New school librarian? 10 things you should do first…

**This post was updated on July 6, 2019. Just in time for Back to School!

You’ve landed a brand new school librarian job–congratulations! All summer, you’ve looked forward to standing in the middle of your very own library, taking a deep breath, and reveling in all that library-awesomeness.

Fast-forward to August. Today, you are standing in the middle of your library, feeling pretty lost. There are boxes everywhere, and you aren’t even sure if all this stuff is yours. The computers are covered with plastic bags, and they do not look anywhere close to hooked up. A teacher just came in and asked for the password to PebbleGo–where could that possibly be? Another teacher came in to checkout some books, but you’ve received no training about how to use the circulation system. In fact, you’ve received no guidance from anyone. When you were a teacher, you could just go next-door and ask your team to point you in a direction, but now, you are it. A team of one. Uno. Solamente. You've landed your first library job--congratulations! All summer, you've looked forward to standing in the middle of your very own library, taking a deep breath, and reveling in all that library-awesomeness. Fast-forward to August. Today, you are standing in the middle of your library, feeling pretty lost. There are boxes...

Honey, we have all been there. This post was actually inspired by a question posted on Elementary Librarian’s FaceBook page, as well as several similar questions I’ve seen recently on LM_Net. I can distinctly remember feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and completely alone in my first few days. Back in August 2004, I was super-excited to become a librarian, but I was also five months pregnant, exhausted, and clueless about where to start in my brand-new school library. I didn’t know who to ask or even what to ask.

Hang in there–it will get better! For now, here’s a little boost: ten things new librarians should do first. Other than the first two, which really should be done before anything else, these ten “firsts” are not in any particular order.

1. Prepare yourself and your circulation desk for checkout.

As a new school librarian, you will need to wear many hats. But let’s face it, when most people think of librarians, they think of book circulation first. I made this task #1 because, even if the entire library is in complete shambles right now, your teachers will need to checkout books. It may be your first day back, but many teachers have been working in their classrooms for weeks. They’ve been planning all summer. They’ve had their eye on certain library books and have been waiting for you to come in and check them out. Know this, and be ready:

  • Prepare your circulation station. At a minimum, you need a computer, a library management system/OPAC, and a login. A barcode scanner is also super-important, but you can technically check out books without one (just type in the barcode number instead of scanning).
  • If you do not have these things, make it a priority to get them. Ask questions and keep asking them until you get what you need.
  • Make sure you know how to do basic circulation tasks–checkout, check in, and search the catalog.
  • If gathering your materials takes longer than expected, prepare a manual checkout system and be ready to use it if needed.

Library Checkout Forms & Slips Cover Art

Don’t have any manual check out sheets? Use mine!

I created these cute manual checkout forms and slips, which will work for any grade level. In a pinch, however, you could also just use a plain-ol’ spiral notebook, particularly for your teachers or in secondary schools.

Grab my FREE manual checkout forms & slips

 

 

 

 

2. Take photos. 

Your new school library will change much in your time there, and you will want to document that. It’s fun to look back at that weirdly-placed shelf you moved or that totally blank wall that is now a beautiful mural. Plus, you can use these photos later to show added-value or on a future job portfolio.

If you are really feeling adventurous, take a video as you walk through the library, commenting on what you like and don’t like. No one has to see it unless you want them to!

From my first middle school library opening…

3. Find the library handbook. 

The library handbook may be difficult to find. It’s probably in a binder, which may or may not be marked as “Library Handbook.” Look behind the librarian’s desk area, around the circulation desk, and possibly, in the principal or vice-principal’s office. If you don’t find it, check the district website as it may be 100% online. Or it may not exist at all. I’ve seen huge variances in library handbooks, from nothing at all to a scant two-page document (seriously, why bother?) to a binder filled with more than 100 pages.

Once you find the handbook, take it home and read sections on collection development, circulation policies (may differ from what’s on the website), and procedures for challenged materials.

Looking for more?

This Back to School Essentials bundle is made especially for school librarians working with students in Grades 3-6! It contains your first five library lessons, display signs, genre labels, a library manual for teachers, reading challenge posters, and more!

Perfect for new school librarians, this bundle includes everything you need to start your school year like a pro!

See the Essentials Bundle in my TPT store

4. Start creating a tentative schedule. 

As you meet people, ask questions about library scheduling expectations. What was the schedule like last year? Did it work for teachers? Students? The librarian? Are you expected to offer a flex or fixed schedule? Who makes the schedule? Do teachers stay in the library with students, or are you on the specials rotation?

Even if you are on a specials rotation with PE, music, and art, you still need to figure out when you will do administrative tasks such as shelving books, ordering new materials, cataloging, planning lessons, etc.

If you are on a flex schedule, teachers will probably start scheduling flex time soon. Find or buy a blank calendar to use for scheduling flex time classes. When I worked in Texas, I used a freebie blank calendar our district and local business sponsors put together for teachers. At my current school, I use one of my school’s student planners. If your district does not do either of these, you can print calendar pages online or just buy a one from your local dollar store.

5. Find a mentor. 

Chances are, your school is located within a school district or other network of related schools. You are going to have lots of questions, and it is important that you have someone you can discuss these with. Pick a school librarian nearby and reach out. Send an email, call, schedule a short visit (bring cookies!). If the person you picked doesn’t seem receptive (they are busy; it’s probably not personal), just pick someone else. Do not wait for the district to assign you a mentor or for someone to approach you. They won’t.

.

6. Investigate your library computers and printers. 

Are they hooked up? Do they work? Can the computers be used to search the library catalog? What should you do when there is a technical issue? How are the computers used within the school?

If you are responsible for laptop trolleys or a library computer lab, start thinking about how you want to schedule their use. Is there already a system in place? Like checkout, some teachers will want to claim computer lab or trolley use pretty early in the year, possibly even before school starts. I have been in charge of both a lab and trolleys, and let me just tell you right now, you will go nuts if you don’t have a reliable, consistent system for booking. Find out what’s been done before and how it worked or didn’t work.

Computer booking can be a very touchy issue, and it will drive you crazy every now and then, even with the best booking system in place. Check out my post on 22 tips to help you manage computer labs and trolleys.

Save your sanity!

Newman on Seinfeld says postmen go crazy “because the mail never stops. It just keeps coming, and coming, and coming, there’s never a let-up. It’s relentless.”

Two things in the library are like Newman’s mail:

1. Books and shelving! There are ALWAYS more books to shelve. Even in the summer when school is out, there will be more books.

2. You will get constant questions about library procedures, logins, and other how-to’s. It’s part of the job, but like Newman’s mail, it can be “relentless.” I’ve actually been asked for login info in the bathroom. The bathroom, y’all.

 

Save your sanity (and help your teachers!) with this editable school library handbook. It contains everything your teachers will want to know about the library, all in one “Handy-Dandy” place! It is also available from my MrsReaderPants blog store.

7. Examine the library layout. 

When I started at my current library in 2014, I was surprised at how unusable my existing presentation area was.

There was a screen, but it was so high up that I could not reach it to pull it down. It appeared to have had a remote control at one time, but no one knew where it might be.

I dug up a computer projector in the library office, but no electrical outlets existed where I needed them. I had no cart for the projector, so I had to place it on top of a nonfiction shelf. There were cords dangling everywhere because I had strung extension cords across the library due to no outlets.

Then, there was no audio available, so I had to add even more cords to set up speakers.

Once I got the projector going, it became clear that there was way too much natural light in the area. After about 9am, the sun streaming in from our skylights and two walls of windows completely drowned out the projected image.

What a mess!

Within a few months, I had experimented with different areas of the library to combat that bright natural light. The solution came in my asking for (and getting!!!) a 70″ flatscreen on a cart that would be permanently housed in the library. It had its own speakers, and natural light didn’t obscure the image. If your area doesn’t work no matter what you try, speak up! It turned out that my school just happened to have that beautiful flatscreen sitting in storage. It was still in the box!

You should have a designated area for:

  • story time (preK, elementary, possibly MS)
  • teaching/presentation area that includes enough tables/chairs for an entire class to sit comfortably, a presentation screen, computer or laptop connections, speakers
  • study areas–these are tables where students can work individually or in groups
  • independent reading areas
  • catalog search stations
  • circulation desk–needs at least one computer, barcode scanner or reader
  • book return–ideally, near the main entrance and/or circulation desk
  • ideally, a makerspace area (large table with chairs) and a place to store supplies

The photo is a little blurry, but this is my completed presentation area today:

8. Review existing circulation policies. 

What is the checkout period? How many books can students, teachers, and parents check out at one time? What happens when books are late? Damaged? Unless you are starting a brand-new library, you should be able to find these policies on the school or district website.

9. Attend department meetings. 

The vast majority of teachers will be thrilled to have you at their department meetings. Attending these meetings regularly shows that you care about what’s happening in the classrooms and that you see the library as an extension of the classroom.

You don’t have to say anything much at the meeting; in fact, the less you say the better. Go to listen, to take notes, to learn who’s who, to introduce yourself. Listen well, and you will learn much about what the teachers need from the library and what you can do to support them.

10. Join LM_Net.

LM_Net is a gigantic, free email listserv of all types of librarians across the globe. Topics of discussion range from circulation policies, copyright questions, curriculum, IB support, cataloging, bibliographies, book reviews, job postings, and more. I love LM_Net!!! Joining is as simple as sending a blank email, and you can choose how many emails you receive. 

A word of caution: If you choose to receive all LM_Net emails, you will get a lot of email every day. I probably receive 30 or more emails every day from LM_Net. I enjoy my LM_Net emails now, but when I was a new librarian, I found the full listserv to be so overwhelming that I canceled my service for several years. I advise new school librarians to start with the digest version, which will limit the number of emails you receive while still allowing you to post questions to the group.

Though it may sometimes feel like it, you are not alone. If you have questions, post to the group! You will get lots of support and answers to your questions, and you’ll probably make some new friends in the process. Don’t be shy–we want to help!

cover image scavenger hunt

Start the new year with something fun!

This library scavenger hunt is perfect for Back to School, and everything is all done for you! It’s an easy, fun way for students to independently explore the library while locating important items that they will need regularly throughout the school year.

View the Library Orientation Scavenger Hunt in my TPT Store or in my MrsReaderPants blog store.

Are you a new school librarian this year? How is it going so far?

42 Comments

  • This is a very good list. I was lucky- I volunteered in the library I now run for 5 years before being hired! No panic there! Of course, this means that after almost 20 years in the same facility, I can't really ever leave. (Especially since I am the only person on the planet who still uses cards and pockets as a backup!)

    Reply
    • Hi, Deirdre–I'm actually planning that one out right now. Stay tuned in the next few days!

      Reply
  • Thank you so much for this list… and for remembering new librarians. I SO appreciate your willingness to share. Have a great year!

    Reply
  • So beneficial. I am no longer a brand new librarian, but, I really think these tips would have helped me and may even work for me now. So great. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Thank you so much for this article! I am the new librarian at our school this year. The old librarian had been there for 30+ years, so I have some big shoes to fill! The description above is how I feel right now. However, my biggest challenge is that I am changing things around and I am hearing from some of the established teachers "Well, that isn't how how (old librarian) does things." So it's understandable, but frustrating at the same time.

    Reply
    • Oh, I remember these days! When I opened my school mentioned above (my first library), there had not even been a previous librarian. But that did not stop many, many people from saying, "we did it this way at my previous school." Take what you can from what they say (there may be some good in there), but pave your own way. Change can be hard–they'll come around!

      One day, someone will say to the new librarian after you, "but this isn't how (insert your name) did it!" 🙂

      Reply
  • Hi i have just started working in a MS/HS library here in Beijing . Together with the ES librarian we want to change both library's into a genre-fication library . We need help and guidance in how to start ,what to order, how to order here in China etc etc etc….
    Can you guide us through this process ? With many thanks, Irene de Jong

    Reply
    • Hi, Irene! I would start by deciding on genres and colors. Order your labels (Taobao has tons, really cheap). And then just start labeling! For ordering, I mainly use Follett and Obido Books (based in China–they rock!). Email me at leigh[at]readerpants[dot]net, and I will send you Taobao links for labels and other materials, plus the contacts for Follett and Obido in China.

      Reply
  • This is very helpful. If I may add..You can also do the inventory of library materials and come up with a report. In that way, you will become aware of the collections and what's been turned over to you. You'll be able to know if there are losses or damages or missing collections.

    Reply
  • Thanks for this useful advice for new librarians, media specialist, or as they call me the METI (media and educational technology instructor.) It would have been great to find this earlier. I came into a school that had had 5 other librarians/people running the library over the last 5 years (including a parapro and parent group.) It was a mess. Over half the books in the system were lost and they have me teaching technology classes on a fixed schedule. I had to hit the ground running. It was very stressful. Plus nobody knew the passwords!

    Reply
  • waoooo… I am so happy to find this article here… I am I new librarian in my school… as a matter of fact this is my first time of doing library job.. I just finished my Diploma in library and information science last year December 2016… the library has never be handle by a professional librarian or anyone that have study library science… as it is now im just confuse not knowing what to do or where to start in putting things in place… please guys I really need your help in other to get started… the materials are not catalogued, which they don't have technical section for cataloguing… and thanks for the LM-Net link.. I would love to have more links to enable me get through of with my profession… here is my mail for anybody who has more link to please send to me.. I appreciate you all..

    Reply
  • This is my first time to be a Librarian.. And I really don't know what to do.. How can I get in to LM-Net link?
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi, Ruth! Welcome to the best job in the world! For LM_Net, you can subscribe here: http://www.lm-net.info/subscribe.html. Know that you will get a lot of emails if you subscribe to the Classic version. That will send you emails in real-time and could get overwhelming. I do the Classic, but just letting you know. To minimize the number of emails you get, subscribe to the Digest version. Both versions can be found at the link posted in this response.

      Reply
  • Hi there .. thank you for this post .. I have found it helpful. Please can anyone assist .. how do I promote reading ? As the school librarian ?? We also have a book character day coming up … What activities can I plan for the learners to make it a fun filled day of reading …

    Reply
    • Hi, Anon,
      This is a huge question, but one I am sure many new librarians have. Are you on Pinterest? There are loads of ideas there for all kinds of library programming. I would definitely start there.
      –Leigh

      Reply
  • I cannot tell you how much this put me at ease! I'm about to begin my practicum as an elementary school librarian, so I am stressing out like crazy! Thank you very much

    Reply
  • Thank you for this! I've worked as an assistant in a school library before, but next week I'll be starting my first job as lead librarian. This list has really helped calm my nerves 🙂

    Reply
  • As far as I can tell, the high school I work at does not have a library handbook. I'm the sole librarian, and am only a paraprofessional, so I have no library degrees. I'm learning everything from scratch and mostly on my own as I believe there was a bad parting of way with the last librarian, as I've never been advised to contact her, nor has the 'higher ups'. I think I'm doing pretty well so far, but a handbook would have been awesome as a starting guideline. I'd like to make one up, but I haven't a clue what should be in it. Could someone help me out with that? It'd be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  • Thank you for this post. I found it very informative. I am very excited about becoming a teacher/librarian.

    Reply
  • Thank you for this information. Very helpful for me as an assistant running a huge new library with grades 6-8, a computer lab next to the library and 2 computer labs on the first that I oversee and schedule along with 6 computer carts plus 1 that stays in the library. Scheduling is definitely important but at times it can get hectic. Moving in the library books coming from the different schools is the most challenging of all but we are getting there. Is there anything else that I need to know in regards to the continuing setup of our school library?

    Reply
  • Thank you for all this information!! It is incredible usefull. I will be a new school librarian and all your shared worked is amazing!!
    I will read your post as a religious code (or something like that)!!
    Regards from Dubai!!

    Reply
  • This article is just too good.I am new Librarian to IB school. Really this article has helped me to motivate me a lot and I can now think of my initiatives which will help me as a Librarian.

    Reply
  • Thank you for this information. I have been working in a library for several years mostly as an assistant, but I am moving to another district. This list will help me organize myself and make preparations to begin my journey in a new district. I am nervous about starting over, but your list has given a sense of relief.

    Reply
  • I am the new Library Tech teacher at the school I’ve been at for 7 years. I already know circulation, but wow are there a lot of facets to my job. I’m excited to bring more staff & student voice to my library with recommendations!

    Reply
    • Congratulations, Heather! Yes, lots of facets, but that is what keeps it interesting! Good luck in your new position!

      Reply
    • You got this, Paula! Nervous is okay–I still get butterflies the night before the first day of school. Though it does sometimes seem like we are alone in the library, there are many librarians out here who are happy to help you. Reach out to the other librarians in your district, plus FB groups and LM_Net–they are lifesavers!

      Reply
  • Well, I started a position as a library aide in January. I love working there and enjoy being part of the middle school I’m at. I am a bit nervous as I did take an IMRA course a few months ago, it was a lot to take in. Especially with going to college, church duties, and a mother of four. At the beginning of my journey I have had to focus on re-weeding most of the books at my site. It was a complete mess when I got there that I have not had the chance to even think about emailing teachers and encourage classes to come in and check out books, though a few students do check out books. I have heard of makerspace and wonder if all library’s are now doing this. If so, are they no longer the extra quiet place I grew up knowing or are they still extra quiet?
    I will be going back next week and I already know there will be another mess of new SS adoption books to check out. I do want to come up with ways to encourage students to check out books often, so I am planning to open up a book club and create a 100 book challenge for the club.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your story, Marlene. First of all, you are not alone. There are so many library aides out there running entire libraries. I suggest you do what you are comfortable with doing and not worrying about makerspace unless that’s something you are passionate about right now. I never had a makerspace in my library, and I’ve done just fine. It’s not that I don’t love the idea, but there are so many ways you can make your library awesome. Makerspace is only one of those things. Focus on something you are passionate about. Maybe the quiet library–that’s something a lot of students ask for–and/or the book club. I am passionate about regular, scheduled booktalking with every class and helping students and teachers manage anxiety, so those have been my focus for the past few years.

      P.S. It sounds like you are in charge of textbooks, too. Trust me, I feel your pain. I have very little advice in that arena–I did all textbook ordering, cataloging, and circulation for two years and it was awful and took me away from the library way more than I wanted. That textbook management often falls to librarians shows a serious lack of admin understanding of what we do.

      Reply
  • Thanks so much for the information….I have been a sub for the same school district for five years….but this information is very helpful….excited to get started and remain that the same building…can’t wait to build relationships with the staff and students…

    Reply
  • Hello,
    My name is Lupita Hernandez. I started a new job as the library specialist at the high school I graduated back in 2011. It has changed quite a bit. The whole library atmosphere is nothing like I remember. They down sized on books. They took out the desk top computers and now only have a couple of laptops in here, for when students feel like working in a quiet space. Classes rarely use the library. They now have computer labs through out the school, as well as chrome book carts in their classrooms. There is times where I sit alone in the library with no students at all, and nothing to do. I need ideas on how to promote the space of the library. Now a days kids don’t like reading. The older they get, the less interested they are in picking up a book. The only thing I am excited about and looking forward to, is decorating for the holidays coming up. Please help.
    Thank you 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi, Lupita,
      There are many things you can do to increase student engagement. Since you are new to the school, the students do not know you, so you will need to give them some opportunities to warm up. When there are students in the library, smile, say hello, introduce yourself, and let them know that you are available if they need help. I would also suggest you talk to your teachers and ask them how you can support them in the library. Attend department meetings and ask admin if you can do a short presentation about the library at a faculty meeting. Invite teachers to schedule classes for lessons on databases, plagiarism, validating websites, the research process, etc. Invite your English teachers to bring their classes in for a library orientation and booktalk. Ultimately, it sounds like your people are not coming to you, so you’ll have to get out there and bring them in.

      Reply
  • Hello…I was looking for any materials that could help me start a library in our school. I worked as a music librarian before but I think I need more information, especially I’m doing an elementary library. Here is my email c14.smcruz@gmail.com Hope to hear helpful tips from you, Maam.

    Reply

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