How Do You Stay Organized in the Library?

My co-librarian and I are messy and disorganized. We love our work, we love our middle schoolers, but we do not love cleaning. As we’re were doing our end-of-the-year chores, we realized we need to make some major changes and clean up our act.

Our usual cleaning and organizing is tossing everything into a closet, the studio, or our backroom and turning off the lights. This is done when we’re having visitors, and we don’t want them to know how horribly messy we really are.

Our admins are pretty accepting of our messiness. We’re team players and we’re responsible for the majority of our school’s technology, so they generally cut us some slack regarding the state of the library. There have been a few times when one of our admins has mentioned our messiness:

  • Our principal once referred to the library office as a dumpster fire.
  • A vice principal came by to talk with us. We had to get a chair from another room, because our chairs were so dirty she wouldn’t sit in one.
  • Recently a retirement reception was held in the library, and our principal was shocked about how clean the library was and announced we had finally cleaned up our space.

(I guess he didn’t look in the studio where we hid everything.)

In defense of our mess hidden in the studio, we had to clean off/out our current circulation desk so it can be removed and a new desk can be moved into the library. Our current desk has a cabinet, shelves, and two deep drawers stuffed with all kinds of random items until recently when we moved those things into the studio. When we ordered our new desk we declined all cabinet/drawer options in a conscious effort to keep our new desk neater and prevent us from stuffing it full of things we don’t know what to do with so we toss them in a drawer.

I’m guessing that many school libraries accumulate weird, random things as many people seem to think if they don’t know where something goes, give it to the librarian or just abandon it in the library. In our case, we’re the school’s junk drawer, which doesn’t make it any easier to stay tidy. Weird and random items donated (abandoned) in the library include:

  • A large box of hay
  • Plastic bags of unidentified frozen meat and bone left in our freezer
  • A jello mold of an anatomically accurate heart

My co-librarian requested I emphasize our messiness is clutter, not garbage, and the chairs that were too gross for our admin were very old fabric rolling chairs that we replaced with easy to clean lucite chairs. We are aware of our messiness, and even though we occasionally address it, we’ve gotten pretty overwhelmed with the disorganization and overall chaos as we get ready to close up for summer break. We’ve decided to create a chore list, establishing reasonable goals and what we should do every day before we leave the library such as making sure all books are checked in and placed in order on a cart. We’re not entirely sure how we’re going to get organized, but we’re open to suggestions from our organized colleagues.

Are you a messy librarian? If not, how do you stay organized in the library? Do you have any chores you do as a daily routine? 

Just a box of hay in the library


Author: Mica Johnson

I’m a school librarian at Farragut Middle. I like the lib to be loud, messy, and full of student activity. I love tech stuff as much as I love books, and I’m part of an awesome rotating maker space.

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

6 replies

  1. I’m a public librarian who teaches process improvement fundamentals to city employees. May I suggest that you learn a bit about 5S?

    And if that seems like too much, you can try 3S instead:

    I use an activity in class that demonstrates that creating a clean, organized work space actually improves employee productivity.

    And before you tell me that school libraries are different ;-), some school districts have successfully tried it.

  2. Much like neglected shelves, I can only suggest starting with a giant Marie-Kondo like weed of your office supplies and files. This will let you find out if you’re missing any critical supplies, weed out paperwork that may be tossable, and talk to admin about policy and practicality of tossing out unwanted surprise donations (like the hay & frozen meat!).

    Once you have whittled everything down and grouped it by whatever categories make the most sense, you can finally figure out what kind of storage solutions are going to be necessary for easy access. Try not to think about anything as “storage” but strictly as “accessible”. If you’re storing things without thinking about accessibility– maybe they aren’t things you need to keep. Of course, you’ll have those once-a-year type items that will need to be tucked away, but make sure they’re stored in a fashion that won’t mean you lose them behind boxes of hay or craft supplies!

    For materials that you directly collect and control, I find that making sure everything has a specific location is a great place to start. I have clearly labeled inbox trays that designate “active to-do”, “project work papers” and “to file” (I try to clean out the ‘to-file’ tray at least 1x a month at WORST and file them into their appropriate long-term storage folders. Sometimes I realize things don’t need to be kept after all, and that helps keep clutter out of my long-term files more effectively).

    I also put on my outlook calendar “dates” with myself for going through my long-term files (I only truly need 1 desk drawer for long-term files, and it gets full after a while!) and I ALWAYS find papers that I no longer need to keep.

    I don’t particularly have a daily routine, although I do try to make sure my desk is fully cleared off before I leave each day, which may simply mean putting any active papers or projects away in their respective inbox trays. 1x a month at the minimum I wipe down my desk with Clorox wipes as well.

    I admit, I’m very much a clutter-free person and simply get anxious if my office is too cluttered (staring at boxes of new computers right now, ugh). but it feels amazing to know you have exactly what you need and know where it is. Aside from my employer buying a single “new” purchase of one multi-drawer plastic storage unit, I’ve cobbled together my organizers (including drawer organizers) out of old technology packaging, spare tubs lying around the library, a label maker, and things like old tea tins from home. It works!

  3. Thank you for the suggestions! We’ll look into these, maybe get a little plan of action going.

  4. One piece of advice that has helped me is that your storage system needs to be designed in a way that makes it just as easy to put something away as it is to find something. So for example, binders and filing cabinet drawers are not as effective for me because it’s an extra step to get something put away correctly. I switched to plastic project cases and I feel like it’s better. I still have a “to file” pile, but it’s one pile on a shelf with a door as opposed to spread out all over my desks.

  5. I feel your pain. I have three campuses and haven’t had an assistant at one of them since March, actually most of the year. I am also messy, and add back surgery this past summer, but I start out with good intentions…
    I’ll take any advice as well, and Good Luck!

  6. I inherited a mess from a librarian who is more of a creative soul and took an approach to cleaning for company that seemed to involve dumping everything on the surfaces into a box and throwing it in the closet. When I came, it took me awhile to sort through those boxes and put like things with like things. I have a moveable rack with bins for tech stuff, lots of lidded see-through plastic boxes that fit on my shelves for craft schtuff, and a well-used label maker for labeling drawers, cabinets, etc. that are not see through. Not perfect, but better.

    Like many of the rest of you, it’s just me as paid staff in my library, but I am training students and heavily delegating based on their individual talents, whether it be emceeing, straightening, tossing, decorating, or whatever.

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