Reflecting on My First Year as a High School Librarian
Calling myself a librarian still feels a lot like calling myself a writer. It feels like it’s not really real. This is a dream job I didn’t know was available to me most of my life. I went to tiny, religious schools growing up that didn’t have physics or theater or most sports offered, much less a school library. To be completely candid, I didn’t even know schools had libraries until I got to college. While I did go to the public library growing up, I didn’t have the freedom to choose anything I wanted, so libraries weren’t wondrous safe havens for me. I didn’t really know what was in them.
It wasn’t until I started working in a high school that I realized schools in my county had libraries with specific collections chosen especially for the student demographic by people who knew the student body. At the time, I was trying to keep my head above water learning how to teach and completing classes for my license. Years later, when I had enough space to take a breath and reflect on what I wanted, teaching in the classroom couldn’t be it. I loved the students, making resources and lessons, was passionate about teen literacy, but the physical and emotional demands were too high for me to continue paying for the rest of my career.
Instead of taking a break from taking classes, I started taking classes to add an endorsement on my license for a library media specialist. Bada-bing bada-boom (and years and many dollars plus hard work later) here I am, in my dream job. Now that I have a year under my belt and some of my green has worn off, it’s important to look back and see how it went, so I can see where I need to go.
I Don’t Have to Do Everything Alone
Teachers are islands alone in a sea of children. It’s me and 150 teenagers for 180 days. Occasionally, an administrator or specialist pops in to, I don’t know, make sure I’m not playing Xbox all day. I am the adult in the room. I am responsible for everyone on my roster for the next 90 minutes whether or not they are inside the classroom. I have to find all the resources, do all the teaching, manage all the behavior, decorate all the walls, arrange all the furniture, collect all the data, grade all the quizzes, tests, and essays, and I get 90 minutes every other day (when I’m not pulled to cover other classes) in which to do it.
In the library, there’s a team. Other adults. Other creative minds and hard workers and like-minded professionals. The number of times I’d come up with an idea and start barreling ahead alone without asking for help before realizing I did, in fact, need as much help as I could get was many, many times. It was second nature. Get idea. Execute. There was no time to talk it out or make a detailed plan when the lesson wasn’t working in the moment. I learned in the first quarter to ask for help, but it took the whole year to remember that help was available.
The Importance of Looking Ahead
Shifting my mindset to be long-term goal-oriented has been difficult. I’m used to instant feedback from students, instant results, instant changes in behaviors. The library is a long game. It takes years to accumulate supplies for a makerspace or digital learning area, years to curate a collection to reflect the student body, months to fundraise for book club books. Even shorter term goals take weeks. Between planning and marketing new programs, nothing gets off the ground quickly.
At first, I was discouraged by this because I was used to fast results and instant feedback. Slowly though, as I decorated the library each month for a different theme and implemented new programs, people started commenting on the positive changes. That’s just the surface stuff. Imagine what they will say in four years when no students in the school know any library that doesn’t have me in it. I get excited just thinking about it.
Realizing that my goals should be months and years oriented rather than weeks and quarters, helped give me a healthy perspective about what is possible during a school year. Now is the time for before pictures and three-ring binders full of current stats I’m working to make old stats.
Permission to Change
While being part of a team felt good and had amazing benefits, at the beginning, I tended to let it hold me back. I grew up as a military brat in an evangelical household. Chain of command is ingrained deep. I knew that my co-librarian and I were just that, cooperating. We are partners with equal responsibility and equal power. I knew this in my brain, but my chain-of-command heart took a while to understand it.
Being the rookie with no prior library experience, I hesitated to change anything, doubting myself. A best friend asked me how it was going, and I made a self-deprecating joke about not having any idea what I was doing. Immediately, she cut in and told me that I do know what I’m doing. That she didn’t know anyone as passionate about teen literacy as me and that I had been working toward this goal on a smaller scale my entire career by curating my own classroom library and recommending books. She was right. Even though my co-librarian had given me permission from the start, I hadn’t given myself permission to try and fail. Her quick defense of me and my abilities squashed the hesitancy that was holding me back. This is my library that needs to serve my students in the best way it is able.
In my first school year, the library has changed in many ways. The last two weeks of school, teachers and students both told me how different it felt now compared to the beginning of the year. It was a more welcoming place able to host more activities than it had. The books are more reflective of the student body, with different viewpoints represented. The calendar at the end of the year was much fuller than it was at the beginning.
My goal going forward at this point is more of the same. I want to be even more welcoming, have even more people who can see themselves in the collection, fill the calendar sooner. Of course I have ongoing projects and plans and ideas, but my mission remains the same. Get good books in kids’ hands and be a safe place for anyone who needs it.