One of the hardest things for me when I became a new librarian was being the only librarian on my staff. Who would I eat lunch with? Who would fill me in on the unwritten rules of the school, like how to know the days when the secretary should be avoided? And who would I share lesson plans/ideas with? The first day of back to school meetings I decided to join the 5th grade teachers, having just come from that grade. They were kind to let me join them and I soon found a group and fit in–narrowly escaping the stuff of middle school nightmares–being new at school and finding out all of the teams were already made, and I didn’t have one.
I discovered soon after that being a librarian in a big district with strong central leadership, we were afforded many opportunities for collaborating with other librarians–not just other librarians at our level, but those in feeder school or pyramids in our areas. During these librarian professional development days we could discuss our programs, policies, resources we’d found in the area, and all sorts of valuable things that make us better at serving our communities.
If you’re in a school that doesn’t regularly get these opportunities, create them for yourself. Plan some time during the year for face-to-face and/or virtual meetings or discussions to build a collaborative relationship with surrounding campus librarians. Here are some talking points:
1) Policies – how do your policies compare? Do you have the same philosophy about circulation limits/overdues/fines/interlibrary loan? What are the do’s and don’t’s for your libraries? What are the gaming and phone policies and how are they enforced? No one wants to hear, “My other librarian always let me…” Having some continuity from campus to campus as students promote to the next level or move attendance zones can be very helpful.
2) Curriculum and Instruction – How do you support teachers and what research models do you teach? How do you integrate technology and what skills are students learning to use it? Have you found a good way to stay abreast of what teachers are doing? How do you help them with their love units such as when the 5th grade teachers always teach mythology even though it’s in the 6th grade curriculum and frustrates the 6th grade teachers at the middle school? How do they stake claim on specific novel studies if this isn’t managed by another department? Do you teach a specific research model? Is there a benefit to building on the same model from elementary through high school, or is it worthwhile for students to be exposed to various methods? How do you support at-risk students to ensure that they graduate?
3) Leveraging community support – How do you work with parent and student groups to support library programs? Does the parent group run the bookfair at the elementary school and then have their feelings hurt when the middle school librarian doesn’t want their help? Are there older students who could do service credit hours by volunteering to work with the younger students in the library? How do you work with the local public library in your community?
We have had many great discussions in our district over these topics. Some are hotly debated, like policies, and much of the time, we agree to disagree. Taking the time to articulate and express your beliefs is a great exercise no matter what the topic. We have also worked as a team to develop curriculum–an entirely daunting task when done alone. Mainly, we’ve found friends who can laugh and understand our unique jobs in a way that most other educators cannot.
For those of you who are lucky enough to have these relationships with neighboring librarians, please add other topics. Whether you think of yourself as doing vertical articulation, sharing with pyramid librarians, or simply collaborating with colleagues, take advantage of the expertise around you and the opportunity to learn and grow as you strive to better serve your community.
Author: Jennifer Laboon
Jennifer LaBoon is the Coordinator of Library Technology in Fort Worth ISD. She serves on the AASL Blog Committee, on the Executive Board of the Texas Library Association, volunteers with a local children’s musical theater group, and is an avid TCU fan.