Making the most of our time is difficult when we’re pulled in so many different directions. My first two years as a new school librarian I tried applying what I’d learned in library school, but I was overwhelmed by all the “stuff” in a library besides books on the shelves—documents, equipment, supplies, tools, furniture—as well as “stuff I had to do” to serve teachers and students. What I needed was a way to organize that which was not already organized by the Dewey Decimal System and the class periods of my school day.
My 3rd year as a librarian a new principal, who was an organizational genius, suggested I first develop a Personal Management Strategy as a step toward managing the library program. So I asked myself, ‘What personal strategies can help with library management?’ and I determined 3 areas for personal management: content organization, time management, and personal philosophy.
I began organizing content by analyzing AASL and my State’s standards and guidelines for school libraries. That may seem an odd way to start, but those documents helped me encapsulate what I do and why I do it. I created 6 organization categories: Budget, Collection, Facility, Lessons, Library Promotion, and Professional Development. These categories became the structure for my thought processes, my filing systems (digital & print), and my library program. I further articulated what belonged in each category and color-code them:
- Budget (hot pink) = budget/funding documents, purchasing information, and booklists for purchase.
- Collection (blue) = cataloging, circulation, inventory, and book labels.
- Facility (orange) = aides, bulletin boards, physical layout, reading promotion (including book trailers & bookmarks), and signs/shelf labels.
- Lessons (green) = lesson planner & tools, standards documents, library info lessons, and each individual school subject.
- Library Promotion (red) = checklists, informational handouts/presentations, library administrative handbook, and reports.
- Professional Development (purple) = certifications/resume, meetings/trainings, and state/district appraisal.
A busy librarian needs a time management tool to prioritize daily actions and meet deadlines. For me, lists bring order to chaos faster than any other tool, and spreadsheets are flexible enough to create different types of lists for different time management needs. I created a “Librarian Lists” spreadsheet document with a worksheet tab for each different list.
At the beginning of the school year I have many tasks to prepare myself and the library before teachers and students arrive on campus. A chronological list is perfect to organize everything and help me accomplish it in a timely manner. In Librarian Lists I have one tab for my ‘alone’ days before teachers arrive and another tab for the week of staff development when teachers are on campus but not students. Here’s an example of what’s on those two lists:
- BOY ABCs (before teachers arrive)
- Records Day – list of updates to all records for teacher/room changes in automation system, library Website, library passes, maps; update teacher information documents & reprint.
- Teacher Materials Day – list of library items to check out & deliver to teacher classrooms; troubleshoot, clean, recharge library & teacher AVD equipment.
- Library Day – list of tasks to arrange library, update signage & bulletin boards, process summer magazines & new books, update substitute folder & aide materials.
- BOY 123+ (during Staff Development Week)
- Update yearly goals/objectives for library program & PD.
- Troubleshoot/recharge student A/V/D equipment (calculators, cameras).
- Schedule with ELA teachers for orientations & book exchanges; schedule w/ teachers for student checkout of calculators for Algebra & cameras for yearbook.
- Prepare PPT announcements for new school year (cafeteria menus, clubs, etc).
TO DO Tab
Another LibLists tab is a “To Do” list of tasks I want to accomplish during the year, such as facility changes, collection weeding and inventory, and other library or school goals. I use an Eisenhower Matrix (devised by Steven Covey from a quote by former President Dwight Eisenhower) to classify tasks into color-coded quadrants based on Importance and Urgency.
Library Schedule Tab
My Library Schedule tab is a calendar of the school year, listing week numbers and dates for each grading period down the left, and a cell for each day of the week across the top. Each corresponding cell shows who is in the library (or if I’ll be gone to a district meeting) and I can add Comment boxes to give details of lessons or library use. I also insert Comments to remind me of timely tasks or events, such as sending my Media Minute email each month. (This quick email of library news is sent to the whole staff and can be read in 1-minute or less. I often supply a single link for those interested in additional information.)
To complete my time management tool I have 3 additional tabs:
- School Schedule Tab with a copy of our master class-schedule chart, customized with color-coded teacher-conference and subject-PD periods so I know when I can visit a teacher in their classroom for lesson collaboration.
- Weeding & Inventory Tab shows a chart of Dewey Subjects/Classes and Fiction Subjects with adjoining columns for a time frame for weeding, date of last weeding, date for next weeding, and date of last inventory.
- EOY (End-Of-the-Year) Tab for the last month of school is another chronological list of procedures for collecting library materials from students and teachers, and closing the library for the summer.
I tend to be a procrastinator, but these 7 worksheet lists keep me on-track and it’s very convenient to have my time management lists compiled into a single spreadsheet document.
After developing content organization and a time management tool, I needed to re-clarify my own Personal Philosophy about the library program. Because I believe a school librarian is still, most importantly, a teacher, I concluded that students are the most important reason I am where I am, and if I keep students, not the library, as the priority, everything else falls into place. I resolved to make (as my former library director Dr. Salerno put it) “wise professional decisions” and always strive for a positive impact on students.
That 3rd year, one of my wisest decisions was to positively impact students by eliminating overdue book fines. They just didn’t serve any positive purpose:
- Kids hung on to overdue books instead of returning them because they couldn’t pay the fine in order to check out a new book; the result was kids weren’t reading and books weren’t circulating.
- Poorer kids stared at the few coins they had, trying to decide if they’d still have money for lunch (or dinner on the way home) if they paid the fine; well-off kids didn’t care about the paltry amount—they’d bring a $20 bill for a 20¢ fine and expect me to make change.
- If we had to adjust regularly scheduled book exchanges, the due date passed by through no fault of the student. Teachers weren’t always willing to release kids from class just to return a book on time, and kids couldn’t always get to their lockers between classes.
- In my case—and maybe for some of you—our public library doesn’t charge fines, even for adults, so why would a public school charge kids?
- Collecting fines was time-consuming work for me with little benefit, especially when a whole class was trying to check out books during the last 10 minutes of the period!
- Getting books back at the end of a semester by offering “forgiveness” incentives is totally unfair to kids who’ve been paying fines all year. I’m pretty gentle about lost books because a kid is more important than a book, and certainly more important than getting a few cents for an overdue fine. I’m adamant that we not use fines as an excuse to “raise money for the library.” There are much more positive ways to do that.
I don’t think fines “build responsibility” in students and my principal agreed. I have more effective ways to get back overdue books, and here are some of my solutions:
- In our automation system, we use a field in the student’s profile for their ELA teacher. I pick a day for a regular Book Exchange visit and run overdue notices for that grade and sort by teacher. When the first class arrives I give teachers their notices, and they distribute them throughout the day just before kids browse for books. Many kids have the book(s) in their locker so they can retrieve and return the book(s) during their browsing time. (I have special ‘Locker for a Book’ passes!)
- I have the student check the shelves to see if a book is there, because sometimes I do miss checking them in (and of course I blame the computer!).
- I write down the overdue book title on a funny bookmark so everytime they open their new book to read it reminds them to bring back that overdue one. (Yes, they can still check out a book with an overdue. A kid is more important…)
- I have kids put an overdue notice in their shoe. This was a great idea from a kid: When you get home and take off your shoes, you see the note and put the book by your shoes to bring back the next day.
- I give kids the library phone to call their home or mobile phone and leave a reminder message on voicemail or answering machine. (They think this is hilarious, especially when I tell them that’s how “Ms P” reminds herself of things!)
- For severe cases I have them call their Mom. (This is especially effective if they have to call her at work—she’s not happy, but the kid’s in the doghouse, not me!)
I’ve never regretted my decision to eliminate overdue book fines. Of all my “wise professional decisions” over the years, this one builds better PR with parents and students, and simplifies considerably the daily demands on my time and sanity.
Looking back, I can say that developing my Personal Management Strategy was an important step to better library management because when I organized my field of work, directed my daily activities, and confirmed what’s important to me as an educator and a school librarian, I had a method to make smarter decisions faster in order to achieve my goals. Only then could I turn my attention to conceptualizing my school library program.