They say good help is hard to find. I contend that it’s not so much about finding good help as finding the right help in the school library. Whether your school library has paid assistants or volunteers, making sure the right people fill these positions makes a big difference.
I’m fortunate to work in a school with a full time media clerk. The wonderful lady I’d worked with the previous two years couldn’t return this fall. When it was time to hire a new clerk over the summer, there were many considerations since the position is so vital to how the library runs day to day.
The School District’s Description
Just getting the opening posted was a complicated process that required including a job description. My school district’s description for a media clerk included tasks like filing, shelving, assisting with circulation, checking hall passes, helping with displays, and maintaining supplies. The preferred skills included “having a familiarity with office machines.” Aside from needing to be updated for the modern school library, I realized that these general tasks were designed to fit at any library, but they were only a small part of what our school library actually needed from a media clerk.
Our Library’s Real Needs
I was excited and a bit scared to be part of the hiring process for the new media clerk. This person would be working with our students–and me–all day every day! Before looking over resumes with an assistant principal, I reviewed our library mission statement and end of year reports to help prioritize our needs and focus the search.
Creating a culture of readers, meeting students’ academic and recreational reading needs, and embracing our school’s diversity were top priorities. To me, this boiled down to having a welcoming space and providing access to students. All of our students receive free lunch. Most of our students are reading well below grade level and don’t consider themselves readers. The new media clerk would need to help make the library a safe space where students would want to come visit. Our student population is approximately 62% Black, 27% Hispanic, and 9% White. Many of our Hispanic students are bilingual, but about 10% speak little to no English. Since I don’t speak any Spanish, I realized that a large segment of our school might feel disconnected from the library. Hiring a bilingual media clerk went to the top of my hiring wish list.
My assistant principal was surprised how few applicants (2 of 36) had any library experience. I was not. Learning the circulation system, library policies, and shelving wouldn’t be difficult; I was much more concerned with finding the right person who would meet our library’s real needs and be excited to interact with students—and hopefully be bilingual.
The Right Media Clerk for Us
After sifting through resumes and interviewing multiple candidates, we found the right media clerk for our school library. Immediately, Ms. Pridgen’s personality and enthusiasm were infectious. She didn’t have library experience, but she had previously worked with impoverished families. And, she’s bilingual. My wish list items were all checked off, and I couldn’t wait for her to be part of our library.
Of course Ms. Pridgen has picked up on the library routines, helped with reading celebrations, designed bulletin boards, and is creating relationships with our students. But, having someone in our school library who can speak with students in their native language has made a world of difference. Before, I could smile and try to make students feel welcome, but Ms. Pridgen can engage them in a conversation—and that’s their first and very positive impression of our library. It’s a place they want to come back to, again and again. Our circulation of Spanish language books has doubled over the last year and more Hispanic students are visiting the library during their lunch period. The library is relevant and accessible to these students, and we’re able to better meet their needs now. They are having the same library experience as every other student in the school.
Finding the right person to be our media clerk is allowing the school library to better serve all of our students. Thinking strategically and looking for a person to meet our library’s specific needs was well worth the time. Whether you’re looking for a media clerk or recruiting volunteers, knowing what you want for your library will help you know who you want for your library.
Author: Christine James
I am the teacher librarian at Northwoods Middle School in North Charleston, South Carolina. This is my twentieth year in education, all of them working with middle school students. When I’m not trying out crazy ideas in the library, I like to read on the beach, play with my puppy, and try new restaurants with my husband.