Your TL degree is so new and shiny that the dust hasn’t had time to settle on its frame yet, but in a few short weeks you are going to be stepping into your dream job – the one you’ve been thinking of for years and have undertaken hundreds of hours of gruelling study to achieve.
Yet even though you might have excelled in your assignments and learned that being a TL is so much more than being a reading expert and circulating books, where you once thought you had this thing mastered, suddenly your brain is empty and you’re wondering where on earth you start. There just seems so much to do, and that you want to do but where to begin?
Firstly, go back to your initial learning about information literacy and recall the work of Carol Kuhlthau who examined the affective domain of taking on a new research task. (If you’re not familiar with her work, then that should be your first professional learning task because it will give you great insight into how students feel and respond.) Understand and accept that the feelings of being uncertain and overwhelmed are natural and common, take a deep breath and be kind to yourself.
One of the reasons that we do feel as though we’ve just hit a wall is because we have so many ideas that the starting point is not clear. This is the time for clarity of thought and action and the best way is to break the task down into immediate, short, mid and long term goals. Time management is critical and Stephen Covey’s Habit 3 of putting first things first is a very useful mantra., as is his matrix for managing tasks.
Learn to ask yourself these questions…
- Does this need to be done now or can it wait?
- Is it more important than what I am doing right now?
- If I don’t do it now, will that have an impact on other tasks that must be done?
- Is it more important that the other things I have planned for today?
- Will doing this help me achieve what needs to be done in the short, medium and long-term?
- Does it require my time and attention or can I delegate?
If it helps, document the tasks you need to do and the ones you want to do so you don’t forget and when it comes time to develop a strategic plan to develop and manage the library’s growth all those big ideas are not forgotten or overlooked.
But first things first… what is it that needs to be in place before the first staff and students come through the door on Day 1?
There are two different scenarios – are you moving into an established library or are you starting a brand new one – but the tasks merge very quickly. If it is an established library, see if there has been anything left for you from the previous TL; if it is a new library then you have a clean slate and will have a little more to do. But the focus is the same – having a facility that is up and running efficiently as soon as possible.
Relationships are the most critical part of the job and the impression you make first up will be the lasting one, and could quite well determine how the library is used long term. So…
- meet the current library staff and ask them about their current roles and responsibilities, timetable and other pertinent information including their aspirations. So often in situations where you are new and they are not, situations arise where those who have become used to doing things in a particular way cling to those ways, perhaps as security, and toxic relationships build. Perhaps have a general chat over a cuppa to reassure them that you are a team player, that you will respect existing practices although these may change in light of current best practice but you are willing to discuss major differences so there is understanding on both sides
- schedule time with your principal and supervisor to gain insight into their vision for the library and how it will support the school’s overall goals and contribute to teaching and learning. Even though what you take from this may become a long-term goal, it demonstrates that you want to become an integral part of the movement forward.
- seek an overview 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
- be prepared to give each child a fresh start regardless of any overdues or lost books from the previous year. Build the relationship by letting them show you their reliability and responsibility and acknowledge they are more important and the loss of a few books is the cost of doing business. The long-term gain is worth the short-term loss. Read Corey’s Story.
- investigate 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 Put on your students’ advocate hat and be willing to listen to their needs and suggestions and implement those that make sense. Remember, that for many the library is their safe haven and you really want to keep it that way.
- understand 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. Discover who the most supportive staff members are, those keen to collaborate or who know the collection well and ask how you can support them. Don’t ignore those who may be reluctant but a little positivity that your work is appreciated can be the lift you need in those early days.
- identify any expectations and opportunities for joining or leading in-house or curriculum committees and play an active part in these. Go beyond the traditional English faculty so you can demonstrate that the TL ‘s role is cross-curricula.
- investigate outside contacts such as parent volunteers, 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
Remember that all the teachers are bursting with the enthusiasm of a new school year and may be somewhat tunnel-visioned when they come looking for resources and so forth. They may not know or have forgotten that you are new and learning the roles, routines and responsibilities so…
- if possible, be familiar with the library management system so you can do basic circulation tasks. If not, then just use old-fashioned pen and paper and record the teacher’s name and the resource barcode to add to the system later. It might be tempting to get teachers to do this for themselves, but this is an easy way to establish a connection and learn names and faces
- if a teacher asks for particular resources and you’re not familiar with the collection yet, make a note of it, follow through and deliver them as soon as you can even if it means going an extra mile. It’s the manner in which you receive the request and the effort you make that will be remembered. Understand your main job is to support their teaching so that’s your priority.
- have a basket of lollies on the circ desk in those early days – teachers will appreciate and remember them!
- offer to put together a tub of books to tide them over the first few days. Suggest a novel for that first read-aloud or have a display that they can select one from. Remember your first week on a new class and how manic it can be.
- if you are in a primary school, do whatever is necessary for Kindergarten students to be able to take a book home on the very first day. This is so important in establishing their beliefs about what “big school” is and their attitude towards using the library
- create a display of new titles or “back to school” or something that will entice those who have been waiting for the library to reopen to come in and borrow
- understand your teaching role, whether it is in a collaborative situation or covering teacher prep, and prepare for the first week’s lessons by focusing on understanding what the students know about the library and how they use it. Ask them what a library is; what it should look like when they are there; what they would like it to be; and what they would like to learn so that they can operate in it independently. That gives you information about their perceptions; a collaborative set of “library rules” and some direction for the future while it gives them input and ownership as they show you what they know.
- if you are planning the popular scavenger hunt orientation, then make sure it has a purpose that opens up new horizons or consolidates existing knowledge in a new way. For example, Find a book that is the same genre as XYZ and record the title, author and ISBN so it can be added to a list of recommendations for that genre.
- know the requirements and procedures for marking the roll and reporting absences
- know, or create, 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
- know the hours the library is open beyond core school hours including supervisory duties at break and lunchtimes. Work within your contract or award so you get your required breaks and ensure you know where the staffroom and toilets are. Investigate how the library is used during inclement weather and your responsibilities during these times.
- if you are required to supervise students who have ‘free’ periods, ask for information about expectations for attendance and performance such as whether they are required to undertake formal study or whether it is a time to chat and play games. Know the hierarchy for behaviour management issues.
- have a safe system for any keys in your care
- clarify whether students are allowed to have food and drink in the library
- know the location of and access to services like photocopying and laminating as well as supplies such as printer paper and any procedures for accessing these
Paperwork can be both a boon and a bugbear and it certainly seems to be having a boom in teaching, with just about every thought having to be recorded and analysed. However, it is critical to remember that the most important thing we do is build relationships with staff and students for without those, nothing else happens or matters. We must always keep in mind that we teach students NOT subjects. So…
- investigate what paperwork already exists, or has been left for you. If you are in an established library, be content to let this guide you until you have found your feet and your direction. If this is a new school library then there will be time enough to develop a Collection Policy and so forth and it will be all the better for your developing knowledge of the school’s ethos and needs.
- in the absence of anything having been left, creating and/or finding the following may prove most useful…
- a draft teaching timetable that provides a guide of expectations of the workload and its scope, including administrative duties and lesson prep time
- a daily timetable indicating current hours the library is open, for whom and for what purposes, including period and break times and any formal supervisory duties
- a 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. See this calendar of events for ideas for celebrations.
- 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
- requirements for contributing to social media, newsletters for faculties, the annual school report, sharing professional articles and so on, including the timeline, the process followed and 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 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 you can see the direction being taken at a glance (Just because the personnel changes, ratified policy shouldn’t have to.)
- the library procedures manual and diagrams of common workflow tasks especially if they are done by or involve others
- a list of “big picture” tasks recently completed or which need to be done such as inventory of a certain section
- “cheat sheets” of essential information like logging into the circulation system
- any social media policies and platforms used and how to access these if they are within your domain
- 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
- policies and 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 such as textbook management and equipment storage, maintenance and repair and the procedures for these
- 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
- prepare thorough outlines of your teaching so that these can be given to teaching teams, exec and whoever else demands them. Demonstrate that you have a specialist subject, that your lessons have purpose, are linked to specific outcomes and that what you teach adds value to the teaching and learning of staff and students. Read The Educate-Advocate Hat to see how your planning can have several outcomes – clarifying your thoughts, demonstrating its purpose and value, and showing that we are more than babysitters who read stories.
In the ACT, where I worked, the first week of the year is devoted to professional development, and planning and preparation for the weeks ahead. Each year, my library manager and I hosted a Brunch’n’Browse session. We put on a scrumptious lunch, had lots of pick-a-ticket prizes, distributed The Library Book, displayed new releases, teacher reference, and whatever else we had to support the first-term school-wide theme, and gave teachers and teams plenty of opportunity to browse, talk, plan, ask questions, make suggestions, select their borrowing time…
New staff met us and saw what we had to offer and how we could help them, as well as meeting other staff informally. Even though it took a lot of preparation, it set the tone for the library for the year and was one of the most effective things we did.
My other priority was to ensure that every Kinder Kid could borrow on their very first day and so Jenny worked really hard to ensure they were on the circulation system while I prepared library bags with essential information for parents including Dr Booklove’s Share-A-Story guide and Hot Reader’s Challenge.
The first week’s lessons focused on students exploring the library, identifying what they knew and used and wished for, and developing their own behaviour expectations , all of which gave me insight into where the rest of the term’s program would go. I didn’t assume or presume their prior knowledge. For example, if they didn’t know how to locate resources using the OPAC then the next lesson would be pairs exploring it and writing instructions for others to use. Those who were competent helped those that were not-so so each worked at their own level and achieved something useful, as well as opening up new social pairings that might not have otherwise happened.
Each school is unique because each child and staff member within it is unique, and so there can be no one-size-fits-all, 1.2.3 checklist that can be ticked off. Starting afresh could be seen as a new , final assignment where we use all those learning, research and organisational skills that we acquired to this new, practical situation. Just as with students, each of us is at a different point but hopefully these suggestions can be placed somewhere in that Covey time management matrix to make the transition from university student to fully-fledged TL easier.