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!


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.


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.


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!


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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10 Informal Ways for School Librarians to Promote the School Library

There are many ways School Librarians can promote the school library to students, teachers, administration, parents, and the community. Here are 10 informal actions that help you effectively advocate for your school library program. | No Sweat LibrarySchool Librarians are often told to promote their school library program, to push its visibility within the school and out into the community. There are many materials available for library advocacy—from simple activities or events to entire programming kits—that allow us to be continuously alert for ways to connect with folks in the school and the community.

However, after years as a middle school librarian, I’ve found it’s our informal practices that are most effective for building awareness of the school library program. Based on what has worked for me, here are 10 informal ways to advocate for your school library program and promote its value to the school community.


Make the school library the place students need to go to get things done. I always have art materials—markers, poster board, scissors, tape, glue, etc.—in convenient totes so students can come in before, during, or after school to work on projects. The current catch-phrase is “makerspace,” but my students have always associated the library with “making” what they need!

Always have computers turned on, ready for students to use any time of day. I offer a “Tech Morning” once a week for kids to learn about a new app or online service. Believe me, kids love to learn new technology, and when teachers see students asking to use an app for a project, they become interested in learning more technology from me.

I have a variety of games that are fun, yet reinforce learning, such as Scrabble and Monopoly ($$ & math). I also have reading alcoves for students who want a quiet place to read when others are working at tables or on computers. (Our general guideline is that students can converse as long as they use 2-foot voices…a completely silent library is not conducive to collaboration.)

Student Pass to Library: Get the FREE Template to create your own customized laminated passes for students to come to the library during class-time. FREE download after joining my email group! | No Sweat LibraryMake it easy for students to come in during down-time in class. Every year I supply a personalized laminated pass for each classroom teacher to fill out with a dry-erase marker allowing students to come to the library if they need a book, computer, whatever.

You can get a FREE template to make your own personalized laminated passes for each classroom teacher by joining my email group!

Always let students help out. They may ask to shelve books—it may not be perfect, but it gets books back on the shelves and students feel good about helping. Utilize student input and help to create displays for bulletin boards and shelves. Student-created, eye-catching displays inspire kids to come inside.


Teachers have enough on their plate without us adding to it, so approach teachers with a written lesson plan that enhances their current classroom activities. This personalized service shows teachers how easy it is to include us in the lesson planning experience so we can provide quality skills and resources.

NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Template p1 - Begins with an overview area perfect for initial meeting with teacher; Section 1 delineates Subject and School Library Standards, Understandings, Questions, Objectives, & Vocabulary; Section 2 outlines Assessment. | NoSweatLibrary NoSweat Library Lesson Planner - page 2 (Download my specialized Library Lesson Plan template from the ‘FREE Librarian Resources’ page)

Make it a professional goal to be familiar with all grade level subject curricula and build the library’s collection and online resources to support that curricula. Colleagues then see us as the curriculum expert in the building and come to us for ways to enhance their classroom activities!


Collaboration is especially difficult if library skills are embedded into course curricula without specifying them as library skills. We then have to convince teachers they really aren’t responsible for teaching those (without actually telling them they don’t know how to do it and we can do it better). In fact, the biggest challenge school librarians face is getting teachers and administrators to realize we are an education professional, trained to teach students the specific information literacy skills so necessary for school, college, and their future in a global digital society.

When there is no written library curriculum, we must create one. It shows our colleagues that we have a curriculum we need to coordinate with their classroom content. To make it easier to integrate information-literacy skills into subject curricula, I created a curriculum matrix where I can track opportunities for library visits and design truly relevant lessons that scaffold info-lit skills across subjects and grade levels.

Sample No Sweat Curriculum Matrix
click to enlarge
My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period. You can get my No Sweat Curriculum Matrix from No Sweat Library, my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


Given the easy access to information through the Internet, every school librarian faces the lack of understanding from colleagues about our role in the school.  We must show colleagues that the Web increases the need for a school librarian, and that we have the training to curate and refine information overload. We must continually emphasize that it’s our responsibility to show students how to legally and ethically curate and use online information, images, and other media.

Each month I send a Media Minute email to school staff highlighting digital and online curriculum assets. This very short, one-minute contact shows we are curricula-oriented specialists:

  • an upcoming content area library lesson activity
    (gives other teachers an idea of what we could do together)
  • a new teacher resource in the library
    (builds a professional area of supportive curriculum materials)
  • a useful current lesson-related feature on a subscription service
    (reminds teachers that these are the best quality information sources for students).


Getting parental support at the start of the school year is essential. In our school students took a packet of paperwork home on the first day of school. I include a brochure about library services and a bookmark listing online resources with IDs & PWs for home access. I’ve heard that the bookmark is stuck to a lot of refrigerators!
A couple times a year I create a Library Newsletter that’s copied on the back of student report cards to tell parents about library activities and supporting resources. It’s also prominently posted on the school library website.

Intermittently I make positive phone calls to parents giving feedback about a particularly memorable thing their child did in the library, especially for those students who often get negative calls home. This makes me a visible and valuable member of the school faculty, and these positive contacts make a world of difference for getting overdue books returned at the end of each semester!

Most importantly, the school’s PTA can be our best supporter, so do favors for, and become good friends with the ladies who run it, since they often have a direct line to the principal’s ear!


Within the school, the principal is definitely the most influential person when it comes to the school library. Submit regular reports showing both hard & soft data about the library and its activities—and make it colorful so it stands out among all the other paperwork on the principal’s desk! Give copies to the assistant principals and counselors, too…they have more direct contact with students and that increased awareness will often encourage them to send students to the librarian for assistance.

At the district level, the curriculum coordinator can impact school libraries and librarians. You may have a district library coordinator who works with them, but individual librarians can also share information. I include the curriculum coordinator on my Media Minute email list.

I’ve discovered our greatest district advocate is the Public Relations department—they control the public’s perception of the school district and if they are on your side, you are gold. They’ll post pictures of library activities, promote reading programs, and make sure everyone in the community, from parents to businesses, and administration to support staff, is aware of your importance. They can also be instrumental in publicizing fund-raising efforts!


Here are 10 informal ways School Librarians can advocate for the school library program and show the importance of having a certified school librarian! | No Sweat LibraryHelp folks realize you can do more than checkout and shelve books. Be a troubleshooter and trainer for technology used in the classroom. Volunteer to photograph or videotape student presentations in the classroom. Make the library website an essential part of the school’s web presence.

Sponsor a school club in the library (chess? school news?). Open a school supply shop during lunches with essentials (pens, pencils, notebook paper) and periodically offer “fru-fru” (feather pens, funny erasers, neon color paper).

In other words, don’t advocate with words about the importance of a school library; advocate with actions to show the importance of having a certified school librarian.


Volunteer for any committee that even remotely impacts the library program or the school librarian, especially those that showcase your librarian and personal skills. Nurture ties to subject area department heads so any curriculum-planning activity includes you. Become best friends with your school secretaries, custodians, and cafeteria staff so they view you as an essential member of their team, too. It’s amazing how often the phrase, “Let’s see what the school librarian has to say about this!” shows how vital you are to the school and its mission.


One year we got a new principal, and to familiarize himself with the school culture, he set up interviews with staff members during the summer. One question he asked each person was, “If the principal was suddenly gone for some reason, who are 3 people in the school you could rely on to keep things running smoothly?” I was flattered that quite a few folks mentioned me, the school librarian, so I made it my goal that everyone would mention the school librarian in answer to such a question! By encompassing that broad concept I was able to see more possibilities for involvement than listing disparate things I wanted to accomplish.


I’m fortunate that my district supports the library program with substantial funds for books and online resources, so I don’t have to, as so many do, weasel money from a principal or try to raise funds on my own. I am, however, adamant about one way a librarian does NOT raise money: with fines for overdue books.

Fines don’t work. Well-off students don’t care about the paltry amount and poorer kids get stressed trying to pay a fine and still have money for lunch (or dinner on their way home), and basically it just makes a lot more work for the librarian, especially if there’s a whole class trying to check out books in the last 10 minutes of the period.

There are much more effective ways to tease kids into getting overdue books back. And really, it’s just a book and there’s plenty more on the shelves—a child and their feelings are a lot more important than a fine (or even a lost book)!

Well, those are the 10 informal ways I promote our school library program. I hope you find these ideas helpful. Happy advocating!

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This post is updated from 2015.