New Year’s Resolutions for School Librarians

Flatiron Books publisher of Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

A blazing talent debuts with the tale of a status-driven wedding planner grappling with her social ambitions, absent mother, and Puerto Rican roots—all in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

There are differing opinions on the practice of setting New Year’s Resolutions, and I see both sides. If done irrationally, or with the idea that you must drastically improve yourself by societal standards overnight, resolutions can be useless at best, mentally (or physically) damaging at worst. The dreck that often floods our streams of consciousness during a typical January includes unrealistic weight loss goals, the standard “run a marathon” even if running is not something you’re interested in, and the drive to read “better” books, as if classics or nonfiction books are somehow more moral than the genre you prefer. It can be really exhausting to navigate, and I get why some have found it easier to dismiss the process all together.

However, some people find themselves motivated by imagining what they’d like to accomplish and carefully identifying steps to take them toward that ideal future. There are so many different ways to achieve this while prioritizing your mental health and avoiding the impulsive desire to change overnight. I really love the work of Dani Brufoldt of Thyme is Honey, who has tons of productivity and goal planning advice, including excellent free workshops and resources. Another pinnacle of successful resolutions is identifying everyday habits and routines that will help you work towards your goal. As always, there’s a book for that — check out this list of books about habits.

If you’re interested in new ideas and fresh starts in your library, below I’ve compiled some examples of New Year’s Resolutions for school librarians. Being in education over the past few years has been traumatic and draining. These resolutions were designed to lighten your workload and maybe relight the spark of joy that health protocols and rising case numbers have dampened for many.  Hopefully, something in this list will at least give you an idea that can make the next part of the school year a little lighter, simpler, or more exciting.

Work Your Hours Only

If you work in a public school, you likely have a contract. It has long been a staple of the profession to laugh at how inadequate the paid hours are in teaching contracts — the actual work required to run a classroom, meet with other professionals about students, and provide high quality, engaging lessons runs FAR over the contractual agreement. The advice to avoid working outside the contract can be really frustrating. However, I encourage you to try and at least cut back on time you spend working for free. I find it easier to make this change at the end of the day and have been trying very hard to leave on time, even when just one more task is calling.

To make this work, I’ve started doing more shelving while students are with me in the library. I used to feel like I had to wait until classes were gone, but there are too many classes and too many books, so I’ve stopped feeling guilty about being a librarian when kids are in front of me. The same goes for covering new books or mending broken ones — my roles as teacher and librarian can blur together and that is totally fine.

Use a Top 3

This is a very simple habit that supports the “work your hours only” resolution. I found these cute sticky notes at the beginning of the school year that simply say “Top 3” and have three boxes. Each morning, I put the three things I hope to accomplish that day. Sometimes it’s a small thing, like remembering to run a book to a certain teacher. Sometimes it’s more vague, like “stay on top of shelving.” However I’ve chosen to use it, it’s very grounding when the enormous task of teaching seven lessons a day while developing and managing a library collection becomes too overwhelming. It’s my number one stress reducer and on days that are extra hard, one of my Top 3 tasks is always “Don’t forget to breathe.”

Emphasize Reading for Pleasure

This resolution is more of a lifestyle than a task to be checked off, and that is perfect! I’ve made a conscious effort to make sure my language, even when writing objectives or describing the lesson to my students as they enter, emphasizes that we are at the library to find books that we find interesting. I always make sure to mention the difference between academic reading (at our specific reading level, meant to teach us a specific skill, a “have to”) and pleasure reading (a topic we’re interested in that we pick ourselves, can be any reading level, is just for fun, might switch a dozen times before we find one we want to keep). Sometimes teachers need this reminder as much as the students.

To accomplish this, I constantly remind students that they can DNF (did not finish) and set up checkouts so kids aren’t actually scanning their books at the computer until the very end of the lesson, allowing for book swaps right up until the end. Sometimes it is necessary to remind students that they like different stuff and commenting on other people’s book choices in a negative way is a jerk move. In general, set up an atmosphere where kids never have to justify ditching a book and always be ready to offer something else. They’re reading for pleasure.

Identify 3 New Swiss Army Recs for Your Population

This resolution is going to save you when all the Dog Man books are checked out again. I’m personally working on this as we start 2022, now that I’ve been back in person with kids for a few months and can really see the current trends in check outs. It’s usually shifting, but there are always certain series that the school latches on to, and unless you have a limitless budget, there are just never enough copies of certain books.

A Swiss Army recommendation is something that works for almost everyone, a book with vast appeal. For my particular needs, I’m also looking for books that I can vaguely connect to the super popular titles, to either help students branch out or just offer them something when they have library on a Thursday and never get the freshest choices. To look for these magical unicorn books, Book Riot is an excellent resource! I also love scrolling Pinterest (lots of librarians have done the legwork for “If you like X series, try Y!”) and following lots of Bookstagram accounts. The ideas are out there! 

Create One Lesson You’re Excited About

I’m going to ask you to get a little selfish with this resolution. Instead of focusing on the lesson most needed by your building’s teachers, or the lesson most critical for your students’ needs, I’m asking you to really focus on something you are excited about. While the other descriptors are important and a vital part of the overall curriculum, there are times when we need to just get pumped about what we do. This is your chance!

It might be a book tasting, or a read-aloud lesson based on a treasured childhood title, or a Mock Caldecott voting session (my personal yearly favorite). Maybe have your students research the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus to work on Media Literacy, or use Google’s digital citizenship curriculum and play the Interland games. We are educators and by extension, we are weary. If you are able, a lesson that you’re excited about can be extremely refreshing during incredibly uncertain times.

Hopefully you’ve found something above that peaks your interest, either as a resolution you’d like to try outright or an idea that sparks something personal. Being a school librarian is an absolute joy and a huge challenge. Take care of yourselves, and thank you so much for bringing the joy of books to those lucky students!