One of the things I do before I finish working each day is make a to-do list for the next day and update my long-range to-do items. It gives me direction in the morning with the most pressing tasks to get done right away. As school librarians, there is a lot for us to focus on: our collections, programming, advocacy, collaborations with teachers, and the list goes on. But how do we prioritize what to focus on? Having a “why” as a school librarian can be instrumental in determining what are the most important tasks and what can wait.
Essentially, consider why you became a librarian and what role you want your library to play in your school and your students’ lives. My overall “why” is that I want to make the library experience better for all. My students deserve a more welcoming, accessible school library than I had as a kid. Giving students the opportunity to learn, discover, and grow in their knowledge of themselves and the world are priorities for me. That includes working with all staff, all students, and all content areas. That also includes instilling in students the loves of learning, reading, and making. It also means being flexible with services as well as programs to ensure that students feel accepted and represented in my school library.
I want to make sure that everyone who encounters the library–whether in-person or virtually–feels like they have had a positive experience or outcome when they finish. In person, that might mean they found a great book to read, information to help with a class assignment, or a safe space until they feel like they can encounter the world again. In the virtual environment, positive encounters with the library might look like virtual book clubs, weekly maker challenges, answering e-mails from staff and students, and opportunities for informal socializing or playing digital games during lunch time. When students or staff get what they need–a space, connections with others, or reading materials–I want them to think, “I can’t wait to come back here.”
Knowing my “why” helps me prioritize. As I go down my to-do list, I ask myself if each item is essential and related to my overarching goals. Figuring out ways for fully virtual students to still socialize and meet others is a priority for me. I want students to think of the library as a positive experience that isn’t just checking out books and doing research. While my school was fully virtual, I dove into opportunities like sponsoring clubs and creating fun programs for students during the enrichment/remediation time. I still wanted to provide the socialization component that we encouraged in our space before the pandemic.
Figuring Out Your Why
We have competing priorities that come from the five roles of the school librarian (AASL 2018), but not all of them can be addressed at the same time. Why are you doing what you are doing? What underlying ideas and philosophies do you have about libraries and librarianship that guide your decisions each day? Consider creating a mind-map or word art with what you are really passionate about in the school library–and why. Use it as a tool for putting together your thoughts about why you do what you do.
After you craft your “why” statement, consider how it impacts your current situation. Whether you are fully in-person, fully virtual, or hybrid, knowing your why can help you make decisions for how you offer library services to your school community safely. What is a reasonable expectation of yourself and your school library to continue services or innovate new ways of access?
Finally, write out your “why” statement and put it somewhere that is visible for both you and your community. Mine are hashtags in my e-mail signature: #makinglibrarybetterforall, #lifelonglearner, #teachingismypassion. You could also create a fun graphic and add it to your circulation desk. However you choose to display your “why,” it’s important for everyone to know what your essential priorities and philosophies are. It may even spur conversations that lead to new and interesting opportunities for you and your program!
What is your “why”? How can your “why” help drive your library services this year?
AASL. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. ALA: Chicago.
Author: Rachel Grover
Rachel Grover is a middle school librarian in Fairfax County, Virginia, and a member of the board of directors for the Virginia Association of School Librarians. She has published articles on ways to make school libraries accessible for Knowledge Quest and on genrefying the library collection for School Library Connection. She also has developed workshops for beginning librarians for School Library Connection. Rachel was an elementary school teacher for two years before beginning life as a middle-school English teacher in 2009. In 2014, she joined Libraryland, finding a dream job she didn’t even know was her dream! When she is not working, she loves reading, tinkering with technology, traveling, taking photographs, and sleeping in. Her passions include genrefication, makerspaces, technology, collaboration with teachers across the curriculum, and making school libraries equitable and accessible for all learners.