Back-to-School Tips

Summer is always a great time to reset, recharge, and rethink the way we run our school libraries. I thought I would share a few organizational tips that you may want to implement in your school library for the upcoming school year.

Library Cards: Your Key to the Library

I use sentence strips to create students’ library cards. This style of library card functions in three ways: as a name tag, as a library card, and as a shelf marker. I keep them in 5 baskets, the size of a shoe box, labeled for the day (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5). At the end of each class, all “keys” are banded together and put in a basket. For example, on Day 2, I can find the keys of all the classes that came to the library in the Day 2 basket.

I tell students that they are going to create their “key” to the library. I copy different pictures of antique keys and cut them out. Students chose a key picture to glue onto their sentence strip. They put their name on the other side and then decorate it with crayons. The sentence strips are waxy, so if students use markers, they will need to wait a moment for the marker to dry or it will smear.  (Kindergarten students get sentence strips with their names already on it.)

My assistant prints out the students’ library barcodes on labels and affixes them to the back of the strips before laminating the cards. This job takes about two weeks to complete, but it is worth it for the rest of the year.

When students come into the library, my assistant quickly scans their “keys” in the system to see who has returned books and who hasn’t. She then hands me the “keys” of the students who have returned their books and are eligible to check out. I pass those “keys” out to students and they go to check-out.

Students who didn’t return books line up at the circulation desk, where my assistant has placed their “keys.” Since their “keys” are laminated, my assistant can write a quick note on those cards with a dry erase marker or an old overhead pen letting me know if a student has had a book out for more than two weeks.

One by one, I scan their keys to see what book they forgot and how long they have had the book out. I have a quick chat with each student to see why they have forgotten their book and when they can bring the book back. As soon as they bring their book back, they can come to the library first thing in the morning to get a new book.

My expectation is that every student needs to be a library patron in good standing so they can check out a book each week. Students who have not returned a book for more than two weeks, do not get their “key” to check out.

Morning Checkout

Students arrive to school at 9:10 a.m., so my library is open for morning check-out from 9:10 to 9:40 a.m. My assistant does not arrive until 9:45 a.m. Last year, I “hired” three 5th-grade students to be trained to work in the library between 9:10 and 9:45 a.m. every morning. They scanned books in, checked books out to students, and helped students find books. This was also helpful when my assistant was absent.

Those students were such a huge help that I want to expand the program this year. I am going to call it the Library Club. The fifth-grade teachers will choose two students every month that want to come and help. I plan on making special Library Club lanyards for those students.

Library Clean-Up

During my first year as a librarian, students would leave the library a mess. Chairs would not be pushed in, art supplies would not be put away, book marks would be on the floor. After reading the book Classroom Management for Art, Music, & PE Teachers by Michael Linsin, I realized that I needed to teach my students the behaviors I wanted to see.

Now, I make sure that the students know my expectations at the beginning of the year. If my students are working at tables, when it is time for dismissal, I have all students look at me. I say, “After you put your supplies away, push in your chair, and stand behind it.” When I see a table that is ready, that is the table that gets to line up first. My library is much neater after classes leave.

Student Experts

When students are checking out, I always get the question, “How do I put a book on hold?” (Even though I have taught this skill…repeatedly!)

At this time, I ask the class, “Raise your hand if you are an expert at putting a book on hold?” I then tell the student to ask someone with their hand raised to help them. This allows me to continue talking to students about books, instead of individually repeating a lesson that I have taught over and over again. It also encourages students to become an “expert” at the card catalog.

This tip works well with any lesson that the students are independently working on.

How to Handle and Care for a Book

There was one skill that I didn’t learn in my library classes.  My first year, the library assistant informed me that Pre-K and Kindergarten students must be taught how to handle a book. She explained that they did not know how to turn the pages without ripping them. Students should be taught to hold the top right corner of each page to turn it. If they hold the bottom right corner of the page and turn too fast, the page will rip at the bottom.

Now, I use a few discarded books to demonstrate how to turn the pages. I grab the bottom of the page and turn quickly and the students gasp when the page rips!

I also save a few disgusting discarded books to show. The students are horrified when they see teeth marks, crayon scribbles, food and drink stains as well as mold!

Don’t Check Out Books the First Week

My first two years, I always let students check out books the first week of school. However, I realized that during the first week, I needed to set my procedures, create library cards, and teach book care. This extra week allows me to show students the expectations I have for them in the library. It is worth it in the long run to spend a little bit of time at the beginning of the year setting up our routines. This allows the rest of the year to run smoothly. By taking the time to teach procedures and routines up front, I get the most instruction out of my 45-minute block for the rest of the year.

Be Flexible

My last tip is to be flexible. Sometimes things just don’t go the way you planned. That’s okay. Go with it. You are in charge of your library. You get to change the rules. Being flexible allows you to create a positive school environment for your students, and your teachers.

I hope you have a wonderful 2019-2020 school year in your library!


Author: Colleen R. Lee

Colleen R. Lee is a former middle school English teacher and Elementary Teacher. She is currently the Elementary Librarian at Greenfield Elementary School in Chesterfield County, VA. Follow her on Twitter @MrsLeesLibrary.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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