Being a school librarian is incredibly unique. Working at the elementary level often means you are teaching students, sometimes seeing classes from kindergarten through 5th grade. Additionally, all school librarians find themselves assisting students with reader’s advisory, checking the shelves for books someone swears were returned, compiling materials for a teacher’s newest unit, and helping three different people with tech issues. (At all times, there are at least three people looking for help. That’s a guarantee.)
This variety during school hours leads to greater variety during planning time. School librarians must have an understanding of curriculum for several different grade levels and lesson plans ready to go for several different situations. Even in middle and high school, where library is often not a “class,” school librarians typically teach research and annotation skills on demand. The teaching prep does not include the massive amount of work required to actually run a library: researching titles, book acquisition, processing and covering, repairing broken books, maintaining software, managing a budget…the list truly goes on and on.
Now we come to summer. “Time off.” Every single person who works in a school is laughing right now. Summer is when teachers and school librarians begin the work that cannot fit in during the hectic school months: professional development, deep cleaning, unit planning. This unpaid time is when a lot of the magic happens that makes the rest of the school year work. Below, in no particular order, I’ve compiled seven tasks that can make a school librarian’s life easier in August when the students come rushing back.
1. Complete an inventory, or at least a complete shelf read.
If you have had any switches to your cataloging software, any issues with people removing materials without checking them out, or simply haven’t done one for awhile, an inventory is a smart move. This involves going through the shelves and scanning every single item to “place” it in the catalog. This must be done when all the books have been returned, as the scanned items will represent the most recent record of what exists in the library.
Most libraries don’t complete an inventory every single year, but at minimum a full shelf read should happen. A shelf read involves going through each and every shelf and making sure every cataloged item is in the correct order. Even in the smallest libraries, this can be extremely tedious. It might be a task where you enlist a trusted volunteer or a well-bribed family member to help as you work your way through the shelves. Despite the dryness of the job, it’s crucial—this allows students to find the materials they’re looking for and keeps you from having to go on book hunts all school year long.
Where to start: Figure out when your last inventory was completed. Decide which of the two (shelf read or inventory) you’d like to tackle.
2. Attend conferences or webinars.
As opposed to most teachers, school librarians are often working by themselves, with no other same-subject educators to hit up for collaboration and problem solving. This is where professional organizations and conferences come in. Summer is a great time to dabble in inspirational speakers and network with librarians from all over. Opportunities range all the way from giant ALA conferences to one-hour webinars you can watch in your pajamas. Especially in 2020, where most in-person bashes have been canceled, tons of things are available online. A hot tip is to figure out the hashtag associated with the event, then search Twitter and Instagram and see what people are saying. This is a great way to find like-minded librarians to connect with! No awkward business card swaps required.
Where to start: Start small with a webinar! Check out Lee and Low Books, School Library Journal, or your state-level school library association (mine is MSLA) to see what’s out there.
3. Do a diversity audit.
If you do one thing from this list, DO THIS. In 2020, there is no excuse for a white cis male–centered library. Students deserve (and often demand) a library that reflects the demographics of not only their community but the world at large. Publishing has not made this easy, white dominant librarianship has not made this easy—this is not a small task, but it’s a must. A diversity audit has a librarian evaluating their collection to see how many different groups are represented. This might mean looking at the identities of the author, identities of the main character, or both. Students should have access to stories celebrating Black, Lantinx, and Indigenous communities. They need to see disabled people represented. They need to hear LGTBQIA voices. Constant evaluation of our collections is necessary for appropriate representation.
Where to start: This article from School Library Journal is a great starting point but there are many different formats for undertaking this work. Take a second to check out We Need Diverse Books and follow their socials to keep diversifying your collection in the front of your mind.
4. Read, read, read.
During the school year, I try to make sure my students see me reading at least once a day. I always have a “Mrs. Swicker’s Current Read” title displayed on the circulation desk, and anything that I’m reading is something I plan to add to the library. However, in the (somewhat uninterrupted) summer, I try to fly through a bunch more titles. I spend a good amount of time working through middle grade books to help me with reader’s advisory, but I also let myself enjoy familiar rereads, books for personal pleasure, and nonfiction to expand my mind. Using the different schedule of the summer to pump more reading time into my life is a special pleasure.
Where to start: I struggle with prioritizing reading when there is always something “more important” that I could be doing. I suggest you start by picking up a book and diving in!
5. Plan a (dream) author visit.
One of the most exciting parts of being a librarian is planning author visits. This is also one of the most time consuming. How will this be funded? Who will be invited? (Whole school? Certain grades or classes?) Will we offer book sales on site? How will we promote the event? Are we going virtual or in person? That is scratching the surface. Summer is the perfect time to dive into these questions. I was thinking of using this time to plan a dream author visit. Sometimes small details (money) get me stuck and I don’t go any further in my planning. This summer, I thought I’d go through the process without securing an actual date or author so I could have a template ready for future planning.
Where to start: This detailed blog post from Lee and Low has excellent tips for setting up an author visit.
6. Brush up on your curriculum.
Whether you teach a regular slew of classes or have a flexible schedule with occasional lessons requested, it’s important to support your school by being close to the curriculum. Even if teachers don’t necessarily reach out looking for materials to use in their lessons, this should be a relationship you’re striving for. Having at least a cursory knowledge of what standards are covered in your building guides everything from book acquisition to lesson planning. Additionally, school librarians who are responsible for teaching digital skills and supporting literacy standards have even more to stay on top of. Use the summer to check over any curriculum plans you have and maybe add a few new lessons. I typically scan Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and Common Sense Education to keep my plans fresh and keep myself from getting too bored. If you’re looking for something new, this is one of my favorite lessons that I repeat yearly: How to Hold A Mock Caldecott.
Where to start: Look up the state learning standards for the grade levels housed in your building. A simple Google search will get you there. I keep closest to the ELA and History/Social Studies standards.
7. Clean up your admin files: budget, books added, etc.
As I said before, there are huge chunks of library work that have nothing to do with teaching or reading. Managing the budget, buying and processing books, chasing down overdue materials—all of these are time consuming and require some sort of record keeping. Making sure my records are organized means I don’t end up frantically searching for something in September when 17 other tasks are precariously balanced on my plate.
I use the summer to make sure my budget binder is up to date, that all purchases have been recorded, and any reimbursements have been processed correctly. If you don’t have a budget program mandated by your school, you might use the summer to see if a different template would work better for your needs. Having these types of administrative tasks squared away before the students come back is a huge relief.
Where to start: I always begin with the budget, because managing money is one place where I don’t want to get things wrong. If you don’t have a budget binder, this is where I’d start.
I do want to note that some people (very rightfully) feel frustrated that unpaid summer work is necessary. People who work in schools almost always have to work outside of contract hours in order to be effective. In a perfect world, we would be paid for all of our valuable hard work. Some of these “extra” tasks are things that could be completed from home or next to the pool. Some of them can only happen by venturing into the stacks in your off hours. I hope you find a few things that will help you feel more prepared come the fall. More than anything, I hope you get some much deserved rest!