This summer, after working with teens in public libraries for seven years straight, I made a career change and now I am an elementary school librarian in a large urban school district. I will be writing a series of blog posts about my new position and the perspectives I’m gaining from my life on the school side of library services to children.
Jumping from one service group to another has been an enlightening experience, to say the least. My school serves children in grades K-4, so I’ve been switching gears to picture books, early readers and chapter books. The kids at my school can mostly be classified as struggling readers, but their enthusiasm for books and the library is very strong, and I hope that trend will continue with my help throughout the school year.
One big difference in this new job is that I am dealing with different stakeholders. At my last public library position, I served teens who wanted to be there and were interested in the materials and services we offered. Sometimes their parents directed their reading choices, but for the most part, they could check out whatever they wanted.
At the school library, most children want to be in the library, but we operate on a flexible schedule, which means each class doesn’t have a set time to visit the library each week. I have to remind many teachers to come by for a visit or check-out time. They have to fit so many things into their instructional day that library visits are on the back burner.
For me, it is excruciating to greet eager faces in the hallway each morning who ask when their next visit to the library is, and not be able to give them a definite answer. I don’t want them to get the impression that I’m too busy for them or that I don’t want them to visit. However, I am hopeful that this situation will improve as the school year moves along and the teachers continue to get to know me.
The other difference I notice is the nature of my relationship to the young people I work with, and the way I interact with them. As a public librarian, you do want to ensure the safety of the youth in your library, and encouraging them to follow the rules can be part of that. The teens and kids I worked with at the public library were a mostly well-behaved bunch (I know- how lucky was I?) so I very rarely had to speak to any of them in a stern manner or even remind them of the rules.
Now as an elementary school librarian, behavior management impacts my interactions with the kids. They need many reminders about the expectations for their behavior, and in between sharing my enthusiasm for books and reading, I find myself having to be the disciplinarian I never had to be at the public library.
So far, I am really enjoying the change of pace that being in a school library has afforded me, and I can’t wait to share more of my experiences in the following months.