While for many people September means going back to school–either back to working at a school, back to classes of their own, or just back to learning things on the job after summer vacation or summer reading programs–for recent graduates who are still looking for their first professional position after getting their MLS, September means it’s now been two or four or more months of being out of school. In fact, this is the first fall in 20 years that I haven’t been headed back to the classroom. While some of my classmates got lucky and were offered a new position or a raise or more responsibilities at the job they already had, there are plenty of us who are still looking.

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As part of our 30 Days of Back to School series, we’ll be interviewing other professionals who work with teens in and out of school. How can we collaborate to better serve our teens? Where do our services overlap, and where can we pass the baton to more effectively meet young adult needs?

First up: Molly Gesenhues. Molly is a guidance counselor with Chicago Public Schools who was also gracious enough to participate in YALSA’s full-day pre-conference in Washington DC.

mk: Thanks for joining us! Can you start by telling us a little bit about your job description?
Molly: Well, I’m a high school counselor. I work with students grade nine through twelve on their academic, social-emotional, and post-secondary goals. I get to see teens on an individual level as well as in groups and, if I’m lucky, in the classroom.

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At the opening of a new school year, I’m enjoying the chance at a clean slate–new colleagues hired over the summer, new ninth graders and transfer students, all brand new faces to introduce to my library. As I prepare for orientations–whether it’s a full tour or a five minute spiel–I’m re-evaluating my library ground rules. What are the most important things for new students to know? What kind of a space do I want to create for classes and faculty groups alike? How do I convey my educational philosophy in a sentence or two?

When I think about the range of possible library infractions, it really boils down to one question: what’s going to make me the crankiest?

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I returned to school this fall to find that parts of my library had been, shall we say, artfully rearranged. At a time when I had been expecting to come up with brilliant displays, brainstorm for Teen Read Week at a leisurely pace, and craft eloquent emails inviting English teachers with new 9th graders to visit the library during opening week, I found myself instead unpacking books from cardboard boxes.

The spatial rearrangement was perhaps a blessing in disguise, since I hadn’t particularly liked the configuration of shelves last year and planned to get around to it at some point–you know, after I got those other twelve odd jobs off of my desk–but in the meantime it means a lot of confusion in my once orderly library. Where are the biographies? Oh, over there, on that unmarked shelf. What about fiction? Well, it starts over there, and ends over there, but if you’re looking for new series they might be hidden behind that big wheeled desk that the maintenance staff doesn’t know where to stash permanently.

And what about reference?
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While you might leave library school versed in everything from read/write web applications to AACR2 description, it’s what they don’t teach you in library school that can make or break your school media program.

The professional leave process, lesson planning, supervision duties, professional development responsibilities, and even dress code can be radically local, so even veteran librarians will have to learn some different processes when they change buildings or districts.

Laura Houk, who left Dekalb County to become librarian at Madison County High School this fall, said her challenges included figuring out how the circulation system works and the local purchasing process. “You don’t know if you’ll have supplies, money, or what your collection will look like,” said Houk. Acknowledging that you can’t change everything at once, Houk advises incoming school librarians to be “flexible and do the best you can with what you have,” something particularly important for school librarians in a state where school library materials budgets have been eliminated the past two years.

A learning curve exists for school librarians leaving the classroom as well. Ashley Markham moved from ‘ teaching second graders to become the media specialist at a new school, Buckhorn Middle, in the same district this fall. While many system-wide policies are the same, changing age groups has brought some surprises. Markham said fewer more middle-school teachers seemed to bring their classes to the library than at the elementary level. Her advice to beginning school librarians hoping to infuse information literacy skills into the curriculum is to “meet with the teachers and discuss the units you’ll focus on, to make sure you’ll have what you need.” Markham will be combining collections from two existing schools, but will also have a budget to establish her program and make sure that the resources are there for those research units.

For faculty and student icebreakers and other ideas, check out Kathy Schrock’s Back-To-School Resources, and the collective intelligence of LM_NET provides some great fodder for librarians going back-to-school, be it the first or the thirtieth time.

What is YOUR back-to-school advice?

Over the past several years a few times a month I am asked, “How do you keep up?” My answer is always the same, by knowing other librarians, educators, technology-interested people, etc. who stay informed on topics that I need to know about. And, by connecting with those people via a variety of venues such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YALSA, library school classrooms, and so on. Learning from others and knowing that if I don’t know something, someone else in my professional learning network (PLN) will, has really opened up my ability to keep up. I have given up thinking that I need to know everything – really I have – and am comfortable with knowing that what I don’t know others will. All I have to do is ask my PLN, or pay attention to various virtual spaces where PLN hang out. For example: Read More →

Throughout the month of September, YALSA will be featuring a post every day on topics ranging from collaborating with teachers to truancy in the public library to keeping your library curriculum current–all topics impacted by the changing of the seasons when many of us start our year.

Whether you’re an aspiring librarian, working in a school or public library, or providing services to teens in some other setting, we all know that September means big changes for the young adults in our lives. Some of them are anxiously navigating their first few days of high school. Others are getting behind the wheel as upperclassmen and new drivers. Others are making the transition to college. Still more are entering the workforce, traveling around the world, and contemplating military service.

What does the first day of September mean to you? This month the YALSA blog will bring you success stories, tips, and resources for serving teens during this time of transformation–both for our teens, and for our libraries.