A Back-to-School Action Plan for the School Librarian

School Librarians have much to do to get ready for the start of school, so having an organized Back to School Action Plan is essential. I have such a plan that can save you time & keep your workflow going! | No Sweat LibraryThe start of a new school year is hectic for any educator, and it’s especially demanding for the School Librarian. We have a bigger room to organize, more materials to distribute, more students to track, and multiple curricular lessons to manage. How can one get it all done?

Many librarians use a list with checkboxes to cross off what they’ve accomplished. I’ve seen some with a hundred or more tasks, and just looking at such a list is overwhelming! While we do need an organized way to prepare for the influx of teachers, then students, we need one that prevents us from getting exhausted before school even begins.

I have a Back-to-School Action Plan, and the key to its usefulness is the grouping of like tasks to maximize focus and minimize backtracking. I hope sharing my plan may help other School Librarians prepare for the start of school and still have energy when school actually begins.

START BEFORE TEACHERS RETURN

Our school district provides 2 extra paid contract days for elementary & middle school librarians. In addition, librarians do not have to attend our 2 teacher conference days, so we can use those as workdays. Since the start of the school year is so busy, I use 3 days the week before teachers return. Being alone in the library lets me get massive amounts of work done!

With good planning, you can use all your workdays before school begins. If you start your end-of-year closing tasks 2-3 weeks before the end of school, and use student review and final exam days to get more work done, you may not need much extra time to wrap up for summer.
(If you have library aides, ask teachers to send them to the library to help reshelve books if they finish exams early. I don’t have assigned aides, but many of my students love to come in and help after exams—their reward is being allowed to take books home to read during the summer.)

GIVE EACH WORKDAY A THEME

Thematic workdays allow school librarians to maximize focus and accomplish more in a limited time. Read how my back-to-school plan unifies similar administrative activities so I'm done in just 3 days ...My best back-to-school time saver has been assigning a “theme” for each workday. My first day back to work is my Librarian Records Day, which I spend at the computer, getting files ready for the new school year. So much of what happens afterward depends on administrative records being up-to-date, so it makes sense to tackle this first, even if the rest of the library is a shambles from summer cleaning and what-not.

My second workday is Teacher Materials Day, when I organize & distribute teaching materials to classrooms. It’s so much better to get this “stuff” out of the library as soon as possible, rather than wait for teachers to get it themselves. They appreciate having what they need already in their rooms when they return, which has built a positive attitude toward the library and me.

My third workday is Library Day, when I finally organize the library and decorate my bulletin boards. Well before the end of the day, the library is pleasant and ready for the principal to set up for staff development the following week, and for my library orientations & book checkouts the first week of school.

GROUP TASKS TOGETHER CONSECUTIVELY

For each Theme day I’ve grouped my tasks in a progressive manner, so each activity prepares for following ones and I don’t have to backtrack. It took 3 years to perfect my flow, and I do still tweak it from time to time as needs or materials change.

A progressive list provides a smooth workflow for school librarians and minimizes time-wasting backtracking. Here's my action plan that allows me to complete all school start-up tasks before students arrive ... | No Sweat LibraryLibrarian Records Day

I begin with my school library budget: getting lost-book payments from the school secretary that have been paid during the summer, finalizing book orders & supplies that have come in during the summer, and using residual funds to order start-up supplies from the warehouse. Then I close out the budget and set up the new year’s budget document, so I’m ready to go when our funding comes through (about 2 weeks after school actually begins).

Next I update librarian administrative documents. Middle schools see a lot of staff turnover from year to year, so anything with teacher names or room assignments needs to be changed. This includes maps, phone & distribution lists, and the school website. Some are document files, some are in the library management system, and some are network or online apps, so I work through each type before moving on to the next.

Last I do any needed updates to teacher info documents. For each teacher/classroom I provide a personalized library pass, a Teacher Quick-Flip Library Info Guide, and classroom inventory sheets. At the end of the day I’m ready for printing, copying, sorting, laminating, folding & stapling of all documents that I’ve updated.

Teacher Materials Day

In our district, portable equipment is barcoded and its distribution is tracked by school librarians: globes, whiteboard easels, calculators, headphones, jamboxes, cameras, and other audio/video apparatus. We also barcode and distribute certain professional & curricular binders.

Example of my Teacher Classroom Inventory SheetEach Classroom Inventory sheet lists all such items, so I organize the sheets by hallway, gather & check out items to the individual teacher or classroom, stack them on a large AV cart, and deliver them to the respective classrooms. Doing one hallway at a time is efficient, and by the end of the day the library and workroom are cleared, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment!

Library Day

I’ve established a good relationship with our custodial staff so tables & chairs are back in their proper places from summer cleaning, or I’ve arranged the day before for them to do that first thing this morning. Our tables are on wheels, so it’s really an easy task they don’t mind doing.

My first task is sorting and processing magazines accumulated during the summer. I circulate current issues of magazines, so I prepare them, place them in the display rack, and take care of old issues by distributing to teachers or placing in table bins for student free reading.

Then I take care of newly arrived books. Fiction gets Subject & transparent color labels, as do certain non-fiction books for special collections. I make necessary changes to records in the library management system, then get those new books on the shelves or placed for display.

Next I replenish supplies for the circulation desk, for teacher table bins, and for student supply buckets: pens, pencils, markers, sticky notes, tape/glue, etc. I put the teacher bins on tables, ready for the next week’s staff development. Student buckets are kept in a closet near the circulation desk for easy access when needed. (This is a good time to organize & replenish a makerspace, if you have one!)

Stocked up, and with loose materials out of the way, I’m ready to create signs & displays: new signage for bookshelves or computer areas, promotional displays for walls, doors & bookshelves, and my 4 hallway bulletin boards. I’m not big on frou-frou, so I’ve developed a pattern for my bulletin boards that promotes the library but goes up fairly quickly.

The rest of the day I’m back at the computer to update library planning & report documents: Action Items for my 3-year Strategic Plan, the Library Report to Principal template, my professional development documents, the Library Substitute Folder, and Volunteer & Aide materials.

THE WEEK BEFORE STUDENTS RETURN

As I walk out the door at the end of the 3rd workday the library is ready for the following week—staff development for teachers. During that week I have time between sessions for brief teacher consults about curriculum changes & collaborative lessons for the first few weeks of school:

  • update my Curriculum Matrix and Info Lit Scope & Sequence document
  • schedule the ELA library visits every-other-week for book checkout & DEAR time
  • add links for students on the library website Teacher/Class Pages
  • prepare the rolling announcements for the first week with students.

I also have time to prepare any audio/video/digital equipment for students that will be checked out to them the next week, such as Algebra I calculators and cameras for yearbook students. There are always a few unfinished or unplanned tasks to do, but these are minimal because my Back-to-School Action Plan has once again been efficient and effective.

One task I don’t have to do is create library orientations. After testing out various lessons with students, I’ve settled on one unique orientation for each grade level and I use them year after year. They are continually successful with students and my ELA teachers love that I focus on reading right from the start.

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NoSweat Librarian Administrative Tools for your School Library - An indispensable set of customizable templates to explain your philosophy, organization, policies & procedures, and library activities; track funds & purchases; plan an effective Library Program; efficiently manage your time, and let your principal (and teachers) know how the School Library serves students.

 

My Back-To-School Action Plan is part of the LIS Checklist spreadsheet document, available as part of my Administrative Tools product in No Sweat Library, my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

 

 

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How to Create a Relevant, Easy-To-Use Biography Area in the School Library

The school library Biography area can become more student-friendly and inviting by re-organizing it into topical, curriculum-related Subjects, as many School Librarians have done with their Fiction area. Read on for a good plan of action! | No Sweat LibraryMany School Librarians have reorganized the Fiction section of the library into topical categories so students can more easily find what they like to read. Whether you call them Fiction Subjects (as I do) or genres (as do others), it is a huge boost to student reading satisfaction and to our book circulation. That success prompts us to look at other areas to make our school library more user-friendly.

The ABC order of Biography by the last name of the person written about, much like the ABC order of Fiction by author’s last name, works fine if you know exactly who you’re looking for, but if you want someone in a particular profession—like an artist or scientist or athlete or world leader—it’s not very useful.

While modern school libraries have access to online subscription services like encyclopedias and biography databases that provide search by subject, many teachers still like students to get information from a book, especially at middle and elementary levels. If subject area teachers regularly assign students a biography project, it makes sense to reorganize the Biography area into topical categories to be more student-friendly and to meet our curricular needs.

PLANNING BIOGRAPHY RE-ORGANIZATION

To be sure our reorganization effort is truly helpful, we need to first find out which content-area teachers give a biography assignment. This, of course, is practical for any form of organization, but since our whole purpose is to support curriculum, we need to know which disciplines, or fields of study, our teachers want students to explore.

For example, our 6th grade math teachers assign a biography project on mathematicians, while science teachers at one grade level assign scientists, and at another grade level they specify inventors. Our Texas History teachers assign a project on Texas explorers, while an English Language Arts teacher assigns her G/T classes a project on Renaissance figures in the above topics, along with politics, religion, and some of the arts.

It may occur to you, as it did to me the first time I began pulling books for these assignments, that a topical organization would make this task much easier for us—and for students. Also, it would make it much easier to figure out what we need to purchase to make our collection better. In that vein, my ELL teacher gives newcomers a biography project on U.S. presidents, so I acquired an easy-reader collection of them just for her.

Curricular support is paramount, but it’s also important to support student interests by making it easy to find the people they like to read about. My middle school boys love reading about athletes and other sports figures, whereas girls tend to prefer singers, musicians, and other performing artists. However, I discovered many of them prefer shorter books for the popular figures of the day, whereas teachers prefer longer books for projects, so planning a biography reorganization may require more than just categorizing the current collection.

In fact, after several students asked where the sports and arts biographies were, I chose to put all biography books with 100 or fewer pages into the Dewey section with the number of the subject and -092 after it. This way I provide a large collection of biography “favorites” right where students are looking for them and make the Biography area more suitable for project assignments. The added advantage is that I can afford to more regularly weed & replace these shorter, less expensive popular biographies with the current icons to keep students happy.

CHOOSING BIOGRAPHY CATEGORIES

12 Useful Categories to Re-organize Biographies - Dividing the school library Biography collection into topical groups can boost student reading and make assigned projects easier to complete. Here are the 12 categories that work for my middle school library. | No Sweat LibraryAfter surveying teachers and students—and browsing our biography books—we can probably find 10-12 different disciplines/fields of study for dividing up the books. Here are some choices that may help you with reorganizing your biography collection:

  • Activists & Reformers
  • Religious Leaders & Philosophers
  • Politicians & World Leaders
  • Scientists & Mathematicians (I put these together since many are both)
  • Inventors & Technology Innovators
  • Business Leaders
  • Artists: Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Graphic Designers
  • Performers: Musicians, Singers, Actors, Dancers
  • Athletes & Sports Figures
  • Literary Figures: Writers, Poets, Dramatists
  • Explorers & Pioneers
  • Unique Notables (for those that don’t fit the above categories)

You may have noticed that these topical divisions are in similar order to Dewey Subjects, so they are excellent choices for reorganizing your Collected Biographies, too. Using Dewey numbers 920-928 is actually “Option A” in the DDC Handbook, and when I reorganized my 920s this way, circulation of these books significantly increased.

As with Fiction, I refer to these divisions as “Subjects” to reinforce with students how to search in the online catalog. And, instead of the librarian-specific terms disciplines/fields of study, I explain to students that the Subjects are the careers or “professions” of the people the books are about. This dual explanation is well received and understood by middle schoolers.

LABELING BIOGRAPHY SUBJECTS/PROFESSIONS

Once we’ve chosen our different biography subjects, we want to begin identifying books in order to organize them on the shelves. It would be very confusing to color code spine labels with transparent overlays if we do that for fiction books, and unlike spine labels for fiction subjects, it’s difficult to find commercial spine labels for biography subjects (although Demco does have a set of 6 for inventors, sports, and the various arts).

No Sweat Library Biography Signs, Shelf Labels, and Spine Labels - Make your school library Biography section more usable for students and teachers by reorganizing it into these 12 topical Subjects, easily aligned with curricular assignments and with student reading interests. | No Sweat LibraryWe might consider using spine labels for Dewey subjects, which are commercially available and few school librarians put those on Dewey books. There may be signage coordinated with those labels, different from what we already use in our Dewey area.

To save money, we could create simple text labels and coordinated signs using common computer applications. Or, with a bit more time and creativity, we can devise our own biography profession spine labels, signs, & shelf labels, customized for our collection. There are free icon images online that serve that purpose, as well as sticker templates for the spine and shelf labels.

Whichever identifying method we choose, once the books are back on the shelves, we can let teachers and students know that the biography area now has a more welcoming organization system. Even if there is no current assignment, students will enjoy browsing the new layout and checking out books they never before realized we had!

Biography Spine Labels
Have I got a deal for you! By joining my E-mail Group, you gain access to the exclusive e-Group Library which has a PDF sample sheet of these Biography Book Spine Labels for you to download, print, and try out with your students!

Need ideas for Biography projects? Stay tuned…I’m working on some great ones!

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