Archives

the sorting hat

hat_sortingThis is not the hat that will decide whether you’re assigned to Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin or Gryffindor.  

It is much more contentious than that.

This is the hat you put on when you decide how you are going to arrange your collection – alphabet or genre – and, currently, one of the hottest topics on discussion lists I belong to. Any question about changing the arrangement from the more traditional author-alphabet base to one based on the perceived genre elicits hot and fierce debate as proponents and opponents put their perspective.

The common arguments are…

  • students find it easier to find the sort of book they want in a collection sorted by genre 
  • collections arranged alphabetically keep all the titles by the same author together
  • if students only select from a preferred genre their reading choices are narrowed
  • students prefer the bookshop look of the library because it is more modern
  • if students learn the traditional method of the first three letters of the author’s name they will be able to transfer those skills to locating titles other libraries
  • one title might fit a number of genres so how will its placement be determined

In my opinion the decision is easy and is based on the belief that

The collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users and to meet those needs it must be accessible

Therefore, as the teacher librarian we must know our readers and what their needs are. What might be appropriate for the users in one school library might not work for the users in the school in the neighbouring suburb because each school population is unique.  

Even if we currently classify fiction in alphabetical order by using the first three letters of the author’s name, we have modified Dewey’s original arrangement (because he assigned specific numbers between 800-899 to literature) so that users can find what they want more easily.  Then, to make it even easier, we might shelve all the episodes of a particular series together or pull all the fairytales into one smaller collection. We separate based on format – picture book, novel, information book, DVD – and intended target audience such as junior fiction and senior fiction. In the non fiction collection all the biographies might be shelved in one spot rather than in their specific subject of expertise as Dewey mandates or the puzzle books might have their own space so they are easier to find and shelve. Already we are ‘tampering’ with tradition and accepted practice because we want to make the resources more accessible to those who are using them.  

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

So why is the decision to arrange the collection according to genre so controversial?

Firstly, the term ‘genre’ must be clarified because there is a tendency to interchange the word ‘genre’ with ‘text-type’ leading to confusion between format, purpose and content.  Genre itself just means ‘a type or a category’ and it is generally applied to literature, music and the arts.  Within literature it refers to prose, poetry, drama or non fiction, each with its own style, structure, subject matter, and the use of figurative language.  

However, in education realms it is also often used to describe the author’s purpose – to persuade, inform, entertain or reflect. And these categories have been broken up even further …

 

An overview of some of the more common school genres

An overview of some of the more common school genres

Rose (2006) cited in Derewianka, 2015

However, in terms of the arrangement of the collection we are referring to another ‘definition’ of genre – those divisions of fiction based on theme, plot, characters and setting.  It refers to categories such as adventure, romance, fantasy, historical and contemporary fiction although there is a much larger list of possibilities and the sort of arrangement that is proposed has become known as ‘genrefying’.

If we return to the the underlying premise that the collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users, then it stands to reason that as a priority we need to identify what those are, particularly in relation to their preferred way of selecting their reading resources for leisure and pleasure. We need to ask questions to identify if genre is their first and primary criterion for selecting a new read and the sorts of stories they like to read.  (Thinking Reading  provides a starting point to survey your readers on a number of issues to enable informed collection development.) My experience and research has shown that, generally, primary age students do NOT use genre as their search criteria. While they may like mystery or adventure or whatever books, their choices are made based on

  • peer or teacher recommendation
  • series
  • popular movie, television or game tie-in
  • author
  • cover
  • blurb
  • serendipity

But my experience is not your experience and all sorts of factors come into play such as

  • the age and maturity of the students
  • their proficiency with English (or the predominant language of your collection)
  • the focus of the curriculum
  • their access to reading materials beyond the school
  • their understanding of the concept of ‘genre’

So it is essential that you delve into the reading habits of those who will be reading to understand what will suit them best.

Should you discover that a collection organised by genre is what is best for your clients, then there are still a number of other questions that need to be asked and answered by the stakeholders before making such a significant change because not only is it a huge job absorbing human, financial and time resources it must also be sustained and sustainable. Those questions include…

  1. Why is the change being considered?
  2. Is this a sound reason for change?
  3. Is the change based on identified user needs or preferences?
  4. Why is what is currently in place not working? What is the evidence that it is not? How can it be changed or modified to work rather than introducing a non-standard ‘fix’?
  5. Is the solution based on sound pedagogical reasons whose efficacy can be measured?
  6. How do the proposals fit mandated curriculum requirements? 
  7. Can the proposed change be defended based on user need, sound pedagogy, curriculum requirements AND established best practice?
  8. What reliable evidence (apart from circulation figures) exists to support the changes and demonstrates increased engagement and improvement to student learning outcomes?
  9. Will the proposed changes lead to students being more independent, effective and efficient users of the library’s resources?
  10. Will the changes impact on the students understanding of how other libraries are arranged and their ability to work independently within those?
  11. Have students had input into the proposal?
  12. How will the change support the Students’ Bill of Rights?
  13. Will the change marginalise or discriminate against any users such as identifying their below-average reading level or sexual preferences?
  14. Will the change broaden or narrow the students access to choices and resources?
  15. Is it based on school-library best practice? Are there successful models (measured through action research and benchmarks and published in reliable authoritative literature) that demonstrate that this is a sustainable, effective and efficient model to emulate?
  16. Will the change make it easier to achieve your mission statement and your vision statement?
  17. How do the changes fit within your library policy, which, presumably, has been ratified by the school’s executive and council? Will the change in procedure require a change in policy?
  18. Who is responsible for developing the parameters of the change and documenting the new procedures to ensure consistency across time and personnel?
  19. If a change is made, what S.M.A.R.T. goals will be set to measure its impact?
  20. When will the impact of the change be assessed and what evidence of success or otherwise will be acceptable to the stakeholders?
  21. Who will do the measuring and ensure that the conclusion is independent and unbiased?
  22. If those goals show no change or a decline, will the library be willing to reverse the process? Will this be a practical proposition?
  23. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of the teacher librarian?
  24. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of other library staff? 
  25. If the change changes the traditional library arrangement, how is consistency across time guaranteed if personnel change because decisions are  subjective?
  26. Who is responsible for developing and maintaining the criteria for placement and the Procedures Manual to ensure consistency?
  27. Is the change worth the time that is invested in re-classifying every title and the money invested in new labels, staff wages etc?
  28. Could that time and money be better spent?
  29. Would better signage, including more shelf dividers, address the problem?
  30. What role can displays play in highlighting different and unfamiliar resources to broaden access and choices?

Documenting the answers to these questions (and others that will probably arise along the way) not only demonstrates your professionalism and the depth of consideration that has gone into the decision but also provides you with a solid foundation of evidence on which to defend that decision should it be challenged.

Having invested the resources in making the change, a new range of issues arises particularly in relation to how you teach staff and students how to use the new arrangement effectively, efficiently and independently.

  • Do they understand the concept of ‘genre’ in this context and the sorts of criteria that distinguish one from another?
  • How will you teach these?  Will teaching the characteristics of each genre become your predominant teaching focus to the exclusion of other curriculum priorities such as information literacy?
  • What will be the genres that you choose and how will these be decided?
  • Are the genre labels appropriate for the users? For example ‘romance’ might not appeal in an all-boys school but ‘relationships’ could encompass the concept.
  • How will the genres themselves be arranged – alphabetical order, popularity, size of the particular collection?
  • Will individual titles within each genre then be organised in alphabetical order of author or is there another way?
  • How will you deal with titles that span two or more genres?
  • How will the genre of each title be identified both on the book and in the catalog?

The arrangement of the resources in your library has to be based on so much more than the outcomes a retailer might be wanting to achieve.  The school library is not a bookshop on steroids and the sorting hat must be one that is put on with extreme care and consideration.  Of all the hats we wear, this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all.

Print Friendly

the transition hat

hat_transition

At the end of 2015 I finally hung up my going-to-school hat after 43 years of being in both the primary classroom and the school library.  Even though I officially “retired” in 2006, I’d still done a lot of casual relief work but for all of 2015 I had been back in a school library with my teacher librarian hat pulled on tightly.  However, I made the decision it was time to move on to new things. With this decision came the need and opportunity to consider what it was about the library I was in that made it unique to its situation and what the new incumbent would need to know to make the transition between us easier.

retirement

As the academic year draws to a close in the USA and elsewhere, and indeed teacher librarians everywhere are moving on to new schools or new lives, I thought it might be timely to consider what it is that we can do to make the transition from us to someone new go as smoothly as possible. What are the things we could and should do that will make for a seamless transition?  While many things are common to all school libraries, each has its own idiosyncrasies that make it unique and knowledge of these makes the new person’s job much less stressful.

However it is essential that the newcomer realises that the purpose of what you leave is not so that you can be the puppet-master from afar but a guide on the side so a welcome note, some flowers, something joyful to accompany what is likely to be a big pile will always be appreciated.

Here are some suggestions drawn from my own experience and that of others who generously contributed ideas to the online forums I belong to.

people

people

People are the key element of a library’s success and knowing who’s who is such a head start. Identifying the essential personnel will be enormously helpful but keep any comments, written or verbal, strictly professional.

  • if it’s possible and practicable, introduce the new TL to the library staff, parent volunteers, student leaders by hosting a morning tea before school starts where they can get to know each other without the busyness of the job to distract them
  • it there are paid library staff members, create a list of their current roles and responsibilities, timetable and other pertinent information
  • provide a thumbnail sketch of each person’s preferences and strengths so your new TL knows who the go-to person is if they want a display mounted, cataloging done, an ICT issue solved and so on
  • provide an outline of the nature of the student population such as whether there are significant indigenous or non-English speaking or LGBTQI groups and so forth who have specific needs that must be catered for
  • if there is a student leadership team for the library, identify those students who are likely to continue in this role and the program/expectations they follow
  • share the names of supportive staff members who are keen to collaborate or who know the collection well – those the new person can go to for advice if required
  • provide an outline of the chain of command so it’s clear who the supervisor is, who to go to for procedural or financial advice, who to go to for technical support and so on
  • make it clear if there are in-house committees or curriculum teams the TL is expected to join or take the leadership role
  • create a list of outside contacts such as frequently-used vendors, book fair co-ordinators, TLs in nearby schools, the local TL network co-ordinator, ICT Help Desk, even the local MP’s secretary and news editor if yours is a school that hosts events where politicians and the press are invited
  • if you are willing or able to be contacted for urgent questions, then provide your contact details

 

paperwork

paperwork

  • a sample teaching timetable is useful because even though it’s likely to change it provides a guide of expectations of the workload and its scope
  • a sample daily timetable indicating current hours the library is open, for whom and for what purposes. Include period and break times and any formal supervisory duties
  • a sample yearly timetable of events that the library has a leadership role in such as National Simultaneous Storytime, Book Week, Premier’s Reading Challenge, book fairs, community celebrations and in-school events including P&C and School Board functions
  • a calendar of requirements such as the submission of the budget; closing date for expenditure; subscription expiry dates; newsletters; student reports; anything already scheduled for the upcoming year such as a book fair
  • if you provide newsletters for faculties, contribute to the annual school report, share professional articles and so on, provide samples of these and the timeline and process you follow as well as a list of recipients
  • a copy of the current budget, annotated where necessary to identify priorities of the current collection policy including those yet to be fulfilled including details of ongoing grant submissions
  • a copy of the mission statement, the current strategic plan and critical policies such as those relating to the running of the library, collection development, collection management and circulation
  • a summary of the short, mid and long-term goals so the new TL can see the direction being taken at a glance (Just because the personnel changes, ratified policy shouldn’t have to.)
  • library procedures manual and diagrams of common workflow tasks especially if they are done by or involve others
  • list of “big picture” tasks recently completed or which need to be done such as inventory of a certain section
  • “cheatsheets” of essential information like logging into the circulation system
  • social media platforms used and how to access these
  • emergency routines such as fire drills and lockdown procedures
  • staff handbook for general school routines and procedures
  • school behaviour management procedures so that  there is consistency and continuity of expectations
  • sample forms used for budget submission; purchase suggestions; library bookings; curriculum planning
  • library-specific curriculum documents if applicable
  • procedures relating to the use of technology, games, makerspaces, access to new books and so forth – students will ALWAYS quote the previous TL’s rules if they perceive any sort of discrepancy
  • a list of above-and-beyond tasks currently undertaken by the library and which are likely to be expected to continue such as textbook management and equipment storage, maintenance and repair
  • an outline of external programs that your school is involved in and for which you have leadership such as Accelerated Reader, the library’s responsibilities in relation to these and any library-specific procedures

 

passwords

password

  • list generic passwords for
    • the circulation system
    • the library management system
    • online subscriptions such as databases, encyclopedia, ebooks
    • accessing the school’s computer network and/or learning management system
    • accessing library booking system
    • student sign-in system
    • social media access including any wikis or websites administered through the library
  • if passwords are not generic then list instructions for how they are generated by individuals

 

practicalities

practicalities

  • the hours the library is open beyond core school hours
  • if you have keys, leave these labelled 
  • if you are required to mark the roll or have some sort of sign-in mechanism leave the details of this
  • if you are required to collect statistics on circulation, library use and so on detail these as well as any software or LMS reports that you use
  • if you are required to supervise students who have ‘free’ periods, leave information about expectations for performance such as whether they are required to undertake formal study or whether it is a time to chat and play games.  Include the hierarchy for behaviour management issues.
  • if you are required to be on duty at each recess or lunch, indicate when you take the mandatory breaks yourself )and where the toilets and staffroom are)
  • clarify whether students are allowed to have food and drink in the library
  • the location of and access to services like photocopying and laminating as well as supplies such as printer paper
  • how the library is impacted by inside duties if the weather is inclement

 

peripherals

peripherals

Many, if not most, teacher librarians wear many hats beyond those of the core business of curriculum leader, information services manager and information specialist and there may be an expectation by administration, executive and colleagues that the newcomer will continue to provide these “extra-curricular” services.  So if you have taken on responsibilities such as co-ordinating pre-service teachers during their internship or the invigilation of exams and so forth, then ensure your successor is aware of these added extras so they can consider their role within them.

Other issues that are worth sharing include 

  • if you open early or close late and this entitles you to time-in-lieu  and when this is generally taken
  • if the library is used regularly for staff meetings and functions whose responsibility it is to set up and restore the environment
  • the care of any plants or wildlife housed in the library
  • the teacher librarian’s responsibility to lead staff  professional learning particularly in ICT hardware and software
  • any parent participation programs that you run
  • your responsibility, if any, for the procurement and maintenance of ICT hardware

However, these suggestions come with a serious caveat.  You leave these guides because YOU have chosen to move on and you are being replaced by a suitably qualified professional.  Sadly, many administrators and principals are looking to cut budgets and think that they can do this by employing a non-school librarian, a paraprofessional, an administrative clerk or even parent volunteers because despite all the advocacy and education about what it is a top-shelf teacher librarian can bring to the table, they still think that it’s just about book circulation. Similarly, as shown through a recent online discussion, others are trying to replace their ‘teacher librarian’ with a ‘digital learning specialist’ or other fancy sounding name because, again, they are still stuck in the notion of the position having remained static since their own childhood school experiences.

I have long advocated that in those circumstances you leave only that which belongs to the school itself and put none of your time and energy into creating lists and notes and so forth,  While this may sound harsh and tough for the person coming into the position, it is my belief that if the decision-makers are driven by counting beans, then beans should be all they get.  We know, ourselves, what it is our tertiary and professional learning in our specialist areas of information literacy, digital citizenship, literature appreciation and so forth bring to the education experiences of our students  and there is plenty of literature and research that is readily available to support this  and, in my opinion, if the hirers and firers choose to ignore this and withdraw this expertise and experience from the staff and students, then they must live with the consequences of that decision.

While that may seem harsh and unfair to the person who is going to fill your shoes and follow your footsteps, nevertheless if we, as a profession, are to continue to make the difference is out students’ education that all the research attests to, then we have to take a stand that will show that the role is much more complex and diverse than many realise and we do so much more than scan the barcodes on books.

Each of us works in a unique situation so although our “big-picture” professional practice will allow us to move into almost any library workplace, it is the detail of the daily duties that make each position unique.  What you leave as a legacy is your decision but by putting on your transition hat and thinking about what you would like to know about your library if you were the one moving into it you will have a foundation for what to leave for the person who follows you.

Print Friendly

the community service hat

hat_community_service

 

 

 

 

Articles and professional papers about the role of the library  often suggest it should be the hub of school life.  It should be the centre cog on which all other aspects of the school turn. 

But, apart from supporting the teaching and learning happening in the school through the provision of resources, services and support, what else can the library do to be that community hub? Do we have a responsibility to do more?

The American Library Association (ALA) identifies service, social responsibility and the public good as three of its core library values.

ALA recognizes its broad social responsibilities. The broad social responsibilities of the American Library Association are defined in terms of the contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society; support for efforts to help inform and educate the people of the United States on these problems and to encourage them to examine the many views on and the facts regarding each problem; and the willingness of ALA to take a position on current critical issues with the relationship to libraries and library service set forth in the position statement.

Consider this article published in the New Zealand Herald  on August 18, 2012 where a principal quotes a letter by Judge Phillip B. Gilliam of Denver, Colorado, published on December 17, 1959, and addressing those now called the Baby Boomers…

community_service_article

 

Or this more succinct meme that is currently popular on Facebook…

world_living_meme

 

Or this quote from a post to LM_NET discussing the practice of students paying their overdue fines with canned food that is the passed on to those with few reseources…

Today, a student who owed .20 cents brought in a can and expected my aide to forgive his fine AND give him 20 cents in change! [The library assistant]  said she couldn’t give him change because is was for a charity. He took his can back.

Regardless of the older generation’s propensity to generalise and label its upcoming generations as lazy layabouts, wiser heads know that, on the whole, our kids just want to belong and to contribute to their community.  For some this is easy, but for others not so and school is their safe harbour in life, the only place where they feel they are cared for and cared about.

School days can be very fragmented, particularly for those in secondary school where each period brings a change of teacher, subject and often, classmates.  How can there be a cohesive whole when the parts keep changing?  The library is often the most stable constant in student life and as such, has a vital role to play in the development of the student not only as an informed citizen but also a contributing one. For many students, the library is the safest of safe harbours and so often that is cited as one of its key roles within school life. 

Apart from providing shelter from the outside storms, physical and metaphorical, how can the library reach out to students and empower them to fulfil those innate human needs of contribution and acknowledgement? How can we enable them to give their “time, talent and energy” that Judge Phillip B. Gilliam and society generally demand so they can experience the joy of giving, the satisfaction of recognition and the power of acknowledgement?

It can start within its own walls by enabling students to contribute to its daily running.  Even the very youngest students returning their books on time and putting them in the Returns Box are contributing to the well-being of others and if we change our language from the punitive one that focuses on fines for overdues to the positive one of how being responsible helps others, they learn that even though they may only be five years old, they are part of this bigger community called school and they have an important role within that.

A Returns Box made from cardboard cartons was a prominent sentinel at the library door. It could not be missed.

A Returns Box made from cardboard cartons was a prominent sentinel at the library door. It could not be missed.

 

Many schools have library monitors – a coveted, traditional role that dates back to the earliest days of school libraries.   While many libraries reserve it for their senior students – those who are often exploring lots of other options to fill their lunchtime hours and who can be unreliable- my experience is that it is younger students who take the tasks on board with relish and who not only do an excellent job but respond very positively to the responsibility they are given.  In fact, I had so many candidates for the positions that I formalised a program called  S.T.A.R.S.  (Student Teaching and Research Services) that took them from Year 3 (about 8 years old) through to Year 6 (their final year of primary school). Library Ninjas is a similar program adapted for secondary school). 

Each year students submitted their applications -no one was ever rejected although there were the inevitable dropouts – and formal training sessions were held, usually as part of a lunchtime duty.  Their first task each year was to design that year’s badges so they could be easily identified by teachers and others students and after a secret ballot, a design for each level was chosen.  All students regardless of their year level started as Protostars and as they progressed through the levels they were formally acknowledged at a school assembly with a certificate (also designed by their peers) and their new badge.

It was highly successful and has been adopted and adapted in schools around the world wishing to have a more formal community service program. Apart from the community service component, such programs also develop leadership skills and a solid work ethic which can then be transferred to  broader community situations.

We also worked closely with the Special Ed teachers as well as those who had children with challenging behaviours or significant issues to look at regular tasks that needed to be done that these children could do such as the daily feeding of the fish or turning on the computers or making sure all the teddies were sitting neatly on the couches and it was amazing to watch how this shifting of responsibility to those deemed unable to accept it changed the children involved because the perceptions of their peers towards them changed.  Classes were reminded that “We could not have our beautiful , soothing aquarium if Lochie doesn’t feed the fish each day,” or “Make sure you thank Aleisha for having all the computers ready for you” ensured the other students saw these individuals in a different light and gradually school became a great place to be.

Other in-house community services can include such things as 

  • being the meeting place for in-school clubs and groups who share a common interest such as mysteries or Minecraft and who need a supervised venue so they can pursue their goals safely
  • inviting experts in to introduce students to real-world skills such as applying for a job, preparing a meal, creating a budget, asking someone for a date, or even a Gentleman’s Club 
  • being the centre for in-school fundraising efforts for individuals or teams needing support
  • being the centre for raising awareness and support for those in acute need

In times of disaster the library can be a critical element for community support, not just as a meeting and information centre but also for leading recovery as even children who are not directly affected by the tragedy can be left bewildered and afraid, fearing that it will happen to them.  There is much research to show that getting children involved in the recovery process not only helps to alleviate their fears but also allows them to feel empowered and that they can do something and are doing it.

In 2003 our city was ravaged by bushfires with many children in nearby suburbs left homeless and traumatised. While their parents were necessarily focused on doing parent things, many children were adrift particularly as the fires happened during the long summer vacation so their school (if it were still standing) did not become the stabilising influence it could have been at other times.To help these children we organised a teddy drive with the aim being to not only give these children something of their own to cuddle when all had been lost, but also to show that amongst the devastation they had not been forgotten.  Over 5000 teddies from around the world found new homes in this region within six months of the fires. (As well as our own community, teddy bear drives were organised for the children of regional Victoria after the deadly Black Saturday fires in 2009 and also for the children of the Townsville region after Cyclone Yasi struck in 2011.  Even though these were some hundreds of kilometres from us local trucking firms were very generous with free transport of the boxes.  Just ask!)

Some of the 5000 teddies given to children affected by the bushfires of 2003

Some of the 5000 teddies given to children affected by the bushfires of 2003

Similarly, our focus for Christmas 2002 was the children of Charleville, a town in remote Queensland that was enduring one of its worst droughts ever.  So the library became the centre of the Gifts for Charleville campaign, suggested by those in the STARS program and managed and maintained by two Year 5 lads who were not known within the school for their community spirit. At the time they were obliged to spend their lunchtimes in the library rather than the playground and when I handed them the responsibility of the safety of the gifts, their lives were literally changed.  Here was a task that they could achieve, wanted to do because it appealed to that innate need to contribute and which showed them in a new light to their peers.  They relished the fact they were being seen as responsible, reliable and trustworthy and the following year they were valued members of the school community, in the library because they wanted to be not because they had to be.

Christmas for the children of Charleville

Christmas for the children of Charleville

Following the Magnitude 9 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand in February 2011, many Kiwi students in Australian schools were left bereft and wanting to help so a group of teacher librarians throughout Australia organised All Black Day sharing it through their teacher librarian networks to encourage schools to encourage their Kiwi students to run it.  Apart from the significant amount of funds raised, there were many anecdotes shared of how students in individual schools embraced the concept and felt they were indeed doing something positive. Even the very youngest students got involved with those from Penrith Public School, NSW led by TL Ian McLean, creating this presentation.  Scrolling through the comments, you can see the impact this had.

 


All Black Day: Christchurch earthquake appeal, 2011

 

 

Reaching beyond the school walls, the library can provide a range of services that can support the needs of its community including becoming a pseudo-public library in towns where there is no other facility or opening during long vacations so students have the opportunity to renew their loans and keep reading. Primary schools can offer borrowing facilities to siblings  who are not yet school age and I know parents really appreciated our Grab Bags initiative where seven books suitable for the bedtime read-aloud were put into a bag so they could ‘grab’ a week’s worth of stories in one visit.  

As a school in a brand-new suburb with few facilities, parents also appreciated having easy access to the literature and brochures from local government and community services which was supplemented by a page on the school’s website with the names of local dentists, doctors and so forth. Students were also able to find out about local groups like Scouts and sporting teams as well as advertising their own groups and clubs so even if they weren’t in the STARS program they were nevertheless involved in the community in some way. Most popular of all were the connections made with local groups that supported the units of work that were being studied in class at the time so that when students were asked to reflect on their learning and answer the question, “Where to from here?” those whose interests had been sparked could find the information quickly and easily.  

Every school is in a community with a unique demographic and unique needs that can shape the community service hat so that it is a snug fit.  Experience has shown that it is very much a case of “Offer it and they will come.”  Think about the design of your hat and how you will wear it.

 

 

Print Friendly

the accountant’s hat

hat_accountant

 

 

 

Of all the hats the teacher librarian has to wear, for many the accountant’s hat may be the most ill-fitting because the management of money matters, particularly the preparation, submission and disbursement of a budget, requires expertise beyond that of our teaching qualifications. And yet it is an essential part of what we do.

From messages to TL networks, it would appear there are three types of budgets…

  • those that are based on the administration’s careful consideration of a properly prepared budget submitted by the TL
  • those that are based on an amount allocated by the administration (often the school’s business manager) with no consultation with the TL with the expectation that the TL will provide all services within that amount
  • those that are non-existent requiring the TL to go to external sources such a parent bodies, book fairs, grants and sponsorship and so on to raise the required funds

Whatever the situation, even it is neither required or considered, it is important that the TL prepare and submit a comprehensive budget each year because

  • it demonstrates our professionalism particularly as the library’s budget is more likely to be bigger and more diverse than those of any other faculty
  • it provides the purse-string holders with evidence of a careful consideration of needs, prioritises these and what is required to fulfil those needs
  • it advocates and educates the purse-string holders about the needs of the library to meet the community’s demands and expectations
  • it focuses our priorities even if there is little or no money to cover them
  • it can be used to show staff that a fair and equitable use has been made of allocated money based on identified and agreed prirorities
  • if necessary, it can be produced to demonstrate to the parent body how funds they have provided have been used within the school

 funding

It is important to understand where the money is coming from because there can be a range of sources and rules regarding how they can be accessed and used…

  • an allocation from the school’s central budget
  • a library fund into which school fees are paid so they become tax deductible
  • philanthropic donations
  • parent body fundraising
  • book fairs and other in-house sources
  • sponsorship

If there is a district or state mandated formula that must be adhered to, know what it is so you have a minimum figure on which to base projections.

Know if your school-based allocation is reduced by the amount you expect to fundraise or get from external sources. 

Make yourself familiar with any regulations regarding money from external sources, such as cash commissions from a book fair, because some education jurisdictions mandate that any money that comes into the school after a certain date must go into consolidated revenue and not spent till the following year.  Even fines for overdue books or the payment for a lost or damaged book can be affected.

Know which services such as subscriptions to library management software, cataloguing services, ebook platforms. databases and so on are paid for by a central authority.

Cover these issues in your Collection Policy.

preparation

There are many factors to consider when preparing a budget

  1. Start early.
  2. Prepare it in alignment with the school’s preferred procedures and timeframe. If there are standards or formulae mandated by your educational authority or local or state government then make yourself aware of these and quote them in your submission because the purse-string holders may not be aware of them.  
  3. If you are uncertain about the number of resources or dollars that should be allocated per student, seek advice from colleagues in similar school situations so you can provide the evidence on which your estimations are based.
  4. There must be a clear understanding of what it is to cover – that which is to be covered by the library and that which is to be covered by the budgets of other departments, faculties, and committees. The origin of funds for such areas as teacher reference, readers, class sets, textbooks, ICT hardware, maintenance and subscriptions must be made clear. Those things acquired by the library from the library’s budget, excluding consumables, can be subject to formal audit and thus must be accounted for in a regular stocktake. 
  5. Know what is already paid for by central funding so it is neither included in your budget or deducted from it. For example in New South Wales government schools subscriptions for the maintenance of the library management system and access to the Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) are covered by the NSW DEC. 
  6. Know who your educational authority’s approved/must-use suppliers are so it is their prices that are quoted. Know the rules for purchasing from these suppliers and when you may go beyond them to source what you need. Indicate preferred suppliers in your submission so that the purse-string holders are aware of the necessity to purchase from them.  If quotes are required for particular services or items, attach these to the submission as an appendix.
  7. Ensure your submission is based on facts and figures not wishful thinking.
  8. Use your Collection Policy and strategic plan to identify agreed priorities for acquisition and ensure these are costed and included. The evidence supporting these priorities should be contained in the Policy and the strategic plan, but if necessary provide a brief explanation as an appendix. Draw explicit links between the purchase of items and the support of teaching and learning. The 2014 Softlink Australian School Library Survey report  demonstrates “a positive correlation between annual school library budgets and NAPLAN Reading Literacy results.”
  9. Share those identified and agreed priorities with staff and seek suggestions for purchases from year-level groups and faculties in the form of a wishlist to fulfil them.  If possible, meet at least one request from each submission but if it is not possible meet with the group to explain why. Look to negotiate a compromise – perhaps costs could be shared or a purchase made the following year as a priority.  Engaging staff in budget preparation not only gives them some ownership of and input into the process but helps to educate and advocate, staving off complaints and behind-the-hand comments.
  10. Seek out those teachers with students with particular special needs and discuss the resources, formats and facilities that their students need that the library can provide. so that there is not a one-size fits all collection or environment.  For example, you may have to budget to get lower shelving for wheelchair-bound students or special signage for the visually impaired. Make the library fit the client, not the other way round.
  11. If there is a large, expensive purchase to be made, consider asking the parent body to make this the focus of their fundraising for the year.  These bodies like to see tangible results of their efforts such as an interactive whiteboard or a set of e-readers.
  12. If there is pressure to abandon the print collection in favour of digital, attach the research into the development of traditional literacy skills using traditional formats being a prerequisite for effective and efficient online reading, interrogation and interpretation making the maintenance of a print collection which appeals to and engages readers an essential. Also identify the need to provide a range of resources in a variety of formats to meet individual teaching and learning styles.
  13. Be specific.  Identify where the money will go and calculate what you need for each based on an actual costing or an estimate based on the current year’s expenditure. A clear breakdown of expenditure is more likely to attract some money than just an application for a lump sum.
  14. Distinguish between those expenditures which are recurring and are required for the smooth operation of the library; those that are capital expenditure likely to be made very rarely; and those that are considered consumables
  15. Create and adhere to policies relating to online purchasing; the outsourcing of collection development; free versus paid acquisitions; replacement of lost or damaged resources; selection criteria for suppliers and other budget-related matters. 
  16. Be prepared with evidence to support a claim for a paid commercially-available service rather than a free one such as extra features, greater security and privacy of information, lack of advertising, lack of inappropriate links, validity of content and so forth.
  17. Consider these areas
    • acquisitions
      • purchases of new print, digital and audio-visual resources
      • replacement/renewal of existing resources such as dictionaries or atlases; outdated non fiction; damaged or lost items
      • subscriptions to databases, journals, online resources to support teaching and learning
      • interlibrary loan charges
    • subscriptions
      • recurrent expenditure to manage the library such as a cataloguing service, library management software, video streaming facility
    • hardware
      • items such as an interactive whiteboard, tablets, laptops, cameras and so forth to be used by students
      • maintenance of these including printer cartridges and lease payments
      • scanners, OPAC and circulation computers
      • security systems
      • insurance
      • furniture and shelving
      • personal items, such as a tablet, that are required to do your job as TL effectively
    • consumables
      • stationery relating to the processing of resources
      • stationery relating to the smooth operation of the library such as signage
      • stationery for staff and student use 
      • printing and photocopying costs
      • batteries, printer cartridges, recordable CDs and DVDs
    • promotion
      • author visits and other literary functions such as Book Week
      • catering
      • awards and prizes
      • purchase of items for displays
      • Makerspace resources
      • board games, jigsaws etc
    • professional learning
      • costs of registration, attendance, accommodation and travel for required/desired professional learning
      • costs of cover by a casual during TL absence
      • costs of subscriptions to professional organisations
      • costs of subscriptions to professional journals
    • salaries
      • salaries of casual relief and admin staff to be covered during mandatory stocktake including time for collection appraisal and evaluation and the identification of future development needs
    • miscellaneous
      • compliance with workplace health and safety issues
      • professional assistance in packing, moving and unpacking resources if library is to be painted or recarpeted
  18. Use the figures from previous years as a platform for improvement and gather and include statistics to show the increase in prices to support the required amounts.
  19. Know what you are purchasing by reading the Terms and Conditions of subscription services, particularly in the case of ebook platforms, database access and so forth.  Know the questions to ask the supplier and ask them.
  20. If you are seeking funding for hardware such as e-readers ensure that the terms and conditions of purchase or warranties covers school-based use.  Some paperwork only applies if the device is for personal use.  If there are extra costs to cover multiple uses then these need to be factored into your submission.
  21. While the budget needs to relate directly to supporting teaching and learning, include a contingency fund to take advantage of unexpected opportunities or student-driven trends.
  22. Collect statistics relating to the use of the collection (where it is feasible, break this down into sections such as print, online, ebook, audio, visual, fiction and non fiction) and the library’s spaces as evidence of demand as well as the money being used effectively to support teaching and learning.
  23. Seek advice from the principal, the business manager or colleagues so you can prepare the most informed submission possible backed by knowledge and evidence. This shows professional practice rather than inadequacy.
  24. Be realistic and consider the school’s annual budget and commitments.  Be willing to negotiate rather than being greedy.

disbursement

Know who has authority to access and disburse funds from the library’s budget or who may give authority for this to be done. Establish policy and procedures that ensure that the TL has the ultimate authority so that acquisitions meet the priorities and selection criteria of the Collection Policy.

Ensure that any procedures relating to disbursement are in alignment with school and education authority procedures. However, it may be necessary to negotiate some adaptations so that purchases and payments can be made to allow for unforeseen circumstances such as an unexpected fad among students such as the Harry Potter phenomenon, a too-good-to-miss sale or an unscheduled author visit to the district.

Establish the need to be able to buy online and if necessary seek special dispensation for those purchases that can only be paid for with an online payment.

Establish the procedures and authority required to make on-the-spot purchases to take advantage of bargains and special offers if personal funds are used and reimbursement is sought.

documentation

Each school may well have its own pro forma on which budget submissions must be made and therefore this must be followed. However, it is worthwhile establishing a spreadsheet for in-house use which may contain greater detail than that which is submitted formally. While I must stress that I am NOT an accountant and have no formal book-keeping education I found the following headings worked for me.  Apart from showing that I had carefully costed items and estimated usage, it gave me a way to keep track of continued expenditure as well as providing the basis for the budget for the following year.  (It also provided a record of rising prices as evidence for required increases.)

CATEGORY DATE PURCHASE
ORDER
SUPPLIER/
SOURCE
QUANTITY/
DURATION
COST
PER ITEM
ORDER
TOTAL
CUMULATIVE
TOTAL

For statistical and evidential purposes, it may be worth keeping a more detailed record of acquisitions using these headings…

RESOURCE FORMAT SUPPLIER COST FICTION PRIMARY GENRE NON FICTION PRIMARY KLA/
FACULTY

New South Wales teacher librarian Carolyn Mock has written a procedures manual that contains models of a number of forms and what could be included on them that would be useful in the preparation of a budget.  She is willing for people to adapt her work but asks she be credited as the original author. The Library Supplies checklist is very useful.

Keep purchase orders, invoices and other documentation in alignment with school procedures and requirements. If payments are made through the school’s business manager request monthly updates of the overall budget and set aside administrative time to reconcile these.

Keep documentation for the mandated time period and refer to it in future budget preparation to inform you of expenditure, trends, what needs to be acquired and which faculties are receiving boosts and which may need a collection appraisal and attention.

Regardless of how well the hat fits, as the information service manager in the school we have a responsibility to put it on and wear it as well as we can.

Print Friendly