produce and perform the Dr. Seuss play during the Read Across America assembly in March
- Do anything else that they think of to help the library or the librarian
- Are school leaders
Then, I ask for them to raise their hands if they are still interested. Many hands go up. Do all of those hands belong to students who become Library Assistants? No, but a lot of them do. I usually end up with between 20-25 students every year.
The next step is for the students to fill out an application which I make available at the Circulation desk and on my website. I describe the job in a letter with an attached form to return to me by a deadline (usually 2 weeks). https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vw6aoaaFZ6Sb2gtGhyTNLCuEvILwGd40Ydj21QNAXlo/edit?usp=sharing
I ask them to indicated whether before or after school is best for them and which days they are NOT available. Forms must be signed by the parent/guardian and teacher.
Taking all of the applications and working out a reasonable schedule is the most difficult part. Since they have all told me their time and day preferences, I have to balance the number of assistants for each time slot. I do not have students on Friday after school as that turned into extended babysitting for a few years until I got smarter. I try to balance the numbers keeping each time slot’s assistants to 2 or 3. If I have to have 4 students during a time slot, I try to make sure that they all get along, but are not a clique.
Interviews (yes!)Using the schedule, I set up formal interviews with the applicants. I tell them that being a 5th grade Library Assistant is just like a real job. It is a yearlong commitment and therefore an interview is required. Last year, I had a students show up in a suit and tie. He was adorable and so serious. Interviewing according to the preliminary schedule demonstrates whether that time slot is actually good for the student and allows me to see how the students scheduled for the slot get along. During the interview, I spend 15 minutes with the students reviewing the requirements, asking what they can bring to the job and why they think they will make a good Fifth Grade Library Assistant. We discuss confidentiality (gossip, teasing and bullying are grounds for immediate dismissal.) We talk about ideas that they might have for the upcoming year. The final part of the interview is a “test.” I set up two fake bookshelves on a library cart (one picture books and one non-fiction books) and ask them to put the books in the correct shelf order. This also doubles as a review and training. At the end of the “interview”, I tell them that they are hired and give them their assigned date and time.
The first few working sessions are devoted to training. When they arrive, they sign in on the attendance sheet which is the first thing that they do every week. (This allows me to notice those students who are consistently missing their obligation so I can contact them about continuing or not.) Following that, the students choose a non-fiction shelf that will be their responsibility for the year. They attached a pre-printed label with their name on it to that shelf so everyone will know it is theirs. Together we check the shelf as I expect them to do on their own each week. We look at each book and ensure that it is in the proper Dewey order and move it if it is not. We check that all spine labels are legible and remove the book for a new label if it isn’t. We also check for books that are damaged and remove them as well. The removed books are put on the repair shelf with a sticky note indicating the problem so I can fix them later. We then walk around the library as I point out all of the tasks they can do. We did this during the interview, but it is very good to repeat it and demonstrate picking up pencils, putting away books, straightening carpet squares, filling in empty spaces on the tops of the bookshelves with new books, and cleaning if necessary. I keep a reminder list next to the sign-in sheet so they can refer to it and find things to do if they run out. https://docs.google.com/document/d/10OR8nf4DdZzb88_XfiChvPMhP7HryJgGYvmtKtCO9sU/edit?usp=sharing Usually, training on the circulation system (Follett Destiny) doesn’t occur until the 2nd visit. After I demonstrate how to check in, renew, and check out a book, the students practice. They practice finding themselves in their classroom list. They check out a book to themselves and then check it in. I remind them that the information in the circulation system is private and confidential. They are not to go snooping around for any reason. They may not look up what a student has checked out unless a student asks them to do it for them. I repeat that breaking the confidentiality code is grounds for dismissal. They take this responsibility very seriously. After they have been trained, they can work quite independently and take great pride in their jobs as “Assistant Librarians.”
On special occasions, I give little presents to my 5th grade LAs. I usually order items from Oriental Trading and thereby keep the costs pretty low as I am buying 25 of everything. I am not allowed to give food or candy (it used to be so much easier when I first started.) So now, I usually give Halloween pencils, erasers and a silly card to each student. For the Winter holidays, I give them a Winter rubber ducky (they LOVE them.) And, at the end of the year I give them a certificate as well as a little canvas bag with a button, stress ball, bubbles and a bookmark. Just a little something to let them know how much I have appreciated their help and how much I will miss them. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1dFMr1V588LfbzyZbkdd2TP5-TfOEq75PExDNAsE7F_4/edit?usp=sharing
Dr. Seuss Play
For the past 3 years, the 5th Grade LAs have created and performed a Dr. Seuss book for our Read Across America assembly in March. The process begins before we leave for vacation in December when I ask the students to vote on the book to perform this year. We have already produced Green Eggs and Ham, Fox in Sox and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I select 3 books for them to vote on. They can read and discuss the books during their volunteer time and then vote. Majority rules and the story with the most votes is the one that we will create. For Fox in Sox, I had a fabulous student who actually wrote the script and helped direct. The other scripts were created by me. Once I have the story edited, I can identify the different parts, have a pretty good idea of scenery and props, and can imagine the staging. I then call a lunch meeting in the library so that all of the students can attend. During this meeting, the choice is announced and I pass around clipboards with the parts, props and scenery listed. Students can write their names next to their part choices as well as props and scenery that they would like to make. Some of the students create props and scenery at home while others use their volunteer time to work on them. We can use materials from our Maker Studio as well as all the art supplies that I keep stored in the library. Of course, some of the stories have to be edited as the scenes are impossible to reproduce. For Green Eggs and Ham, I bought top hats and T-shirts for the students playing our 6 different Sams and the Green Eggs haters. All of the rest of the characters were created by the students. Depending on the number of students, scenes and characters can be doubled up or removed. What will we do this year? I will have to see who my assistants turn out to be. I can’t wait to see.
Problems, conflicts, etc.Of course, nothing is perfect. I make sure that parents have my email address so that they can contact me if schedules change. If necessary, students’ days can be switched, hopefully still maintaining a good balance of helpers. Sometimes, the group at a particular time is just not a good fit and I have to ask to make a switch. Students know that if they need to miss a session, they need to contact me so that I am not searching for them or worrying about them. Prescheduled doctor’s appointments or vacations are fine, but I reinforce that this job is a commitment and they should try to avoid scheduling anything else during this time. I especially need notice if they are not going to be there because I put aside work for them to do and if they are not there, it doesn’t get done.
In May, a whole new issue arises, Bancroft Floor Hockey season. This is a competitive event only open to 5th graders. Mr. Rex (the gym teacher) and I have an arrangement which he explains to the athletes. If they are playing in a game, they may miss their assigned Library Assistant time (after warning me), but spectators may not miss their commitment. This isn’t perfect, but Mr. Rex usually only needs to remind a delinquent LA once.
End of the Year and Good-byes
I love my 5th Grade Library Assistants so the end of the year is bittersweet. I am usually extremely grateful that Summer is coming and I am ready for a vacation, but I also know that these students are leaving Bancroft. After having most of them for 6 years, I will miss them a lot. Spending the extra time working together to make the library a better place brings me even closer to these wonderful students. I highly recommend creating a Library Assistant program in your library. It allows you to interact with invested young people and see a different side to them then you see in class. I get to talk to them more in depth about what they are reading, what they are watching and how their lives are going. They get to spend more quality time with me sharing me with 2 other students rather than the 20+ during their Library class time. You will also be amazed at how much more you can get done and what great ideas they will bring to your library. It will be a better place.