and a former President of MSLA.
Questions for this column may be submitted using the confidential link at the bottom of this post
1. What is the best way to deal with a paraprofessional who still talks about the way things were done by the previous librarian and questions you constantly?
This question really is about a power struggle around who is in charge and who knows more about how to run the library. The scenario usually goes something like this: the librarian who had been there for many years recently retired, and in her/his place comes a new professional. The paraprofessional had been working with the previous librarian for many years. And the refrain that is heard goes something like this “When [fill in the blank] was here, we did it this way” or “This is how we always did [xyz].”
So what is the new person supposed to do? Give in and do things “the way they have always been done?” In this situation, diplomacy and respect can go a long way towards smoothing ruffled feathers and perceived power struggles. Pat McAbee, in “Library Leadership IQ: what good managers know” tells us that “A library staff that works together to develop performance goals, identify areas of job responsibility, and devise methods of achieving objectives will be more committed.” There are bound to be differences of opinion on everything from how to perform the most basic managerial tasks to more upper-level decision-making. Going slow is key.
Make sure that a current job description exists for the library assistant in question. If the job description is old, or non-existent, then work with this staff member to put together a list of duties and responsibilities. This will help solidify what the assistant’s role in the library is, and perhaps serve as a jumping-off place for healthy discussion.
And lastly, everyone has good ideas that can contribute to the operation of the library. The professional, in leading and building a team (even if it is only a team of two) should practice good listening skills. In doing so, just hearing someone out may be enough to allay fears, find common ground, and take many contentious issues off of the table. Being questioned constantly by an assistant who still feels some loyalty towards the previous librarian and/or is very resistant to change is never easy. The professional in charge needs to harness the powers of diplomacy, patience, respect and leadership skills to manage staff and processes and procedures in the library.
2. How do you handle taking time off for lunch?
Who needs lunch? Just kidding, of course. Everyone needs a mid-day break and sustenance to keep going and do their best. Not to mention that most contracts provide time during the day for lunch and yes, even breaks!
We know that most school librarians are alone in the library. They manage a bustling library with students, staff, parents, and administrators flying in and out all day long. How do you tell the fourth grade students who are coming down to find the next book in their favorite series, or the kindergarteners who are coming in to the library to check out books because they missed their library class yesterday due to a field trip, that they cannot come? That the librarian is “out to lunch?”
It doesn’t have to come to that. Your principal should be involved. Have a face-to-face meeting and ask your principal to support you by providing some coverage while you are at lunch. A recess aide, classroom aide, parent volunteer, or some other helper, can always cover during your lunch for at least the minimal “book-check” services. You owe it to yourself and to your students to eat lunch and take a much-needed mid-day break.
A very last resort is to place a “closed for lunch” sign on the library door and go to lunch. If your fellow teachers, parents, and others in the school are supportive, they can get the word out to the principal that the library should never be closed.
So, take your lunch. Advocate for help to keep the library open during your lunch. And lastly, some school librarians set up a self-checkout system for students and staff to use while they are at lunch, either paper and pencil or a laptop and scanner. This is another work-around. But whatever decision you make, lunch is a priority!!
3. My full time library job is being reduced to 2 periods out of seven next year. I will coteach math for the other 4 periods. How do I handle the change and reduction in library time?
I am sorry to hear this. Of course, you have to understand that you can only do 1/3 of what you were doing before, as now 2/3 of your time will be spent teaching math. Being conscientious, as we all are, you will feel compelled to juggle both positions as fully as you possibly can. This is unrealistic and unhealthy on many levels.
The obvious here is that it is apparent that there is a lack of support for the school library and the library program in your school. Having stated the obvious, take your library job description, and using that as a springboard, make a list of all of your duties. In the library, while you are going about your daily activities, use a voice recorder and speak your duties as they happen. How many children have you helped, books stamped, questions answered, tech problems resolved, furniture moved and rearranged for a class, committee meetings attended, lessons developed, books and other resources ordered, discussions with teachers about assessment, and on and on? Do this for a week or two. Then take your list and divide it by “roles”: teacher, leader, instructional partner, and program administrator (AASL).
How much on this list can you accomplish if your time as a school librarian is cut by 2/3? What will be sacrificed and what can you possibly accomplish with such limited time in the library? The obvious next step is a meeting with your principal to review your list and explicitly explain what will be lost as you transition to teaching mathematics. This is imperative as your administrator needs to know and understand what will be lost. Time for book check-out? Reshelving books? Collaborating with staff? Information and other literacy lessons? Programming? Collection development? And, of course, much more. Be clear about what you think you can do and what will be lost to the school and the children. You are then making sure that there is no confusion about the future of the library program. Leave a copy of this list with your principal. Highlight the “can do’s” and the “cannot do” to be clear and leave no question behind. You will understandably feel very badly about what will not happen in the library while you are teaching math. Remember, this is not your decision. While you are teaching those four math classes, the library will be unattended. There is nothing you can do about this. You will also be asked to attend math department meetings. You will have lessons to plan for those classes and papers to correct. You are one person being asked to split your time between two jobs. In the case of the library, the front end tasks as well as the managerial tasks will suffer. I wish you all the luck. And the strength to say no in a very difficult situation.
4. Should I keep print encyclopedias around or just steer students to Encyclopedia Britannica online? Is the reference section dead?
In answer to your question “Is the reference section dead?”, I honestly have to say yes. Today spending money on a reference section is a waste of money. With almost everything we need to know available to us on our cell phones, reference collections sit and collect dust. It seems ludicrous to spend money on books that cannot be checked out. In Terri Kirks’ article “Tough Love for Your Reference Collection, she states “...the best way to use reference is to get rid of the reference section.”
You don't say how old your print encyclopedia sets are, but my thoughts are if the set is older than five years, remove it. If younger, you might keep it for access to questions that do not need immediate currency. Remember that print encyclopedias contain misinformation the minute they hit the press. We live in a world of rapid-fire changes, and print can no longer keep up.
In general, weed your reference collection thoroughly, remove outdated and never-used materials and incorporate the little that does get used into your print collection. Let the books circulate. We are beyond the days of non-circulating collections. While print holds merit for many reasons, only print that works well and can be in the hands of students in school and at home is worth keeping. One caveat: rare books and those books that are locally written and published and cannot be replaced. This takes some thought and consideration, however, and is specific to the culture of each individual school and the district in which it resides. A recent post in Knowledge Quest published by AASL can be found here and gives some great weeding recommendations. Good luck.
Connection, Aug. 2010, p. 28.
McAbee, Pat. "Library Leadership IQ: what good managers know." The Book Report,
May-June 2002, p. 38.
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