At the end of 2015 I finally hung up my going-to-school hat after 45 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.
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 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
The other warning is that, hard though it may be, you have to let go and if the new person chooses to do things differently, then that is their choice and their responsibility. “Doing what we’ve always done” is the greatest inhibitor of progress and change and so we must accept that once we walk out the door for the final time, that’s it. We have done our best with what we know and have and now it is time for someone else to move things forward.
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.