A few weeks ago, after yet another #1styrlibs tweet chronicling my first year as a full-time librarian, a colleague who follows me on Twitter marveled, “I don’t know how you do it all without an assistant!”

And here’s my secret: a lot of it doesn’t get done.

At a time when budgets are slashed, volunteers are being trained to fill in for librarians, and so many are out of work, complaining about the job you have may seem anything from gauche to downright dangerous. But for those of us who have ever had the good fortune to work as part of a team, or even with a regular volunteer or two, the contrast is clear: working alone is hard work.

There are advantages to being the only teen librarian (or librarian) in the building, of course. My position as a department head within my high school is somewhat of a running joke. (Any sentence beginning with “Our friends in the library” is sure to elicit a chuckle at faculty meetings.) I don’t have to get my “department” to agree with me, I don’t have to schedule departmental meetings, and I have a lot of freedom to set my own agenda.

But on the flip side, there’s so much I’d like to do with this library that I just haven’t yet. I have a massive shelving project in the works–right now circulating non-fiction winds around into the room with the photocopier–but so far it gets done only in small bursts when I have help from students. The whole collection needs weeding, which I do in haphazard chunks. Any time I need to cover a hardback, catalog a donation title or make new bookmarks, I do it myself.

Sometimes working alone is fun. I get to be the first to see new books when an order comes in, and I’m the one who handles any reader’s advisory question, from the impressively specific to the maddeningly vague.

Sometimes working alone is frustrating. If I don’t like a particular task, tough luck–if it’s getting done, I’m the one doing it. When upward of sixty students descend on the library during study hall, I’m the only one keeping track of who’s here and whether they’re behaving.

How do you do it all in your library?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

6 Thoughts on “Flying Solo

  1. mk, I know whereof you speak: I spent eight (8) years as a one-person library at MFPOW. And yes, it can be exhilarating and frustrating in the same moment (eg, research papers with classes booked 8 of 8 periods at the same moment a shipment of books arrives).

    What I got from the whole experience was that you get done what you can get done, people tend to be understanding if things slide a little, and they’re always grateful for your professionalism and the time you spend with them on their needs. And at some point, difficult as it is to believe right now, you’ll get caught up. Then the fun really begins!

  2. I’m THE librarian in my little college as well. I admit it definitely has its ups. Unfortunately, sometimes I feel very isolated from anyone who would relate. And none of the students ever really volunteer to help out around the library. But, it is nice to know everything that is happening (well, assume to know anyway) in my library.

  3. You’re right. A lot of it doesn’t get done. You just have to set priorities and stick to them. I do have some spectacular volunteers, though.

  4. laslibrary on January 27, 2010 at 9:52 am said:

    I went from being an academic librarian (working in tech services/systems) in a mid-sized universtiy library to being a school librarian in a small (300 student) PreK-8 private school. After 3 years in the position, I think I’m still adjusting to being the sole librarian. I’m a planner, so it has been frustrating (to the point of tears) when I have stretches of only getting through the day in total reaction mode. To some extent, I’ve had to adjust my expectations. I do feel isolated from the library profession at times. Thank goodness for Twitter!

    I will say, however, that each year, things have improved. I’m more settled in my new role and I work with supportive teachers and administrators. It could always be better; I could always do more. (Oh, did I mention that I’m also part-time – by choice). The positive has been working with our wonderful students. They motivate and inspire me. Its very exciting and challenging to work with students at the beginning of their educational experience. In my moments of doubt, I usually conclude that the opportunity outweighs the frustrations. Plug away!

  5. Megan Frazer Blakemore on January 27, 2010 at 11:57 am said:

    I am lucky to have a staff. We are lucky to get a lot of things done, though, that can’t normally get done because we have a great set of student library aides. They can put together displays, shelve books, circulate, etc. We are able to give academic credit for it, which is based on attendance. I know a lot of independent schools require community service. I wonder if you could get some regular library aides that way?

  6. I’m also the only librarian in my middle school, and where it gets hardest is when I have to be out of the building (I teach kindergarten library at one of the other schools in the district). When I’m out of the building, the library has to be closed, something that teachers have a really hard time understanding, and often actively undermine. I’ve come back to find food trash in the library when no one should have been there at all. It’s tough. I’m with you that so much just doesn’t get done; if National Junior Honor Society didn’t require community service, I don’t know if books would make it back on the shelves in any kind of a timely fashion.

    I have to agree with laslibrary that being the only librarian in the building is profoundly isolating. The teachers in the school have teams and built-in collaboration, as do the administrators. Being halfway inbetween means that i feel isolated both from my colleagues and from my profession at times.

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