About Barbara Paciotti

Retired IB Middle School Librarian and at-risk alternative High School Science Teacher, continuing to help teachers and students be successful.

How a School Librarian Can Overcome Feeling Discouraged

Changing from a respected classroom teacher to a School Librarian in a misunderstood job can make us feel quite discouraged. Here's a heartfelt response to frustrated colleagues, and some ideas for expanding your impact and subduing that frustration. | No Sweat LibraryOur School Librarian listservs and Facebook groups are generally upbeat, but at times, one sees a post expressing job frustration because teachers and administrators don’t understand what we do. Invariably, our peers give us a virtual hug, along with some thoughtful suggestions that do help.

We are especially sympathetic when a new School Librarian becomes disillusioned, feeling worthless in their new role. Many School Librarians do feel discouraged, especially the first year or two after moving from classroom to library, because it’s just not what we expected it to be. Hopefully I can encourage you newbies by clarifying why you may be feeling this way. And for you veterans, maybe this “bigger picture” will remind you why you decided to leave the classroom and become the most valuable teacher in the school!

THE TEACHING DIFFERENCE

After becoming a School Librarian, I came to realize the big difference between being a school librarian and being a high school science teacher is jurisdiction—that is, having authority over our classroom instruction. Even with federal, state, or district requirements, a classroom teacher decides what to teach, when to teach, and how to teach on a daily basis.

Often School Librarians are not viewed as teachers—we’re seen merely as book caretakers. Most educators don’t know about our National School Library Standards or our information literacy curriculum, nor are they aware that we have a teaching degree and years of classroom experience before getting a library certification/degree. As a result, we are seen as expendable, and many schools no longer have a certified School Librarian.

It’s doubly hard when library information literacy skills are embedded into subject curricula without identifying them as such. Teaching these skills, then, looks like the responsibility of classroom teachers, who have no time—so they get ignored—nor the training to teach them properly. They just aren’t aware that we are trained to—and supposed to—integrate info-lit into their classroom activities. To paraphrase Tom Clancy, “If it isn’t written down it never happens,” so a School Librarian has to work extra hard to convince classroom teachers to collaborate on a library lesson visit.

Additionally, a classroom teacher has continual personal contact with students, with their learning, and with their assignments. As School Librarians, particularly at the secondary level with a flex schedule, we can’t really plan a learning “unit” as such. Instead, we teach haphazardly, rarely continuing through to the end of the teacher’s assignment, let alone having input on how it is assessed. As a result, we may try to cram as much information as possible into a single visit, which overloads the students and alienates the teacher.

Lesson color blocks are the visual organizer that lets School Librarians organize subject curricula and Library Lesson. #NoSweatLibraryThe solution to this is an information literacy curriculum matrix on which we can identify where to integrate skills into classroom activities and record which Standards are addressed. This handy tool allows a School Librarian to document National School Library Standards across subject areas and through grade levels so we cover them all by the time a student moves on to their next grade level building. As a result, lessons are more focused on specific learning objectives, are less overwhelming for students, and more gratifying for teachers…who then are eager to collaborate on future lessons.

THE ROOM DIFFERENCE

Another big difference between a School Librarian and a classroom teacher is dominionhaving authority over our own “classroom” domain. Unless a school is particularly pressed for space, no one else uses a teacher’s assigned room, so they have complete control over it. Au contraire the school library! Because of its size and layout—and being cozier than the cafeteria or gym—the school library is frequently appropriated for meetings, professional development, and special events, as well as student testing, guest speakers, and presentations.

No one hesitates about using the school library for their needs, and all too often they don’t think to notify, or even ask, the librarian. What is unthinkable for a classroom teacher is a common occurrence with every School Librarian. Many an afternoon a teacher or administrator would enter my library and begin moving things around to set up for their event the next day, and I’d have to scramble to make alternative arrangements for the groups of students I’d planned to have in for lessons.

Such occurrences are why a School Librarian can ask to be in charge of the print and online school event calendar, so folks have to consult with us about any event in the school. Not only does this help immensely for scheduling library use, it also gives us an “in” for taking photos or videos to add to the school and library websites.

THE ROLE DIFFERENCE

There's a huge contrast in responsibility when changing from a classroom teacher to a School Librarian. If we understand & accept the 3 main differences, we can work toward our "new self" and avoid becoming discouraged. | No Sweat LibraryA third big difference between a School Librarian and a classroom teacher is power—having authority over our daily activity. It may seem that we have no control at all over what we do in the school library. This is the downside of our job—and what is often the cause of our discouragement. We’re “always on call”, and everyone is unconcerned if we’ve made our own plans. Many of us have ‘assigned’ time periods with students that limits the time we can spend on library administrative tasks. We’re treated somewhere between a sub and an aide—until we accomplish some feat of wizardry, and then we’re regarded as a genius and everyone wants us to help them accomplish the same thing in the 5 minutes between their phone call to us and when their class starts. Along with all that, we need to now know everyone’s curriculum and the entire print & digital library collection, supplying relevant resources when asked for at the drop of a hat.

On the other hand, the upside of our job is that we do have more control over what we do and when. In the classroom we had one role: a content-area teacher with a prescribed curriculum. Not so as a School Librarian. We must be the supreme multi-tasker: a secretary, a custodian, a curriculum specialist, a tech whiz, an accountant, an audio/video engineer, a babysitter, a therapist, and a diplomat, and in between still a teacher. We surely are never bored with the ‘same ole thing.’

The School Librarian can be a true renaissance person, expanding into every avenue of education and technology, finding personal satisfaction in our own accomplishments, and knowing that it will take at least 5 people to replace us. We can strive, daily, to make the library a Knowledge Production Center—the place students come to for creating audio, video, digital, and designed work products, and where teachers come begging to help them learn and integrate!

FINDING OUR NICHE

I’m still convinced that other educators will gradually “get it,” that eventually they’ll realize the information & media literacy knowledge and skills learned from the School Librarian are important to our children’s futures, more than just about any other thing they learn in school.

While waiting for that time, we can trade jurisdiction and dominion for influence: becoming a compelling force on the actions, opinions, and behavior of everyone in our sphere. We can slowly turn each teacher, student, and administrator into viewing us as the most indispensable person in the building. That’s an incredibly impactful vocation!

It took until my 5th year as a librarian to master library administration and to convince colleagues that “I really am a teacher.” For those who find they don’t like school librarianship, there’s nothing wrong with going back to the classroom. We all need to find our niche, and having tried something that doesn’t quite fit should not be disappointing—it’s actually a giant step on the road to self-actualization.

I remember in one of my MLIS courses a couple teachers were retiring from the classroom to become librarians because it’s ‘easier’. Of course, we who had already begun as librarians laughed uproariously—this is the hardest job we’ve ever had! But thankfully, it’s also the most rewarding job we’ve ever had when we focus on what we’ve gained: flexibility and autonomy. Actually, it might be good for librarians to periodically spend some time back in the classroom, just to keep fresh and remember why we changed jobs, although who they’d get to cover for us is beyond me!

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Updated  & changed from 2015.

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5 Things You Want a Principal to Know About the School Librarian

Are you getting a new school principal? Job interviewing for a school transfer? Need to garner support for your position & the school library? Here are 5 things you'll want a principal—or anyone else—to know about you and the school library. | No Sweat LibraryToward the end of a school year, a School Librarian may decide to transfer to another school or leave the district for a librarian position elsewhere. In either case, a job interview with a school principal is around the corner. Alternatively, our school may get a new principal and we want her/him to know how to support the school library.

Even if we are not making a change, School Librarians nowadays must always be ready to defend our position within the school building, and in the district and the community. Sometimes a quick “elevator pitch” is enough, but at times we have to express our needs in order to serve the needs of our students and their school library program. This question can help us narrow our focus so we are, in fact, giving the “big picture” to those who can make a difference:

What 5 things do I want a principal to know about me, the School Librarian,
and about the school library?

1) I am a Teacher.

My primary role is as a teacher of information literacy. I have a set of National Standards which provide a framework for the knowledge and skills students are expected to master by the time they move on to their next school or future endeavor.

To fully integrate the information literacy curriculum into content-area lessons, I need to collaborate with teachers. Research shows that regular collaboration between the school librarian and other teachers greatly increases student achievement, so I need the principal to actively encourage faculty to collaborate with me. I document collaborations in reports and my end-of-year appraisal, and it would be helpful if the principal recommends that teachers tally their own collaborations with me.

Download this short PDF Library Lesson Collaboration Short Form from my FREE School Librarian Resources page. Make copies and keep stacked on the circulation counter, to use for a collaboration opportunity when a teacher comes into the library.

Image of single Library Lesson Teacher Collaboration Form. | No Sweat Library

click to enlarge

2) I need sufficient funding to maintain a quality school library.

yellow moneybag with dollar sign - A school librarian needs adequate funding for library collection developmentTo ensure student achievement, the school library collection—print, digital, and online—must be from authoritative sources, with current publication dates, and in support of student and teacher curricular needs. To maintain this quality, I need a budget that will provide for the acquisition of new resources and the replacement of out-of-date, lost, and damaged ones.

Most states have guidelines for the library budget and for a minimum number of materials. Here is an example of one state—Texas**—which falls about the middle of all U.S. States for library guidelines:

  • Resources budget for print and non-print materials=
    $5500 or $12.00 x Average Daily Attendance
  • Operational budget=6% of Resources budget
  • An Acceptable school library has a minimum of
    11,000(secondary)/12,000 (elementary) books or 12/14 books per student,
    plus at least 250 videos, 46 audios, 12 periodicals
  • Refresh annually at least 3% of materials, licensed databases, and other electronic resources, including audiobooks and eBooks.

I also need funds from the principal for building media that cannot be purchased with library funds. Such incidental audio/video/digital items include cameras or computer products that teachers check out for student projects.

3) Make my morning/lunch/afternoon duties in the school library.

For some students, these are the only times during the day they can come into the library to check out a book. Students may be sent to the library by morning-duty teachers to take make-up tests or to review videos or classroom presentations. For students on sports teams or with difficult home situations, these library times are a “homework hub” that allows them to keep up with school work. For project-based inquiry learning, this is also the best time and place for students to collaborate on projects!

Teachers rely on me to be available at these times to help gather materials for their classrooms or collaborate on lessons. This is also when I can sponsor a library club for students who like to help shelve books and other volunteer tasks. On busy days, this may be the only planning time I have to prepare library lessons for class visits.

Make a powerful statement to students and teachers that
the School Library is an important learning center in our school
by allowing me to be in the school library during these critical times.

4) I am a department head, even if I’m the sole library unit.

round table with 8 people around it - I need my principal to include me in various decision-making meetingsI need my principal to include me in various decision-making meetings, especially those that affect library use or curriculum and technology materials. I can provide a unique perspective that no one else can:

  • I am broadly familiar with every subject-area teacher’s curriculum.
  • I may be the most proficient technology specialist in the building.
  • Along with the custodian and school secretary, I have extensive knowledge of the physical building.
  • As the library program administrator, I have contacts in district offices and departments that can ease the acquisition of supplemental materials or equipment for classroom, school or extracurricular plans.
  • Library activities touch every subject and grade level, so I often see and hear more of student and/or teacher issues than others.

A principal will want to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and information a school librarian can provide to any committee or meeting.

5) The library may be empty, but I really am busy working.

Our principals need to know that School Librarians are busy even when the library is empty. We talk with vendors, purchase, and process new materials. We meet with teachers and work with students in the classrooms. We balance budgets and write reports. And more... | No Sweat LibraryBeing a School Librarian is a demanding job, as I must manage my time among the 5 areas of expertise that help me contribute to student success. Here are just a few of the “invisible” tasks that absorb my time when I’m not checking out or shelving books or teaching a lesson to students:

  • Teacher: create my Library Lesson Plans for student visits.
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  • Instructional partner: plan lessons with teachers, prepare materials for teachers, prepare student/teacher audio/video/digital projects.
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  • Information specialist: phone or meet with book and digital vendors, generate purchase orders for new print & digital materials and equipment, unpack, process, and shelve new print and audio/video materials for the collection, inventory materials and equipment in the library and throughout the building.
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  • Program administrator: manage the library facility, including scheduling, in an equitable manner according to need, balance the budget, generate reports on circulation, overdue books, library use, collaborative lessons, and curriculum that help you and me make decisions to benefit our campus.
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  • Education leader: update the library website, create and manage library print & social media communications to parents and the community, create presentations for staff development training, keep up with my own professional learning, and with library and educational trends.

MAKE MY DREAMS COME TRUE!

To conclude, please remember that this isn’t about me, the School Librarian, but rather it’s to provide students with access to high-quality resources when they need them. And that can only happen when you understand that my needs are the needs of the School Library Program. When you support me in the above 5 ways, it is a dream come true!

If you like this article, you can download this 2-sided PDF document explaining the 5 important ways to best support the School Librarian and the School Library Program and give a copy to your principal. Image of the PDF document "5 Things You Want a Principal to Know About the School Librarian." | No Sweat Library

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**School Library Programs: Standards and Guidelines for Texas. Texas State Library & Archives Commission and the Texas Education Agency, updated 2017. Accessed 8/15/2023.

Article updated from 2015.Join my mailing list to get a brief email about new posts on library lessons & management. You'll also gain access to my exclusive e-Group Library of FREE downloadable resources!