I don’t know about you, but I am ready to hit the January reset button. For most educators, August is the time when we set our goals and intentions for the upcoming school year, which makes January the perfect time to reflect and revise.
I personally want to recapture the excitement and resolve I felt when thinking about the goals I wanted to accomplish at my new school this fall. Previously I worked in our district’s library services department and as a high school librarian; this year I moved to an elementary school. I knew it was going to be a new adventure that I felt somewhat prepared to embark upon.
I had the benefit of conducting hundreds of visits to elementary school libraries during my six years at the district level, which gave me many examples about procedures and routines, instruction, collection development, and programming. Add to that the librarians I know from the Nebraska School Librarians Association and the library sciences program at the local university where I teach, and I had SO MANY IDEAS!
But, I also knew I needed to take a deep breath. After several decades of being an adult, I have learned a few things about myself. I have a love of crossing things off my to-do lists. I see something that needs to be accomplished, and I go at it full force until it is done. I sometimes set goals with time frames that are both self-imposed and unnecessary. Knowing this about myself, I knew I needed to keep the two main mantras I live by as a school librarian close to heart this year. I have not been the best about this so far, but January brings a new year and a new decade to help remind myself of what I already know.
The first mantra is “always begin with relationships.” I firmly believe you cannot set or accomplish your goals without knowing who you are serving–your staff, students, and community. It doesn’t matter if it is your first year or your 20th, there is always someone new to get to know, whether a grown-up or a student. And, unsurprisingly, people change from year to year. Who they were before and what they needed then could be vastly different from who they are now and what they need today. What you learn about your people informs your practice.
The second one is harder for me to remember, though it is the advice I give the most: “Librarianship is a marathon, not a sprint.” Chances are good that you won’t be able to accomplish everything you’d like each year. Even if you are conservative with your goals and intentions, you probably still won’t be able to do everything. And, that is ok. Let me repeat that–It is ok if you are not able to accomplish all your goals this year.
I speak to myself just as loudly with that statement as I do you. We have some weeding and rearranging of the collection that I haven’t been able to completely deal with yet. I keep telling myself it’s ok. It’s only been 4+ months. But, the other side of me just wants it done. Deep breath and repeat after me: Marathon, not a sprint…
After this first semester in my new school, I realize some of the goals I set at the beginning of the year are not going to work out for a variety of reasons. I didn’t really know my collection or space or technology or people yet. As I got to know my school better, not only did a few things fall off my list, but several others rose up that I wasn’t expecting. Again, I don’t think it matters how long you’ve been in your building or been a librarian, the intentions you set at the beginning of the school year probably need revision part way through every year because there is always something unexpected that comes up.
While the goals of this school year loom large in our psyche, as school librarians, we need to keep in mind that we are in this for the long haul. The books we help our students select to read will influence their future reading lives and choices. The skills they learn with us will not only help them in their next steps in education but throughout their lifetimes. The way they feel about our school library will affect how they feel about using public libraries. In my opinion, the important thing is that we set goals that have our school community’s best interests at heart and we work toward serving our people’s needs. Librarianship is a blissfully continuous marathon, and anything we accomplish toward serving our patrons’ needs should be considered a success.
Author: Courtney Pentland
Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She is the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary